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Great British Bake Off 2020: Unpacking Prue Leith’s bad LSD trip

Bruno Cooke September 29, 2020
prue leith bad lsd trip
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Recently, Prue Leith from Bake Off opened up about her bad LSD trip story. LSD isn’t for everybody – not least, apparently, for The Great British Bake Off judge. The South African-born restaurateur come television presenter has spoken openly about an “appalling” acid trip. 

It was the 1960s – it was LSD

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The 1960s was a fecund period for counterculturists. Triggered by the assassination of JFK, post-war affluence and a burgeoning contingent of disaffected youths led to a proliferation of new cultural forms. Dynamic subcultures emerged, alongside alternative lifestyles and modern iterations of Bohemianism. 

Another characteristic of this period was widespread experimentation with psychoactive drugs. 

Lysergic acid diethylamide, better known as LSD or colloquially “acid”, is one such drug. Although it was first synthesised in 1938, LSD took root in the anti-authoritarianism of the 1960s. Most often used recreationally or for spiritual reasons, LSD and the 1960s went together like peaches and cream.

Prue Leith’s LBC interview

In a recent candid interview on LBC, Leith opened up about her own experimentation with the substance. “It was the 1960s, there were a lot of drugs around,” Leith said. She and her first husband “used to smoke a bit of pot”.

Photo by Joe Bangay/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

She added: “And one day, we did take acid, only once, and I must tell you, it was the most appalling experience I’ve ever had.”

What was so bad about Leith’s LSD trip?

Leith went on to describe her hallucination. She couldn’t look at her husband. “He turned into a kind of monster and my arms, the flesh dripped off them. There was just bones left.”

She continued to suffer nightmares until she reached her 60s. She would wake up to find her bedroom “wobbly or strange or growing and sinking and shrinking and expanding”.

Photo by Movie Poster Image Art/Getty Images

Is Prue’s bad LSD trip a typical experience?

English neuropsychopharmacologist David Nutt specialises in research of drugs and their effects on the brain. Listing 20 drugs in order of potential societal and individual harm, LSD ranks third from bottom. Nutt estimates LSD is one-tenth as harmful as alcohol and significantly less dangerous than tobacco.

However, some people report adverse effects. An LSD trip can trigger panic attacks or feelings of extreme anxiety. The so-called “bad trip”, which is referred to variously as temporary psychosis, psychedelic risks or acute intoxication from hallucinogens, is a frightening and upsetting experience. 

The features of a bad trip vary from feelings of terror and alienation to a sense of entrapment or even complete (although temporary) loss of self-identity.

However, bad trips are, according to regular “trippers”, most often the result of individual pre-existing insecurities and improper preparation for a trip.

What are the positive effects of LSD?

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

Bad trips and good trips are often presented as equally likely, as in Healthline’s summary: “Sometimes [trips are] positive and inspiring, and sometimes they’re negative and overwhelming.”

Albert Hofmann, the Swiss scientist who first synthesised LSD, performed a self-experiment in 1943 to determine the effects of the substance. Having taken more than ten times the threshold dose, Hofmann experienced pupil dilation and feelings of intense anxiety. 

On examination by a doctor, who deemed him perfectly healthy, Hofmann’s fear subsided. Anxiety gave way to an overwhelming sense of good fortune.

He later wrote: “Little by little I could begin to enjoy the unprecedented colours and plays of shapes that persisted behind my closed eyes.

“Kaleidoscopic, fantastic images surged in on me, alternating, variegated, opening and then closing themselves in circles and spirals, exploding in coloured fountains, rearranging and hybridising themselves in constant flux.”

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Bruno is a novelist, amateur screenwriter and journalist with interests in digital media, storytelling, film and politics. He’s lived in France, China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, but returned to the UK for a degree (and because of the pandemic) in 2020. His articles have appeared in Groundviews, Forge Press and The Friday Poem, and most are readable on Medium or