Initially, Dr. Sacks‘ drug use was motivated by a desire for transcendence and meaning. But once the highs wore off, he would feel depressed and empty.
“I got a lot of euphoria and pleasure out of drugs and certainly paid for it,” he says. “I crossed the line.”
He lost many of his friends and came dangerously close to overdosing on at least one occasion. Once, he was beset by hallucinations for 96 hours. Another time, after taking amphetamines, his pulse escalated to 200 beats per minute.
Then, one day in February of 1967, high on amphetamines, Dr. Sacks had a transformative encounter in the medical library of UCLA. He came across an obscure 1873 book about migraines titled “On Megrim, Sick-Headache, and Some Allied Disorders” by Edward Liveing.
The book changed his life.
“In a sort of catatonic concentration so intense that in 10 hours I scarcely moved a muscle or wet my lips, I read steadily through the five hundred pages,” he writes.
For the first time in his life, he came down from a high with a real sense of insight and determination. “I realized that I too could write a book like this,” he says.
The following day, Dr. Sacks returned to the library and photocopied the entire 19th-century book. Inspired, he slowly started writing his own book about migraines. “The joy I got from this was real — infinitely more substantial than the vapid mania of amphetamines,” he explains in “Hallucinations.” “And I never took amphetamines again.”
After a tormented childhood and an uncertain start at adulthood, Dr. Sacks started to enjoy life. Rather than seeking artificial spirituality in hallucinogenic drugs, “the poet laureate of medicine,” as The New York Times once dubbed him, found meaning and purpose in the written word.