LSD, like many of the best acronyms, is an increasingly common recreational drug known for its psychedelic effects, which have in the past been used to increase the intensity of spiritual experiences. Originally isolated from the ergot fungus in 1938, it was controversially used in a series of secret experiments by the CIA to test its potential for mind control purposes. While LSD is not addictive, it can have strong side effects including paranoia, delusions and severe anxiety – but how does it actually work?
When in the bloodstream, LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide for the chemistry nerds) binds well to receptors for serotonin, dopamine, and adrenaline, among other molecules. These are all types of neurotransmitter, which are required for communication within the nervous systems of animals to perform functions such as muscle movement and regulation of temperature. Hallucinogenic drugs tend to display their effects most strongly in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for mood, perception of surroundings and cognition (essentially use of the senses and acquiring knowledge).
“You will have no doubt heard incredible stories from those who have dabbled with the drug, such as feeling at peace or sensations of great clarity”
Doses are usually very small, on the order of 20-60 micrograms in current popular usage (for reference, a single particle of baking powder weighs approximately 1 microgram). Manufacture requires significant experience in organic chemistry, and because the masses of reagents involved are so small, tracing production facilities can be very difficult for authorities.
It’s produced as a crystal, and then usually re-dissolved and subsequently sprayed over some sort of ingestible medium such as a sugar cube. Most commonly LSD will be seen in the form of brightly coloured tablets, although examples have been seen where blotting paper is dipped into an LSD/alcohol solution and consumed that way. Furthermore, there are modern reports of users ingesting purified powders and capsules, which may contain far larger doses of active substance.
After consuming LSD, the most common effects are seeing false images, hearing non-existent sounds and the perception of sensations that have no basis in reality. It seems very difficult to predict exactly what each person will experience during a given ‘trip’, but typically these events are described as a psychosis – disruption of the ability to think clearly, observe the world properly and communicate with other people.
You will have no doubt heard incredible stories from those who have dabbled with the drug, such as feeling at peace or sensations of great clarity. Many famous musicians in the late 1960s including guitarist Jimi Hendrix consumed the drug due to an association with greater creativity for their song writing. The same is often true of psychedelic artists. However, ‘bad trips’ are also commonplace, which can be deeply disturbing and nightmarish to users of LSD, often fixated on the thoughts of anxiety, despair and death.
Besides these mental incapacities, there are other more striking physical effects on the body. Heightened blood pressure and body temperature are very common, alongside dizziness, numbness and mood swings. Users can often be unstable and feel vulnerable while under the effects of LSD and other psychedelics, so it can be wise to act with caution while around them. While it can be detected in urine after use, it only has a plasma half-life of 5.1 hours, meaning levels will be less than 10% of the dosage in the blood after 24 hours. It’s currently treated as a Schedule 1 Class A drug. With no accepted medical usage, unlicensed possession carries a 7-year sentence with unlimited fine, extended to life with trafficking. So kids don’t do drugs!