- Lysergic acid
Basics: LSD is a synthetic substance derived from ergot, a fungus that grows on rye and other cereal grains. 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.
History: 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. However, it wasn’t until 1943, after he accidentally ingested 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 ’60s, 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.
Potential Benefits: Responses to LSD vary but often the drug induces a sense of bliss, openness, and trust. It alters the perception of time, causes audiovisual synesthesia, and at higher doses can lead to mystical experiences. Some users also report having flashbacks in the days, weeks, or years after taking LSD.
Potential Risks and Side Effects: LSD can moderately increase heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature.
Therapy: 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.
Microdosing: 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.
Legality: In the United States, LSD is listed in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, making it illegal outside of specially approved research settings.
- A review of twenty-five years of clinical trials for LSD, psilocybin, and ayahuasca-assisted therapy.
- Imaging shows how LSD affects brain activity.
- LSD has been used to help treat end-of-life anxiety in terminally ill patients.
- Research into how LSD affects creativity.
- How LSD and other psychedelics may affect the brain’s glutamate system, increasing neuroplasticity.
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