Lysergic acid diethylamide – or LSD, acid or tabs as it is more commonly known – is a synthetic chemical known for its psychedelic purposes. With a highly experimental experiment, lack of research and many misconceptions, LSD’s full effects are checkered and still as yet, misunderstood. Users who take the drug recreational take a ‘trip’ of sensory, psychological and physiological proportions as their ego self dissipates.
In small doses, it can be used for mild changes in perception, mood and thought, making it popular for creating great mindfulness or treating mental health. However, taking a larger quantity have been known to produce vivid hallucinations and distortions of time and space.
A Brief History of LSD
The chemical of LSD was first synthesized in 1938 but its hallucinogenic properties were not discovered until 5 years later. In fact, it was all an accident, when scientist Albert Hofmann, who was trying to find a blood stimulant, accidentally consumed some LSD and had the trip of his life.
The drug rose to popularity in America in the 1950s, championed by psychologist Timothy Leary for its ability to let you ‘turn on, tune in, and drop out.’ It was studied extensively for its tremendous impact on a user’s neurological patterns and was used widely in therapy for the next two decades. Through experimentation, it opened the science world to understanding the mysteries of the brain and the deeper levels of the human psyche.
When the 60s came around and the birth of the hippie times of peace and love, people looking for a unique spiritual experience also turned to the drug for its more recreational uses. This did not help the credibility of LSD as a means of treating real psychological issues and it was made illegal in 1968. With that, research into its therapeutic uses also stopped.
In the next few decades, there was still a lot of underground usage of the drug. Some 10% of Americans and Europeans were still regularly using the drug. These days, the drug has again seen a resurgence in popularity, particularly in Europe 4.7% of all aged 15-64 have taken LSD at least once. The benefits of it remain undeniable, with modern studies showing that LSD therapy has a powerful ability to heal conditions such as alcoholism, depression, anxiety, chronic pain and cluster headaches.
How LSD Is Produced
There are a couple of different ways to make LSD, all involving a high level of organic chemistry knowledge, full laboratory setup and some hard-to-find ingredients. Most recipes start with the chemical lysergic acid from which the drug gets its name, that can be found in the fungus on seeds of rye and morning glory.
This is then synthesized by adding other chemical compounds and heating processed into iso-lysergic acid hydrazide, that is then cooled, mixed with an acid and a base and evaporate to make iso-lysergic diethylamide. Finally, it is isomerized again, purified and crystallized before becoming what we know as LSD.
They are most often dissolved into ethanol, with sheets of blotting paper dipped into the solution and dried. These sheets get decorated with colorful graphics or cartoon characters and perforated into small squares that usually represent one dose each.
Because of the checkered and experimental history of LSD, the pharamocology remains complex and not fully understood. There has been no comprehensive review of the drug and its controlled effect on humans or even animals.
The general understanding is the LSD acts as a 5-HT (or serotonin) receptor activator. Essentially, it drastically increases serotonin levels in the brain by turning off the systems that usually regulate serotonin that make us feel happy and high. There are 15 different receptors in our brains but LSD latches onto the 2A subtype that helps our cognitive processes in the prefrontal cortex. This is the section of the brain that helps us make all our decisions, helps us behave appropriately in social situations, expresses our personality and helps us process information.
The most recent most recent research from the Beckley Foundation suggests that LSD reduces blood flows to these control centers and dampens their cognitive, logical processes to instead give way to our unbridled creative and unique thoughts. This is how the perception of losing your ego, fun and playfulness that is often associated with LSD trips can be found.
Effects of LSD on the Mind and Body
LSD is highly potent and different levels of dosage have varied effects on the user. Pupil dilation, reduced appetite and wakefulness are the three main physical effects found at every level of dosage. Other effects include numbness, weakness, nausea, elevated blood sugar, hypothermia, goosebumps, heart rate increase, jaw clenching, tremors, dry mouth, breathing quickly, vomiting, facial flushes, sweating and chills. Low doses of LSD can also lead to longer REM sleep cycles so you feel like you’re in a deeper sleep.
Physiologically, users experience positive, neutral and negative effects. Low and moderate doses generate more positive and neutral effects. This includes an increase in creative thinking, ego dissolution, a general sense of euphoria, life-changing spiritual experiences, feeling of connectedness to other life forms, change in consciousness, range of emotion and losing track of time. Sensory effects like ‘hearing’ music or an enhanced appreciation for music, sharper sense of smell and taste or a desire to touch soft items can also appear. And, as per other psychedelics, LSD can bring about synesthesia as sense become merged and you might begin to ‘taste’ music or ‘feel’ the colors around you.
But as the dosage increases, so do the negative psychological experiences. These ‘bad trips’ could manifest as delusion, paranoia, anxiety, panic attacks and disorientation.
With microdosing, small amounts are administered at regular intervals (often every four days). At such small quantities, microdosers have experienced higher levels of creativity, more energy, increased focus and improved relationships. It has also been used successfully to treat depression and anxiety.
Safety of LSD
Research into the safety of LSD is still limited, but based on the existing evidence it is considered safe, non-toxic, and non-addictive. In a controlled and safe environment, it can have a great positive impact as the rise of microdosing has shown. There are no known effects of LSD on the body or long-term mental health. And as more research is done in the drug, the more it is seen as a powerful new weapon in battling depression and anxiety.
There also seems to be not lethal dose of LSD, and beyond a dose of 500-1000 μg, the effects don’t seem to change significantly compared to lower doses. Users should take into account however that the intensity and effect of LSD at any dose varies significantly based on complex psychological factors (and less so on biological ones). Starting with smaller doses helps prevent overwhelming and dangerous experiences.
The two greatest risks are fake acid – when the drug has been laced with other chemicals that could be harmful to the body – or doing something unsafe during the trip. Particularly in states of paranoia and high anxiety, users’ behaviors could be risky to themselves or others. As it does affect sensory perception significantly, driving, operating heavy machinery or any other activities that require the presence of the cognitive mind should be avoided. It is also advisable to have a light meal before taking the drug to mitigate some of the physical effects.
Use of LSD
As commonly found, the paper squares with dissolved LSD solution generally contain one dosage of 100-200 micrograms (μg). This is considered optimal for experiencing a typical trip. The paper squares are held on the tongue till dissolved and the paper is safe to be swallowed. For first time users, it is recommended to have about a quarter of a full tab (25-100 μg).
At this dosage, LSD can also be taken as tablets (or microdots), gelatin sheets (windowpanes), or dissolved into water or other liquids for consumption – though these forms are not as common these days.
Microdosing is typically around 10 μg which can equate to 1/16th or 1/5th of a normal tab. This can be administered by cutting up the blotting paper to the right dosage though is not very precise. Alternatively, a full tab can be distilled into water and the dissolved solution measured out into the recommended dosages. As a guide, a 100 μg tab should be dissolved into 10mL of water, left for a day in the dark. Then the 1mL of liquid equates to 10μg of LSD, or one microdose. The liquid can sit in the fridge for months.
In its prime of the 50s and 60s, LSD appeared in over 5000 scientific studies. Though not as popular anymore, scientists continue to test the drug and its effects on human psychology,
In early 2019, scientists came the closest to understanding the way in which LSD actually affects the neurological patterns. A research team from the University of Psychiatry Zurich asked 25 volunteers to take the drug and have their brain activity monitored. Volunteers were given questionnaires while they were ‘tripping’ to understand the subjective effects of the drug.
The study revealed that LSD allowed more information to flow through the temporal cortex of the brain and bypass the natural receptors that usually filter information in our brains. This disruption in brain connectivity is most likely causing the varied and euphoric effects LSD users experience, overflowing our brains with activity and thus increasing sensory perception. It could also be why LSD can be so effective in mental health treatment as it can reconfigure our sense of self and the information pathways that create it.
This page was written by Tiff Ng.