LSD: The Drug
Background D-lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD01) is the most potent hallucinogenic substance known to man.
Dosages of LSD are measured in micrograms, or millionths of a gram. By comparison, dosages
of cocaine and heroin are measured in milligrams, or thousandths of a gram. Compared to
other hallucinogenic substances, LSD is 100 times more potent than psilocybin and psilocin
and 4,000 times more potent than mescaline.02
The dosage level that will produce an hallucinogenic effect in humans generally is
considered to be 25 micrograms. Over the past several years, the potency of LSD obtained
during drug law enforcement operations has ranged between 20 and 80 micrograms per dosage
unit. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recognizes 50 micrograms as the standard
dosage unit equivalency.
LSD is classified as a Schedule I drug in the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. As a
Schedule I drug, LSD meets the following three criteria: it is deemed to have a high
potential for abuse; it has no legitimate medical use in treatment; and, there is a lack
of accepted safety for its use under medical supervision.
LSD was synthesized in 1938 by a chemist working for Sandoz Laboratories in Switzerland.
It was developed initially as a circulatory and respiratory stimulant. However, no
extraordinary benefits of the compound were identified and its study was discontinued.03 In the
1940s, interest in the drug was revived when it was thought to be a possible
treatment for schizophrenia. Because of LSDs structural relationship to a chemical
that is present in the brain and its similarity in effect to certain aspects of psychosis,
LSD was used as a research tool in studies of mental illness.
Sandoz Laboratories, the drugs sole producer, began marketing LSD in 1947 under the
trade name Delysid and it was introduced into the United States a year later.04 Sandoz
marketed LSD as a psychiatric cure-all and hailed it as a cure for everything from
schizophrenia to criminal behavior, sexual perversions, and alcoholism.05 In fact,
Sandoz, in its LSD-related literature, suggested that psychiatrists take the drug
themselves in order to gain an understanding of the subjective experiences of the
In psychiatry, the use of LSD by students was an accepted practice; it was viewed as a
teaching tool in an attempt to understand schizophrenia. From the late 1940s through
the mid-1970s, extensive research and testing were conducted on LSD. During a
15-year period beginning in 1950, research on LSD and other hallucinogens generated over
1,000 scientific papers, several dozen books, and 6 international conferences, and LSD was
prescribed as treatment to over 40,000 patients.07 Although initial observations on the benefits of LSD were
highly optimistic, empirical data developed subsequently proved much less promising.
As enthusiasm for the untested assumptions became tempered by the findings of actual
experimentsand as less scrupulous professionals in the industry relaxed supervision
and control of experimentsLSD emerged as a drug of abuse in certain, primarily
medical, circles. Some psychiatric and medical professionals, acquainted with LSD in their
work, began using it themselves and sharing it with friends and associates.08
During the early 1960s, this first group of casual LSD users evolved and expanded
into a subculture that extolled the mystical and pseudo-religious symbolism often
engendered by the drugs powerful effects. The personalities associated with the
subculture, usually connected to academia, and the propaganda they circulated soon
attracted a great deal of publicity, generating further interest in LSD.09
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the drug culture adopted LSD as the
psychedelic drug of choice. The infatuation with LSD lasted for a number of
years until considerable negative publicity emerged on bad trips
psychotic psychological traumas associated with the LSD highand
flashbacks, uncontrollable recurring experiences. As a result of these
revelations and effective drug law enforcement efforts, LSD dramatically decreased in
popularity in the mid-1970s. Scientific study of LSD ceased circa 1980 as research
As a casual drug of abuse, LSD has remained popular among certain segments of society.
Traditionally, it has been popular with high school and college students and other young
adults. LSD also has been integral to the lifestyle of many individuals who follow certain
rock music bands, most notably the Grateful Dead. Older individuals, introduced to the
hallucinogen in the 1960s, also still use LSD.
LSD most often is found in the form of small paper squares or, on occasion, in tablets. On
occasion, authorities have encountered the drug in others formsincluding powder or
crystal, liquid, gelatin square, and capsuleand laced on sugar cubes and other
substances. LSD is sold under more than 80 street names including acid, blotter, cid,
doses, and trips, as well as names that reflect the designs on sheets of paper (see
Appendix 1). More than 200 types of LSD tablets have been encountered since 1969 and more
than 350 paper designs have been acquired since 1975. Designs range from simple five-point
stars in black and white to exotic artwork in full four-color print. Inexpensiveness
(prices range from $2 to $5 per dosage unit or hit,; wholesale lots often sell
for as little as $1 or less), ready availability, alleged mind-expanding
properties, and intriguing paper designs make LSD especially attractive to junior high
school and high school students.
LSD has been availableat first legally, then on the illicit marketfor over 40
years. Its use in scientific research has been extensive and its use has been widespread.
Although the study of LSD and other hallucinogens increased the awareness of how chemicals
could affect the mind, its use in psychotherapy largely has been debunked. It produces no
aphrodisiac effects, does not increase creativity, has no lasting positive effect in
treating alcoholics or criminals, does not produce a model psychosis, and does
not generate immediate personality change.10
However, drug studies have confirmed that the powerful hallucinogenic effects of this drug
can produce profound adverse reactions, such as acute panic reactions, psychotic crises,
and flashbacks, especially in users ill-equipped to deal with such trauma.