We’ve mentioned the famous 19th century neurologist Silas Weir Mitchell several time before on Mind Hacks, as he is well known for his early reports of phantom limbs and his creation of the ‘neurosis of modern life’ diagnosis ‘neuraesthenia’.
What I didn’t know was that in 1896 he also wrote an article in which he gives one of the first reports about the experience of tripping on peyote – a cactus that contains the hallucinogenic drug mescaline.
Weir reports that he became interested in the substance after learning about the traditional use of the plant by Native Americans in New Mexico and acquired some to try himself.
His article appeared in the British Medical Journal where he describes his experiences, and it’s quite an amazing document. This is a vivid part where he describes the experience of hallucinating a ‘Gothic tower':
When I opened my eyes all was gone at once. Closing them I began after a long interval to see for the first time definite objects associated with colours. The stars sparkled and passed away. A white spear of grey stone grew up to huge height, and became a tall, richly finished Gothic tower of very elaborate and definite design, with many rather worn statues standing in the doorways or on stone brackets. As I gazed every projecting angle, cornice, and even the face of the stones at their joinings were by degrees covered or hung with clusters of what seemed to be huge precious stones, but uncut, some being more like masses of transparent fruit. These were green, purple, red, and orange; never clear yellow and never blue. All seemed to possess an interior light, and to give the faintest idea of the perfectly satisfying intensity and purity of these gorgeous colour-fruits is quite beyond my power. All the colours I have ever beheld are dull as compared to these.
As I looked, and it lasted long, the tower became of a fine mouse hue, and everywhere the vast pendant masses of emerald green, ruby reds, and orange began to drip a slow rain of colours. All this while nothing was at rest a moment. The balls of colour moved tremulously. The tints became dull, and then, at once, past belief vivid; the architectural lines were all active with shifting tints. The figures moving shook the long hanging lines of living light, and then, in an instant, all was dark.
The whole article is freely available online if you want to read the entire account which explores the hallucinatory state in some depth.
Link to ‘Remarks on the Effects of Anhelonium Lewinii (the Mescal Button)’.