Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) was first made on November 16, 1938 by Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann at the Sandoz Laboratories in Basel, Switzerland as part of a research program seeking medically useful ergot alkaloid derivatives. Five years later, LSD’s psychedelic properties were discovered when Hofmann accidentally ingested an unknown quantity of the chemical. Sandoz Laboratories introduced LSD as a psychiatric drug in 1947. Beginning in the 1950s, the CIA, seeing LSD’s potential for mind control and in chemical warfare, began a research program called MKULTRA, in which LSD was experimentally administered to CIA employees, military personnel, doctors, other government agents, prostitutes, mentally ill patients, and members of the general public in order to study their reactions, usually without the subject’s knowing they’d been given the drug.
In 1963, the FDA classified LSD as an Investigational New Drug, which meant new restrictions on its medical and scientific use. Many prominent people, including Aldous Huxley, Timothy Leary, and Al Hubbard, began to advocate the consumption of LSD. LSD became a rallying point to the counterculture of the 1960s and the “hippie” movement. On October 24, 1968, possession of LSD was outlawed in the United States. Legally approved and regulated psychiatric use of LSD continued in Switzerland until 1993. Worldwide medical research on LSD continues today; currently, a number of organizations-including The Beckley Foundation, MAPS, Heffter Research Institute and The Albert Hoffman Foundation-fund, encourage and coordinate research into the medicinal and spiritual uses of LSD and related psychedelics.
LSD is a semisynthetic psychedelic drug of the ergoline family, mainly used as an entheogen, recreational drug, and as an agent in psychedelic therapy. The United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Drugs 1971 requires its constituents to prohibit LSD. It is therefore illegal in all parties to the convention, which includes the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and most of Europe. However, enforcement of extant laws varies from country to country. Medical and scientific research with LSD in humans is permitted under the 1971 UN Convention.
In The United States, LSD is classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, making LSD illegal to manufacture, buy, possess, process, or distribute without a DEA license. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies LSD as a Schedule I drug because it believes LSD s deemed to have a high potential for abuse, has no legitimate medical use in treatment, and there is a lack of accepted safety for its use under medical supervision.
LSD is mainly used as an entheogen, recreational drug, and as an agent in psychedelic therapy. LSD has been used in psychiatry for its therapeutic value, in the treatment of alcoholism, pain and cluster headache relief, for spiritual purposes, and to enhance creativity. However, government organizations like the DEA believe these applications to be fallible.
LSD was used in psychiatry to enhance psychotherapy in the 1950s and 1960s because some psychiatrists believed LSD was especially useful at helping patients to “unblock” repressed subconscious material.
LSD has been used as a treatment for cluster headaches. Case reports indicate that LSD and psilocybin can reduce cluster pain and also interrupt the cluster-headache cycle, preventing future headaches from occurring. Currently existing treatments include various ergolines, among other chemicals, so LSD may be effective as well.
LSD trips vary distinctly from person to person, depending on previous experiences, state of mind and environment, and dose strength. They also vary from one trip to another, and even as time passes during a single trip. An LSD trip can have long-term psychoemotional effects; some users claim that the LSD experience as causing significant changes in their personality and life perspective.
If a user is in a dangerous or uncomfortable environment, or is not mentally prepared for the powerful distortions in perception and thought that the substance causes, the effects of LSD are more likely to be unpleasant than if he or she is in a comfortable environment and has a balanced, relaxed and open mindset. Physical reactions to LSD are highly variable and nonspecific and some of these reactions may be secondary to the psychological effects of LSD.
Physical effects include:
- Pupil dilation
- Reduced or increased appetite
- Hypothermia or hyperthermia
- Elevated blood sugar
- Goose bumps
- Increased heart rate
- Jaw clenching
- Saliva production
- Mucus production
- Metallic taste in the mouth.
The psychological effects of LSD include:
- An experience of radiant colors
- Objects and surfaces appearing to ripple or “breathe”
- Closed-eye color patterns
- An altered sense of time (time either stretching, repeating itself, changing speed or stopping),
- Crawling geometric patterns on walls and other objects
- Morphing objects
- A sense that one’s thoughts are spiraling into themselves
- Loss of a sense of identity or the ego
- Psycho-physical dissociation.
LSD causes expansion and an altered experience of sense, emotions, memories, time, and awareness for six to fourteen hours. Around ninety minutes, users experience anything from subtle changes in perception to overwhelming cognitive shifts. Visual effects include the illusion of movement of static surfaces, after image-like trails of moving objects, the appearance of moving colored geometric patterns (particularly with closed eyes); intensification of colors and brightness, new textures on objects, blurred vision and the inanimate world appearing to animate in an unexplainable way. The auditory effects of LSD may include echo-like distortions of sounds, changes in ability to discern concurrent auditory stimuli, a general intensification of the experience of music; synesthesia, the experience of additional spatial or temporal dimensions, and temporary dissociation.
There are some cases of LSD causing psychosis, in people who appeared to be healthy before taking LSD. In most cases, this reaction is experienced for a short duration, but in other cases it may be chronic. Whether LSD itself induces these reactions or if it triggers latent conditions that would have manifested themselves otherwise is inconclusive. It may cause temporary signs of organic brain damage-impaired memory and attention span, mental confusion or difficulty with abstract thinking. As LSD is psychologically well tolerated, there is no evidence for long-lasting effects on the brain or other parts of the human organism.
The term “psychedelic” can be interchanged with “psychotomimetic” and “hallucinogen”, and thus can refer to a large number of drugs such as classical psychedelics, dissociatives and deliriants. Widely recognized classic hallucinogens include herbal and fungal sources such as ayahuasca, mescaline, peyote; psilocybin, the Peruvian Torch cactus, ibogaine, N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and the San Pedro cactus.
Enactogens induce distinct emotional and social effects, including feelings of empathy, love, and emotional closeness to others. These substances include MDMA (the active component in Ecstacy) and cannabinoids, such as Marijuana. Dissociative drugs produce analgesia (pain relief), amnesia and catalepsy at anesthetic doses. They also produce a sense of detachment from one’s environment. Dissociation of sensory input can induce derealization, a perception of the outside world as being unreal or dream-like, and depersonalization, which produces feeling detached from one’s body; feeling unreal; feeling able to observe one’s actions but not actively take control; and being unable to recognize one’s self in the mirror while maintaining rational awareness that the image in the mirror is the same person.
Dissociate drugs include:
- Dextromethorphan (DMX)
- Nitrous oxide
- Aminita muscaria (fly agaric) mushroom
- Salvia divinorum.
LSD is non-addictive, is not known to cause brain damage, and has extremely low toxicity level dose, although adverse psychiatric reactions such as anxiety or delusions are possible even at low doses. Rapid tolerance build-up prevents regular use, and there is cross-tolerance between LSD, psilocybin, and mescaline; the tolerance diminishes after a few days without use.
Ingesting LSD carries no risk of addiction or physical dependence; therefore, no recognizable withdrawal symptoms have been witnessed, experienced or documented. Many users experience flashbacks after using LSD. Flashbacks are a psychological phenomenon in which an individual experiences an episode of some of LSD’s subjective effects long after the drug has worn off, usually in the days after typical doses. Flashbacks can incorporate both positive and negative aspects of LSD trips, and are typically induced by triggers such as alcohol or cannabis use, stress, caffeine, or sleepiness. Flashbacks have been proven difficult to study and are no longer officially recognized as a psychiatric syndrome.
Most sources report that there are no known human cases of an LSD overdose; other sources note one report of a suspected fatal overdose of LSD occurring in November 1975 in Kentucky in which there were indications that about one-third of a gram had been injected intravenously (equivalent to over 3,000 times the average LSD dosage).