The Beatles and drugs

LSD (continued)

The Beatles had their second encounter with LSD on 24 August 1965, on a break from their US tour. On this occasion Paul McCartney declined, but Ringo Starr decided to partake. He was looked after by Neil Aspinall during his first trip.

Paul felt very out of it ’cause we were all a bit cruel. It’s like, ‘We’re taking it and you’re not.’ We couldn’t eat our food. I just couldn’t manage it. Picking it up with our hands, and there’s all these people serving us in the house, and we’re just knocking it on the floor – oh! – like that. It was a long time before Paul took it. And then there was the big announcement. I think George was pretty heavy on it. We were probably both the most cracked. I think Paul’s a bit more stable than George and I. I don’t know about straight. Stable. I think LSD profoundly shocked him.
John Lennon
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner

The Beatles held an afternoon party in Los Angeles on 24 August, with guests including Eleanor Bron, The Byrds and journalist Don Short. Also there was actor Peter Fonda, whose tale of accidentally shooting himself as a child while playing with a gun later inspired the song She Said She Said.

LSD had a profound effect on The Beatles’ songwriting and recording. The first-released song to mention it was Day Tripper, but over time its influence resulted in less explicit and more abstract references to acid. The Beatles increasingly tapped into the burgeoning counterculture of 1966, and the first song recorded for Revolver was the psychedelic Tomorrow Never Knows, featured lyrics adapted from Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert’s 1964 book The Psychedelic Experience, itself a modern reworking of the ancient Tibetan Book of the Dead.

The song perhaps most often associated with The Beatles’ use of LSD is Lennon’s Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds. While the group always denied that the title was a reference to acid – Lennon and McCartney both maintained it was inspired by a painting drawn by Julian Lennon and named after a schoolfriend – there is little doubt that the Through The Looking Glass imagery was the product of drug intake.

Lennon only took LSD once in the studio, unwittingly, on 21 March 1967 during a recording session for the Sgt Pepper song Getting Better.

I thought I was taking some uppers, and I was not in a state of handling it. I can’t remember what album it was but I took it and then [whispers] I just noticed all of a sudden I got so scared on the mike. I said, ‘What was it?’ I thought I felt ill. I thought I was going cracked. Then I said, ‘I must get some air.’ They all took me upstairs on the roof, and George Martin was looking at me funny. And then it dawned on me. I must have taken acid. And I said, ‘Well, I can’t go on, I have to go.’ So I just said, ‘You’ll have to do it and I’ll just stay and watch.’ I just [became] very nervous and just watching all of a sudden. ‘Is it alright?’ and they were saying, ‘Yeah.’ They were all being very kind. They said, ‘Yes, it’s alright.’ And I said, ‘Are you sure it’s alright?’ They carried on making the record.
John Lennon
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner

In fact, the session was stopped once The Beatles realised that Lennon was tripping. Lennon’s car was not at the studio, and so McCartney took him to his nearby home at Cavendish Avenue.

I thought, Maybe this is the moment where I should take a trip with him. It’s been coming for a long time. It’s often the best way, without thinking about it too much, just slip into it. John’s on it already, so I’ll sort of catch up. It was my first trip with John, or with any of the guys. We stayed up all night, sat around and hallucinated a lot.

Me and John, we’d known each other for a long time. Along with George and Ringo, we were best mates. And we looked into each other’s eyes, the eye contact thing we used to do, which is fairly mind-boggling. You dissolve into each other. But that’s what we did, round about that time, that’s what we did a lot. And it was amazing. You’re looking into each other’s eyes and you would want to look away, but you wouldn’t, and you could see yourself in the other person. It was a very freaky experience and I was totally blown away.

There’s something disturbing about it. You ask yourself, ‘How do you come back from it? How do you then lead a normal life after that?’ And the answer is, you don’t. After that you’ve got to get trepanned or you’ve got to meditate for the rest of your life. You’ve got to make a decision which way you’re going to go.

I would walk out into the garden – ‘Oh no, I’ve got to go back in.’ It was very tiring, walking made me very tired, wasted me, always wasted me. But ‘I’ve got to do it, for my well-being.’ In the meantime John had been sitting around very enigmatically and I had a big vision of him as a king, the absolute Emperor of Eternity. It was a good trip. It was great but I wanted to go to bed after a while.

I’d just had enough after about four or five hours. John was quite amazed that it had struck me in that way. John said, ‘Go to bed? You won’t sleep!’ ‘I know that, I’ve still got to go to bed.’ I thought, now that’s enough fun and partying, now … It’s like with drink. That’s enough. That was a lot of fun, now I gotta go and sleep this off. But of course you don’t just sleep off an acid trip so I went to bed and hallucinated a lot in bed. I remember Mal coming up and checking that I was all right. ‘Yeah, I think so.’ I mean, I could feel every inch of the house, and John seemed like some sort of emperor in control of it all. It was quite strange. Of course he was just sitting there, very inscrutably.

Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

42 Responses to “The Beatles and drugs”

  1. Elsewhere Man

    Great article. However, Paul is well known as a pothead – or at least he used to be. I’d be curious to read a bit more on that…

    Reply
    • AlfinaHawaii

      I can’t help giggling – sorry…

      I have TREMENDOUS respect for Paul moreso than the rest of the Beatles, I have to say. And yet, you are probably correct. He WAS indeed fond of the Weed, and even known to publicly defend it as he (claims that he) was able to control the effects of the weed and never really experienced withdrawal associated with its disuse.

      And to be fair, it was probably true for Paul. He might have indeed been proud of the fact that he could use Marijuana at will, and not missing it nor having any withdrawals when he didn’t.

      Pothead and Proud of it? Or should we make it Proud Pothead Paul…? ::giggles::

      That doesn’t diminish my great admiration of the man – HONEST!

      Reply
      • Charles Smith

        Nobody ever has withdrawal when they stop smoking pot man. I do it all the time, and so does everyone else who smokes. I doubt Paul was unintelligent enough to think that weed was addictive, when he clearly realized other drugs, such as heroin, are the ones that lead you down the wrong path.

        The point is, everyone knows grass is docile and harmless, including Paul, and if someone smoking pot has a chance of diminishing your image of someone, you are simply ignorant.

        Reply
        • jnehbfhbn

          Not true. I smoked weed 3 times a day for 6 months. Had constant anxiety and paranoia, and symptoms of schizophrenia emerge. I was high 24/7, I didn’t care about anything anymore, life felt meaningless, and I would get stuck in my head with these long inner monologues. I felt like every day was a fight to keep my consciousness from dissolving. And even when I quit cold turkey, I had wicked bad withdrawals. I craved it as much as it tortured me.
          I don’t think cannabis is entirely bad or good. I just think it’s really ignorant to claim that it’s great for everyone, or not great for everyone. It effects everyone differently. And it is possible to have terrible trips on weed and withdrawals. I think people with already thin boundaries of self and delicately formed egos can’t handle something that really puts your mind to the test.

          Reply
          • I, Pot Head

            Very sensible. For me, it’s penicilin; that stuff almost killed me three times, but neither I nor my doctor realized it. Marijuana I like. And I don’t think you can get addicted to it–not in the same way as alcohol, tobacco, heroin, barbituates, cocaine, speed, caffeine, sugar, television, sex, power, or chocolate. Marijuana: I can smoke it or leave it alone. I’d rather smoke it, and I did off and on–mostly on–for 32 years, but I finally got so fed up with having to be a criminal, and hassle to find it and afford it WHEN IT IS A WEED THAT CAN GROW FOR FREE!, that I just gave it up. Someday, I profoundly hope, the power-addicted people will get the hell out of the way, and leave people alone, and then I’ll smoke it legally. Hurry the day.

            Reply
          • Matty D

            I’m affraid that you fly in the face of ALL medical opinion.
            You my friend are too wrapped up in yourself.

            Reply
            • John Paul Jones

              Don’t be ignorant. There is ample evidence that marijuana can exacerbate latent mental issues and even induce psychosis.

              Reply
    • Charles Carpenter

      Ringo said on The Beatles Talk Drugs {FROM A DOCUMENTARY OF SOME SORT} that when they took more than just a little pot there music was shit,and theyd be happy withit till they came in straight the next day

      Reply
  2. robert

    My understanding is that John’s heroin addiction continued on and off into the mid seventies. Can’t site my source, just remember hearing/reading this many times.

    Anyone else ever this?

    Reply
    • Joe

      I believe Yoko has said they had four separate periods on heroin. She also said the hardest to kick was methadone, which they’d heard was like heroin but non-addictive. So they started taking it, not as a substitute to heroin, as they weren’t addicts at the time. After finally kicking that she said they never became addicted to anything again.

      Reply
    • Michael McCullough (@OxyMick)

      I too heard this – far from baking bread and being a househusband (as told to Andy Peebles Dec 1980), don’t ask me where, but at LEAST two, maybe three sources have John hanging out with Uncle Henry, and especially heavily during the period when Jack Daniels and Harry Nilsson were his other constant companions.
      Personally, when I first became acquainted with Henry, it was mid-70s and greyish-white, water soluble, very strong stuff from Thailand, with the brandname “Double Globe” on every compressed slab wrapped in clear plastic with red printing, each a little more than 250g. From 1981, all that could be had in UK was this brown, adulterated, much weaker stuff from Afghanistan, paid for by the CIA & US Govt; a result of their allies like Osama bin Laden maximising the millions given to them to aid their anti-Soviet campaign.
      I had developed a reaction to cannabis which made it unpleasant and often frightening. And just as I was thoroughly enjoying the best H made, this USA funded Afghan brown arrived, and has been with us ever since. I pray for the day I find a containerload of Double Globe (which is still, even post- Khun Sa, still available, grown and processed by the same hill tribes.
      Heroin is benign. It does no damage to the body and vital organs, unlike any other social relaxant. It clears my mind and aids my thinking; other drugs screw it up. Fraser was correct in that the only real problem is running out when you have a habit on. Great for physical and emotional pain, it is obvious to me that John would be the most likely Beatle to indulge. And “Cold Turkey” (whilst being the worst way possible to break a habit) SOUNDS LIKE IT FEELS!! That painful descending riff tells the eight-day horror story perfectly.

      Reply
  3. robert

    that’s how I remember it as well. And this went into the mid-seventies.

    I often wondered if this was partly behind the 18 month separation – they had to get away from each other in order to get clean.

    Reply
  4. Vonbontee

    Interesting how all four ex-Beatles had their own preferences, drugwise: Paul liked weed, booze for Ringo, heroin for John and apparently George was quite fond of coke for a time, something I only learned recently and found somewhat surprising.

    (Fun druggie nicknames/memory aids: Pothead Paul, Junkie John, Rummy Ringo, and I can’t think of one for George.)

    Reply
    • AlfinaHawaii

      ::giggles::

      I LOVE your druggie nickname! I’d make it Proud Pothead Paul – since he was known to defend the use of the substance and throughout the 80s he constantly maintained that he could use and discontinue using at will, with no effect nor withdrawals whatsoever.

      Potheaded – and Proud of it. ::giggles::

      Reply
        • Aaron

          I’m a huge advocate for legalization. In fact, I’m in favor of ending drug prohibition and The War On Drugs entirely (as there is ample evidence this does more harm to society than good.) And further, I believe that marijuana is the safest of all the recreational drugs, and I agree that it also has some wonderful properties which make it useful as medicine, as well. HOWEVER, that being said, your comment is untrue.

          You need to understand that everyone is different. Both in terms of their specific neurochemistry, and their psychology. Addiction and habituation are both physiological and psychological phenomena. In a physiological sense, if you use something daily, for a period of YEARS, your body and mind are going to become used to it. There is no way around this (that we know of, yet). This is why a new user can take a few puffs and get so stoned it’s almost psychedelic, and someone who has been smoking daily for years, can smoke a joint and then take an exam.

          When one smokes for so long that the normal effects of the substance are muted, abrupt cessation CAN cause some issues, for some people.

          And in a psychological sense, a person can become “addicted” to anything. While very different than, say, the physiological addiction that opiates cause, this psychological addiction can still have a powerful grip, making cessation challenging. And you need to understand that a person’s PROPENSITY for addiction is a very important factor, and will vary considerably from person to person.

          Have you never known “that person” who could smoke a cigarette, or take a drink, once in a blue moon… then stop and not touch it again for many weeks, or months? I’ve known a small handful of these people over the decades. They exist, and they annoy the bejeezus out of easily-addicted types such as myself. (I say that playfully, of course. I wouldn’t wish addiction on anyone.) Then of course there are the people who seem, if they touch it once, will want to keep going forever. Far too many of us fall into this category.

          I have seen some of the worst that addiction can bring. And even for someone with a propensity for addiction, stopping long term marijuana use is a walk in the park compared to quitting an opiate addiction. But it is still challenging. And if it’s not for you, then you are one of the LUCKY ones. Some people have a hard time quitting POTATO CHIPS, or SODA, let alone a powerful mind-altering substance which calms our nerves and helps us relax.

          And I understand that people like yourself just get upset to see something you enjoy slandered, made to look bad. And there has been so much ridiculous anti-drug propaganda for so long, that there seems to be a tendency among advocates to swing toward the other extreme– as if the stuff is the Salve Of The Gods and could “do you no harm.” I think the truth, as with most things, lies somewhere in between. Most adults can use cannabis safely. Used once in a while, its effects seem to be mostly positive and pleasant. More frequent use increases likelihood of negative effects, or possibly habituation in some individuals.

          Just try to understand that everyone is different, and not everyone is like you. Hopefully you understand where I’m coming from.

          Reply
    • Selt anczak

      Er hash man Harrison obviously and to the ” no I freaked out on canabis and got paranoid ” we’ll on sorry to sound harsh but you argument holds no water only 1.5 people on 10 have that sever of a traction the rest of us don’t hide in a closet and stab everything that comes. Near you we just feel calm and relaxed and we can stop and start at will with no adverse affects

      Reply
  5. A fool on a mountain

    Absolutely awesome article. A few spelling mistakes, but still very good. Some great quotes in it. I think that one of George’s saying that its all about your acceptance of the world really struck me. Like really struck me.

    But bloody good article.

    Reply
  6. Taryn Andrew MUS103

    This is a fascinating intro into their experiences with drug abuse. I was suprised to hear how a doctor actually helped Paul use Benzedrine. Its interesting to see the parallel’s with today’s society since parents also get caught providing their kids with drugs and alcohol.

    Reply
  7. RedLennon

    Is there any information out their regarding Paul’s first LSD trip with Tara Browne? I can’t imagine it to have been good if he never really got back into it.

    Reply
  8. Mickey Michaels

    Interesting article though maybe it has too few sources albiet impeccible ones. People can get addicted to water let alone pot. That said pot is one of the least harmful things you can take including cigarettes and booze. While I do think people can abuse it, it in itself is a farily docile drug.

    Reply
    • Marina Valerio

      That’s who they were mainly about. Weren’t they? The fact that they were a “legend” to many doesn’t take away who they intrinsically were. Just my personal opinion.

      Reply
  9. Mikey of Mason Summers

    As someone who prefers their early albums and believes that they peaked at A Hard Day’s Night soundtrack this is very interesting information. I knew a good deal of this history but now I feel much better educated. I love many types of music but the genres I know best and hold dearest are 70′s British punk and 50′s rock n roll. That being said, it’s easy to picture why I would prefer a band on uppers as opposed to a band on psychedelics or downers. Best option of course is to avoid the lot of em altogether.

    Reply
  10. Bryan

    I have LONG suspected it was John’s heroin addiction that actually did in the Beatles- brought on by Ono’s introduction of heroin to Lennon. I think the lyrics to the song “Too Many People” on McCartney’s Ram album spells it out in a not so cryptic fashion.

    “Too many people going underground…

    Too Many People Sharing Party Lines
    Too Many People Never Sleeping Late
    Too Many People Paying Parking Fines
    Too Many Hungry People Losing Weight

    That Was Your First Mistake
    You Took Your Lucky Break And Broke It In Two
    Now What Can Be Done For You
    You Broke It In Two”

    I have been listening to the Beatles for years and suspected John Lennon of heroin abuse, but until the Internet came around with great articles like this, I never really had any sources to confirm my suspicions.

    Honestly, the more I read about the darker side of the Beatles, the more my adoration and respect for McCartney and his talent has grown. While I really like a lot of Lennon’s solo music, it REALLY becomes apparent McCartney was the driving force behind the Beatles and their best music from a little before the mid-point of their collaboration. His control just kicked into high gear at the Pepper album.

    I’ve read in several places Lennon started to withdraw from the partnership and resent Paul and his talent when it became apparent to him that he could no longer keep up with him creatively.

    I, personally, think Ono was a rock around Lennon’s neck, but he did himself and the Beatles in all by himself.

    Reply
    • robert

      I agree Bryan – and I have stated so on different spots on this site – the single greatest issue leading to The Beatles’ breakup was John’s heroin addiction. As Paul has said and others have intimated – it made John impossible to deal with – they couldn’t communicate with him (FYI – I’m more a Lennon fan than McCartney fan).

      Remove the heroin and I assert that they would have stayed together a few more years, amicably have wound down, and remained friends with probable reunions from time to time.

      Yes it’s conjecture but it’s my conjecture. But it’s heroin that did them in – and yes that was Yoko’s doing.

      Reply
      • Joseph Brush

        John Lennon contributed to the last 3 albums the Beatles made while on heroin. He did quit the habit in July 1969 (at least for awhile) and wrote Cold Turkey as a result while continuing to work on Abbey Road until the sessions ended.
        The biggest reason for the break up IMO was the revelation that Paul had been buying shares of Northern Songs behind John’s back. At the same time Paul was trying to get his in-laws to become the Beatles’ manager. John was outraged at this betrayal and walked out of the meeting.
        Therefore their Northern Songs negotiations fell apart. Paul to this day has never commented on his actions.
        After their last tour, there still would have been Beatles music, including the overrated Pepper, whether Paul was the leader or not. But Paul’s great” ideas” such as the Magical Mystery Tour movie fiasco and the Get Back sessions (while being filmed) were also big nails in the Beatle coffin.

        Reply
        • Bryan

          The entire concept and most of the songs on Pepper and the albums which followed were from Paul. It’s well documented. To say there would have been a Pepper without Paul is flat out wrong. There would have been no Beatles without Paul holding them together the last few years.

          Reply
          • Joseph Brush

            Most of the songs which followed Sgt. Pepper were from Paul?
            On Abbey Road half of the songs were written by the combination of the other three Beatles.
            More than half of the songs on the White Album and Let It Be Naked were written by the same combination.
            Paul was the main person behind Pepper but without the contributions of the other three the album would not be the same.
            Please quote the documentation which you say proves that Paul wrote most of the songs which followed Pepper.

            Reply
  11. Mickey Fischer

    My name is Mickey Fischer. I traveled with led zep at 18 yrs. old. Royston Ellis was on the tour and got me on it too. All he would say is” These guys are always high on something”. And the last thing I would have ever thought is that he first gave the beatles benzedrene!! He actually stopped taking me to Jimmy Pages house In plumpton England because he said I idolized them too much and he was worried I would consume drugs like them.

    Reply

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