Life-Changing Acid Trips: How LSD Can Support Transformation
Our culture doesn’t know what to do with LSD.
After all, we’ve only had one socially acceptable “drug”: alcohol. And LSD is, in many ways, alcohol’s opposite. For many people, drinking makes life seem softer, dimmer, and darker until you lose all sensation and black out. Meanwhile, LSD brightens, vivifies, and intensifies the world. Sometimes when you take it, it feels like you’ve put a colorful Instagram filter over your eyes and hooked your nervous system up to an electrical socket. Other times, it is incomparable, indescribable bliss.
We don’t even know how to categorize LSD. Scientists have called it a psychotomimetic (that it mimics being crazy) and a hallucinogen (when you see things that aren’t there).
The most common word is psychedelic, Greek for mind-revealing or soul-manifesting. Unlike alcohol, LSD shows you to yourself.
LSD, like psilocybin mushrooms, comes from a fungus. Ergot, which grows on rye, wheat, and barley, may have been used in an ancient Greek mystery cult. Ergot was also used as a medicine in Europe, particularly by midwives who used ergot for childbirth (and abortion).
Around World War II, Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann sought to purify the ergot fungus into helpful new medicines for childbirth and created dozens of derivatives. A “peculiar presentiment” told him something was unique about the 25th molecule he made, lysergic acid diethylamide. So, in his lab, Hofmann took the smallest dose imaginable: 250 micrograms. We now know 250 is a body-shaking dose, and the world’s first acid trip was a difficult one. He felt dizzy, anxious, and giggly. He rode home on a bicycle and fainted on the couch. A neighbor who brought him a glass of milk looked like “a malevolent, insidious witch with a colored mask”.
A little-known fact covered in Third Wave’s Microdosing Course is that Hofmann invented microdosing. His second, third, and fourth experiments with LSD were around 20 to 30 mics, during which he drank coffee with friends and felt “warm, comfortable feelings”. Hofmann suggested small doses of LSD might be an alternative to Ritalin, but LSD was never legalized as a prescription medication.
LSD’s Spiritual History
Instead, the world discovered LSD not as a medicine, and not in microdoses, but in large doses for spiritual transformation and mind-expansion at parties, concerts, ashrams, and communes in the 1960s, where young people loved to “turn on, tune in, and drop out”. Thousands of people changed their lives, becoming less anxious, angry, and self-centered. They reported becoming more spiritual, content, and in touch with nature, friends, family, and themselves. It bred acceptance and tolerance of racial, sexual, and religious differences. It loosened people from the strictures of their upbringing, challenging everything from dress codes, hair, and music styles to the political views of their parents.
People thought LSD could cure the world.
Rogue chemists handed tabs out like candy at Grateful Dead shows, Woodstock, and anti-Vietnam War protests. Timothy Leary and Ram Dass made it their life mission to spread the gospel of LSD as a transformative, spiritual agent. After Harvard fired the two professors for dosing students, they created a commune for psychedelics in upstate New York. Leary founded the League for Spiritual Discovery, which opened an LSD-based meditation center in New York City.
Ram Dass, whose birth name was Richard Alpert, pilgrimaged to India to see if Hindu gurus could understand LSD better than Westerners. What he found was similarities between psychedelic use and meditation. Ram Dass’s spiritual teacher, Neem Karoli Baba, a master meditator, took 1200 micrograms his first time. The guru seemed unmoved by this astounding dose and asked Ram Dass, “Have you got anything stronger?” Ram Dass was shocked and asked the guru if he, Ram Dass, should take LSD again. The guru said, “If you are in a place that is cool and peaceful, and you are alone and your mind is turned toward God, then you may take this yogi medicine.” Ram Dass went on to focus on promoting a spiritual path of meditation and yoga over simply taking LSD. But, to this day, LSD quietly remains a part of spiritual practices in the large and still-growing spiritual communities of Neem Karoli Baba and Ram Dass.
The Myths And Truths Of LSD
While acid is beloved by millions, it has always had critics. They say it’s just an escape, like TV or another form of substance abuse, like alcohol. But in the ’60s and ’70s, the media and politicians spread the most fantastical lies about LSD.
- Myth: If you take LSD more than seven times, you are automatically legally insane.
- Truth: Psychedelics are associated with a lower rate of mental health problems.
- Myth: People under the influence of LSD have stared at the sun so long they’ve gone blind.
- Truth: People on LSD look away from the sun, like anyone else.
- Myth: People under the influence of LSD believe they can fly and jump out of windows to their death.
- Truth: While some people do get disoriented and delusional, and a few have jumped out of windows while on LSD, those stories are often made up or exaggerated. More likely, those episodes involved combinations of LSD with high amounts of—you guessed it—alcohol.
- Myth: LSD damages your chromosomes, and you pass LSD’s adverse effects down to your children.
- Truth: Science has proven that LSD does not affect your chromosomes.
An Acid Trip Into Better Health
So what is LSD like?
All psychedelic drugs, including psilocybin mushrooms, DMT, and ayahuasca, act on serotonin receptors through your mind and body, rewiring your nervous system. Brain scans show LSD mutes the part of the brain that is the day-to-day thinking, planning, and worrying part, which is why you might feel temporarily above your everyday problems. Meanwhile, LSD connects parts of the brain that don’t usually talk to each other, including the feeling, hearing, and sensing parts. This is why your vision seems sharper, sensations more intense, and music richer, and why you might have synesthesia, “seeing” sounds and “hearing” colors.
By dampening your worries while, at the same time, putting you in touch with life’s sights, sounds, and feelings, LSD can put you into the present and break cycles of addiction, compulsion, and fear. Many people believe there is a mysterious, spiritual component to LSD’s healing. What’s sure is that modern clinical research, going back to the 1950s, has found that LSD, especially when combined with psychotherapy or psychiatry, can help lower generalized anxiety, treat drug abuse disorders, ease the fear of death in cancer patients, and alleviate obsessive-compulsive disorder, among many other things.
A “Bad Trip”
Fear of a challenging psychedelic experience or a “bad trip” is one reason many people won’t try LSD. There are numerous ways to have a negative experience—by taking LSD when you’re stressed or anxious, in strange places or with unfamiliar people, too late at night or out in public, before a family or work obligation.
How To Have A “Good Trip”
Negative experiences can help in the long run, as you might find out harsh truths about yourself or your life situation that can lead to personal growth. But if you’re looking for a more positive experience, here are some steps to consider:
- Start by reading about LSD and talking to trusted people who have taken it.
- Test your LSD to make sure it’s pure.
- Block off eight to 12 hours without any obligations to family or work.
- Be in a safe, familiar location where you can have privacy if you want it, including a place to lie down.
- Have warm clothes.
- Take it outdoors, or at least have access to nature and contact with plants, animals, sun, and water.
- Turn off your phone or minimize notifications and alerts.
- Have music ready you know you like.
- Take it with people you know well and who have worked with LSD before.
- Have a sober person or guide who can “hold space” for you. This person makes sure you eat and drink enough to keep you energized and you’re not disturbed by neighbors or strangers.
- Start with a low dose, and wait to see how it affects you. Effects start between 15 and 45 minutes and peak around two hours in.
- Don’t take more, called a booster, until at least two hours after your first dose. If you’ve eaten a lot of food, it may take longer to feel the effects.
- Minimize mixing of LSD with unfamiliar drugs.
- Take it early in the day to give yourself plenty of time to fall asleep afterward.
- The following days, talk about what happened to a friend or therapist who has taken LSD before and journal about your experience.
- Wait a few weeks before working with it again to give yourself time to process.
Acid use has side effects. While, physically, LSD is far safer than alcohol or tobacco, the “body load” during an experience is not always comfortable. Negative effects may include mild nausea, clumsiness, dehydration, increased blood pressure, heart rate variability, perspiration, muscle spasms, excessive yawning, and feeling cold as it affects your body temperature. There can be uncomfortable visual distortions: walls can “breathe” and clouds can “morph” in disturbing ways. Your pupils can dilate and even change size so one pupil is larger than the other, a condition called anisocoria.
In rare cases, the use of LSD can damage your vision for years afterward. LSD can distort your ability to discern colors, especially in colorblind people. Colorblind men might want to avoid LSD. A few people develop hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD), sometimes called “flashbacks”—seeing tracers, floaters, and trails long after the person is sober. HPPD is not common, and there are treatments, but HPPD doesn’t always go away.
Science does not know the long-term effects of repeatedly taking high doses of LSD, which is why microdosing is the safest way to take LSD.
Substances sold as LSD, or that claim to work the same as LSD, can throw you for a loop.
1P-LSD and Al-Lad are chemically analogous to LSD and produce similar effects. They’re popular because they aren’t regulated in the US and so can be bought freely online. And some people say their effect is friendlier.
These hallucinogenic substances appear to be about as safe as LSD, but there are also worrisome impostors. DOI is sometimes sold as an alternative to LSD or is called LSD by shady dealers. DOI lasts about twice as long as LSD, is more stimulating, can cause more insomnia, isn’t as well known to science and users, and might not be as safe. If you take DOI thinking it’s LSD, you might be in for a shock.
The Biggest Risk Of Psychedelics
In the end, the effects of LSD that are the riskiest are mental and spiritual.
In rare cases, the effects of the drug have spun people into spiritual emergency, mania, psychosis, or even schizophrenia—although typically these are folks who have pre-existing issues with their mental or spiritual health.
There needs to be a caveat here: psychedelics are far from the only psychosis-inducing drugs in the world. SSRIs, meth, Adderall, and cannabis can all trigger psychosis, schizophrenia, mania, and spiritual emergencies. So can divorces, job losses, traumatic events, and prolonged sleep deprivation.
But, to be on the safe side, folks with a family history of psychosis, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder, or folks who don’t feel stable at the moment or are undergoing a lot of change, should exercise caution around psychedelics and take them under the supervision of a doctor, therapist, or trained facilitator who can offer proper preparation, well-crafted set and setting, and follow-up integration.
The Safest Way To Use LSD Is Always With Others
LSD has tremendous potential for personal change. But having a guide, teacher, or facilitator is still recommended. Psychedelics have always been taken in community, in churches, rituals, and dances.
The West lacks these cultural contexts. We still don’t know what to do with LSD.
Third Wave’s mission is to build a community around responsible, transformative use. If you’re not ready for a full-scale LSD experience or don’t have friends who can guide you, start small, and try our Microdosing Course. Using the latest research from cutting-edge scientists and doctors, we’ll help you develop a customized, step-by-step process to change habits, enhance creativity, and optimize performance. If you’d like a more immersive experience, sign up for our Microdosing Experience: a six-week class that includes a transformative breathwork session, preparation, integration, and community support.
LSD has already changed the world, one mind, heart, and soul at a time. The next few decades are unlikely to be any different.