The Essential Guide to LSD

(Acid, L, Tabs, Blotter, Doses)

The Essential Guide to LSD

Lysergic acid diethylamide

C20H25N3O

Disclaimer: LSD is a potentially illegal substance, and we do not encourage or condone the use of this substance where it is against the law. However, we accept that illegal drug use occurs, and believe that offering responsible harm reduction information is imperative to keeping people safe. For that reason, this guide is designed to ensure the safety of those who decide to use the substance.

Overview

01

LSD, or lysergic acid diethylamide, is a powerful psychedelic drug derived from a chemical in rye fungus.

In 1938, Albert Hofmann, a Swiss scientist, synthesized LSD in his laboratory in Basel, Switzerland. He unexpectedly discovered its psychedelic effects in 1943 when a tiny amount came in contact with his skin.

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History & Stats

02

General timeline

  • Synthesised in 1938
  • Psychedelic properties discovered in 1943
  • Discovered by mainstream America in the 1950s
  • Widely used in therapy throughout the 1950s and 60s
  • Influenced the counterculture of the 1960s
  • Declared an illegal drug in 1968; all related therapy research stopped
  • Used by about 10% of Americans and Europeans throughout the 1970s, 80s, and 90s
  • A resurgence of interest in the modern age.

Synthesis of LSD

Albert Hofmann, a Swiss pharmacology researcher, synthesised LSD in 1938 while trying to develop a drug to aid uterine contractions during childbirth. He began synthesising compounds from a rye fungus called ergot, and eventually created LSD. It was the twenty-fifth substance in a series of lysergic acid derivatives, and hence, its official name was lysergic acid diethylamide — abbreviated LSD-25.[1]

LSD turned out to be a less effective childbirth aid than other drugs at the time, so Hofmann shelved it. But he never lost interest in ergot. In 1943, he re-synthesized the drug in the hope of performing more experiments with it. At some point during the synthesis, a small drop of LSD landed on Hofmann’s skin. Soon, he was interrupted by strange sensations. As he described it in his book LSD, My Problem Child:

“Last Friday, April 16, 1943, I was forced to interrupt my work in the laboratory in the middle of the afternoon and proceed home, being affected by a remarkable restlessness, combined with a slight dizziness. At home I lay down and sank into a not unpleasant intoxicated-like condition, characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination. In a dreamlike state, with eyes closed (I found the daylight to be unpleasantly glaring), I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors. After some two hours this condition faded away.”

Hofmann had just experienced the first LSD trip.

LSD use in the 1950s – focus on medical science

After discovering LSD’s potent effects, Hofmann and other researchers at Sandoz carried out animal trials to determine tolerance and toxicity properties. In 1947, they conducted the first systematic investigation of LSD on human beings at a psychiatric clinic in Basel.

The first studies involved healthy subjects as well as schizophrenic patients. In the experiments, subjects consumed small to moderate amounts of LSD — anywhere from 20 to 130 micrograms (µg). Although these first experiments did not measure LSD’s therapeutic ability, the researchers did speculate about the possibility of drug-assisted psychotherapy.

In the late 1950s, research expanded beyond treating mental illness into using psychedelic drugs to facilitate psychotherapy.

Between 1950 and 1965, psychedelic therapy gained increasing acceptance by the mainstream medical establishment. Research on LSD and other psychedelics generated more than 1,000 scientific papers, several dozen books, and six international conferences. In total, LSD was prescribed as a treatment for more than 40,000 patients.[2]

MKULTRA, the CIA, and the 1960s counterculture

In the 1950s, the CIA became interested in the use of psychedelics as a truth serum and began experimenting with it in their covert mind control division named Project MKULTRA.

Inspired by the Nazis’ use of mescaline in concentration camps during WWII, the CIA carried out these top-secret studies by administering LSD to experimental subjects. Hundreds of participants, including CIA agents, government employees, military personnel, prostitutes, members of the general public, and mentally ill individuals, consumed varying amounts of LSD, often unknowingly and without consent.

These experiments went on until the mid-1970s. Eventually, the CIA shut the program down due to the wild variability of its results.

In the 1960s, Dr. Sidney Cohen, who had conducted controlled experiments to test the psychoanalytical capabilities of LSD, warned of the coming widespread use by the mainstream public. In congressional hearings on LSD in 1966, Cohen told Congress that the substance was safe only if administered under strict medical supervision and that, if in the wrong hands, it was a “dangerous drug.”

His statement characterized the turning point in the public’s perception of LSD: While the 50s focused on medical use and therapeutic potential, the counterculture movement of the 60s was seen as abusing a harmful drug.

As LSD grew in popularity in the counterculture, the public latched on to dramatic stories of murders, jumping out of windows, and inducing blindness by staring at the sun. None of these stories – including the one about LSD causing birth defects – held any truth.[3] The unfortunate reality is that without taking the proper precautions (including Set and Setting), people ended up doing reckless things on LSD – and these were inevitably exaggerated by the media.

As Albert Hofmann wrote in LSD, My Problem Child:

“Publicity about LSD attained its high point in the years 1964 to 1966, not only with regard to enthusiastic claims about the wondrous effects of LSD by drug fanatics and hippies, but also to reports of accidents, mental breakdowns, criminal acts, murders, and suicide under the influence of LSD. A veritable LSD hysteria reigned.”

The initial attention gained by Hofmann’s problem child was not good. In 1968, the US. government declared possession of LSD illegal; and as quick as the counterculture movement blossomed, it died. In 1970, it was declared a Schedule I drug, meaning that the government considered it to have “a high potential for abuse” and was without “any accepted medical use in treatment.”

Although there had been a myriad of positive results when used under controlled circumstances, the dissemination of LSD into the hands of mainstream US culture caused its eventual prohibition.

From the 1970s to today

Use of LSD dropped off in the late 60s and 70s. In the 1980s, as MDMA became increasingly popular, recreational and psychotherapeutic use of LSD also increased. In 1986, the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) was founded by Rick Doblin, with the purpose of investigating the psychotherapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs. MAPS hosts a yearly conference, “Psychedelic Science in the 21st Century.” More than 1,200 people, including legal researchers and not-yet-legal guides, attended the inaugural event in 2010. This massive turnout for a conference about largely illegal substances showcased the increased interest in psychedelic therapy going forward.

Since the re-emergence of interest in psychedelic-assisted therapy, many new research organizations have sprung up; perhaps most notably The Beckley Foundation, which has funded several groundbreaking scientific studies into LSD’s effects on the brain. In 2019, Johns Hopkins announced the opening of its Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research, the US’s first research facility dedicated to psychedelic drug studies.

Current LSD use

In many research reports, psychedelics are lumped together as a single class of drugs. Consequently, LSD statistics are not as informative as data on other non-psychedelic drugs.

That said, here are a few stats on LSD use:

  • An analysis of data collected in 2010 for the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) estimated that between 22 and 25 million people in the US have used LSD at some point in their lifetimes.[4] The highest usage rates reported were among 30-34 year olds: about 20% in this age group reported having used LSD at some point in their lives. An estimated 15-18% of people ages 21-64 said they had used it at some point in their lifetimes.
  • More recently, the 2015 NSDUH survey showed that about 287,000 people 12 years of age and older in the US had used LSD within the past month.
  • Data collected from 2002 to 2010 by NSDUH show that first-time LSD use in people 12 years and older steadily increased from 2003 to 2008 and then plateaued in 2009 and 2010 when an estimated 377,000 people 12 years of age or older tried it for the first time.
  • In Europe, up to 4.7% of all people aged 15-64 have taken LSD at least once, and more than 0.3% of this same age group (in countries such as France, Germany and the UK) have used it in the past year.

For additional reading on the history of LSD, please refer to the resources section and the book Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD: the CIA, the Sixties, and Beyond.

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Pharmacology

03

When ingested into the human body, LSD acts as a 5-HT (serotonin) receptor activator, while also dramatically increasing serotonin levels in the brain by deactivating systems that regulate serotonin levels.

Of the 15 serotonin receptors in the brain, LSD mostly prefers the 2A subtype (5-HT2A), which is involved in cognitive processes in the prefrontal cortex. Importantly, this is where many of LSD’s benefits come from: its involvement in the prefrontal cortex.

The prefrontal cortex is thought to be active in planning complex cognitive behavior, personality expression, decision-making, and moderating social behavior. It also plays a key role in a human’s ability to process information from other brain systems and make goal-directed decisions.

Recently, The Beckley Foundation raised money through a crowd-funded campaign to begin to investigate the effects of LSD on the brain. The research is led by a group of neuroscientists at the Imperial College London.

Beckley’s latest study involved giving 20 volunteers a small dose of LSD and then using MRI and MEG imaging to show how it affects brain processes.

The researchers believe LSD may reduce blood flow to the brain’s control centers, dampening their activity, which ultimately enhances brain connectivity. It’s thought that this increase in brain connectivity, or “entropy,” gives rise to the creative and unique thought patterns associated with the psychedelic experience, and could even be responsible for feelings of “ego death” (losing one’s sense of self).[5]

Toxicology of LSD

Numerous studies have found no evidence of chromosomal damage or developmental defects in humans. However, in mice, LSD administered during pregnancy did cause some developmental damage at extraordinarily high doses (up to 500 µg/kg). [6]

There have been no documented deaths from LSD overdoses in humans. Even while “supra-heroic” doses can be dangerous, the risk of death or serious harm is still minimal for healthy individuals. There’s one report of eight people who had between 1000-7000 µg of LSD per 100 mL of blood plasma (an extremely high concentration) from snorting LSD after mistaking it for cocaine. They suffered comatose states, hyperthermia, vomiting, light gastric bleeding, and respiratory problems, but all of them recovered with hospital treatment and without any residual effects.

Effects

04

This section draws mostly from a review on the pharmacological effects of LSD by Torsten Passie and colleagues. [7] For effects by dose, click here.

LSD is highly potent, as tiny doses of 75-150 micrograms (μg) produce significantly altered states of consciousness. The minimum perceptual dose in humans is about 25 μg. Anything below that is typically considered a sub-perceptual “microdose.” An optimal dose for experiencing the typical range of psychedelic experiences is usually between 100-200 µg.

Physiological effects

Physiological effects of LSD will vary; however, pupil dilation, reduced appetite, and wakefulness are the three main physical effects.

Other physical effects include:

  • Numbness
  • Weakness
  • Nausea
  • Hypothermia or Hyperthermia
  • Elevated Blood Sugar
  • Goose Bumps
  • Heart rate increase
  • Jaw clenching
  • Perspiration
  • Saliva Production
  • Mucus Production
  • Hyperreflexia
  • Tremors

These effects depend on dose size and Set and Setting. Many are secondary to the overwhelming psychological aspects of an LSD trip.

A common neurological effect is an exaggerated patellar reflex — the involuntary knee jerk that happens when a physician taps below your kneecap. Other common physical effects include instability while walking, altered gait, and tremors.

Changes in sleep related to LSD use

Low doses of LSD can lead to prolonged first or second REM sleep cycles and generally shortens subsequent cycles, with an overall net increase of REM sleep. No qualitative changes during sleep after taking LSD have been found in EEG measurements.

Tolerance

Tolerance, or a decrease in the responsiveness to a drug, occurs with LSD after a moderate dose. After about three days of abstinence, the typical range and intensity of the effects will return.

Interactions with other substances

Early studies found that the antipsychotic medication chlorpromazine (brand names Thorazine and Largactil) diminishes many of the physical effects of LSD at moderate to high doses without significantly altering its psychedelic effects.

Chronic use of the antidepressant medications that employ selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs; e.g., Prozac) and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs; e.g., Marplan) also appear to diminish the effects. Some tricyclic antidepressants (e.g., Anafranil) have been reported to increase the the effects of LSD.

Lithium, often prescribed for treatment of bipolar disorder, has been reported to greatly increase the effects of LSD and increases the risk of temporary comatose states.

Psychological and emotional effects

The psychological effects of LSD can be divided into three main categories: positive, neutral, and negative. At low to moderate dose amounts, the positive and neutral effects predominate. However, as the dose size increases, so does the possibility of experiencing negative psychological effects.

Positive:

  • Increase in associative and creative thinking
  • Closed and open-eye visuals
  • Ego dissolution
  • Sense of unity and connectedness to other life forms
  • General sense of euphoria
  • Life-changing spiritual experiences

Neutral:

  • Change in consciousness
  • Lost track of time
  • Lack of focus
  • Unusual thoughts and speech
  • Range of emotions

Negative (many of these are associated with a ‘bad trip’):

  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Fear of death
  • Overwhelming feelings

Sensory effects

A primary effect of LSD is an increase in sensory perception. Users report an enhanced appreciation for music; some say that after taking LSD, it’s like they’re hearing  music for the first time. Others report a sharper sense of smell and more developed sense of taste.

Touch becomes heightened. Users may experience a strong desire to touch soft items as well as other human beings.

One unique property of both LSD and other psychedelics is synesthesia, a condition in which senses merge. For example, you might begin to “taste” music or “hear” colors.

Psychiatric complications

There is a lack of evidence suggesting persistent and pervasive complications in healthy individuals who take LSD. Undesirable side effects experienced after taking LSD are virtually always short-lived in healthy people. Several studies totalling more than 10,000 participants have found few, if any, complications from LSD use. [8]

Long-term effects

Although scientific research has been limited on LSD due to its prohibition as a Schedule 1 drug, much of the research carried out in the 50s and 60s showed no long-term damage to the brain.

While there is no conclusive evidence suggesting that psychedelics can activate latent mental health problems, many scientists subscribe to this is a theory. [9] As such, if you have a family history of mental illness (especially schizophrenia), it is advised to avoid any psychedelic drug.

It is critically important to pay attention to set and setting when taking any psychedelic. Adhering to sensible guidelines will minimize the chances of a bad experience.

LSD, and other psychedelics, cause no long-term physical dependency or addiction. Although science has yet to establish the exact reasons why this is the case, it is assumed this occurs because of the manner in which psychedelics act on serotonin and dopamine receptors. Although moderate LSD use temporarily reduces serotonin levels, it does not have a long-term effect. If intermittent abstinence is practiced, serotonin levels will return to normal within a week or two.

One long-term (although rare) effect of psychedelic use is hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD). HPPD is characterized by a continual presence of sensory disturbances, most often visual, sometimes continuing for months or years following psychedelic use. It can be treated with antipsychotic or antiseizure drugs. HPPD is rare, but is more likely to occur if psychedelics are taken outside of a safe, responsible situation (i.e. without adhering to the 6 S’s). [10]

New research on LSD safety

In 2015, a large study (~130,000 people) conducted in the US found no association between psychedelic use and mental health disorders, psychological distress, suicidal thoughts, depression, and anxiety.[11]

Effects by dose

NOTE: Effects listed below aren’t meant to be comprehensive, particularly at the lower dose ranges. They may be subject to change as more reliable, more widely representative data become available.

Microdose (6-20 μg)

  • Mood enhancement
  • Decreased stress
  • Emotional stability
  • Increased empathy and sociability
  • Alleviation of persistent conditions such as depression, anxiety, ADD/ADHD, PTSD
  • Increased motivation (e.g. to make positive lifestyle changes)
  • Increased focus/productivity
  • Increased flow states
  • Clearer, more connected thinking
  • Improved memory
  • Enhanced appreciation for music, art, etc.
  • Increased creativity
  • Spontaneity
  • Easier meditation
  • Increased enjoyment of physical activity and everyday tasks
  • Enhanced athletic endurance
  • Moderate stimulation
  • Amplification of mood, positive or negative
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Suppression of hunger and thirst
  • Possible manic states
  • Potentially increased neuroticism

Mini-dose (15-50 μg)

  • Mood enhancement, mild euphoria or excitement
  • Emotional stability
  • Emotional detachment or mindfulness
  • Increased empathy and sociability
  • Introspection
  • Increased motivation (e.g. to make positive lifestyle changes)
  • Increased focus/productivity
  • Ease of transitioning from one task to another
  • Increased flow states
  • Clearer, more connected thinking
  • Enhanced appreciation for music, art, etc.
  • Increased creativity
  • Spontaneity
  • Easier meditation
  • Better sleep (after the 8-12 hours of primary effects wear off)
  • Decreased reliance on alcohol and tobacco
  • Increased stamina
  • Increased energy (comparable to strong cup of coffee without jitters, sweating, etc.)
  • Mild to moderate body high
  • Increased enjoyment of physical activity and everyday tasks
  • Enhanced athletic endurance
  • Enhanced visual acuity and color perception or awareness
  • Amplification of mood, positive or negative
  • Increased emotional sensitivity
  • Time dilation (time passing more slowly)
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Pupil dilation possible
  • Mild tingling sensations
  • Suppression of hunger and thirst
  • Possible manic states
  • Potentially increased neuroticism
  • Difficulty focusing or thought loops
  • Difficulty with some cognitive tasks
  • Anxiety or uncomfortable stimulation
  • Difficulty or discomfort socializing
  • Frustration at dosage (too high to be comfortable, too low to be “recreational”)

Museum dose (50-75 μg)

  • Mood enhancement, euphoria or excitement
  • Mild visuals (e.g. tracers)
  • Increased empathy
  • Conversational fluidity
  • Introspection
  • Increased flow states
  • Clearer, more connected thinking
  • Enhanced appreciation for music, art, etc.
  • Increased creativity
  • Spontaneity
  • Increased enjoyment of physical activity and everyday tasks
  • Enhanced athletic endurance
  • Moderate stimulation
  • Body high
  • Clear come-up, peak, and come-down
  • Amplification of mood, positive or negative
  • Time dilation or contraction (time passing more slowly or quickly)
  • Altered perception of sound
  • Synesthesia
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Pupil dilation
  • Tingling sensations
  • Suppression of hunger and thirst
  • Forgetfulness
  • Difficulty focusing or thought loops
  • Difficulty with some tasks
  • Anxiety or uncomfortable stimulation
  • Difficulty or discomfort socializing
  • Frustration at dosage (at lower end)

Moderate dose (100-200 μg)

  • Strong euphoria or excitement
  • Life-changing introspective or philosophical/spiritual insights
  • More connected, associative thinking
  • Enhanced appreciation for music, art, etc.
  • Increased creativity
  • Spontaneity
  • Increased enjoyment of physical activity and everyday tasks
  • Stimulation
  • Body high
  • Clear come-up, peak, and come-down
  • Open- and closed-eye visuals (e.g. geometric patterns, tracers)
  • Rapidly changing emotions
  • Thought loops
  • Time dilation or contraction (time passing more quickly or slowly)
  • Significantly altered perceptions
  • Synesthesia
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Pupil dilation
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased perspiration
  • Unusual physical sensations (e.g. chills)
  • Compulsive yawning
  • Fear and anxiety (“bad trip” experiences)
  • Unpleasant or frightening visuals

Mega dose (250+ μg)

  • Strong euphoria or excitement
  • Mystical experience (e.g. ego death or “oceanic” consciousness/connectedness)
  • Life-changing introspective or philosophical/spiritual insights
  • More connected, associative thinking
  • Enhanced appreciation for music, art, etc.
  • Increased creativity
  • Spontaneity
  • Stimulation
  • Body high
  • Clear come-up, peak, and come-down
  • Open- and closed-eye visions (e.g. seemingly autonomous entities)
  • Rapidly changing emotions
  • Out-of-control thought loops
  • Time dilation or contraction (time passing more quickly or slowly)
  • Radically altered perceptions
  • Synesthesia
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Pupil dilation
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased perspiration
  • Unusual physical sensations (e.g. chills)
  • Compulsive yawning
  • Extreme fear and anxiety (“bad trip” experiences)
  • Unpleasant or frightening visions
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Physical discomfort (e.g. tension in jaw, dehydration, nausea)

Myths

05

Because of LSD’s widespread use in the 1960s counterculture, government and law enforcement employed scare tactics and propaganda to spread misinformation about psychedelics. Many of these myths persist to this day. Here are a few, and the truth behind them.

Myth 1: LSD is often laced with strychnine and other adulterants

Adulteration happens with every well-known drug including cocaine, heroin, marijuana, MDMA, and LSD. But the extent to which contamination occurs must be analyzed.

According to the Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide, the definitive text on responsible psychedelic use, LSD has a reputation of adulteration with toxic substances; but this is largely unsubstantiated. Prominent among this myth is the fear of methamphetamine and strychnine (rat poison).

For strychnine, the myth may have been fortified by a report filed by Albert Hofmann himself. Apparently, he analyzed a powder sample purported to be LSD that turned out to be 100% strychnine. This one-off occurrence somehow led to a widespread belief that LSD was commonly laced with strychnine.

For methamphetamine adulteration, the myth is derived from more tangible evidence. Forty years ago, when studies were carried out on adulterant use in LSD, 581 street samples were tested. Of the 581 street samples, 84.5% contained LSD alone, 6.9% contained PCP and .9% contained amphetamine or methamphetamine. None of the samples contained strychnine.

Even though nearly 15% of the samples were adulterated in this study, the possibility of such adulteration today is almost zero. While most LSD came in liquid form in the 60s, making it much easier to adulterate, today’s LSD is primarily sold on blotter paper. For blotter paper to properly work, it cannot contain sufficient amounts of adulterants. Otherwise, the substance would not bind to the paper.

Important Note: these days, blotter papers sold as LSD can contain potentially harmful chemicals such as NBOMes and DOxs. If you purchase LSD blotter from an unknown source, make sure to test your substances with a kit or send them to a lab for testing. A good rule of thumb is to get rid of blotter that tastes extremely bitter – LSD is tasteless, so a strong taste could be an indicator of an NBOMe that could be harmful.

Myth 2: LSD causes chromosome damage and birth defects

In 1967, the journal Science published a short study claiming that LSD added to cultured human white blood cells produced chromosomal abnormalities. The results of this study snowballed into a myth of “genetic damage” in grown adults and birth defects in newborns.

The fear of permanently damaged chromosomes produced widespread condemnation of a once-promising drug.

According to an excerpt from the Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide:

“Later and more careful studies demonstrated that the conclusions drawn from the initial research were ill-founded. A comprehensive review of sixty-eight studies and case reports published in the four years following the initial 1967 article appeared as a major article in Science in 1971. The review concluded that ‘pure LSD ingested in moderate doses does not damage chromosomes in vivo, does not cause detectable genetic damage, and is not a teratogen or carcinogen in man.’”

So fear not. If you want to take LSD while pregnant, your child is likely to turn out OK.

Myth 3: LSD will make you go crazy

One of the most insidious LSD myths is the belief that it causes users to go crazy, activating some sort of mental illness.

When uninformed individuals consider LSD, two thoughts often come to mind:

  • If I do LSD, I’ll go crazy and jump out of a 10th story window (acute insanity).
  • If I do LSD more than once (or twice), I’ll become psychologically insane and never function as a normal human being again (long-term insanity).

There is a sliver of truth in each of these statements. But our disposition to jump to dramatic conclusions has created pervasive, damaging myths. Although psychoactive drugs produce a variety of acute behavioral effects, the degree of the effects is directly related to the size of the dose. Countless people have taken LSD without feeling an urge to jump out of a building.

Six factors affect a trip on LSD: set, setting, substance, sitter, session, situation. When controlled, these six factors minimize the chance of a bad trip. In fact, the possibility of an individual following these recommendations then doing something totally ridiculous is almost zero. If a person has a bad trip or does something physically harmful to him or herself, he or she did not take responsible steps to control for all six.

Acute insanity, or a “bad trip,” is also susceptible to biased beliefs. As the 6 S’s suggest, the LSD experience is not only determined by the pharmacological effects (substance) but also by beliefs that accompany the experience (mindset).

The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide explains the effect of this bias:

“Because of the highly suggestible nature of the LSD experience, belief in the myths can contribute to [a] self-fulfilling prophecy and increase the likelihood of having an adverse reaction. Cohen [Dr. Sidney Cohen, a researcher from the 1950s] called this the phenomenon of ‘excessive initial apprehension’ and cited it as a significant factor contributing to bad trips. Given this, it is perhaps not surprising that the number of reported bad trips increased markedly during the media blitz of the late 1960s. After media coverage died down at the close of that decade, so did the number of negative experiences. This occurred despite the fact that the total number of LSD users was still increasing into the early 1970s.”

Psychedelics have a reputation for causing mental insanity and permanent brain damage. Such legends include egregious statements like “use LSD seven times and you are legally insane,” or “I know someone who took LSD and felt like they turned into an orange, and they still feel like an orange.”

Is there a kernel of truth in these statements? Yes. Are they outrageously exaggerated? Absolutely.

Lasting adverse effects of LSD use occur in a very few individuals. However, reviews of clinical literature suggest that chronic problematic effects occur because of psychological instability that is present prior to drug use. For example, individuals with latent mental disorders (such as family history for schizophrenia) may experience activation of symptoms from LSD use and chronic problems afterward.

In the 1950s, Dr. Sidney Cohen carried out a comprehensive review of LSD use in psychotherapeutic environments. He administered approximately 25,000 doses to 5,000 recipients and reported that “the incidence of acute and chronic problematic reactions was extremely low when LSD was administered under controlled therapeutic conditions to individuals not having preexisting severe psychopathology.”

If you are psychologically stable prior to using LSD, the chances of experiencing long-term psychological damage are about zero. If, however, you have a family history of certain mental disorders, then it is probably best to avoid using psychedelics.

Myth 4: Flashbacks brought on by stored LSD leaking in the body

This myth comes from claims that LSD lodges itself in the brain, spinal cord, and body fat, and can leak out at later times — even years later — to produce adverse effects.

This assumption is misguided. There is no evidence suggesting that LSD remains in the body for extended periods of time. Instead, it has a short half-life of three to five hours and is entirely metabolized within a day after ingestion.

So, why do flashbacks occur? Psychedelic literature generally cites two reasons:

  • An easily activated occurrence of memory
  • The re-emergence of conflictual material released from the unconscious mind during the time of drug action

One of the leaders in LSD therapy, Stanislav Grof, states in his classic book, LSD Psychotherapy:

“Sessions in which the drug activates areas of difficult emotional material and the individual tries to avoid facing them can lead to prolonged reactions, unsatisfactory integration, subsequent residual emotional or psychosomatic problems, or a precarious mental balance that becomes the basis for later ‘flashbacks.’”

By dispelling myths like this, the public can begin to make informed decisions and hold rational debates about psychedelic use.

Optimize your microdosing efforts

Do you worry about taking too much, not measuring correctly, or losing control of your experience?

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Therapeutic Use

06

Studies from the 1950s and 60s

In the 1950s and 60s, more than 1,000 academic papers and dozens of books were published on the use of LSD in psychotherapeutic settings.[12] However, following the counterculture backlash in the 1960s and the subsequent classification of LSD as a schedule I drug by the federal government, systematic research in universities and commercial laboratories on the drug became impractical if not impossible.

Nonetheless, two primary and polar forms of therapeutic approaches were used in these initial studies. One focused on the mystical experiences elicited by LSD and the resulting after-effects while the other focused on the use of LSD as a tool for exploring the unconscious in psychoanalysis.

Relatively large, single doses (200 µg or more) were used to treat addicts, criminals, or even to help transform the lives of normal, everyday people. Other approaches used small to moderate doses (up to 150 µg) in conjunction with psychotherapy to treat various neuroses. People with chronic neurotic tendencies, such as major depression and general anxiety, who were resistant to traditional therapy appeared to benefit from LSD’s effects during treatment.

Therapists who used LSD and other psychedelics in their practice noted that one of its greatest advantages was that it allowed patients to explore their unconscious drives and motives while a part of their adult egos were left intact. This allowed individuals to observe and vividly remember the experience and identify areas where they were previously resistant to change. For example, in therapeutic settings, people often became acutely aware of their own defense mechanisms.

Some of early therapeutic uses of LSD indicated promising results in treating addiction, OCD, cluster headaches, depression, and end-of-life anxiety. [13]

1980s Swiss study

From the early 1970s to the mid-1980s, research on the therapeutic use of psychedelics was more or less forbidden worldwide. In 1988, however, the Swiss government granted special permission to a select group of therapists to research therapeutic uses of MDMA and LSD. This lasted until 1993, when the Swiss government reversed its decision and forbade all psychedelic research.

However, a follow-up study was commissioned by the Swiss government and written by one of the researchers, Peter Gasser.[14]

The study examined patients who were seeking psychotherapy for various mental disorders and issues, but all of them (121 surveyed) were involved in group therapy of some sort in conjunction with their psychedelic dosing treatments. The patients also saw a therapist one-on-one in regular intervals during their treatment. Among this sample, interpersonal problems, psychological issues, self-exploration, and somatic issues were all cited as reasons for seeking treatment.

Diagnoses included personality disorders, adjustment disorders, affective disorders (e.g., depression, anxiety), eating disorders, addiction, psychosis, and sexual dysfunction.

Overall, about 90% of the patients involved in these studies reported having good or slight improvement on the issues for which they sought therapy. No complications from the study of the treatments were observed, though one patient reported becoming more depressed during therapy. No suicides were committed, no one was hospitalized, and no one had a psychotic episode lasting more than 48 hours.

Recent therapeutic research

A recent review of 25 years of research (1990-2015) on LSD, as well as psilocybin and ayahuasca, found that results consistently suggested therapeutic uses for psychedelics in treating anxiety disorders, depression, and addictive disorders.[15]

In a double-blind study, LSD in combination with non-drug psychotherapy sessions was found to reduce anxiety associated with having life-threatening diseases such as cancer, and the effects were sustained in a 12-month follow up interview.[16]Improvements were also seen in a cancer quality-of-life questionnaire and a hospital anxiety and depression scale.

Addictive disorders, especially alcoholism, have been a target of psychedelic therapies ever since their discovery as a therapeutic tools. A 2012 meta-analysis of six randomized control trials including 536 subjects confirmed the efficacy of a single dose of LSD in treating alcoholism.[17] Results of these studies showed that LSD had a success rate of 81%-100% for treating alcoholism (when success was defined as abstinence at first follow up).

Outside of strictly therapeutic uses, a 2016 study found that healthy individuals had a more positive outlook on life and more openness two weeks after taking LSD.[18]

As cultural values continue to shift, further research with new methods and technologies will continue to shed light on how psychedelics can be used in therapeutic and non-therapeutic ways.

Personal Growth

07

Since its invention, LSD has been a tool for self-exploration and spiritual growth. It’s not the be-all, end-all solution to your life’s problems; anyone who claims it is lacks serious perspective. Many of its benefits can be achieved through other means such as meditation. LSD and other psychedelics, therefore, are simply items in the toolkit of self-exploration and spiritual growth.

Many who have had powerful spiritual experiences on LSD point out that the drug helped them face parts of themselves they didn’t even know existed. This can be difficult and even terrifying. Yet virtually everyone who has had difficult yet profound experiences on psychedelics claims that they’re better off for it.

However, very little systematic research on LSD and spiritual experiences exists. This has caused some to question the direction of the relationship between psychedelic use and spirituality. Does LSD aid in spiritual growth, or do people who are inclined to seek spiritual growth end up taking LSD?

The answer is probably a little of both. For now, though, we can look to the anecdotal evidence to begin to uncover how LSD and other psychedelics aid in spiritual and personal development.

Creativity and innovation

Many famous creative people have credited LSD as their inspiration for some of their most impactful work.

Aldous Huxley is perhaps one of the best known advocates of psychedelic use. His books The Doors of Perception (1954) and Island (1962) were inspired in part by his psychedelic experiences. On his deathbed, Huxley asked his wife to inject him with a huge dose of LSD.

Steve Jobs also took LSD a few times, and credits his experiences for many of his industry-shattering innovations:

“Taking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important things in my life. LSD shows you that there’s another side to the coin, and you can’t remember it when it wears off, but you know it. It reinforced my sense of what was important—creating great things instead of making money, putting things back into the stream of history and of human consciousness as much as I could.”

It has been reported (and disputed) that Francis Crick envisioned the double-helix structure of DNA while tripping on LSD. He and Jim Watson won a Nobel Prize for their work and this is now considered to be one of the most important scientific discoveries in history.

Biochemist Kary Mullis purportedly told Albert Hofmann that his experiences with LSD played a crucial role in his invention one of the most important DNA research methods ever invented, the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), for which he won a Nobel Prize.

There’s also plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that LSD can play a role in enhancing creativity in everyday tasks, and studies with similar psychedelics such as ayahuasca and mescaline show they can improve problem solving or creative thinking.

Ego dissolution

Ego dissolution occurs when one’s sense of self is either greatly diminished or completely (though temporarily) eradicated. It can have a profound impact on your perspective about life, consciousness, and the world and universe around you.

Though difficult to describe a sense of literal selflessness to someone who has never experienced it, it isn’t something to be feared. It’s a common occurrence with psychedelics.[19] People under the influence of LSD and other psychedelics often report that their sense of self is replaced by sense of beauty and interconnectedness with those around them, with nature, and with the world and the universe at large.

This can be jarring, especially for Westerners who are socialized to believe that their core identities are separate, self-contained entities. The idea that you’re not a discrete unit can be foreign and frightening.

Most successful methods of personal and/or spiritual growth advocate for a greater focus on others. Knowing what it means to be “a part of something bigger than oneself” is often the first revelation people have when starting out on a path of spiritual development.

Relationships

Your relationships improve when you’re not so focused on what you get out of them, but rather what you put into them.

You’re more compassionate once you accept that you cannot control certain things in life and that you’re a very real part of something that is much bigger and much more important than your singular, relatively trivial life that you lead every day.

You have less tolerance for suffering and a greater desire to contribute to the good of humanity when you accept that the division between you and those who suffer is arbitrary.

All of this is easier to do when you realize that your sense of self — that is, your identity — is an illusion and that there is an inherent interconnectedness of everyone and everything around you that creates a shared experience for all of us. In this way, we all share the joy and the suffering of the world.

A recent study showed that LSD enhances people’s ability to feel empathy and increases their desire to be with other people. [21]

Psychedelic retreats

Psychedelics are a powerful tool by which interconnectedness and a sense of belonging to something greater than oneself can be realized and integrated into everyday life.

As such, psychedelic retreats such as Synthesis (in Amsterdam) and Rythmia (in Costa Rica) have become popular, as people search for ideal ways to translate the psychedelic experience into lessons for living a better life.

Retreats can be varied in their focus and approach. Larger, more expensive retreats like Rythmia use the psychedelic brew ayahuasca to induce intense spiritual experiences in guided ceremonies over the course of several days. Smaller, less intensive retreats like Synthesis offer psilocybin truffle experiences personalized to the individual participants, designed to help you get what you want out of the retreat.

If you decide you are interested in taking part in a psychedelic retreat, research your options to make sure you are signing up for the right experience.

FAQ

08

Can LSD be detected in a drug test?

The short answer is yes, but there are a few caveats.[20]

Excretion through urine reaches a peak about four to six hours after administering a dose in humans, but even then, the amounts are quite small. There are four known major metabolites of LSD in humans that are excreted and can be detected in urine for up to four to five days after ingestion, with observed inter-individual variation.

Several criteria determine how long LSD can be detected in the body:

  • the test being used
  • the detection limit placed on the test
  • the point of collection
  • the type of sample fluid
  • the amount that was ingested.

The average time LSD can be detected in blood is six to 12  hours and in urine is two to four days. However, one metabolite (2-oxo-3-hydroxy-LSD) is typically present in higher concentrations and can be detected for longer periods of time in urine.

Tests for LSD (but not its metabolites) in hair samples are also available and they’re good for detecting both low doses and single uses, apparently for an underdetermined but long period of time after dosing.

However, for now, it is not typically included in standard drug screens.

Can I test my LSD to find out if it’s safe to take?

Testing your LSD is always good practice even when you trust your supplier. Reagent test kits from Bunk Police can identify hundreds of adulterants and substitutes—offering peace of mind and potentially saving your life.

25I-NBOMe, for example, has on occasion been mis-sold as LSD with fatal consequences. The Ehrlich reagent can help to rule it out. Simply place a tiny amount of LSD into a sterile test tube or onto a sterile white ceramic surface and add a few drops of the reagent. Then check the color change (or lack thereof) against the supplied spectrum booklet.

Do I have real LSD?

Depending on the dose and route of ingestion, LSD should take between 45 and 90 minutes to to kick in. The experience can last 12-16 hours. Click here to learn more about what to expect from real LSD.

If you feel any other effects, or your experience lasts considerably longer than 16 hours, you may not have taken LSD. If your blotter paper had a bitter taste, or numbed your tongue, it may have contained NBOMe or DOx.

It’s safest to be sure about what you’re taking (see the 6S’s). If possible, get your drugs tested. Kits for home testing can be found online, or you can send your substance to a lab for testing.

Can LSD cause psychological trauma?

If you follow the 6S’s of psychedelic use, and avoid taking psychedelics if you have a family history of mental health issues, they are unlikely to cause psychological trauma.

LSD can cause you to feel crazy for a short time (acute psychosis), known colloquially as a “bad trip,” if you don’t follow the 6S’s. Although there is no concrete evidence, it’s thought that psychedelics might be able to cause latent mental illness to appear, so avoid taking them if you have a family history of mental health issues.

How do I take it?

LSD is most often sold as blotter, dissolved onto paper squares. It can also be taken in tablets, as a crystal or as a liquid, though these forms are not common these days.

In blotter form, a tab of the paper is held on the tongue until dissolved. The paper can be swallowed.

25-100ug is recommended as a first dose. This is typically about a quarter to a full tab.

How do I microdose with LSD?

A microdose of LSD is typically around 10ug, and is re-dosed every four days. Microdoses are easiest to measure out with blotter paper, which can be cut into tenths. Click here for a detailed guide on microdosing with LSD.

How does tolerance work?

Taking a moderate dose of LSD will produce an immediate tolerance. If you take the drug again soon, it will have a weaker effect. You should wait at least three days between doses.

Can I mix LSD with other drugs?

LSD should not be mixed with Tramadol, as it can lead to serotonin syndrome. Be cautious if mixing LSD with cannabis, amphetamines, or cocaine. Click here for a detailed chart of safe drug combinations.

Optimize your microdosing efforts

Do you worry about taking too much, not measuring correctly, or losing control of your experience?

Enroll in our online microdosing course to have a safe, effective, and valuable microdosing experience.

Footnotes

09

[1] To see the full history of how LSD came into being, see this article.

[2] Henderson and Glass, “Introduction,” p. 3; Goodman and Gilman, p. 554.8

[3] Joseph L. Zenter, “The Recreational Use of LSD-25 and Drug Prohibition,” Journal of Psychedelic Drugs, Vol. (No. 4), Oct.-Dec. 1976, p. 301.

[4] Krebs, T. S., & Johansen, P.-Ø. (2013). Over 30 million psychedelic users in the United States. F1000Research.

[5] Tagliazucchi, E., Roseman, L., Kaelen, M., Orban, C., Muthukumaraswamy, S. D., Murphy, K., … Carhart-Harris, R. (2016). Increased Global Functional Connectivity Correlates with LSD-Induced Ego Dissolution. Current Biology.

[6] Annelie Hintzen, Torsten Passie (2010). The Pharmacology of LSD: a critical review (p.78). Oxford University Press.

[7] Passie, T., Halpern, J. H., Stichtenoth, D. O., Emrich, H. M., & Hintzen, A. (2008). The Pharmacology of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide: A Review. CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics, 14(4), 295–314

[8] Passie, T., Halpern, J. H., Stichtenoth, D. O., Emrich, H. M., & Hintzen, A. (2008). The Pharmacology of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide: A Review. CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics, 14(4), 295–314

[9] Nichols D.E. (2004) Hallucinogens. Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 101, 131-181

[10] Nichols D.E. (2016). Psychedelics. Pharmacological Reviews 68(264-355)

[11] Johansen, P.-Ø., & Krebs, T. S. (2015). Psychedelics not linked to mental health problems or suicidal behavior: A population study. Journal of Psychopharmacology.

[12] See: Grinspoon, L., & Bakalar, J. B. (1980). The psychedelic drug therapies. Current Psychiatric Therapies, 20, 275–283.

[13] Nichols D.E. (2016). Psychedelics. Pharmacological Reviews 68(264-355)

[14] Gasser, P. MAPS – Psycholytic Therapy with MDMA and LSD in Switzerland. (1994).

[15] dos Santos, R. G., Osório, F. L., Crippa, J. A. S., Riba, J., Zuardi, A. W., & Hallak, J. E. (2016). Antidepressive, anxiolytic, and antiaddictive effects of ayahuasca, psilocybin and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD): a systematic review of clinical trials published in the last 25 years. Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology, 2045125316638008.

[16] Gasser, P., Holstein, D., Michel, Y., Doblin, R., Yazar-Klosinski, B., Passie, T., & Brenneisen, R. (2014). Safety and efficacy of lysergic acid diethylamide-assisted psychotherapy for anxiety associated with life-threatening diseases. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 202(7), 513.

[17] Krebs, T. S., & Johansen, P. al-Ørjan. (2012). Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) for alcoholism: meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 26(7), 994–1002.

[18] Carhart-Harris, R. L., Kaelen, M., Bolstridge, M., Williams, T. M., Williams, L. T., Underwood, R., … Nutt, D. J. (2016). The paradoxical psychological effects of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). Psychological Medicine, 46(07), 1379–1390.

[19] Tagliazucchi, E., Roseman, L., Kaelen, M., Orban, C., Muthukumaraswamy, S. D., Murphy, K., … Carhart-Harris, R. (2016). Increased Global Functional Connectivity Correlates with LSD-Induced Ego Dissolution. Current Biology.

[20] Passie, T., Halpern, J. H., Stichtenoth, D. O., Emrich, H. M., & Hintzen, A. (2008). The Pharmacology of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide: A Review. CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics, 14(4), 295–314

[21] Dolder et al (2016). LSD acutely impairs fear recognition and enhances emotional empathy and sociality. Neuropsychopharm, 41(11):2638-2646

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Comments

  1. I have hoped to find any research on LSD consumption by anyone who has had a stroke. In this case a stroke with no remaining side effects occurring approximately 14 months ago. Is there any evidence that suggests a potential for harm in someone who has previously had a stroke? Currently with good blood tests for plaque.

  2. Hi, there!

    I’m not a doctor, but I’ve read a great deal about LSD and the pharmacology of it, so I’ll offer my two cents here still. Here is the advice I’d offer my own family members in a similar situation:

    – After a stroke, the probability of having another one within 5 years is pretty high.
    – LSD does have slight hypertensive and vasoconstricting effect, meaning it increases the chance of having a stroke. By very little, but still more than nothing.
    – If your cholesterol and blood pressure is too high currently, or you smoke/drink too much, LSD can change health/diet habits enough to outweigh the risk many folds

    So my personal recommendation would be the following. If you really want to take it, make sure you eat healthy and excercise for two weeks prior, lowering the risk for a stroke. Your purpose/goal for the experience should also maybe be diet/lifestyle changes. This is based on the assumption that you can improve in these areas. If you’re already living a healthy lifestyle and just want to take it “for fun”, I wouldn’t recommend it.

    Hope it helps.

  3. very useful information for anyone that would like to venture into LSD. Please note that Albert Hoffman synthesized LSD while working for Sandoz in Basel, not in Zurich as you mention on your page. A correction would be desirable.

  4. Hello. My name is Griffin and I am working on a report for my school heath class on substance abuse. I would like to know what use, misuse, and abuse look like while using LSD and what it can do to a relationship. I would also like to know what laws there are against it.