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Observations placeholder

Cash, Johnny – Hallucinating from opioids, benzodiazepines, morphine and alcohol abuse



Type of Spiritual Experience


After he managed to get off amphetamines and barbiturates, he was hurt and sustained 5 broken ribs.  The doctors prescribed him opioids as painkillers and he became addicted to them – washed down with alcohol!  He was prescribed the Valium [benzos] by doctors.

A description of the experience

Cash – the Autobiography of Johnny Cash

So there I was, up and running, strung out, slowed down, sped up, turned around, hung on the hook, having a ball, living in hell.

Before long I began to get the impression that I was in trouble – I had bleeding ulcers, for one thing - but I kept going anyway. The idea of taking things to their logical conclusion, just drugging and drinking until I slipped all the way out of this world, began to dance quietly around the back of my mind. That was weirdly comforting. I went low.

On tour in England in 1983 I got into the habit of going into John Carter's room to sleep in the early morning, thus avoiding June's dawn rising. John Carter was twelve.

One morning he looked under the bed and said, 'Daddy, where did all those wine bottles come from?'

I had to tell him I'd got them out of the minibar and drunk them during the night.

'I didn't know you drank like that,' he said.

I told him I'd been in a lot of pain, so I'd had to drink like that.

I met my spider in England. Nottingham, to be precise, in the Midlands, a region hitherto unrecognized as a habitat of aggressive arachnids. Where there's a will, though, there's away. Nottingham was the last stop on our tour, and we'd checked into a hotel with beautiful old wooden panelling. I was in the room with June when I got the idea that there was a Murphy bed set into one of the walls.

'Look, June, I can pull this bed down and you can make it up and sleep on it.'

'John, that's not a bed,' she said. 'There's no Murphy bed there.'

I disagreed with her quite strongly - I was convinced it was there - so I proceeded to tear at that wall until the panelling started splitting, driving old dirt and splinters into my right hand. The hand was a bloody wreck by the time I understood that I'd hallucinated the Murphy bed.

I hallucinated the spider, too - saw it in the middle of the night, biting my hand, causing me intense pain.

I told June about it in the morning, by which time my hand was twice its normal size. She believed me at first, just as I believed myself. I don't know what others thought when we made the story public: Cash Bitten by Poisonous English Spider!!!

Perhaps they considered the possibility that a miracle had occurred in Nottingham, or that the spider had arrived in my baggage (or someone else's) from some likelier part of the world, Mozambique or Mombassa, Belize or Brazil, or that somebody nearby was running a game park for exotic arachnids, reptiles, and worms. Perhaps they thought I was on drugs again.

When I got home my hand was just a giant ball of infection, so I had to check into Baptist Hospital and have surgery on it. I knew I'd be in there a while, so I went prepared. I hid a survival stash of Percodans, amphetamines, and Valium - a fifty-dose card of Valium I'd acquired in Switzerland - in a tobacco sack tied to the back of the TV set in my room.

They did the surgery on my hand, but then they discovered a worse problem in my midsection: all that internal bleeding. So back into surgery I went, this time for removal of my duodenum, parts of my stomach and spleen, and several feet of intestine. That presented a pretty severe problem as far as maintaining my habit went, but I handled it - I had the whole card of Valium right there with me in the intensive care unit. I had a great hiding place for it, too: under the bandages over the freshly sutured incision in my belly. I managed to pull the dressing up and get it snugged in there, safe and sound. I thought I'd been really clever.

A couple of days later, they couldn't wake me up. They'd get a rise out of me for a moment or two, but I'd drift straight off again no matter what they did. That went on for a while - I don't really know how long - until, in a flash of life-saving brilliance, I understood the problem and managed, despite my slurring and blurring, to tell the doctor that he should investigate my dressing.

He didn't get it at first - it looked fine, he said, he didn't need to take it off - but I insisted.

When he peeled away what was left of the card of Valium, he found that about half the pills had already dissolved straight into my wound. I don't know if it was the Valium's fault, but that was a horrible wound; it took months to heal properly.

As it happened, the Valium was superfluous, because they treated my postsurgical pain with such strong doses of morphine that I was just about as high as I could be anyway, lost in intensely vivid hallucinations.

I half wrecked the ICU, upsetting IV poles and doing all kinds of damage, because I just had to make somebody understand about the commandos: they'd got- ten into the hospital and were setting their charges all around the room.

Finally, someone got the message and told the flight crew. The copilot came on the intercom to put me at ease. We're going to fly this wing of the hospital away from here,’ he said. 'Get you away from these people bothering you'

'Good, 'I said. 'Let's take off.'

No sooner said than done. I looked out the window and sure enough, our wing of the hospital had detached itself and was rolling on its takeoff run. Soon we were up, beginning our first turn over Nashville, and I could see the Cumberland River, then the green Tennessee countryside. The pilot came on the speaker. 'It looks like everything's all right now.'

I didn't think it was.

As I told the flight attendant - this was a full-service hallucination -'The charges still lead up here. They can still blow us up.'

'No,' she said, 'you're wrong. There are no charges aboard'.

The woman was crazy, l realized, or dense, or blind, or a member of the conspiracy against me: the charges were right there in plain sight.

'Look, you can see them!' I urged. 'They're going to blow us up while we're still in the air!'

Somehow I got word to the pilot, and he did a good job, turning back immediately and beginning his landing approach without further ado. The hospital buildings swung into sight, then slid up toward us as we made a faultless landing and eased back into our place. It was perfect, but pointless. The commandos came right back, moving grimly through the ICU and laying their charges all over again.

''We're gonna get you, Cash, 'said one.

That was bad enough, but suddenly I was out of the ICU and in a ward, and a commando was standing in the doorway with his gun to John Carter's head (this was post-robbery). 'We're going to kill you and your whole family!' he barked. I realized with horror that there wasn't any 'if' or 'unless' about it; they were just going to do it. I started screaming ...

When I hallucinated that intensely, the medics would respond by giving me even higher doses of morphine [sic]. They didn't know who they were dealing with, or what: more dope just made me more crazy.

The people closest to me had had enough.

Unbeknownst to me, they got together with a wonderful doctor from the Betty Ford Clinic, a great man who will remain anonymous, and in the parlance of the trade they 'ran an intervention' on me.


I was going to the Betty Ford Center. The doctor told me that John and Michelle Rollins were going to be in Nashville the next day with John's plane and pilots and that they'd fly me straight to Palm Springs. First I'd be checked into the Eisenhower Medical Center; then I'd go to Betty Ford. The doctor and June would make the trip with me.

I didn't understand how it could be done. The wound in my stomach was still open, and the dressing had to be changed every hour. The doctor said it would be okay, though, so I took his word for it. He even told me I could have anything I wanted to eat - I hadn't had any decent food in weeks - and I took him up on it. I ate two sacks of peanuts and a Coke and was more surprised that that didn't kill me than I was about surviving everything else.

At the Eisenhower Medical Center they examined me and promptly declared that I couldn't be released to go anywhere in the foreseeable future, let alone the few days the doctor had in mind.

He stood his ground. 'He's already spent three weeks in hospital, 'he said. 'He needs to be in a treatment center now.' It was his view that the sooner I got away from modern medicine's arsenal of mood-altering chemicals, the better.

That was also the opinion of my treatment counselor, who must also remain anonymous. 'I want Cash at Betty Ford,' he said. We’ll take care of him there. We'll take care of that wound.'

I was still worried about that. I asked how they were going to take care of it. He just told me, 'You're not to worry about that. It'll be taken care of.' I accepted that, imagining nice nurses attending to me at regular intervals. That's not exactly what my doctor and counselor had in mind. It turned out that I was the one in charge of caring for my wound. I had to swab it out - stick a Q-tip a couple of inches into my belly to clean it and drain it - and then change the dressing.

I got used to it after a while, and gradually the wound began closing up. Over the next four or five weeks it went from four inches down to three, then two, and finally became a single round hole that looked like it would never close, but it did.

I was in the Betty Ford Center for three weeks before I started really coming to life, but when that happened I felt wonderful. It was almost literally like being reborn; I'd never felt so fresh. It was a great place. The food was good, the people were good, the lectures were fabulous.

Betty Ford herself gave a daily talk that I attended, and my counselor backed it up. He was hard-nosed and very effective. He wouldn't give me an inch, and he got the job done with me.

Neither I nor any of the other celebrities got any breaks in any way, especially not in the process of education and self-discovery, basically a concentrated twelve-step program that's the core of the treatment. I wasn't allowed to get away with anything but 'rigorous honesty.'

The source of the experience

Cash, Johnny

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps