Another layer of mediation to an already loopy transmission
May 17, 2024 12:43 AM   Subscribe

Though LSD was sometimes passed around in the 1960s on actual blotting paper, sheets of perforated (‘perfed’) and printed LSD paper do not come to dominate the acid trade until the late 1970s, reaching a long golden age in the 1980s and ’90s. As such, the rise of blotter mirrors, mediates and challenges the mythopoetic story of LSD’s spiritual decline. For even as LSD lost the millennialist charge of the 1960s, it continued to foster spiritual discovery, social critique, tribal bonds and aesthetic enrichment. During the blotter age, the quality of the molecule also improved significantly, its white sculptured crystals sometimes reaching and maybe surpassing the purity levels of yore. Many of the people who produced and sold this material remained idealists, or at least pragmatic idealists, with a taste for beautiful craft and an outlaw humour reflected in the design of many blotters, which sometimes poked fun at the scene and ironically riffed on the fact that the paper sacraments also served as ‘commercial tokens’. from Acid media [Aeon; ungated]
posted by chavenet (39 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
ah blotter paper. . .
posted by HearHere at 12:50 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]

I have a good friend that collects blotter paper (unmedicated) sheets. He has at least a 100 or maybe even hundreds of different sheets. He has some really beautiful ones framed. Brings back lots of memories when I look over his collection.

It was my experience that the dude dropping drops of acid on each square was usually not of steady hand. Our solution to get consistent doses was to take two figuring they would average out. (We got that suggestion from a guy named Dozer in the parking lot at a Dead show in Hampton, Va.)
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:53 AM on May 17 [16 favorites]

Once heard that the fast growth of meth was due to the feds finding "the famous guy with a lab in a missile silo" - don't know anything more, but I think I read some references to a silo. Blotter is just one of the many cultural elements I totally missed out in my youth.
posted by sammyo at 2:42 AM on May 17 [2 favorites]

Highly recommend reading T. Leary's account in his book High Priest of Michael Hollingshead 'mixing' a gram of LSD he had purchased from Sandoz into a tin of cake frosting. Hollingshead goes on to determine dosage by spreading the frosting mixture onto sheets of wax paper and then doing some rough division, estimating how many teaspoons of the frosting contained whatever fraction of the gram he deemed to be a proper dose. (And keep in mind this is a substance one typically meters in micrograms.) The end of the account (which I will not reveal) is startling though I suppose not unexpected for the time and given Leary's penchant to exaggerate.
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 3:38 AM on May 17 [4 favorites]

@JohnnyGunn I heard the same wisdom applied to double-dropping ecstasy from a guy in Sundissential, a notoriously messy nightclub in Birmingham UK, sometime around 2001. He also preached the added benefit of never making yourself paranoid about having taken 13 pills.
posted by protorp at 4:54 AM on May 17 [3 favorites]

the famous guy with a lab in a missile silo

Gordon Todd Skinner
posted by zamboni at 5:09 AM on May 17 [3 favorites]

I did LSD a few times in college, and it was an absolute out of body experience, but I don't think I'll ever do it again. It is a pretty big commitment to 12+ hours of feeling "weird." Mushrooms, on the other hand, offer a similar experience on a much shorter scale with none of the aftereffects.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:03 AM on May 17 [2 favorites]

"I'm fixing a hole in the blotter paper..." At least with blotter paper one was relatively sure that speed or other unsavory ingredients were included.
posted by DJZouke at 6:20 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]

"...when you get the message, you hang up the phone."

Yes, I heard Alan Watts say this in a Washington University lecture in the 60's, and soon after, I did hang up the phone, so my experience of the blotter paper medium is very much second hand. Pre-internet, this meant friends showing me their stash.
posted by kozad at 6:38 AM on May 17 [2 favorites]

what? No Fun?

first showed up in the mid-80s in my locale. And it raised the game as high as high as one could possibly desire in terms of strength and clarity. As for whether it delivered a genuinely fun experience, well, that as always was dependent on set and setting
posted by philip-random at 6:46 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]

I have only done acid as a teenager; I can't imagine trying it now, what with 30+ plus year of new bullshit in my brain. (I would be interested in trying shrooms but I hear they don't play well with Lexapro and I kinda need my brain meds.)
posted by Kitteh at 7:05 AM on May 17 [2 favorites]

Workingman’s Pig, in the full color variant, now and forever.
posted by aramaic at 7:08 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]

I am glad I stopped reading and ate breakfast and had some tea before I finished TFA. When I got to
Blotter is the most ephemeral of all psychedelic ephemera. It is produced to be eaten, to blur the divide between object and subject, dissolving material signs and molecules into a phenomenological upsurge of sensory, poetic and cognitive immediacy.
I knew that this was not your typical attempt to score by telling acid stories. But when I started reading the late '70s-80s history bits... I was there, and I took copious notes. TFA has an interpretation of their facts but it is a poor fit to my remembered experience.

Reaching into the compost heap of memory about LSD-related topics, which have fascinated me continuously for 50 years now, I remember reading something way back at the beginning of that time, which I think I can still quote verbatim:
Treasure LSD while it lasts. In 10 years it will be a tame, socialized routine.
This was said sometime around 1968. Brethren and sistern, there was considerable prescience in that advice. The main mechanism of the taming was by decreasing the dose. When that 10-year mark rolled around I was just starting to dip my toes into the psychedelic shallows and I was underwhelmed by the first few experiences. I got high all right, but that was about it. No really wild visual effects, no transcendent insight, just really high and really bad insomnia.

Not wanting to make this about telling two-fisted drug tales I will skip narratives about the trips that showed me what the excitement was about. The basic point is that by 1978, the buyer of a hit of acid (which was usually blotter) would normally get something that carried a pretty minimal dose. My guess was that these were usually around 70 µg, or a bit less than an third of the classic dose. The most common dosage form was in fact blotter, generally pretty plain at that time. Sometimes there would be a simple one-color image at the center of each square. If you did 4 of them you could get a solid trip. But people didn't do that, they took one and then went out drinking all night.

The stuff about adulteration is just BS. LSD cut with speed was never a thing, except maybe very early on when large pill-type dosage forms were made. There are lots of compounds known now that are pharmacologically active in sub-mg quantities but back then acid was in a class by itself for potency(1). If you could fit an active dose of it into the amount of water that would soak 0.25 sq cm of paper, it had to be LSD. Tales of spiked acid, if you could trace them to their origins, would almost invariably turn out to come from people with so little experience tripping that they are not qualified to have opinions about whether or not the acid was pure.

Most of the people I saw doing acid, most of that time, were not into it for deep insight into the nature of reality (or our experience thereof) or in search of any kind of transcendence, they were basically mega-microdosing for parties. So TFA's claim of "spiritual decline" around LSD use has some resonance. But it was not blotter's fault that the dose/unit declined, it was LSD's reputation for doing scary shit that led makers to lower the dose. But there were exceptions and not all of them were pill-type dosage forms.

Also, while I no longer follow the market in research chemicals, I now have a daughter of an age to do that. A couple of years ago she took her Mom and I to an event at a festival and gave us each 1/4 of a blotter she had. It was not awesome, but the whole blotter would have been. And talking with her and her friends I sort of gather that the era of wimpy acid hits has passed, and the socialization has gotten sophisticated enough so that the "routine" no longer has to be exactly "tame." And blotter seems to be a big part of that.

(1) Possibly some of the things that LSD can spontaneously turn into with light and moisture are comparably active. I have consumed enough acid to have stored some badly and later consumed it. It was active all right, and not in a fun way. So some "spiked" acid might just have been broken down badly-stored material.
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 7:32 AM on May 17 [14 favorites]

The stuff about adulteration is just BS. LSD cut with speed was never a thing…

I have never been heavily into drugs, but have had a lot of friends who were and consequently have always been comfortable around them. But some of the stories they told, especially about LSD, never made any sense. I have heard about both MDMA and LSD being cut with speed, but in those pre-make your own meth days it seemed like a waste of both drugs to dilute them with the other. And in the early 80s I had one friend in particular who insisted that most LSD on the market was cut with strychnine, which seemed so unlikely that I just assumed it was misinformation spread by the DEA.
posted by TedW at 7:53 AM on May 17 [6 favorites]

The LSD I did in college gave everyone who did it a backache at the start and made you basically impervious to alcohol. The word going around was that it was cut with speed, but who knows. This was the mid-late 90s.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:57 AM on May 17 [2 favorites]

The dosing differential between LSD and speed would make it basically impossible to cut speed into the LSD without increasing the volume of what you're taking in to some ridiculous amount.

LSD is measured out in micrograms. Speed is consumed in much larger quantities.

I do miss having access to actual quality LSD. I wouldn't take anything out there anymore because the sources have changed so much in the 20-odd years since mine got busted.
posted by hippybear at 8:04 AM on May 17 [8 favorites]

These were paper tabs and microdots, so lots of substrate for other stuff to be mixed in. So maybe "cut" is the wrong word and "laced" is more accurate. But yeah, I wouldn't touch the stuff these days unless I knew a really good chemist.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:23 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]

The first acid I ever did was blotter, Pyramids. Might have been at a Saturday study hall, just like the breakfast club, there we were, except we were blotto. I wrote an entire incomprehensible novel in mirror writing in a marble composition notebook. It's hell tripping when you can't get up and move around. Later there wasn't any blotter around, there were microdots. That was mescaline, supposedly, although they felt the same. Speedier, maybe. I heard they were always cut with speed and since by that time I was in college and speed was a key feature of my exam study prep, it seemed like a good idea. The last time I did hallucinogens of any kind was in the late 90s. I had some in the freezer for years and years in the 00s but it never seemed like the right time and now? Now I might break a hip or something.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:24 AM on May 17 [8 favorites]

Yeah, the mysterious backache was disturbing to me and my circle. I generally enjoyed and felt emancipated by the transcendental trip part, but a weird backache out of nowhere made us all kind of concerned that something else was in there. This backache phenomena happened to me and many of my friends who did blotter acid back in the early '90s, and we were early 20s, in generally good shape and none of us had back issues. I can't say it happened to me every time, and it wasn't a terrible ache, but nonetheless disturbing.

There's an episode of Mad Men where the very non-hippie types (bunch of assholes, to be blunt) do acid at a gathering, in the pre-era of acid as a "party drug." Oddly enough I find this episode to be an extremely well done representation of what an acid trip can be like.
posted by SoberHighland at 10:00 AM on May 17 [4 favorites]

@hippybear, find some kids who go to electronica festivals. They can hook you up with the righteous material. And while there are a few psychedelics discovered in the last 40 years that could be put on a blotter, there's not incentive for the chemists to do that.

Or, IDK how you feel about mushrooms but when I went to Seattle last month I bought a chocolate bar from a guy at a street mart (I talked with him a while first, to convince myself he was not ignorant or a bullshitter). The 10 squares of the bar would each do fair duty in exchange for a tab, as the seller promised.

I'm not sure how far you go back but as far as psychedelics markets, the kids these days have it way better than I did in the 70s-80s.
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 10:02 AM on May 17 [4 favorites]

Yeah, given my age and health issues, I think my "set" would be too fucked up for any "setting" I could be in for these anymore.

I did go to a dead show at Autzen Stadium like a week after I had gotten a four inch long spike of wood into my arm. It had been removed, but was still an actively healing wound. Having a bandage covering the wound, in a stadium full of dirty hippies, with water being sprayed all around, was not perhaps the best set.

Was a pretty great show though. I do miss Jerry and Brent. Could likely be tempted by the Sphere shows, but I think that would be too much information.
posted by Windopaene at 10:16 AM on May 17 [3 favorites]

Recently read Tripping on Utopia: Margaret Mead, the Cold War, and the Troubled Birth of Psychedelic Science. There's a chapter discussing how John Lilly would dose dolphins with LSD. What a trip.
posted by dmh at 10:58 AM on May 17 [2 favorites]

Was a pretty great show though. I do miss Jerry and Brent.

Seconded. BTW, the Mickey Mouse Sorcerer's Apprentice blotter that was going around at Mickey Hart's birthday show at the Spectrum in 1990 was incredible.
posted by mikelieman at 11:08 AM on May 17 [3 favorites]

So - he's dead now so I can talk about it.

My old pot dealer when we first moved to Madison, John Schoeneker, was telling us about how he got busted with blotter (I think it was at a deadhead show, but could be wrong). They sentenced him for the weight of the paper not just the acid.

I remember hearing that was a thing when he mentioned it and was like yeah that blows. He went on about how much bullshit it was.

Dude loved TOS and had tapes of it he'd watch on his little 13" black and white TV. He had a knee injury from biking and was on Opioids as long as we knew him. He never pushed it on us, and was happy just selling us a bit of herb from time to time. He'd go on about how Reagan destroyed America and took the Solar Panels off of the White House. He claimed to love Stalin's brutal tactics (at the time I was a wee libertarian/anarchist, and found that a bit odd, but now I'm Older and sometimes... you know. sometimes... the heart feels maaaaaaybe?)

Anyways, we had long been out of touch when I found out he was in prison for dealing opioids to a roommate at a frat house, and ... Len Bias laws kicked in. The kid died and John went back to Jail :(

I found out later still that he had died in prison. In that obit, I found the story of the blotter.
My friends, my dealer did not just "get sentenced for the weight of the blotter"...
He took the thing to the damn US Supreme Court (this was 1990, so... you know it was Rehnquist's court)

RIP John. Sorry you didn't have more sense in your head and 2 lives had to be ruined. You were a good dude at heart, even if a little "not there" in the head.

(I once wanted to make my psychedelic comic have a fake blotter cover with one tiny square in the corner actually containing acid for those in the know). Never even made a comic let alone go through with that silliness.

Pure liquid is better, but blotter is JUST SO COOL. (*sorry mdma, with corporate symbols on a pill press - blotter art is the best art drug delivery system of all time")
posted by symbioid at 11:24 AM on May 17 [17 favorites]

I meant to say. "at least with blotter paper one was relatively sure that speed or other unsavory ingredients were not included".
posted by DJZouke at 11:44 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]

I wrote an entire incomprehensible novel in mirror writing in a marble composition notebook. It's hell tripping when you can't get up and move around.

Can I beg you to tell us whether you are right or left handed and whether or not you used your dominant hand?
posted by jamjam at 11:57 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]

I don't know if anyone ever did it, but using the cover for Plastikman's Sheet One for tabs would be pretty funny.
posted by juv3nal at 12:46 PM on May 17 [2 favorites]

Erik Davis' new book Blotter, which this article is related to, is the book to get if you're into this stuff.
posted by Liquidwolf at 12:51 PM on May 17 [3 favorites]

Yeah, the mysterious backache was disturbing to me and my circle

I think that’s just an effect of acid? LSD is stimulating, compared to e.g. mushrooms. That’s one reason I always liked it better but combined with the duration you can feel a little beat up, even just physically, afterwards.

There are other psychedelics that can fit on blotter, though, ranging from things like the DOx series that are actually pretty legit drugs but with less margin of safety for dosing (and lasting even longer than LSD) to things like the NBOMe series with an even lower margin of safety that it’s probably best to avoid altogether. Encountering these intentionally misrepresented as acid has mostly been a thing in periods where grey market “research chemicals” were easy to get and acid wasn’t, as in the years after the Pickard/Apperson/Skinner bust. In the late 2010s, RC vendors started selling true chemical analogs of LSD, including some with nearly identical effects. Between those and a resurgence of the real thing I think there was a lot of really good, strong blotter around for a while. Not really sure about these days.
posted by atoxyl at 2:06 PM on May 17 [4 favorites]

My hands... they're beautiful!
posted by y2karl at 3:05 PM on May 17 [2 favorites]

I just don’t know how one goes about procuring reputable sources these days !
I’m an adult now. Can’t end up in a ditch with a mind full of chemicals like some kind of cheese-eating high school boy.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 3:45 PM on May 17 [7 favorites]

For those who don’t dig the reference it’s a classic you’ll thank yourself later
posted by St. Peepsburg at 3:49 PM on May 17 [1 favorite]

Don't sell yourself short St. Peepsburg. Probably no one would even notice. And then you will have a cool story to tell...

"I had these cheese. With some other stuff in them, not sure what happened, but let me tell what happened when I came to in the ditch. There were blood stains around, I had some wounds, so, OK, fine, probably didn't stab someone... But the oneness of the universe..."

Great creative writing prompt.
posted by Windopaene at 4:53 PM on May 17 [2 favorites]

Yeah, the mysterious backache was disturbing to me and my circle. I generally enjoyed and felt emancipated by the transcendental trip part, but a weird backache out of nowhere made us all kind of concerned that something else was in there. This backache phenomena happened to me and many of my friends who did blotter acid back in the early '90s, and we were early 20s, in generally good shape and none of us had back issues. I can't say it happened to me every time, and it wasn't a terrible ache, but nonetheless disturbing.

One of the side effects of ergot derived headache medicine is lower back pain, and the ergotamine and lysergic acid produced by ergot were substrates from which LSD was synthesized.

So I’d guess the backache came from LSD which still contained a lot of the ergot. Ergot by itself causes LSD-like changes in consciousness, and it seems possible to me that your LSD might have owed its efficacy to the raw materials as much or more than the finished product.

The blotter acid I took in the late 70s had 'THE FORCE' printed on each square, and taking it always gave me a very sharp stomach pang about twenty minutes before it really started to come on, and I ended up attributing that to the ergot.

But it took me about 5 years after my last hit of blotter acid to realize that the strong flashbacks I was having always came after eating 100% whole grain Rytak cracker rounds, and considering that rye is the preferred host of ergot and seems to produce the greatest amounts of LSD precursors, I’ve wondered ever since whether ergot became part of my microbiome from that blotter acid, and produces LSD-like psychoactive chemicals in my gut every time I eat whole grain rye.
posted by jamjam at 10:19 PM on May 17 [7 favorites]

There’s a paragraph I find pretty startling in the ergot article I linked in my previous comment:
In addition to ergot alkaloids, Claviceps paspali also produces tremorgens (paspalitrem) causing "paspalum staggers" in cattle.[20] The fungi of the genera Penicillium and Aspergillus also produce ergot alkaloids, notably some isolates of the human pathogen Aspergillus fumigatus,[21] and have been isolated from plants in the family Convolvulaceae, of which morning glory is best known. The causative agents of most ergot poisonings are the ergot alkaloid class of fungal metabolites, though some ergot fungi produce distantly related indole-diterpene alkaloids that are tremorgenic.[10]
When LSD was hard to get, those of you who were following the situation back then may remember a lot of excitement about 'LSD' from morning glory seeds that you could get in a dosable form by boiling the seeds — to which seeds suppliers responded by coating the seeds with a poison, of course.

But the Wikipedia paragraph I quoted seems to imply that the true source of ergot alkaloids found in morning glories could be Aspergillus fumigatus infecting morning glory rather than the mere plant itself.

Aspergillus fumigatus is also notable as a fungus commonly found on people's pillows:
Each pillow was found to contain a substantial fungal load,with four to 16 different species being identified per sample and evenhigher numbers found in synthetic pillows. The microscopic fungusAspergillus fumigatus was particularly evident in synthetic pillows,and fungi as diverse as bread and vine moulds and those usually foundon damp walls and in showers were also found.

Professor Ashley Woodcock who led the research said: "We knowthat pillows are inhabited by the house dust mite which eats fungi, andone theory is that the fungi are in turn using the house dust mites'faeces as a major source of nitrogen and nutrition (along with humanskin scales). There could therefore be a 'miniature ecosystem' at workinside our pillows."
It seems unlikely to be producing enough ergotamine alkaloid to affect our dreams without morning glory tissue to work with, however.
posted by jamjam at 12:08 AM on May 18 [1 favorite]

So I’d guess the backache came from LSD which still contained a lot of the ergot

Interesting link to the effects of other ergot derivatives, I think my first guess would be that LSD, being in the same family, just… has similar side effects, though. There’s a fair amount of pharmacological overlap. In fact fun related tidbit from the wiki article on ergotamine:

Despite acting as a potent 5-HT2A receptor agonist, ergotamine is said to be non-hallucinogenic similarly to lisuride. This is thought to be due to functional selectivity at the 5-HT2A receptor.

5-HT2A is the serotonin receptor subtype that all classical psychedelics act on. That’s been known for a long time, but I believe it’s only relatively recently that the effects have been isolated to a particular downstream pathway that not all ligands activate. This is probably why you don’t (usually?) get LSD visuals from SSRIs.
posted by atoxyl at 10:23 AM on May 18 [2 favorites]

Tonight's the Night album sleeve was printed on blotter paper. Every copy I've seen is all tattered around the edges.
posted by ovvl at 5:06 PM on May 18 [1 favorite]

We got that suggestion from a guy named Dozer in the parking lot at a Dead show in Hampton, Va

Good old Dozer: he knew what was what.

1988/89, my partner and crime and I (me big mean-looking dude with RBF and she itty-bitty towheaded proto-waif) would pick a friend or two and drive from Ann Arbor to Detroit to go clubbing in the most scabrous and condemned underground house music clubs. This was right when house music was being invented. When we pulled the car onto the street, we ritually ate a tab of blotter, just dropping it onto our tongues, like water from a vine leaf. It's about a 45 minute drive, so it would be just hitting us when we got there. Into the club, nothing but strobe lights and a true fuckton of cigarette smoke by today's (or any) standards, she and I and the bass and the beat. No sense drinking, because the acid somehow rendered alcohol ineffective. One of the clubs ("Todd's Sway Lounge") was so poorly ventilated that once every 90 minutes or so, they'd play Ballroom Blitz, which was the signal for all the habitués to get in a big cross-shaped formation and run in circles around the dance floor so as to create a vortex and swap the cigarette smoke for ten-degrees F winter Detroit air. We'd stay till dawn and they kicked us out, and then drive back to Ann Arbor, still wired and happy, with our friends being like holy crap, you do this every Friday? and we were like sometimes Saturday too. There was a farmer's market we'd stop at and get fruit and yoghurt, and if the weather was remotely fair, we'd eat it in the university's gargantuan arboretum.

So many great memories and so much forgotten. She and I live a thousand miles apart but still talk all the time. Her kids are a couple years older than mine, she's an art director who keeps bees, I'm a professor, neither of us does anything more than weed anymore. Thanks, blotter!
posted by outgrown_hobnail at 8:26 PM on May 18 [7 favorites]

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