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Erowid Families and Psychoactives Interview Series
Dialog with David
Interview by Erowid
Dec 2003
David is in his 40s, recently divorced, and works as a toxicologist. He and his 14-year-old son and 17-year-old daughter live in California.



David: I'm fairly open with my children. I haven't had so many direct questions from my daughter about psychedelics or any kind of drug use, although I've opened the conversation up with her a couple of times. My son has posed direct questions to me about LSD in particular, so somehow he's gotten interested in the concept of LSD. The first time he asked me about it he said, "Have you ever taken it?" I said, "Oh... yes..." That was kind of enough at that point. It was sort of like initial questions about sex. But maybe 6 or 8 months later, he asked, "Well have you taken it more than once?" And I said, "Oh... yes... I haven't had any in a long time. But I took it many times."

He seems to be kind of the more interesting case, in a way, because he's expressed an interest, but he "hook-line-and-sinker" fell into the DARE program at school. He's had an abundance of anti-drug, anti-tobacco, anti-alcohol messages that he's by and large absorbed and accepted. He disapproves if I have more than two glasses of wine. But somehow psychedelics for him seem to be a separate issue. I think it's in a large sense probably because I've exposed him to some of my most favorite and sane people that I know [who take psychedelics]. I've taken him to Bob Dylan concerts, I've taken him to see the Grateful Dead, and I'm trying to expose him to as much in the way of different kinds of behavior as I can. We haven't really broached the topic of my current consumption, but actually in the last couple years at least, I've only had a couple things I've been taking with any kind of regularity. I used to take mushrooms pretty regularly, I haven't been doing that as much in the last couple of years. I took MDMA with some regularity about a year and a half ago. More recently I've been experimenting with 2C-B.

I do take it when I'm around my kids, but I don't make a point to tell them necessarily that I'm having an experience like that. I just intensely enjoy my kids. My daughter of course has more of an independent life, at 17, as you may guess. But my son and I have a very close relationship. I should point out that I was divorced in May. In part, my long-term interest in having these kinds of experiences probably contributed to the break up of the marriage. My ex-wife is becoming more completely straight-laced. It's partially the influence of our working environment. We work for a large institution where any consumption of substances would be cause for immediate dismissal. I think she's in a very high pressure situation, she thrives on the stress, and we just drifted apart. That's a lifestyle that doesn't hold anything for me. Around 1990, we had already been married for years, had had the two children, we'd had the growing pains of a new marriage. Somehow for me there was something missing in my life. So I started cultivating mushrooms again at that point. Not the indoor mushroom cultivation that a lot of people go through; this was a little more of a garden-level project. It was pretty invisible. Still, it gave me access to some very fine experiences for quite a few years. That kind of gives you an overall summary of where things are. My kids I think are OK with the divorce situation. I'm staying in our house, and they're going to be sharing time with my ex-wife. The divorce actually was very amicable -- disastrous to me economically, but amicable on the level of the relationship with my ex.

Erowid: When your son was in the DARE program... did you share your opinions? Did you have conversations at the dinner table about it? What was that like for you?

David: I definitely expressed my opinions, that there were other ways of looking at the whole question of what drugs were about. I had to choose the setting of how I could do that, because my wife at the time would vigorously protest when I tried to express my true feelings in front of her. I pretty much had to use the times when I was alone with my kids, driving them to school or whatever. I would make quick observations, like "Gee if they're telling you all drugs are bad, don't forget that aspirin, coffee, wine and medicines the doctor gives you are also drugs. This program that you're hearing might be well intentioned, but there is no proof that these things intrinsically are bad. It's a point of view." I gently tried to introduce the concept to them that there is another way of looking at the whole situation.

In talking with my parents about my family's further remote history: My grandmother ran a speakeasy during Prohibition in Jersey City so I've got a great history of how Prohibition affects behavior with respect to drugs. My kids know those stories very well, they've heard them not only from me, but from my mother. If anything, it's a source of pride in the family that my grandmother was resourceful enough to be able to survive in very tough economic times and to do it by... running a drug house! But she didn't fully buy into the idea that Prohibition was in fact universal throughout the country. She argued with my dad until the late 60s, I think jokingly, saying, "Well how could it have been illegal in Jersey City? The chief of police and the mayor were my best customers!"

My ex-wife came out of a family that was really dominated by an alcoholic mother. Her mom was the youngest of nine kids. Her grandmother died in childbirth, so her mother had kind of a rough upbringing, I don't know if it was abusive, but it had to have been pretty rough. The mother became a pretty vicious alcoholic. he is in fact still alive, she's on her fifth husband, but the descriptions that my ex-wife gives of what her home life was like are horrendous. I'm sure that my ex-wife's feelings about substances are also pretty deeply colored by her upbringing. She doesn't have a way of separating really destructive drug use from something that might be a little more reasonable.

Erowid: The experiences that you were having with mushrooms -- do you feel that they informed your parenting?

David: I've always thought that psychedelics had a very positive effect on my mental health in general. Maybe I'm in denial, but that's what I've always felt about it. I felt that I could examine the day-to-day garbage that builds up in the subconscious, and release some of its uncontrolled influence on my day-to-day state of mind. Raising kids can be stressful, there are economic forces that work on you, there's the stress of just rearing them and keeping them out of the emergency ward [laughs], and there's a lot of day-to-day stress that builds up. And I would be untruthful to say that I had a great marriage. My marriage was always a bit on the strained side. My social life, also, probably like a lot of people, fell off quite a lot as I was raising small children. It [mushroom use] was a form of solace for me -- I don't want to say escape because I don't think that's really the right term. It was an avenue to touch a sense of joy and release, however infrequently.

Erowid: There are many young people today who experiment young, and at younger and younger ages, particularly with cannabis. Fourteen is the age a lot of them start. Do you feel that your son would tell you if he had an interest in cannabis? Or do you think your daughter has tried cannabis before?

David: I know my daughter has experimented with alcohol a little bit. She certainly knows what cannabis smells like. We were up skiing last weekend, with two of her friends, and we popped into a gondola that just reeked of pot when we jumped in. They all laughed, "Oh! It's a hotbox!" Their immediate response was that their eyes lit up and they smiled and laughed. It was pretty clear what that's about; I don't know if she's smoked or not yet. But I suspect that she would be a little more hesitant to admit it to me than my son. I have the impression that my son would wait longer to experiment than she might, just in terms of what kinds of people they are socially; I could be wrong. My sense of it at this point is that my son hasn't done any experimenting.

Erowid: And you don't feel particularly motivated to be direct with your daughter...

David: Like I said, the question has come up. I can recall one conversation in particular, I don't know exactly what triggered it. I might have been a little bit high on 2C-B, but, maybe not. I don't recall. I remember relating to them that one of the things that I was frustrated with when I was their age was a lack of information about what was really going on. It seemed that every piece of information that was presented about drugs was really propaganda. And I think that situation persists. There are more avenues, but it is much more likely that teenagers will first and foremost be exposed to a lot of propaganda, and only if they're very motivated will they be able to find more information. I told them flat-out that when I was an undergraduate in college, I took it upon myself to acquire as many books as I could, really go into them seriously, talk to people, experiment; I didn't really put the emphasis on my own personal experimentation. I certainly did a lot of it then; it was during college that I was motivated to do that, not just for my own personal sense of knowing about drugs, but also to be able to provide factual information to my friends.

To this day, I'm surprised how many adults who took drugs as college students or as younger people didn't even really know what they took, or how much. I think that's very inhibiting of having a healthy environment in which to experiment with those things. It kind of colors your whole future recollection of what the experiences were like, what you got out of them. I was an undergraduate when I had my first research job, that I went and sought out. It was working on Phalaris, the DMT-containing grasses. Amongst other things, we had fairly good quantities of absolutely pure reagent grade DMT, 5-Methoxy-DMT... in fact we had the whole family of compounds that were commercially available as analytical standards. Using the book edited by Robert E. Brown, The Psychedelic Guide to the Preparation of the Eucharist, they had a very helpful table in that book, I think maybe for five compounds: LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, STP, and DMT. There was a general dose, average dose, lowest dose that will produce any effects, maximum safe dose, and dose for first-time experimentation. I remember weighing out the "maximum safe dose" of DMT and taking it out to my university's experimental garden and attempting to smoke it. 50 mgs. I don't think I finished it. Maybe got about two-thirds of the way through. And it was wonderful.

Erowid: Do you know what year this was?

David: That would have been 1973. Then I didn't really have much exposure to pure known materials until a little later on. First time I was at a scientific meeting on psychedelics, it was 1977. Dr. Shulgin, Albert Hofmann, Dr. Evans Schultes, a lot of the old guard. Motivated by that, I came back and did some analytical work to develop a way of measuring not the purity so much but at least the quantity of LSD in available preparations. At the time, I had some liquid acid; I worked it through my process, reckoned the concentration, and decided to give myself one afternoon the dose that Hofmann first took when he intentionally dosed himself. The famous "least amount that could have been expected to have any effect at all", 250 mcgs. I was blown away. I was very blown away. The knowledge of what you're taking, what to expect, what the quantity is that you are taking, I stress to my daughter and her boyfriend: All this stuff makes a huge difference in your confidence going to into the experience, your willingness to suffer the periods of darkness, but also pretty much what the realm of the experience might be. You have some preparation.

I wasn't necessarily trying to be encouraging of them to take drugs, but I told them, "Look, if you've got any questions, I have a whole library of information on this stuff, and you can ask me anything you want to ask. If I can't answer it directly, I can help you find the answer."

Erowid: How did she respond to that?

David: "Oh...Cool." Not too much response. I wasn't trying to be too heavy-handed, which I know I can do sometimes. But I tried to get the message across. Because it is of concern to me... I know that it is out there, and I'd hate for them to get into a situation without some consideration of what could happen. But she's a pretty highly-laced production, I think she knows how to take care of herself. Seems like. We'll see.

Erowid: Do you ever foresee the possibility of one day having an experience with your son?

David: I think I'd love to do that, I think we'd have a great time. At the same time, I'd like to wait until he's at least 18. Then we'll see what happens. We've got a lot of stuff to go through. We're just having the last Christmas with my ex still in the house. She's moving over New Year's weekend. It's not terribly strained; things are as comfortable as the situation allows. We will have a lot of things to work out.

Erowid: You took your son to Burning Man this year. Did you find yourself having to explain anything to him?

David: No, not too much. He did point out to me that somebody had offered him a joint, and he declined. He didn't have any questions about drug use, per se, which surprised me a little bit, but we were only up there for basically a day and a half. I think by Sunday in the early afternoon, he'd had about as much as he could deal with, so we packed up and came home. But he was very positive about the whole experience.

When we got back and unpacked the car later, he asked, "Can we go again next year?" Whatever the magic of Burning Man is, he certainly responded to. The more strange aspects, the public nudity for example, didn't really seem to faze him much.

Erowid: Your son is pretty darn mature.

David: He's an interesting one. I think he's a lot like I was at that age. He has a few friends, but not a whole lot. Doesn't like team sports, he's really just his own kid. He'd rather do creative things; of course he's way into video games, which I can't help him with. But he holds his own in a conversation. I love to see the response of adults when they meet him. It seems to always be a mutually enjoyed situation.

Erowid: What kind of school does he go to?

David: He goes to a public school. We've got pretty good schools in our district. It's by and large an East Bay WASP and Asian school district, where not a lot of minorities live, and people don't believe he's half Mexican. There are a lot of caring teachers. He was diagnosed as an ADD kid, earlier, and he had a terrible time adapting to school. He couldn't tolerate the frustration of not being able to stick with the process of school. His teachers from about first grade suggested that he have a medical evaluation, which we did. We avoided any medication for another year and a half. Finally, when he was in third grade, we did choose to medicate him, because it was getting to the point where I was concerned that he would stigmatize himself with his peers. He was at the point where he would bang his head on the desk, he would get so frustrated with being in class, or pull his jacket over his head, just withdraw. I was very concerned that people think, "Oh there's Ben, the weird kid."

He was on Ritalin, and then Dexedrine, for two and a half years. But by 6th grade, he started to pull out of it, and I think he stopped any medication at all in the middle of 6th grade year. Now he's just blossomed. This year he's got all A's and B's, he's enjoying school, and like I said, he's not your regular kid. I think he's got an interesting bunch of friends. He's on the right track, I think, for going on from here. We'll see.

Erowid: I imagine it must be very difficult to be a teenager these days. Somehow things seem to have been simpler, 20 years ago. You mentioned that when he was having the DARE experience, you pointed out that drugs that are prescribed by a doctor are also "drugs." We often come across reports of teenagers who are misusing the stimulants that their friends or they themselves have been prescribed. But it sounds like it was really a medicine for him.

David: I don't think he really liked it all that much. By the time that he was into it for maybe 6 or 8 months, he realized that it was helping, and it was probably necessary. We would try to give him holidays, and we only gave him medication during school. Even though it supposedly has this anomalous effects on kids, they're still just stimulants. They're doing the same thing to kids that they're doing to adults; they're helping them focus on whatever they care to focus on. I don't think he every really liked them all that much, he was sort of viewing them as a tool. Basically by the time he got to 7th grade, we said, "Well, what do you think?" He said, "I don't really like it," and he never went back.

Erowid: Do you know if his friends are a lot like him? Has he ever talked to you about other kids at school?

David: He's made some observations about other kids. There are already other kids that are starting to effect the Goth presentation. There are kids that talk a lot about drugs, but I think it's like sex at that 7th and 8th grade level, there's a lot of talk but it's still a big mystery. I'm sure that will not be the case in high school. My daughter just the other day was saying there were two incidents where two boys -- one from her school and one from another school -- ended up really drunk on campus. Alcohol intoxicated, vomiting violently, in the middle of the day. To the effect where an ambulance had to come and drag them off. She remarks about people smoking pot in the bathrooms, coming to school stoned. She seems to me like she's looking down on that a bit. And it is probably a pretty inappropriate thing to do, although it certainly does go on. But, weekends are another matter. We'll see what seems to come her way. I think you're right, there's certainly a much faster pace of life 20 years ago... I was a teenager 35 years ago. It was a less frenetic pace; there was a lot less stuff being pushed at you all the time, generally in the popular culture.

Erowid: With having raised your kids the way you've raised them, would you imagine having any advice to offer or idiom to suggest to other parents who would be raising young teens?

David: Actually there is something that I've always remembered. I went to school at UC-Davis. There was a general class that was an introduction to wine. At that time I think it was the only viticulture program in the country, the only formal academic department that studied on wine. I took their general class, that was aimed at undergraduates. There was at least one lecture on alcoholism and society. The profs made the point that statistically at least, the prevalence of alcoholics is greatest from kids that come from families where there is already a lot of alcoholism, but also from families where alcohol is avoided entirely, from teetotalling families. In that broader group in the middle where alcohol is moderately integrated into family life, consumed with food, in the context of family get-togethers and holidays and that sort of thing, without a lot of hard abusive drinking, the behavior patterns of kids pretty much emerge in parallel with their families'. They are as moderate as their parents were. I think that with other drugs, if we could ever get beyond the current legal situation, there might be some hope for some rational approach to all this. Certainly with all the other drugs, with few exceptions, I just can't think of the depth of problems that you experience with those when you compare them with alcohol. Ask any cop whether he'd rather arrest a violent drunk or a high person. We've socially made some unfortunate choices about how we restrict our abilities to alter our consciousness. It's tough, it's creating a lot of problems.

Erowid: What was your decision-making process around how you talked to your kids about psychoactives? Is it something that proceeded organically based on cues from your kids? Or is it something that you thought about ahead of time that you were going proactively ahead with? Is it something that is changing over time? Or do you have no plan.

David: It's a little more a combination of the first two. I try to respond to questions as they come up. It reminds me of all the stuff I read about how to teach your kids about sex. You start out at a very young age, and respond to their questions as if it's any other question. That's pretty much the way that I try to handle it with drugs, the same kind of concept. The DARE program if anything gave me a great opportunity to point out things. I haven't felt it necessary to go beyond that.

Erowid: It sounds like you were very informed from early on -- you collected books and information in college...

David: I was a toxicology student as an undergraduate...

Erowid: ...it might have been different if you hadn't had that information at your disposal. It's almost like parents are the ones who should go through drug information programs, so they don't get as freaked out.

David: Take the example of the wine class that I had. If more young adults could expose themselves to that kind of thinking about alcohol... But, you know, most don't... I can't think of a situation where educating yourself hurts.

I'm very proud of my kids, I think they're turning into interesting people, I love them madly. I'm not a faculty member, I'm a scientist, I don't teach, so I just always try to put out experiences and what I think is valid information and encourage people to pose questions and see if they can find answers. I think I've got my kids' respect. Like I said, it's a tough time, after the divorce. We're changing our life situation, but I have very high hopes for wonderful lives for both of them. And if they decide to get high with me sometime, that might be fun. But it might be kind of a while before that's a possibility; we'll see.