LSD belongs to the classic psychedelics, which also include psilocybin, mescaline, and DMT. LSD is manufactured in a laboratory and is therefore not "natural”. Of course, it does have a natural source, which is ergot (Claviceps purpurea).
It is classified as an illegal drug worldwide and governments fought hard against its use, especially when it made its big breakthrough in the psychedelic sixties. Yet there is another side to the use of LSD that is recognized by the clinical community.
Other names for LSD are acid, lucy and L. The drug is also often referred to as 'blotter' or 'tabs'. This is because LSD is often dosed on small pieces of paper.
Albert Hofmann's problem child
In 1943, when the world was still in its grip due to World War II, a Swiss chemist named Albert Hofmann discovered the psychedelic effects of LSD.
After completing his studies in chemistry in Zurich cum laude, he began working for the Sandoz company in Basel in 1929. This pharmaceutical company made medicines, by isolating active alkaloids from plants and then synthesizing them. Several decades earlier the company had started a project to develop a new drug. To do this, they researched active substances from a fungus that grows on grains, named ergot. As the developments did not progress, it was put on hold at one point, until Hofmann decided to pick up the thread again in 1935.
He knew scientists in the United States had also begun renewed research on ergot and had already made some discoveries.
Three years later Hofmann had isolated a substance he called Lysergsüure-diüthylamid-25, or LSD-25. Tests showed that animals under anesthesia behaved restlessly. The drug was deemed unusable and set aside.
In the spring of 1943, on an impulse, the chemist felt the need to take another look at the substance. That same afternoon he felt suddenly unwell and left the laboratory early. A little dizzy and very restless, he lay on the couch at home. There something incredible happened: with his eyes closed he began to see the most fantastic images and brightly colored kaleidoscopic patterns.
Before long it became clear to him he wasn’t ill, but that this must be the effect of LSD-25, of which he must have ingested a miniscule amount through inattention in his laboratory.
Three days later, on April 19, Albert Hofmann deliberately decided to take a dose of the substance in order to test its effect. The day on which the first LSD trip ever took place is known as "bicycle day", because the chemist was overwhelmed on his bicycle by the intense effects of the highly potent hallucinogenic substance. Fortunately, he was smart enough to take only a fraction of a "common" active dose, because he already had an inkling that LSD would be extremely potent. 250 micrograms turned out to be a hefty dose for LSD.
The next day he experienced an intense sense of connection to everything, along with a feeling of renewed life and freshness. This was the beginning of a new era. It was clear that he had discovered an incredibly powerful substance that would change the entire world.
What is LSD?
Although LSD is considered the best researched hallucinogenic substance with the greatest impact on our culture, its exact workings are still not clear.
In the 1950s, the Swiss company Sandoz saw potential for the drug to be used in psychotherapy. The experimental drug under the brand name Delysid was used in the treatment of people with certain mental disorders and for scientific research. It was concluded that the effects of the drug resembled the behavior exhibited by schizophrenic patients, for example.
LSD has had an enormous impact on psychiatry and the way people looked at mental illness at that time. In the 1940s and 1950s, some 1,000 scientific papers were published and some 40,000 patients were prescribed LSD as a medication. At the time, people initially spoke of psycholytic therapy until the term "psychedelic" was brought to life.
The CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) in the US also experimented with the drug, to see if it could be used as a "brainwashing agent. The secret investigation, called MK-ULTRA, turned out to be out of control. During this research, LSD was given without prior consent to CIA employees, military personnel, doctors, mentally ill patients, prostitutes and other citizens of society. The "guinea pigs" had no idea they were being administered a strong psychedelic drug. This resulted in at least one death.
In the 1960s, LSD enjoyed status as the ultimate mind-altering drug within the youth culture that formed a counter-movement and sought to overthrow the established order of the day. Several intellectuals, including Timothy Leary, Alan Watts and Aldous Huxley advocated the mass use of LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs. This had a major impact on the way of thinking of the youth of this period.
Sandoz, meanwhile, had stopped producing LSD because of the many controversies it caused.
In the late 1960s, a ban was placed in the U.S. on possession of the trip drug.
In 1973, the triumph of LSD was brought to an end. The drug was placed on the list of banned substances without any medical value. The studies that were taking place at the time were also discontinued. The drug went under lock and key for several decades.
Only in Switzerland was legal psychotherapy with LSD permitted until 1993.
The revival of LSD
Today, LSD is once again known as a recreational drug. New life has also been breathed into the many studies showing promising results. At the same time, there is still a great deal of reticence, and enthusiastic researchers want to avoid making such a big mistake as in the past, where the drug took on too much of a life of its own.
Although LSD has interesting potential as a therapeutic tool in the treatment of alcohol, addictions, cluster headaches and terminal illnesses, among others, science remains critical and cautious.
As a classic psychedelic, LSD produces a range of effects. These depend heavily on Set and Setting, a term coined by the infamous Timothy Leary, known for his controversial actions regarding LSD in the 1960s. Set and Setting determine the expectations of the user taking the drug, his mood and past experiences. They also consider the place where the user is tripping and with whom, factors that will largely determine the experience.
As scientists concluded, an LSD trip in a sterile hospital room is of a totally different quality than a trip in a quiet, familiar-looking living room. Hence, many research and therapy sessions take place in rooms that have been specially developed with an emphasis on a "natural," quiet environment.
What a user may experience through LSD includes:
- Visual effects, both with eyes open and closed
- Change in time awareness
- Very complex thought patterns
- Ability to think deeply introspectively
However, it can also cause non-desirable effects such as:
- Panic attacks
This is especially a risk when the user has underlying psychological problems, but also when the Set and Setting are not "right" and a user is uncomfortable.
- Energy: in general, a trip on LSD is characterized by an increase in physical energy, especially when compared to more natural psychedelic drugs such as psilocybin. A person may have increased stamina on LSD, where physical efforts such as hiking, climbing, and biking can be sustained for a long period of time, seemingly without any effort.
- Sensitivity: the body under the LSD is more sensitive to touch, tastes, smells, etcetera. The senses are sharpened so that everyday things can feel much more intense.
- Temperature: body temperature can vary under the influence of LSD. It is common for users to feel warm, but it is also possible for someone to have shivers and poor blood circulation.
- Nausea: usually when the effects of the trip drug begin to take effect, nausea is reported. This sensation usually subsides after the user has vomited, or after the peak of the experience. Other users do not/ rarely experience this sensation.
- Dilation of pupils: LSD causes pupils to enlarge greatly.
- Other physical effects include: muscle cramps, dehydration, increased heart rate, and difficulty urinating.
- Focus: under the influence of LSD, a user may experience an extreme form of focus, in which an action can be performed to the utmost concentration. Actions even seem to slow down a bit, which seems to give the user more control. This makes the drug popular among artists, but also for example high-tech software developers.
- Euphoria: a user can experience a deep happiness, in which a strong sense of connection with the environment is experienced.
- Experiencing different emotions: LSD is known to expose the user to an infinitely wide range of emotions. These can generally be experienced and processed in a therapeutic manner. Nevertheless, it is wise not to use this drug when you are in a bad mood or attract a lot of negativity towards you.
- Ego death: it is possible to 'die' during an LSD experience, figuratively speaking. Your own 'I' dissolves into all/nothingness and 'you' no longer exist. This can be both therapeutic and traumatizing.
- Thinking in loops: a common effect of LSD is the recurrence of thought patterns. These circles, or loops can keep repeating themselves ad nauseam.
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