LSD, often called ‘Acid,’ is lysergic acid diethylamide, a powerful hallucinogen that alters perception, thoughts, and feelings. It is derived from a fungus known as ergot and was famously first synthesized in a laboratory in 1938.
‘Dropping acid’ or consuming LSD can induce profound changes in sensory perception, mood, and consciousness. People who take LSD often experience vivid hallucinations, altered time perception, and a distorted sense of reality. As with most psychoactive substances, these effects can vary depending on the individual. Generally, LSD appears to disrupt normal serotonin neurotransmission. However, the full mechanism by which it produces its hallucinogenic effects is complex and still being studied.
How Was LSD First Made?
While not as famous or even related to 4/20, many psychonauts celebrate Bicycle Day on April 19th. This commemorates Albert Hofmann’s discovery of LSD and its significant role in the history of psychedelics and the counterculture movement of the 1960s.
Hofmann first synthesized LSD in 1938 while working for Sandoz Laboratories (now Novartis). Hofmann was researching ergot, a fungus that grows on cereal grains with a rich history of medicinal and therapeutic importance.
Acid’s discovery was ultimately a happy accident. While isolating and synthesizing various ergot compounds, Hofmann created LSD-25, the 25th compound in a series of lysergic acid derivatives.
At first, Hofmann was unaware of LSD-25’s psychoactive properties. Later, in 1943, he accidentally absorbed a small amount through his skin while experimenting with the compound. Sure enough, he would soon experience the first acid trip.
Intrigued, Hofmann intentionally ingested a larger dose of LSD on April 19th, 1943, marking the first deliberate acid trip in history. Accompanied by his assistant, Hofmann rode his bicycle home, during which he documented LSD’s remarkable effects.
Sandoz Laboratories recognized the potential of LSD for psychiatric and therapeutic research and began distributing it as ‘Delysid’ for clinical and research purposes. LSD gained popularity in the counterculture movement of the 1950s and 60s.
Despite its complex history, LSD remains a subject of scientific interest for its potential therapeutic applications, particularly in treating mental health conditions like depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and anxiety. Research into the medical uses of LSD and other psychedelics has seen a resurgence in recent years. While research in this area is ongoing, there have been some promising findings and renewed interest in the therapeutic use of psychedelics.
Here is a general overview of how LSD has been explored as a treatment for mental health conditions:
Clinical Studies on LSD
Clinical trials and studies have been conducted to investigate the safety and efficacy of LSD-assisted psychotherapy. Participants are given a controlled dose of LSD in a therapeutic setting while working with trained therapists. The sessions are designed to help individuals confront and process traumatic memories, gain insights, and explore their inner experiences. This type of clinical setting has produced many of the following findings.
LSD for Treating Alcoholism
A review of randomized-controlled clinical trials using LSD (Fuentes et al., 2020) concluded that it is a promising therapeutic tool in psychiatry, particularly for treating alcoholism. It concludes that LSD treatment may benefit patients with alcohol use disorder, supported by various studies showing positive outcomes. Additionally, recent research shows that a single dose of LSD can be as effective as daily medications commonly used to treat alcoholism. Furthermore, LSD shows promise in treating other conditions like heroin use disorder, anxiety, depression, and psychosomatic illnesses.
Reduction of Fear and Anxiety
LSD and other psychedelics have been shown to reduce fear and anxiety in some individuals, which can be particularly relevant for conditions like PTSD. The altered state of consciousness induced by LSD may allow patients to revisit traumatic memories with reduced emotional intensity and gain a new perspective on their experiences.
A study examined how people used LSD and psilocybin mushrooms to treat conditions like depression and anxiety. Most participants reported feeling better after use, with improvements lasting for weeks, suggesting that psychedelics may have potential therapeutic benefits for mental health issues like depression and anxiety.
While the study discovered that some people who used LSD and magic mushrooms experienced short-term side effects, these were rarely severe and short-lived. Side effects were mostly self-reported and experienced during uninformed self-medication. For this reason, it is a good idea to have an experienced spotter to help keep you grounded the first few times you try LSD or any psychedelics (Kopra et al., 2023).
LSD, Neuroplasticity and Neurogenesis
Recent research has shown that LSD can increase connectivity in the brain, potentially promoting the formation of new neural connections and leading to lasting changes in thinking and behaviour. In studies on mice, LSD was found to reduce anxiety and depression-like behaviours in stressed mice. It also seemed to improve social behaviour. In humans, neuroimaging studies revealed that LSD changes how different parts of the brain connect, which could explain its potential to help with mental health conditions by encouraging new ways of thinking and reducing negative thought patterns (Mastinu et al., 2023).
Promoting Emotional Processing and Insights
Related to neuroplasticity, LSD may facilitate healthy emotional processing by encouraging individuals to confront and work through difficult emotions and unresolved issues. Trips often prompt profound personal insights and altered perceptions of self, which can help to challenging life circumstances.
One study showed that when given repeatedly to mice, LSD enhanced their social behaviour by targeting specific parts of the brain. This finding holds promise for developing novel treatments for conditions like autism and social anxiety that involve difficulties with social interactions (De Gregorio et al., 2021).
How to Use LSD
LSD doses range from low to high, as follows: low (15-50 mcg ), normal (100-200 mcg ), and high (above 200 mcg ). To consume LSD, place the tab on your tongue or beneath it, allowing it to stay there for a few minutes before swallowing. You may also choose to spit it out. If it’s your first time using LSD, start with a low dose, ensure your set and setting are optimal, and stay hydrated with water or a natural beverage like herbal tea. Do not combine LSD with other substances, especially alcohol or pharmaceutical drugs, as this can diminish its effects or accelerate intoxication unpredictably. Some experienced psychonauts use LSD with Cannabis. As with Psilocybin, if you choose to use cannabis and psychedelics together, start low and go slow, as cannabis can trigger feelings of paranoia and anxiety in some individuals.
What Is an Acid Trip Like?
A trip on LSD can last up to 12 hours, so plan accordingly. Effects start around 30-60 minutes in, peak at about 3 hours and last 3-5 hours. Cannabis can extend the peak and cause waves of tripping. The comedown begins after 12-15 hours, and it’s a good idea to rest, eat, and hydrate. The next day, you might feel an ‘afterglow’ or need time to process if it was a challenging trip.
While the trip can differ from person to person, LSD typically produces visual and auditory hallucinations, euphoria, altered time perception, and changes in emotions. Negative effects like paranoia, anxiety, and fear of death can occur, often induced by memories of challenging experiences. To manage a difficult trip, deep breathing, a supportive trip sitter, grounding reminders, and joyful music can be helpful. It is important to remember that the negative effects are typically a product of the mind and will eventually pass, so attempting to control the trip can exacerbate them. Letting go and allowing the trip to unfold naturally is often the best approach.
Set and Setting With LSD
‘Set and Setting’ are factors that influence the quality of your trip. ‘Set’ refers to your mental and emotional state. This includes mood, thoughts, and overall disposition. You may have heard of a positive mindset, and it is no different in the context of psychedelics. A positive mindset means feeling calm and open. Conversely, a negative set or mindset may involve anxiety or unresolved issues, which can increase the likelihood of having a negative experience or a ‘bad trip’.
‘Setting’ refers to your surroundings, including physical, social, and interpersonal considerations. This includes factors like location, lighting, music, the presence of people you trust, and the absence of those you don’t.
A comfortable and supportive setting where you can expand your mindset is ideal for safe and transformative tripping. They can enhance the likelihood that you’ll gain greater insight and meaning from the experience. An unfamiliar or chaotic environment can give anyone ‘bad vibes’. Under the influence of psychedelics, these ‘bad vibes’ can induce a challenging or ‘bad trip’.
It is always better to abstain entirely than to waste your time on a bad trip. If the setting is off, wait for a more optimal time when you have plenty of space and time to enjoy and explore. The majority of the clinical studies cited in this article are conducted in quiet, controlled spaces on humans. LSD is administered by a calm, trusted observer, often a psychiatrist. The room’s temperature is optimal, the lighting is dim. The subject often lies down on a couch, with their head supported. In some cases, eyemasks are worn to completely shut out visuals. This allows the tripper to delve deeper into their internal states without distractions.
However, there is no prescribed set and setting for everyone. In fact, lying down with an eyemask can make some trippers feel dizzy and nauseous. Some individuals might thrive at a concert or party, while others might find them prohibitively chaotic. Most trippers agree that an outdoor setting where you can be in touch with nature is ideal. Freedom of movement can also become important during your trip. Choosing a space where you can comfortably stretch, walk, or even run or ride a bike safely can take your trip to the next level. As always, with psychedelics like LSD, it is important to start your journey with low doses and to take it slowly.
De Gregorio, D., Popic, J. and Enns, J. P. (2021) ‘Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) promotes social behavior through mtorc1 in the excitatory neurotransmission’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, U.S. National Library of Medicine, [online] Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7865169/ (Accessed 10 September 2023).
Fuentes, J. J., Fonseca, F. and Elices, M. (2020) ‘Therapeutic use of LSD in psychiatry: A systematic review of randomized-controlled clinical trials’, Frontiers in Psychiatry, U.S. National Library of Medicine, [online] Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6985449/ (Accessed 1 October 2023).
Kopra, E. I., Ferris, J. A. and Winstock, A. R. (2023) ‘Investigation of self-treatment with lysergic acid diethylamide and psilocybin mushrooms: Findings from the Global Drug Survey 2020’, Journal of psychopharmacology (Oxford, England), U.S. National Library of Medicine, [online] Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10350727/ (Accessed 10 September 2023).
Mastinu, A., Anyanwu, M. and Carone, M. (2023) ‘The bright side of psychedelics: Latest advances and challenges in neuropharmacology’, International Journal of Molecular Sciences, U.S. National Library of Medicine, [online] Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9865175/ (Accessed 1 October 2023).