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Lysergic acid diethylamide, commonly called LSD, or LSD-25, is a semisynthetic psychedelic drug. The short form LSD comes from the German "Lysergsäure-diethylamid". A typical single dose of LSD during the 1960s was between 100 and 200 micrograms,[1] an amount roughly equal to one-tenth the mass of a grain of sand. Today, a typical single dose of LSD can be as low as 25–50 micrograms, although they are more commonly 50–100 micrograms.[1] Threshold effects can be felt with as little as 20 micrograms.[2]

The effects of LSD can vary greatly, depending on factors such as previous experiences, state of mind and environment, as well as dose strength. Generally, LSD causes expansion and altered experience of senses, emotions, memories, time, and awareness for 8 to 14 hours. In addition, LSD may produce visual effects such as moving geometric patterns, "trails" behind moving objects, and brilliant colors. LSD does not produce hallucinations in the strict sense but instead illusions and vivid daydream-like fantasies, in which ordinary objects and experiences can take on entirely different appearances or meanings. At higher doses it can cause synesthesia. Some users cite the LSD experience as causing long-term or even permanent changes in their personality and life perspective.

LSD is synthesized from lysergic acid derived from ergot, a grain fungus that typically grows on rye. LSD is sensitive to oxygen, ultraviolet light, and chlorine, especially in solution (though its potency may last years if the substance is stored away from light and moisture at low temperature). In pure form it is colorless, odorless, and mildly bitter. LSD is typically delivered orally, usually on a substrate such as absorbent blotter paper, a sugar cube, or gelatin.

Introduced by Sandoz Laboratories as a drug with various psychiatric uses, LSD quickly became a therapeutic agent that appeared to show great promise. However, the extra-medical use of the drug in Western society in the middle years of the twentieth century led to a political firestorm that resulted in the banning of the substance for medical as well as recreational and spiritual uses. Despite this, it is still considered a promising drug in some intellectual circles.


LSD was first synthesized in 1938 by Swiss chemist Dr. Albert Hofmann at the Sandoz Laboratories in Basel as part of a large research program searching for medically useful ergot alkaloid derivatives. Its psychedelic properties were unknown until 5 years later, when Hofmann, acting on what he has called a "peculiar presentiment," returned to work on the chemical. He attributed the discovery of the compound's psychoactive effects to the accidental absorption of a tiny amount through his skin on April 16, which led to him testing a larger amount (250 µg) on himself for psychoactivity.[3]

Until 1966, LSD and psilocybin were provided by Sandoz Laboratories free of charge to interested scientists. (Sandoz gave LSD the trade name "Delysid".[3]) The use of these compounds by psychiatrists to gain a better subjective understanding of the schizophrenic experience was an accepted practice. Many clinical trials were conducted on the potential use of LSD in psychedelic psychotherapy, generally with very positive results.

Cold War era intelligence services were keenly interested in the possibilities of using LSD for interrogation and mind control, and also for large-scale social engineering. The CIA conducted extensive research on LSD, which was mostly destroyed.[4] Project MKULTRA (also known as MK-ULTRA) was the code name for a CIA mind-control research program begun in the 1950s and continued until the late 1960s. Tests were conducted by the U.S. Army Biomedical Laboratory now known as the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense located in the Edgewood Arsenal at Aberdeen Proving Grounds. Volunteers would take LSD and perform a battery of tests to see the effects of the drug on soldiers. There is much published evidence that the project involved not only the use of drugs to manipulate persons, but also the use of electronic signals to alter brain functioning; for details, see the MKULTRA article proper.

The British government also engaged in LSD testing; in 1953 and 1954, scientists working for MI6 dosed servicemen in an effort to find a "truth drug". (In all probability, MI6 was motivated by rumors that the Soviet Union had developed brainwashing drugs.) The test subjects were not informed that they were being given LSD, and had in fact been told that they were participating in a medical project to find a cure for the common cold. One subject, aged 19 at the time, reported seeing "walls melting, cracks appearing in people's faces … eyes would run down cheeks, Salvador Dalí-type faces … a flower would turn into a slug". After keeping the trials secret for many years, MI6 agreed in 2006 to pay the former test subjects financial compensation. Like the CIA, MI6 decided that LSD was not a practical drug for brainwashing purposes.[5]

LSD first became popular recreationally among a small group of mental health professionals such as psychiatrists and psychologists during the 1950s, as well as by socially prominent and politically powerful individuals such as Henry and Clare Boothe Luce to whom the early LSD researchers were connected socially.

Several mental health professionals involved in LSD research, most notably Harvard psychology professors Drs. Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, became convinced of LSD's potential as a tool for spiritual growth. In 1961, Dr. Timothy Leary received grant money from Harvard University to study the effects of LSD on test subjects. 3,500 doses were given to over 400 people. Of those tested, 90% said they would like to repeat the experience, 83% said they had "learned something or had insight," and 62% said it had changed their life for the better.

Their research became more esoteric and controversial, alleging links between the LSD experience and the state of enlightenment sought after in many mystical traditions. They were dismissed from the traditional academic psychology community, and as such cut off from legal scientific acquisition of the drug. The experiments lost their scientific accreditation, and the pair evolved into countercultural spiritual gurus, encouraging people to question authority and challenge the status quo, a concept summarized in Leary's catchphrase, "Turn on, tune in, and drop out". The drug was banned in the United States in 1967, with scientific therapeutic research as well as individual research also becoming prohibitively difficult. Many other countries, under pressure from the U.S., quickly followed suit.

Since 1967, underground recreational and therapeutic LSD use has continued in many countries, supported by a black market and popular demand for the drug. Legal, academic research experiments on the effects and mechanisms of LSD are also conducted on occasion, but rarely involve human subjects.

According to Leigh Henderson and William Glass, two researchers associated with the NIDA who performed a 1994 review of the literature, LSD use is relatively uncommon when compared to the abuse of alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and prescription drugs. Over the previous fifteen years, long-term usage trends stayed fairly stable, with roughly 5% of the population using the drug and most users being in the 16 to 23 age range. Henderson and Glass found that LSD users typically partook of the substance on an infrequent, episodic basis, then "maturing out" after two to four years. Overall, LSD appeared to have comparatively few adverse health consequences, of which "bad trips" were the most commonly reported (and, the researchers found, one of the chief reasons youths stop using the drug).


Only a small amount of ergotamine tartrate is required to produce LSD in large batches. For example, 25 kg of ergotamine tartrate can produce 5 or 6 kg of pure LSD crystal that, under ideal circumstances, could be processed into 100 million dosage units, assuming a typical "hit" of 125 μg. This is more than enough to meet what is believed to be the entire annual U.S. demand for the drug. LSD manufacturers only need to create a small quantity of the substance, and thus they enjoy an ease of transport and concealment not available to traffickers of other illegal drugs (such as cannabis and cocaine).[40]

Manufacturing LSD requires laboratory equipment and experience in the field of organic chemistry. It takes two or three days to produce 30 to 100 grams of pure compound. It is believed that LSD usually is not produced in large quantities, but rather in a series of small batches. This technique minimizes the loss of precursor chemicals in case a synthesis step does not work as expected.


LSD is produced in crystalline form and then mixed with excipients or diluted as a liquid for production in ingestible forms. Liquid solution is either distributed as-is in small vials or, more commonly, sprayed or soaked onto a distribution medium. Historically, LSD solutions were first sold on sugar cubes, but practical considerations forced a change to tablet form. Early pills or tabs were flattened on both ends and identified by color: "grey flat", "blue flat", and so forth. Next came "domes", which were rounded on one end, then "double domes" rounded on both ends, and finally small tablets known as "microdots". Later still, LSD began to be distributed in thin squares of gelatin ("window panes") and, most commonly, as blotter paper: sheets of paper impregnated with LSD and perforated into small squares of individual dosage units. The paper is then cut into small square pieces called "tabs" for distribution. Individual producers often print designs onto the paper serving to identify different makers, batches or strengths, and such "blotter art" often emphasizes psychedelic themes.

LSD is sold under a wide variety of street names including Acid, Alice Dee, 'Cid/Sid, Barrels, Blotter, Doses, "L", Liquid, Liquid A, Microdots, Mind detergent, Orange cubes, Orange micro, Owsley, Hits, Paper acid, Sacrament, Sandoz, Sugar, Sugar lumps, Sunshine, Tabs, Ticket, Twenty-five, Wedding bells, Windowpane, etc., as well as names that reflect the designs on the sheets of blotter paper.[41] On occasion, authorities have encountered the drug in other forms — including powder or crystal, and capsule. More than 200 types of LSD tablets have been encountered since 1969 and more than 350 paper designs have been observed since 1975. Designs range from simple five-point stars in black and white to exotic artwork in full four-color print.


The United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances (adopted in 1971) requires its parties to prohibit LSD. Hence, it is illegal in all parties to the convention, which includes the United States, Australia and most of Europe. However, enforcement of extant laws varies from country to country.

LSD is easy to conceal and smuggle. A tiny vial can contain thousands of doses. Not much money is made from retail-level sales of LSD, so the drug is typically not associated with the violent organized criminal organizations involved in cocaine and opiate smuggling.

United States Prior to 1967, LSD was available legally in the United States as an experimental psychiatric drug. (LSD "apostle" Al Hubbard actively promoted the drug between the 1950s and the 1970s and introduced thousands of people to it.) The US Federal Government classified it as a Schedule I drug according to the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. As such, the Drug Enforcement Administration holds that 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 prohibition does not make an exception for religious use.) Lysergic acid and lysergic acid amide, LSD precursors, are both classified in Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act. Ergotamine tartrate, a precursor to lysergic acid, is regulated under the Chemical Diversion and Trafficking Act.

LSD has been manufactured illegally since the 1960s. Historically, LSD was distributed not for profit, but because those who made and distributed it truly believed that the psychedelic experience could do good for humanity, that it expanded the mind and could bring understanding and love. A limited number of chemists, probably fewer than a dozen, are believed to have manufactured nearly all of the illicit LSD available in the United States. The best known of these is undoubtedly Augustus Owsley Stanley III, usually known simply as Owsley. The former chemistry student set up a private LSD lab in the mid-Sixties in San Francisco and supplied the LSD consumed at the famous Acid Test parties held by Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, and other major events such as the Gathering of the tribes in San Francisco in January 1967. He also had close social connections to leading San Francisco bands the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Big Brother and The Holding Company, regularly supplied them with his LSD and also worked as their live sound engineer and made many tapes of these groups in concert. Owsley's LSD activities — immortalized by Steely Dan in their song "Kid Charlemagne" — ended with his arrest at the end of 1967, but some other manufacturers probably operated continuously for 30 years or more. Announcing Owsley's first bust in 1966, The San Francisco Chronicle's headline "LSD Millionaire Arrested" inspired the rare Grateful Dead song "Alice D. Millionaire."

American LSD usage declined in the 1970s and 1980s, then experienced a mild resurgence in popularity in the 1990s. Although there were many distribution channels during this decade, the U.S. DEA identified continued tours by the psychedelic rock band The Grateful Dead and the then-burgeoning rave scene as primary venues for LSD trafficking and consumption. American LSD usage fell sharply circa 2000. The decline is attributed to the arrest of two chemists, William Leonard Pickard, a Harvard-educated organic chemist, and Clyde Apperson.

Pickard was an alleged member of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love group that produced and sold LSD in California during the late 1960s and early 1970s. It is believed he had links to other "cooks" associated with this group — an original source of the drug back in the 1960's — and his arrest may have forced other operations to cease production, leading to the large decline in street availability.

The DEA claims these two individuals were responsible for the vast majority of LSD sold illegally in the United States and a significant amount of the LSD sold in Europe, and that they worked closely with organized traffickers. While this claim may have some bearing, the extent of Pickard's direct influence on the overall availability in the United States is not fully known. Some attest that "Pickard's Acid" was sold exclusively in Europe, and was not distributed through American music venues.

According to DEA reports, black market LSD availability dropped by 95% after the two were arrested in 2000. These arrests were a result of the largest LSD manufacturing raid in DEA history.[42] Availability has increased slightly as of summer 2005, but still remains limited. [citation needed]

In November of 2003, Pickard was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole, and Apperson was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment without parole, after being convicted in Federal Court of running a large scale LSD manufacturing operation out of several clandestine laboratories, including a former missile silo near Wamego, Kansas.

LSD manufacturers and traffickers can be categorized into two groups: A few large scale producers, such as the aforementioned Pickard and Apperson, and an equally limited number of small, clandestine chemists, consisting of independent producers who, operating on a comparatively limited scale, can be found throughout the country. As a group, independent producers are of less concern to the Drug Enforcement Agency than the larger groups, as their product reaches only local markets.

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