LSD

Other names:

  • Acid
  • Diethylamide
  • L
  • LSD-25
  • Lysergic acid

LSD is a synthetic substance derived from ergot, a fungus that grows on rye and other cereal grains. The drug, first created in 1938, was the twenty-fifth in a series of compounds synthesized by the Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann, who was synthesizing chemicals that might have useful effects on circulation for the pharmaceutical company Sandoz Laboratories. It wasn’t until 1943, after accidentally ingesting some of his creation, that Hofmann realized the substance had psychoactive properties. In 1947, Sandoz dubbed the compound Delysid and began distributing it as an experimental psychiatric drug.

In the 1950s and 1960s, scientists studied whether LSD could be used to treat alcohol addiction and trauma. The U.S. government also launched a secret operation called MK-ULTRA, which covertly studied whether LSD could be used as a truth serum or mind-control agent, administering high doses to civilians, soldiers, and prisoners, often without their knowledge or consent. LSD was embraced by the counterculture of the 1960s, and in 1970 was classified as a Schedule I drug, effectively halting most human research into the drug’s therapeutic potential until the 1990s.

LSD is usually ingested orally as drops of a liquid solution or through small squares of paper (“blotter”) containing the drug. The onset of noticeable effects begin after some twenty to forty minutes, depending on the dose and the person, and the experience lasts from eight to twelve hours. 

Research suggests that LSD combined with therapy can be effective at reducing anxiety for people with a life-threatening illness, and for treating alcoholism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and cluster headaches. Ongoing studies are investigating whether microdosing—taking small amounts that don’t cause perceptual changes—could help treat chronic pain, depression, and inflammation caused by neurodegenerative diseases, but there is debate about whether the apparent benefits of microdosing are due to LSD or to the placebo effect. 

In the United States, LSD is listed in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. It’s illegal to use recreationally or in therapy outside of specially approved research settings.

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