What is LSD?

Mary Elizabeth

LSD, the common nickname for lysergic acid diethylamide, is the most popular hallucinogen in the United States as well as the most potent. LSD trips can be perceived as really good or terribly bad. The hallucinations that it causes can be visual, aural, and tactile, but the unpredictable effects on the mind can also include delusions and terror. One of the distinguishing factors of LSD is the length of the trips it induces, which can be as long as 10 to 12 hours.

At first, LSD was considered a treatment for alcoholism.
At first, LSD was considered a treatment for alcoholism.

LSD is not an addictive drug, but use does lead to tolerance, so repeat users are led to increase their dosage in order to achieve previous effects. This is a highly dangerous practice because increased dosage is linked to increased likeliness of bad effects.

LSD is sometimes sold on sugar cubes.
LSD is sometimes sold on sugar cubes.

In addition, flashback episodes, in which people who are no longer using have repeated experience of a bad trip have been known to happen. LSD is a Schedule I drug — so classified because there is no current acceptable medical usage for it in the United States.

LSD is used at concerts and raves.
LSD is used at concerts and raves.

The discovery of LSD by Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann was a dead end on the way to somewhere else. Hofmann was researching the fungus ergot for a pharmaceutical company, and this work necessitated synthesizing lysergic acid. Since lysergic acid is unstable, Hofmann worked to create a number of different compounds in order to address this issue. LSD-25—the 25th compound in his research toward a more stable form of lysergic acid—was lysergic acid diethylamide, produced in 1938.

LSD-25 did not address the issue with ergot, and further testing was not conducted. It was only in 1943, upon considering that it might have some further use, that Hofmann produced another sample. Having accidentally and unknowingly gotten some LSD on his skin, Hofmann had a pleasant hallucination that day. Determined to clearly identify the source of the hallucination, he purposefully ingested some LSD three days later, the first planned LSD trip, but a very bad trip.

LSD first became available in the United States in 1949, and was initially considered valuable in the treatment of alcoholism in the 1950s and 1960s. It was in 1963 that LSD was first sold on the street, according to reports, and only a few years later, in 1966, that its use was first restricted, initially by the state of California, and by the Federal government in the following year.

In the early twenty-first century, LSD is sold as capsules, gelatin shapes, liquid, on sugar cubes, and in tablets. Like ecstasy, concerts, nightclubs, and raves are often occasions of abuse.

Nightclubs are often locations of drug abuse.
Nightclubs are often locations of drug abuse.

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Discussion Comments


Although LSD's long term effects can be quite severe, I think it's only a minority of people who develop a psychotic illness. Interestingly though LSD was only ranked 14 out of 20 in a list of the most dangerous drugs in a recent study, with alcohol being fifth and nicotine being ninth. And of course there are the many people who claim to have had transcendental experiences while on LSD. Nonetheless, LSD is a very heavy and unpredictable drug and is not to be taken lightly. It's illegal with good reason.


I can't imagine being on LSD at a nightclub or a rave; the flashing lights and music would be too intense for me. I have friends who have taken it at clubs though, but personally I'd never touch it because I'm too afraid of LSD's long term effects.

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