LSD is one of the most commonly-used 'psychedelic' or 'hallucinogenic' drugs. It is also one of the most potent hallucinogens; possibly the most potent, and certainly the most famous (although perhaps now being overtaken by Ecstasy). It comes in many forms such as pills, gelatin sheets or shapes, liquid, liquid sugar cubes and powder. Small pieces of paper called 'blotters' are, however, most commonly used. Blotters are most common because they are easily produced and hidden, and their format allows for few adulterant chemicals. Blotters are made by perforating sheets of paper covered in a single pattern, soaked in liquid LSD and then dried.
With the full name of d-Lysergic acid diethylamide, LSD was discovered accidentally in 1938 by Dr Albert Hoffman. Until about 1950 it was used as a drug for analytic psychiatry. It was thought at the time that administration of the drug could help a patient release repressed material. It was also suggested that psychiatrists themselves might gain an insight into a diseased or troubled mind by experimentation with the drug. Later, in the 1960s, however, it was mainly used as a recreational drug. Though research shows that such use has, largely, stopped, it is still widespread1 and many over- 18s2 have tried it.
A typical dose of blotter LSD contains about 50-150 micrograms(μg). In the late 1960s and early 1970s however, the dose was usually much higher, from about 200μg, primarily because at that time the drug was mainly supplied in pill form. A strong dose is 150-400μg, a heavy dose is over 400μg and a potentially lethal dose is 1200μg+. Though the liquid form of the drug can contain huge amounts of LSD it is usually made so that one drop contains a medium dose.
Repeated use of LSD over a short period of time - for example, one trip a day for a duration of three days - quickly leads to tolerance of the drug, meaning that even large doses will have little effect. This tolerance wears off quickly: perhaps after only a few weeks.
If someone frequently takes large doses of LSD (perhaps as much as 12 blotters) they will become what is known as an 'acid casualty'. This is someone who, possibly only temporarily, shows all the signs of taking too much LSD. Acid casualties have been known to recover.
LSD takes from 20 minutes to one hour to start to take effect. The 'coming up' time - the time in which it takes for the drug to fully become effective - is 30 minutes to one hour, with the trip itself lasting for 8-12 hours. The after effects can take from 2-5 hours to stop. It is possible that flashbacks will be experienced weeks or months after taking the drug3.
Positive effects include an increase in energy and stimulation, an increase of associative and creative thinking, increased awareness of the senses, awareness and appreciation of music. Also, closed and open eye visuals and perhaps profound and life-changing spiritual experiences.
Neutral effects include a general change in consciousness as with most hallucinogens, pupil dilation and thus difficulty focusing and increased production of saliva and mucous (on, for example, the lungs and digestive organs). Also, unusual bodily sensations ranging through flushes to goosebumps, a change in perception of time, mood swings, and a slightly increased heart rate and body temperature. Perspiration rate may also increase.
Negative effects include anxiety (sometimes extreme), dizziness, depression, tension (in the jaw particularly), nausea, cramping of muscles, confusion, fear and panic. Megalomania, and over-sensitivity to noise and unwanted responses to stimuli. Overwhelming unexpected feelings may be experienced and also flashbacks from the 'trip' may be experienced. Difficulty sleeping may be seen in people using the drug, particularly just after having used the drug. Whether this is psychological or chemical is not known.
LSD requires an experienced organic chemist to make, and is illegal in very many countries. It is made from ergot alkaloids, produced from a fungus called ergot fungus which grows on rye. All useful synthesis of LSD begins with Lysergic acid. It is usually produced in fully equipped factories.
Slang concerning LSD
- Acid - LSD
- Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds - LSD
- Tabs - LSD
- Dosing - Taking LSD
- Dropping Acid - Taking LSD
- Tripping - Being under the influence of LSD (or other hallucinogen)
- A Trip - Taking LSD and the subsequent effects
- A Hit - A single dose of LSD
- Microdot - A single dose of LSD
Specific doses of LSD are also sometimes named after the patterns on the blotter. One example could be 'Felix the Cat'.
Cultural Influences and LSD
Jack Kerouac, who came to epitomise the 'Beat Generation' of the late 1950s, wrote about his travel and alcohol exploits in his novel On the Road. Ken Kesey, born 1935, attempted to emulate this style by undertaking the 'Great Trip Across America' which was published as The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by journalist Tom Wolfe. This book introduced the nationwide counterculture known as the 'California Hippy' to the general public, detailing the frequent use of LSD. Although best known for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, written in 1962, Kesey's only other work dealing with LSD was Last Round Up (with Ken Babbs), published by Viking in 1994.
The Grateful Dead
The Grateful Dead, originally called The Warlocks, took part in Ken Kesey's Acid Tests. Fronted by the charismatic Jerry Garcia on lead guitar, they were supplied with huge amounts of (in 1965) legal LSD, manufactured by Stanley Owsley and encouraged to record their performances over a six month period. This resulted in their first album, The Grateful Dead4, which catapulted them into cult stardom. Their followers became known as 'Deadheads' and it was sometimes difficult to establish whether the group or their audiences imbibed more LSD. The Grateful Dead survived through many personnel changes, disbanding only after the death of Garcia in 1995. Other band members continue recording as solo artists to this day.
The Beatles first experimented with marijuana in 1964 and had progressed to LSD by late 1965. Although admitting that both Got to Get You Into My Life and She Said, She Said were based on tripping experiences, they denied this connection for the song Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds. John Lennon always insisted that he was inspired by a painting produced by his son Julian and from reading Alice Through the Looking Glass.
Most noticeable amongst the many films which have attempted to portray the use of LSD are Easy Rider (Columbia, 1969), which echoed the epic road trips of Kesey, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Universal 1998).
In Easy Rider, the main characters Billy and Wyatt are making their way aimlessly across the USA on motorbikes after netting a large sum from a drugs deal. They are given a tab of acid by a 'stranger' at a hippy commune, but wait until they are in the company of two prostitutes in New Orleans before trying the drug. The resulting scene is one of confusion; their presence in a cemetery exacerbating a 'bad trip'.
Based on the book of the same name by Hunter S Thompson, Fear and Loathing features a journalist and his lawyer, ostensibly going to Las Vegas to cover a motorbike race and a narcotics convention. They pack enough drugs into their car to sink a battleship and proceed to take the trip of a lifetime. Directed by Terry Gilliam, it probably comes closest of all films to portraying the effects of LSD.
An Ending Note
This entry is in no way a recommendation of LSD.
- US National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse
- The Independent Drug Monitoring Unit
- US Dept of Health and Human Services
- US Government