LSD, or to give its full name Lysergic Acid Diethylamide, is a powerful illegal Hallucinogen. It is also commonly referred to colloquially as ‘acid’ and has been used recreationally since the middle of the 20th Century.
Today, LSD is most commonly sold as small stamp-like pieces of paper colloquially known as ‘tabs’ or ‘blotters’ which have been taken from a larger sheet of blotting paper that has been soaked in the drug. Users generally place the tab in their mouth and let it dissolve there, before swallowing what’s left.
As a hallucinogenic drug, LSD has a very powerful effect on the mind, referred to amongst drug users as a ‘trip’. This involves users seeing and hearing hallucinations, as well as other distortions of everyday sensations and perceptions.
LSD is created synthetically in a lab, and was first developed in 1938 by Albert Hofmann, a Swiss chemist working for a pharmaceutical company. Though his research was intended to discover a pharmaceutical product that could be used to treat respiratory diseases, he discovered, by accident in 1943, that it created a powerful hallucinogenic effect.
The drug was later experimented with widely in the US and elsewhere during the 1950s, in the hope that it might be used to treat patients with mental illnesses and psychiatric conditions, and as an aid for researchers to discover the inner workings of the mind. Despite clinical trials however, and the drug being prescribed to many thousands of patients, no definitive psychiatric use could be found for the drug.
Some clinicians are known to have begun taking LSD for recreational purposes, and during the 1960s the drug became more widely used as part of the psychedelic hippy movement. ‘Counterculture’ figures such as Timothy Leary are often credited with the spreading use of LSD. In the mid-‘60s however many countries made the substance illegal, and use of the drug declined substantially as the hippy movement of the ‘60s faded away. Its use has continued though in many, mainly developed western countries, and although not as frequently used as Cannabis or drugs like cocaine, it remains one of the most commonly abused drugs.
Possession or sale of LSD is severely punished in many countries. In the UK it is a Class A drug, so possession can result in up to seven years in prison, while supplying can lead to a life sentence.
LSD is an acronym of the chemical name for the substance – Lysergic Acid Diethylamide. It is often referred to on the street simply as ‘Acid’, and less commonly as Lysergic Acid.
The physical ‘Tabs’ of Acid through which the drug is used go by a wide variety of names on the street depending on geographic location, and appear to be small squares of paper, often with colourful and artistic designs on them. These include Hits, Trips, Blotters, Drops, Rainbows, Sunshines, Smiles, Windows and Window Panes. The larger pieces of LSD-soaked blotting paper from which these smaller doses come are usually referred to as ‘sheets’.
In addition to these stamp-like tabs, LSD is also taken in a number of other forms. It may be sold as a liquid in a small vial, or as a jelly tab made my mixing liquid LSD with gelatine. It is also sold as small tablets, or ‘Microdots’, and sometimes as sugar cubes soaked in the substance, however the blotter paper form is by far the most common in many places.
Once the user has chewed or swallowed an acid tab or ingested a dose in some other way the effects take a little time to develop – anything between half an hour and two hours. Because of this onset delay, inexperienced users may take another dose prematurely, leading to them taking far too much.
There is no precise scientific consensus on the exact reason for LSD’s effects, but once the substance reaches the brain it is known to mimic the neuro-transmitter Serotonin, one of the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. This in turn jumbles and confuses the senses, resulting in a disruption of normal functioning and perceptions.
Once under the influence, users generally experience hallucinatory sights and sounds and other departures from their normal reality, known as a ‘trip’. Some users can experience particularly terrifying and harrowing visions, while others report much happier experiences.
During the ‘trip’, users may be at risking of harming themselves either by an accident caused by their separation from their actual surroundings, or as a result of paranoia or delusions caused by the drug.
Because of the powerful hallucinogenic and psychoactive nature of the experience, the effects on those with previously diagnosed or undiagnosed mental conditions can be catastrophic.
Even years after the LSD has been taken, there have been reports of former users having ‘flashbacks’ in which they unexpectedly return to the experience. This can be traumatic for those who have had ‘bad trips’, and can be dangerous depending on the type of activity that the person is engaged in at the time of the flashback.
LSD is a man-made semi-synthetic chemical, and what is bought on the street is produced by illegal underground laboratories. There a number of different ways in which it is made, all of which require highly specialised knowledge, skills, equipment and chemical precursors.
It is chemically synthesized from Lysergic Acid, a product of the Ergot fungus that grows on rye, and of several other plants such as Morning Glory. Though the knowledge of chemistry needed to complete the synthesis is considerable, and many of the chemical ingredients needed are tightly controlled, it is possible to create a large amount of LSD from a relatively small quantity of raw chemical ingredients.
Once LSD, or Lysergic Acid Diethylamide, has been synthesised over a series of complex chemical reactions and processes, it is a powdery substance made up of white crystals. However, because the amount of LSD needed to produce an effective dose is incredibly small – a matter of micrograms – it is rarely if ever seen on the street in this form. Instead, it is dissolved in water or another liquid. From here it will usually be used to soak pre-prepared sheets of blotter paper, which will eventually be separated into individual tabs and sold on the street.
Less commonly, the LSD will be diluted further and put into small containers to be sold as liquid LSD, used to make tablets (‘microdots’), or mixed with gelatine (‘Window Panes’).
According to the UNODC’s 2011 report on drugs around the world, 80% of all LSD seizures occur in Europe. This itself though was only a relatively small amount in total – estimated at the equivalent of 0.1 KGs of the drug. 16% of global seizures took place in Oceania.
Because of the small doses of LSD needed to prepare a ‘sheet’ of blotter paper for sale, only a small number of illegal labs are needed to supply large amounts of the drug for domestic, regional and international use. Furthermore, because of the inconsequential size and innocuous appearance of such blotter sheets, it is far easier to smuggle domestically and internationally than most other drugs.
Once the drug has been distributed to mid-level dealers who buy it in large wholesale quantities, it filters down to street level dealers who in turn will sell it to users.
According to the National Drug Intelligence Centre, most LSD that is consumed in the United States is manufactured domestically by a small number of chemists operating in the northern part of California and elsewhere on the west coast. They also say that it is produced in far smaller quantities by some independent manufacturers using home labs.
Since the 1970s, many governments have worked to prevent the production of LSD in secret laboratories. One of the most notable and successful of these attempts was ‘Operation Julie’, which took place in the UK and was orchestrated over more than two years by almost a dozen police forces around the country. This led to the breakup of two drug rings in 1977, the arrests of more than a hundred people around the country, and the seizure of enough raw LSD to produce almost seven million tabs of acid.
According to a 1995 report by the United Nations, the vast majority of LSD in Europe at that time was smuggled in from the US, and is thought that this situation remains much the same today.
LSD is not known to be addictive in the traditional sense, and for many recreational users it is not a drug that is taken habitually on a daily basis. In many cases it is experimented with only once or twice in a lifetime. However, as with any powerful drug, the potential for abuse and psychological dependency is there.
In frequent users, tolerance generally develops to the drug, so ever stronger doses of LSD are needed to generate the hallucinations and other psychoactive effects that users seek when they take acid. There has been little research done on the regular consumption of particularly high doses of the drug, so it is difficult to say what damage will be done physically and psychologically in these cases.
When an individual is under the influence of LSD they will most commonly appear to be ‘somewhere else’; that is, they are experiencing hallucinations generated by their mind and are viewing external events occur through a distorted sensory perspective. As well as responding to things that are not actually there, they may appear very uncoordinated and unbalanced. Aside from this they may talk and act in ways that appear very strange to an outside observer.
While under the influence of the drug, the user’s eyes may dilate dramatically so that their pupils appear very large, causing them to be sensitive to light.
When they are not physically ‘tripping’, it can be almost impossible to tell if someone is using LSD. However, small stamp-like ‘blotters’ of colourful paper may be found amongst their belongings.
LSD is generally not addictive in the sense that drugs such as Heroin and Cocaine are, in that it does not generate any appreciable withdrawal effects or uncontrollable drug-seeking behaviours. However it may still be abused regularly and those who use it may be deeply negatively affected by the consequence of this use. Furthermore a psychological addiction to the ‘other-worldly’ hallucinogenic experiences of the drug may make it hard for the frequent user to discontinue use and deal with the real world in front of them.
Because it is not addictive in the chemical sense, pharmaceutical treatments are generally not prescribed for cessation of the drug. Instead, in recognition of the psychological and habitual challenges that recovering heavy users of LSD may face, treatment tends to focus more on psychological therapies, counselling and other therapeutic practices.
In some cases, users may be profoundly disturbed by the experiences that they have had while on the drug, and may need to be counselled to help them deal with memories and events which, while hallucinatory, may have had a profound negative effect on them.
LSD is known to trigger dormant mental conditions such as schizophrenia, personality and mood disorders, as well as exacerbating those which already exist. Therefore more in-depth psychiatric help by a suitably qualified practitioner may be required by some individuals. These conditions may then be treated pharmacologically as per standard psychiatric guidelines.
In users who do not show such signs of mental disorder however, less specialised therapies may be used to help them break the cycle of drug abuse. These may include talking therapies and action-based therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
Such therapies may not only address the root causes for their drug taking behaviours, but also attempt to help the recovering user to find alternative ways of dealing with life and new habits to take the place of LSD. At the same time support may be offered to help the individual adjust on an emotional level to the changes taking place in their life.
If the user is suffering from recurring ‘acid flashbacks’ in which they experience part of a trip again long after it originally occurred, psychological help may help them to deal with this too.
Of course, because they may have a profound emotional and psychological dependency on the drug, dealing with issues of cravings and relapse will also form a primary part of any treatment programme.
In some cases LSD abuse may be treated on an outpatient basis with a network of support workers, therapists and other professionals. In particular severe cases though, a stay as an inpatient in a drug rehabilitation clinic may be called for.
If LSD is only one part of a more complex pattern of drug addictions and drug-seeking behaviours then it may also be necessary to deal with these components of the substance abuse problem too.
As a powerful hallucinogenic and psychedelic drug, the psychological scars of LSD abuse can run deep, but with the right help users can get their lives back on track.