Regardless of whether you were alive during the ‘60s or not, everyone seems to remember the ‘acid craze’ during the era. At the time, LSD was simultaneously demonized and worshiped – depending upon which side of the fence you were on. All of this was with good reason – lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) was legal during a majority of the decade. A scientist named Albert Hofmann first synthesized LSD in 1938, but he did not discover the psychedelic properties of the drug until 1943. At that time, scientists were excited about the substance and believed it had the potential to be used therapeutically. They did not get sole privilege of the chemical for long, though, as the government quickly interfered. The C.I.A. believed LSD could be used for ‘mind control’ and, eventually, LSD was made illegal in the U.S. in 1966.
I was nowhere near being born in the 1960s, and it’s hard for me to imagine a time where people could consume LSD without legal consequences. In this age, simply bringing up the topic of marijuana legalization, to my parents’ friends – for example- is awkward, to say the least. One adult ends up getting angry and another giggles uncontrollably. I can only imagine how the conservative, older generation who raised the ‘flower children’ felt, watching their children ingest something much stronger and less studied than marijuana.
I remember seeing the fears of those parents brought to life in the movie, Taking Woodstock (2009). In one scene, the squeaky clean main character, Elliot, decides to try acid for the first time with friendly strangers that are staying near his house for the music festival. After he takes the substance, he joins the rest of the crowd and ends up having sex with a man (he is assumed to be straight, up until this point). The next morning, he comes home in an ill-fitting, colorful t-shirt (as opposed to his usual business attire) and yells at his parents. This scene encapsulates what adults at the time feared about LSD – that after one use, their children would turn against them and forget the morals they had so carefully instilled in them. However, the experience as portrayed by Elliot, is actually very harmless and exciting. He has no wish to disobey his parents – he just never fully believed what they did. He melts with the crowd surrounding the main stage, and watches it become a giant wave. He watches colors become brighter and explores his sexuality without shame.
I tend to share Elliot’s view. LSD is not inherently bad, but, when used correctly, can be used as a tool of self-exploration. My parents do not share this view, however, as they are very conservative. When I was in high school, my whole family and I ate dinner together every night. One night, I was feeling brave and turned the topic towards LSD. I simply wanted to know what their views were. My dad, who has a background in science, said that LSD wasn’t inherently bad, but that “the hippies ruined it when they used it irresponsibly and jumped off buildings”.
Well…not the best answer. But, why did he think so? Was it because the government effectively brainwashed him? Did tons of perfectly healthy kids kill themselves after one use of the drug? After some research, I realized these thoughts probably had more to do with the media, than anything else. During the ‘60s, events of teens committing suicide by eating acid were highly publicized. In fact, according to studies by Dr. Sidney Cohen, the approximate attempted suicide rate was only 1/10th of one percent, or .1%. Even this low rate, most experts agree, only probably exists within those who take psychedelics while already mentally ill.
Indeed, LSD is relatively harmless. The substance is non-addictive, does not cause brain damage (though, with large doses, some users may experience hallucinations after the trip is over), and can be used therapeutically. A report published by BBC News, shows that, when LSD is used in addition to addiction therapy, 59% of patients experienced recovery, as opposed to 38% of patients who underwent therapy only.
Besides LSD’s therapeutic, long-term properties, the drug also can provide for a pleasant short-term experience as well. It is usually administered orally and taken in the form of a colorless liquid. Thus, there is usually no nausea reported after ingestion and the drug itself does not taste bad, or at all. It is an entheogen, which means it can create divine or religious experiences within the user. Trips on LSD usually last for 6-8 hours, although they can last as long as twelve. Closed and open-eye visuals are common with the drug, as are feelings of euphoria.
A friend of mine who took LSD told me that “everything was lit up and colorful; everything was moving”. Most LSD users agree with this testimony and do not necessarily feel the drug ‘brings them to other worlds’, like some other psychedelics – such as DMT and mescaline – are reported to. Instead, it is more of a superficial, psychedelic effect. One user on erowid.org, a website where people can post their experiences with various drugs, stated of his trip, “Everything was very dreamlike at this point as well and there were amazing trails every time I moved my hands or any object.” The acid experience tends to include these aforementioned ‘trails’, I’ve noticed. The visuals – from what I’ve heard – seem to be intense, though not overpowering.
I’ll end this article with the purest LSD experience I can think of – Albert Hofmann’s, the first to create and try LSD. Hofmann, in his Laboratory Notes, writes of the experience, “when the eyes were closed, colored pictures flashed past in a quickly changing kaleidoscope….what had caused this condition?”
Legal status: Schedule I controlled substance
IUPAC ID: (6aR,9R)- N,N- diethyl- 7-methyl- 4,6,6a,7,8,9- hexahydroindolo- [4,3-fg] quinoline- 9-carboxamide
Melting point: 176°F (80°C)
Molar mass: 323.43 g/mol
CAS ID: 50-37-3
Effects of LSD
The effects of LSD are unpredictable. Usually, the first effects of the drug are felt 30 to 90 minutes after taking it. The user may experience extreme changes in mood, feel several different emotions at once, or swing rapidly from one emotion to another. If taken in large enough doses, the drug may produce delusions and visual hallucinations. The physical effects include dilated pupils; higher body temperature and sweating; nausea and loss of appetite; increased blood sugar, heart rate and blood pressure; sleeplessness; dry mouth and tremors.
The user may also suffer impaired depth and time perception, with distorted perception of the size and shape of objects, movements, color, sound, touch and own body image. Sensations may seem to “cross over,” giving the feeling of hearing colors and seeing sounds. These changes can be frightening and can cause panic. Some LSD users also experience severe, terrifying thoughts and feelings, fear of losing control, fear of insanity and death.
An experience with LSD is referred to as a “trip” and acute adverse reactions as a “bad trip”. These LSD experiences are long, with the effects of higher doses lasting for 10 to 12 hours.