Psychedelic Studies
By Thomas Becnel
Sarasota Herald-Tribune
HOOKAHVILLE, Ohio -- This guy stumbles out of the dark and into the Serenity Tent, where the sign says, "Trouble tripping? Come on in." It's half-past midnight and he's completely disoriented, unsteady on his muddy feet, with glassy eyes and a face shiny with sweat.

"Where am I?" the guy keeps saying, angry and frustrated. "Where am I?"

Matt Mazzuckelli, a sophomore from New College of Florida, tries to help.

He gently explains that they're at Hookahville, a Labor Day weekend music festival east of Columbus. They're at a tent staffed by volunteers who help with "psychedelic emergencies" -- bad trips. They're at a safe place for him to wait things out and eventually find his wife and go home.

The guy doesn't seem to get any of this, but he does stay in the orange- and-white tent decorated with crayon drawings. He urinates in a grassy corner next to a massage table. Then he throws up some of the mushrooms he's been eating.

As Mazzuckelli talks with him, and festival drum circles sound in the distance, other Sarasota volunteers do their part. They keep a belligerent drunk out of jail, help an LSD veteran relive a traumatic experience, and listen to a glowstick-waving Ecstasy raver who comes in just to talk, talk, talk.

The New College students get a chance to dance to the music of ekoostik hookah, the Ohio band that founded the festival, but they're busy and sleepless most of the weekend.

Earlier in the day there was a strategy meeting with the national chairman of Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, and then a coaching session in a teepee with an underground psychedelic therapist. The next day there would be a session on holotropic breathing, which alters consciousness without drugs, and more festival counseling.

On Tuesday they would be back at school for the second week of the fall semester.

How these students arrive at Hookahville is a long, strange trip, one with stops in New College, the state honors college, where gifted students enjoy exceptional freedom; at a Sarasota house called Arcturus, which Rolling Stone magazine described as "Frank Lloyd Wright on acid"; and with Rick Doblin, 47, the New College alumnus, Harvard Ph. D. and Ecstasy proponent who has inspired this small group of young activists.

"I think it's crucial," Doblin says, "to demonstrate that the psychedelic community can take care of its own."

Where they're coming from

Students past and present describe New College as a liberal island on the conservative Gulf Coast. It's unusual in many ways, beginning with an enrollment of only 630.

These select students, with an average SAT score of 1,300, meet with faculty advisers to create individualized curricula. They receive narrative evaluations rather than the traditional A's, B's and C's. A high percentage go on to earn graduate degrees, and 10 have become Fulbright scholars since 1990.

New College is considered "public Ivy," and one of the best bargains in higher education.

There are no fraternities or sororities. No intercollegiate sports or intramural leagues. No cable TV in the residence halls, and precious little in Sarasota to draw students off campus.

Life on campus centers around Palm Court and the quirky dormitories designed by architect I.M. Pei. At Friday and Saturday night parties, a tradition at New College, some of the brightest young people in Sarasota dance until dawn.

Some students grind away at their studies, while others coast along, but they all enjoy the rare liberty of an uncommon school.

"There is sort of an anarchic, anti-authoritarian cast to the place," says Eugene Lewis, a political science professor and faculty chairman. "There's a sort of pride in that, and when you have pride in something, it tends to get exaggerated, especially if you're 18."

Who are these kids?

The New College students are camping and cooking in the tent city that is Hookahville, but none of them brings a pocketknife. They're following a festival schedule, but none of them wears a wristwatch.

"We're living in the moment," jokes Brandy Doyle, 21. She graduated this spring and just took her first job, as special projects director for Sarasota-based MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Approach to Psychedelic Studies.

The Tallahassee native is the least alternative-seeming of the students, except for a tiny lisp from her pierced tongue. She seems older than the others, too, with wire-frame glasses and a little Mona Lisa smile. An indie rocker who still likes Paul Simon, and names Virginia Woolf as a favorite author.

Doyle spent time in Ghana to complete her degree in anthropology, and returned to Florida wondering if a narrow issue like drug reform was worth her time.

"The more I learn about it, the more confident I am that it is," she says. "The drug war is exemplary of a myriad of social problems."

Jag Davies, 19, transferred to New College from the New World School of the Arts in Miami, his hometown. He has multi-pierced ears, long sideburns and listens to what's called IDM, intelligent dance music. He's the vegetarian of the group, and the campus thespian.

Last year he staged "The Complete Works of Shakespeare, Abridged," and this year he's doing "The Dreamer Examines His Pillow." When he was 10 he appeared in the movie "Wrestling Ernest Hemingway," which was filmed in south Florida and starred Richard Harris and Robert Duval.

Davies says his parents are "cautious" about his activism. Still, they're receptive to the idea of psychedelics as a rite of passage common to young people in many different cultures.

"They decided at a certain point they didn't want to do drugs like that any more … ," he says. "Any kind of drug can be a catalyst to self-awareness, but it can also hold people back."

Valerie Mojeiko, 19, is from Brooksville. She chose New College because she thought it would be good for her ego, being surrounded by people smarter than she is.

Her hair is dyed blond, her eyes are bright green and she wears striking skirts, reads Kurt Vonnegut and a prose poet named Russell Edson. She likes to collect stones and give them to friends.

Mojeiko's interest in drug reform dates back to high school, when she was arrested for having a tiny amount of marijuana in her car. She wound up in Teen Court, having to go through substance-abuse counseling, which she thought was a waste of resources, when there were kids next to her with severe problems.

"That was a big deal," she says. "That was the part that made me care about the drug war."

The only New College student who'll admit to watching television -- "The Simpsons," mostly -- is Mazzuckelli, a 20-year-old native of Cincinnati. His favorite comedian is the deadpan Steven Wright, and his favorite book might be "1984." He likes to cook for his roommates, with particular pride in his marinara sauce.

He's a chain-smoker with a goatee and short ponytail. Also a Phish fan who feels a kinship with the music festival trippers he'd like to help.

"This is my community," he says. "These are the people, in the broader sense, who are my family."

The proud alumnus

Finally there's Doblin, who stands 5-foot-6 and somehow manages to be both muscular and impish. He's a youthful 47, though his curly hair is thinning, and he always seems to be on the verge of a smile.

He also seems to be a good listener, leaning forward and focusing on people when they speak.

Doblin, the son of a Chicago pediatrician, embraced psychedelic drugs after enrolling at New College in the early 1970s. After dropping out of school, overwhelmed, he spent more than a decade tripping and building houses in Sarasota.

Then he returned to New College, stayed in shape with "stoned aerobics," and began studying the work of Stan Grof, a leading LSD researcher and therapist. Ecstasy was legal at the time, and used by some psychiatrists to help patients talk about traumatic episodes in their lives.

After graduation Doblin went on to earn master's and doctorate degrees from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. That's where he met his wife, Lynne, who also worked in public policy.

"She was a lobbyist for the Quakers," Doblin jokes, "so she's used to lost causes."

They have three children and live outside of Boston, where he works to promote the medical use of marijuana and the psychiatric use of Ecstasy. His basic argument is that the government has exaggerated the risks associated with using Ecstasy, and ignored the benefits it can have in counseling.

Rolling Stone has called him "Doctor X," and he's had his say with Oprah and on MTV.

Doblin's tried -- and failed -- to get his parents to take Ecstasy with him. His mother is supportive of his work, though.

In Hookahville, where it got chilly in the evening, he wore a sweatshirt Mom made for him. It spells out MPP, for his master's in public policy; MAPS, for his organization for psychedelic studies; and MDMA, for the chemical name for Ecstasy.

For Doblin, working with college students at a music festival makes perfect sense.

"If you look at psychedelic drug use, it's young people who are experimenting," he says. "One way to deal with that is to steer them toward positive uses. We'd like them to have safer, wiser, better experiences. We'd like to give some guidance to people looking to psychedelics for personal growth."

In January, Doblin taught a New College independent study project on U.S. government drug policy.

Some of his students started campus chapters of SSDP, Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, and NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. They've also volunteered and gone on to work with MAPS.

Like any proud alumnus, Doblin's forging a link with his alma mater.

"It's sort of paying back," he says. "So much of what I've learned goes back to my time at New College."

Arcturus and MAPS

Another tie to Sarasota is Arcturus, the one-of-a-kind house that Doblin built on Sarasota's Robinson Avenue in 1975, after dropping out of New College. An old Sarasota Journal feature story on the home could be in a '70s time capsule.

There's a black-and-white picture of Doblin with bushy hair and a bare chest, looking a little like Don Henley, or an extra from "Godspell." The headline is a quotation from Hesse: "Who Would Be Born Must First Destroy A World."

The April profile of Doblin in Rolling Stone begins with a description of Arcturus, which is made out of granite and red cedar. It features stained glass windows and hanging beds, movable walls and whimsical cat doors.

The house is showing its age, with rusty hinges on some of its massive doors, but it's gained new life as the home of MAPS and a new generation of drug activists.

Back at Hookahville

With thunderstorms sweeping across Ohio early on Labor Day weekend, only 6,000 festival fans arrive for Hookahville at the Buckeye Lake Music Center.

There's strength in those numbers, though.

Even with the mobile command center of the Licking County Sheriff's Office, people are pretty much left to their own devices and substances. There's plenty of marijuana, Ecstasy and just about every other drug under the sun.

The Serenity Tent, set beside the Medical Tent, doesn't get too many visitors, though. For those who do come in, Doblin and volunteers perform a sort of psychedelic triage, judging who needs help and how badly.

Students are coached on how to reassure trippers, and help them through difficult times, but often it's a matter of just listening and being there for someone.

The trickiest cases are the ones involving people who've taken several different drugs, or don't even know what they've taken. Other visitors are all too familiar.

Doyle finds herself talking to a big, belligerent drunk who has to be restrained in the medical tent. He's been hollering "Let me out of here!" and cussing a blue streak, but she holds his hand and quiets him down. He's on his way to jail, with the cops on the way, but she goes out to find a few sober friends who'll take care of him.

"This isn't what we do," Doyle says, "but …"

She wanted to help.

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