LSD, or lysergic acid diethylamide, is a powerful illegal hallucinogen. It is also known colloquially as “acid” and has been used recreationally since the mid-20th century.
Today, LSD is most often sold as a small, stamp-like piece of paper called a “cardboard” or “blotter,” which comes from a larger sheet of blotter impregnated with the drug. Users usually place this cardboard in their mouths and let it dissolve, before swallowing what is left.
As a hallucinogenic drug, LSD has a very powerful effect on the mind, what addicts call a “trip. This experience causes them to see and hear hallucinations and distorts their everyday sensations and perceptions.
LSD is created synthetically in a laboratory and was first developed in 1938 by Albert Hofmann, a Swiss chemist working for a pharmaceutical company. While his research was aimed at discovering a pharmaceutical product that could be used as a treatment for respiratory diseases, he discovered, by accident in 1943, that the substance had a powerful hallucinogenic effect.
The drug was then experimented with on a large scale in the United States and other countries in the 1950s, with the hope that it could be used to treat patients suffering from mental illness and psychiatric disorders and help researchers discover the inner workings of the mind. However, despite clinical trials and prescribing the drug to several thousand patients, no definitive psychiatric use was found.
Some clinicians began taking LSD recreationally, and in the 1960s its use became widespread as part of the psychedelic hippy movement. Countercultural” figures such as Timothy Leary are often credited with spreading the use of LSD. However, in the mid-1960s, many countries made the substance illegal, which caused its use to plummet at the end of the hippy movement. Nevertheless, the use of LSD continued, especially in developed Western countries, and although it is not as frequently abused as cannabis or cocaine, it remains one of the most commonly used drugs.
The possession or sale of LSD is severely punished by law in many countries. In the United Kingdom, it is a Class A drug, with possession punishable by up to seven years in prison and distribution punishable by life imprisonment.
LSD is the abbreviation of the chemical name of the substance: lysergic acid diethylamide. On the street it is often called “acid” or, more rarely, “lysergic acid”.
The “cards” used to take the drug (small square pieces of paper, often illustrated with colorful artistic drawings) have different street names depending on the geographical location: blotters, doses, trips, drops, sunshines, gels… The large pieces of blotting paper impregnated with LSD from which these doses come are usually called “sheets”.
But LSD also comes in other forms. It can be sold in a liquid state, in a small vial, or in the form of a gelatin square, made by mixing liquid LSD with gelatin. It can also be found in a small tablet, or “microdot”, or even as a sugar cube soaked in the substance, but blotting paper remains by far the most common form in many places.
Once the user has chewed or swallowed a cardboard or ingested a dose in some other way, the effects take a little time to appear (between half an hour and two hours). This delay can lead inexperienced people to take another dose prematurely, which is far too much.
Scientists disagree on the exact reason for LSD’s effects, but what is known is that once it reaches the brain, it mimics the neurotransmitter called serotonin, one of the natural feel-good chemicals. This confuses the senses and disrupts normal functions and perceptions.
Once under the influence of the drug, users usually experience visual and auditory hallucinations and other manifestations far removed from reality, called “tripping.” Some may be subject to particularly terrifying and difficult visions, while others will have much more joyful experiences.
While tripping, users run the risk of injury, either by accident due to their detachment from the real world, or due to paranoia or drug-induced delusions.
Because of the highly hallucinogenic and psychoactive nature of the experience, the effects on people with existing mental health problems (diagnosed or not) can be catastrophic.
Even years after taking LSD, some former users have “flashbacks” and relive their experience in unexpected ways. These events can be traumatic for those who have had bad trips, but also dangerous depending on the type of activity the individual was doing at the time of the flashback.
LSD is a man-made semi-synthetic chemical and the street drug is produced illegally in clandestine laboratories. It is made in a variety of ways, all of which require highly specialized knowledge, skills, equipment, and precursor chemicals.
LSD is chemically synthesized from lysergic acid, a product of a fungus called ergot, which grows on rye and several other plants such as volubilis. Although it takes a great deal of chemistry to synthesize and many of the necessary ingredients are tightly controlled, it is possible to create a large amount of LSD from a relatively small amount of raw chemical ingredients.
Once LSD, or lysergic acid diethylamide, has been synthesized through a series of complex chemical reactions and processes, a powdery substance composed of white crystals is obtained. However, because the amount of LSD needed to produce an effective dose is so small (a few micrograms), it is rarely sold on the street in this form, but rather dissolved in water or another liquid. It is then usually used to soak pre-prepared blotting sheets, which are then divided into individual doses (cartons) and sold on the street.
More rarely, LSD can be diluted and packaged in small containers. This liquid version will then be used to make tablets (“microdots”) or will be mixed with gelatin (“gels”).
According to the UNODC’s World Drug Report (2011), 80% of LSD seizures take place in Europe. However, this is a relatively small amount compared to the total, as it is estimated to be the equivalent of 0.1kg of drugs. 16% of global seizures took place in Oceania.
Because the doses of LSD needed to prepare a “sheet” of blotter for sale are small, only a small number of illegal laboratories are needed to supply large quantities of the drug to the national, regional, and international markets. In addition, because these blotter sheets are tiny and seemingly harmless, trafficking (domestically or internationally) is much easier than with most other drugs.
Once LSD has been turned over to middlemen, who buy it in bulk, it gets into the hands of street vendors, who sell it to users.
According to the U.S. National Drug Intelligence Centre (NDIC), most of the LSD consumed in the U.S. is manufactured domestically by a small number of chemists operating in northern California or other parts of the West Coast. The NDIC also believes that LSD is produced in much smaller quantities by independent manufacturers with domestic laboratories.
Since the 1970s, many states have made efforts to combat the clandestine production of LSD. One of the most famous and successful attempts was Operation Julie, which took place in the United Kingdom and was orchestrated over a period of more than two years by a dozen police forces across the country. It led to the dismantling of two trafficking rings in 1977, the arrest of more than 100 people in the country and the seizure of enough raw LSD to produce nearly seven million cartons.
According to a 1995 United Nations report, the vast majority of LSD in Europe at that time came from the United States and it is estimated that the situation is more or less the same today.
FACTS AND STATISTICS
- LSD is a hallucinogenic drug that was first created in a laboratory in 1938.
- The terms LSD and “acid” come from the drug’s chemical name, lysergic acid diethylamide.
- LSD is taken orally and produces a “trip”, during which the individual is subject to visual and auditory hallucinations and other sensory phenomena.
- It is believed that the individual’s state of mind and mood as well as the circumstances in which the drug is taken may play an important role in the type of trip experienced.
- A sense of panic and anxiety is not uncommon among LSD users. This can include fear of death, dementia and other negative emotions.
- Many states accept that there is no evidence that LSD can cause permanent physical or mental damage. However, it has been found that taking LSD by mentally ill people can be very harmful to them.
- LSD is not considered an addictive substance.
- The fungus from which the drug is most often synthesized, ergot, has been responsible for numerous “epidemics” of ergotism since the Middle Ages. Also known as “St.
- Anthony’s fire”, the contamination of grain products by this fungus has caused madness, hallucinations and psychosis among the population and has even led to accusations of witchcraft.
- Legal status – In the United Kingdom, LSD is a class A drug. In the United States, it is a Schedule I drug. It is also illegal in many other countries, including those that have signed the United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances.
- The effects of LSD are long lasting (up to 12 hours or more).
- In 2000, the U.S. DEA dismantled a laboratory in Kansas, which was housed in a disused missile silo. The lab was said to have produced 94 million doses of LSD, making it the largest seizure of its kind.
- According to a 2004 U.S. study on drug use and health, 12.1% of 18-25 year olds have tried LSD.
- A 2008 U.S. study shows that nearly 23 million Americans over the age of 12 have taken LSD at least once in their lives. However, only 60,000 of them would have taken it in the previous year.
- In 2009, this figure was 779000.
- By 2011, LSD use in the UK was only one fifth of the 1996 level, indicating that many people have stopped using it and that it has fallen out of fashion among young people.
- The amount of LSD needed to produce effects is microscopic (usually 30 to 200 micrograms). However, some users report taking particularly large doses, up to 1000 micrograms or more. The higher the dose, the stronger the effects. Nevertheless, the intensity of the effects can vary from person to person, and regular users tend to build up a tolerance, which means they will have to take more and more to get the same effects as the last time.
- Fatal doses of LSD have almost never been reported. This is because the lethal dose for a human is estimated at 10 to 12,000 micrograms, or about 100 times the average dose.
SIGNS OF ADDICTION
LSD is not addictive in the traditional sense of the word, and recreational users often do not use it on a daily basis. Most of the time, this substance is experienced only once or twice in a lifetime. But like any powerful drug, there is a risk of abuse and psychological dependence.
In general, regular users develop a tolerance to LSD, forcing them to take a higher and higher dose to achieve the hallucinations and other psychoactive effects they are seeking. Because little research has been done on regular use of particularly high doses, it is difficult to determine the physical and psychological damage caused in this case.
When a person is under the influence of LSD, he or she often seems “out of it,” as they are subject to mind-generated hallucinations and see external events from a distorted sensory perspective. In addition to reacting to things that do not exist, she may have significant coordination and balance problems. She may also speak and act very strangely to an outside observer.
Under the influence of the drug, users may have very dilated eyes, with very large pupils, which will make them sensitive to light.
In the absence of a physical “trip”, it is almost impossible to tell that a person is using LSD. However, small stamp-sized colored paper “blotters” may be found in the person’s belongings.
In general, LSD is not as addictive as drugs such as heroin and cocaine, since it does not produce noticeable withdrawal effects or uncontrollable drug seeking. It can, however, be abused on a regular basis with very harmful consequences for its users. In addition, regular users can become psychologically dependent on the “otherworldly” hallucinogenic experiences caused by the drug and thus have difficulty stopping and dealing with the real world.
Because the drug is not addictive in the chemical sense, pharmaceutical treatment for withdrawal is not usually prescribed. Instead, treatment will focus on psychological therapies, counseling and other therapeutic practices so that heavy users can overcome any psychological and habitual difficulties.
In some cases, users may be deeply disturbed by their experiences while on the drug and need counseling to deal with memories and events that, even if hallucinatory in nature, may have had a very detrimental effect on them.
LSD is known to trigger dormant mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia or personality and mood disorders, but also to exacerbate existing disorders. Therefore, some individuals may need further psychiatric help from a qualified practitioner. These disorders can then be treated pharmacologically according to standard psychiatric guidelines.
On the other hand, users who do not appear to have a mental disorder may require less specialized therapies to help them break the addiction. These may include talk or action-based therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
These therapies may address the root causes of the addiction, but also attempt to help the user find other ways to cope with life and adopt new habits to replace LSD. At the same time, the individual may be offered support to help them adjust emotionally to the changes in their life.
If the user suffers from recurrent “flashbacks” in which he or she partially relives a trip long after it has taken place, psychological assistance may also help him or her deal with this.
In addition, because strong emotional and psychological dependence is possible, issues of withdrawal and relapse will of course be an integral part of the treatment program.
In some cases, LSD abuse can be treated as an outpatient, with a network of support specialists, therapists and other professionals. However, for the most severe cases, a stay in a detoxification center may be required.
Finally, if LSD is part of a more complex addiction, these aspects of the problem may need to be addressed as well.
Because LSD is a powerful hallucinogenic and psychedelic drug, the psychological effects can be profound, but with the right help, users can recover.