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Hunter S. Thompson and Psychedelics: Key Takeaways

Imagine beginning the day at 3 p.m. with a glass of whiskey, a couple of smokes and a line of cocaine. Only to drop acid and then get to work as one of the most famous American journalists of all time. Not just an author, but a cultural phenomenon, Hunter S. Thompson lived an absolutely legendary existence. His lifestyle was debaucherous and chaotic, and his work gave birth to what is now known as Gonzo journalism. A self-described ‘political junkie’, Thompson’s prolific writing changed journalism forever.

Who Is Hunter S. Thompson?

Hunter Stockton Thompson was born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1937. After graduating high school, he had a short stint in the Air Force, where he took his first writing job as a sports editor for The Command Courier. After he was honorably discharged from the military for inciting rowdy, rebellious behavior, his career as a journalist began. He jumped from paper to paper, including a stint at Time and a spell in Puerto Rico before writing his first two novels. But it wasn’t until he moved to San Francisco in 1965 that he started to carve out his place in the literary world. 

The Nation hired Thompson to write a piece about the Hells Angels and it went over so well that he decided to spend two years with the outlaw motorcycle gang. The resulting book, Hells Angels, was a deep dive into the counterculture of biker gangs. It gave an inside look into a world that the average person would never have a chance to see, all written with a lens of curiosity, rebellion and defiance that Thompson was becoming known for. 

In his journalistic pursuits, Thompson continued selling articles to a national audience in magazines like The New York Times and Esquire. His work was centralized on society, politics and timely cultural observations. A man of many interests, Thompson ran for sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado after moving his family to Aspen in 1970. Running on the “Freak Power” ticket, he aimed to decriminalize all drugs, restrict hunting and fishing privileges to only residents, and rename Aspen to ‘Fat City’. In his words, this change would “Prevent greedheads, land-rapers and other human jackals from capitalizing on the name ‘Aspen’….These swine should be fucked, broken, and driven across the land.”

“If you’re going to be crazy, you have to get paid for it or else you’re going to be locked up.”

-Hunter S. Thompson

Thompson’s defining piece of literature was Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, a work of art that still enraptures readers today. This genius piece began as a short writing assignment from Sports Illustrated. He was supposed to travel to Las Vegas to catch a motorcycle race called the Mint 400 and write a short 250-word photo caption. However, the assignment quickly turned into a drug and alcohol-fueled bender that resulted in a stern rejection from Sports Illustrated when Thompson turned in a 2500 word essay and a massive list of expenses.

The trip became “a savage journey to the heart of the American dream.” Fortunately for Thompson, Rolling Stone was interested. They sent him back to Vegas to continue his research, reporting on the National District Attorneys Association’s Conference on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. A perfect place for the gonzo journalist to continue his drug use. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was a riotous and exhilarating success, later resulting in a 1998 film starring Johnny Depp as Hunter S. Thompson. 

Fear and Loathing was followed by Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72. Thompson wrote extensively for Rolling Stone, covering the presidential election between Richard Nixon and George McGovern. As a McGovern supporter, Thompson wasn’t shy in his opinions on Nixon, citing him as everything wrong with America. 

The relationship between Rolling Stone and Thompson was a perfect match, and he wrote for the famed magazine until the year before his death by suicide in 2005. His ashes were shot out of a cannon while Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky” played in the background.

When Did Hunter S. Thompson Start Doing Drugs?

Thompson was living in San Francisco at the peak of the hippie movement during the Vietnam War. He lived in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, near the Hells Angels and the Grateful Dead. In certain circles, LSD is handed out like candy and the Summer of Love was fast approaching. This was when Thompson began his foray into a world of psychedelic experimentation that would inspire his writing for decades to come. 

What Drugs Did Hunter S. Thompson Do?

In 1994, author Jean E. Carroll spent an entire day with Thompson to observe his living and working behaviors. Carroll was researching for her upcoming book on his life and published his daily routine in the Associated Press. 

Thompson was a night owl and awoke for the day at 3 p.m. He quickly began the morning with a glass of Chivas Regal and a Dunhill cigarette while reading the daily papers. Once finished, he moves on to cocaine, more Chivas, cigarettes, coffee and more cigarettes. The cocaine use speeds up between 4 and 6 p.m., though he managed to sneak in a glass of orange juice before adding a few ice cubes to his Chivas. At 6 p.m., he smokes weed, likely as an appetite stimulant, before preparing for ‘lunch’. Thompson often ate only once a day, and the contents were impressive. For lunch, he ordered two cheeseburgers with fries, two orders of onion rings, a taco salad, coleslaw, a plate of tomatoes, bean fritters, carrot cake and ice cream. Washed down with a few Heinekens and a couple of margaritas. And for the road? A snow cone with a few shots of Chivas. 

Once fed, he’s back on the cocaine until he drops acid around 10 p.m. More alcohol, cigarettes and cocaine later, and Thompson is ready to work by midnight. It’s in these hours that he finds his wellspring of inspiration. Often with news or porn on the TV, he furiously taps at his typewriter with overflowing creativity. A glass of champagne, some chocolate bars and a bowl of fettuccine alfredo in the hot tub winds down the workday before a sleeping pill and an 8:20 a.m. bedtime. 

“I have a theory that the truth is never told during the nine-to-five hours.”

-Hunter S. Thompson

But this is only a glimpse into an average day. When looking at Thompson’s defining piece of work, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, he detailed the contents of his suitcase for the trip. Inside were, in his words “two bags of grass, 75 pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multicolored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers . . . and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls.”

So perhaps the question should be, what drugs didn’t he do? It’s relatively safe to assume he’s tried a solid amount. 

What Can We Learn From His Journey With Psychedelics?

If this is a typical day, one might wonder how this man could have possibly carried on a successful career. However, it wasn’t always fantastical and exciting, there was a darker side to Thompson that would often come out after long nights of drugs and booze. 

Thompson was a man who invented games like shotgun golf and invited Bill Murray over for an early-morning tee time. A man who never met a drug he wouldn’t try. Thompson was deeply invested in personal liberty, but not without upholding personal standards. When running for sheriff, he was adamant in his concern for preserving natural land and protecting resources. Thompson cared very much about the state of the world, although his behaviors perhaps indicated he didn’t have as much concern for his physical body.

However, his imprint was larger than life, inspiring careers for artists and journalists to this day. While he may have been difficult to work with at times, those around him couldn’t deny his magnetism. He just radiated a fascinating eminence that the world could not ignore but rather wished to peek inside and catch a glimpse. Hunter S. Thompson was larger than life.

Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride

Hunter S. Thompson’s suicide note, posted in Rolling Stone, read: “No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun – for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax – This won’t hurt.”

His inimitable life has left countless people inspired, compelled and left wondering what else he could have created in times such as the ones we are living in now. If Thompson’s work left a mark on your life, we’d love to hear about it. Drop us a comment below. 

2 thoughts on “Hunter S. Thompson and Psychedelics: Key Takeaways”

  1. I loved his writing. Doing too many drugs is counter productive and you miss the simplicity of life. Then again, I could be wrong.

  2. Thompson was much more of an alcoholic and cokehead… Unfortunately, his later writing was really repetitive and lackluster, but the early stuff is obviously classic. I don’t think he wrote much at all about the psychedelic experience per-se, didn’t realate any insights he may have gained beyond just the craziness. If he really did that much on a daily basis, he probably wasn’t getting much out of the drugs due to an extreme tolerance. In terms of when he started doing drugs: In the book of his personal letters, there’s a pretty clear progression from somewhat square, to getting drunk, to buying weed, to taking amphetamine for work, and so on… He also lived in New York City, and Florida, so the early drug experiences took place across those locations. I’m not sure if he knew about LSD before San Francisco or not, I’d have to re-read the letters… Anyway, the fact that the guy could do coke and drink that heavily in his later years is nuts – cocaine gets boring really quickly, alcohol tears your insides apart. His hangovers must have been torture… Actually, I’m surprised he wasn’t a big heroin guy – maybe he was afraid it would make him less angry and slow him down?

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