What is LSD?
D-Lysergic Acid Diethylamide or ‘LSD’ is part of the pharmacological group known as “classical hallucinogens” or “psychedelics”, which share its chemical structure with psilocybin and dimethyltryptamine (DMT) as a variant of indolamine (chemical structure similar to the neurotransmitter serotonin).
• LSD is the most potent and notorious of the hallucinogens, and the one that brought this class of drugs into the public eye in the 1960’s. LSD was originally synthesized from ergot alkaloids extracted from the ergot fungus Claviceps purpurea.
• D-Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) is an odourless, colourless, and is slightly bitter tasting.
• LSD acts primarily as a serotonergic agonist as well influencing other neurotransmitter systems via dopaminergic and adrenergic receptors. LSD triggers an increase in cortisol, oxytocin, and adrenaline levels. The predominant effects induced by LSD included visual hallucinations, audiovisual synesthesia, and positively experienced derealization and depersonalization phenomena.
LSD is produced in the crystalline form and then mixed with excipients or diluted as a liquid for production in indigestible forms. It is odorless, colorless and has a slightly bitter taste. LSD is sold in in the following forms:
• Tablet form (usually small tablets known as Microdots)
• Sugar cubes
• Thin squares of gelatin (commonly referred to as ‘Window-panes’), and,
• Most commonly, as blotter paper (sheets of absorbent paper soaked in or impregnated with LSD, covered with colorful designs or artwork, and perforated into one-quarter inch square, individual dosage units).
• Pure liquid form, which is extremely potent.
In the Sandoz Laboratories in Basel, Switzerland, in 1983, Dr. Albert Hofmann synthesized Lysergic Acid Diethylamide. Hofmann was working on a series of compounds derived from ergot alkaloids that had as their basic structure lysergic acid in an effort to develop ergot derivatives with the goal of reducing postpartum hemorrhage. It wasn’t until 1943, that Hofmann discovered the drug’s hallucinogenic effects after accidentally ingesting a small amount. He reported perceiving “extraordinary shapes, with intense kaleidoscopic play of colours”. Hofmann is credited as being the ‘father’ of LSD.
Psychedelics and Psychiatry Today
Proposed clinical benefits of hallucinogenic compounds include:
• Reducing anxiety in people with cancer
• Supporting withdrawal from other psychoactive substances
• Improving the lives of those diagnosed with mood disorders
Among the clinical trials reviewed in this article, most of the trials observed positive results, revealing the therapeutic potential of LSD in the remission of psychiatric symptomatology. The majority of authors described significant short-term positives.
• Other studies in our review also found promising results regarding LSD use for the treatment of heroin use disorder, anxiety, depression, psychosomatic illnesses, and anxiety in relation to life-threatening diseases.
• LSD has repeatedly been shown to be an effective therapy for the treatment of alcoholism, even after a single dose. A meta-analysis of six double-blind placebo-controlled trials showed that alcohol misuse was significantly reduced in 59% of patients after a single LSD dose of <50 µg (micrograms).
• LSD has also been successfully used in conjunction with psychotherapy to treat anxiety linked to a life-threatening disease such as cancer. A 12-month follow-up of this investigation showed that the effects of LSD were sustainable with 66.7% of patients reporting an increase in quality of life and 77.8% reporting reduced anxiety.
• Researchers evaluated LSD as a treatment of neurotic symptoms. A follow-up found that participants who received LSD showed better results in terms of their general health at 6 and 12 months.
• LSD was shown to be an effective therapy for heroin use disorder. Significant differences were observed in total abstinence rates in favour of the LSD treatment group at 12 months.
LSD – The Experience
LSD has a slow onset of about an hour but can last anywhere from 4 to 12 hours before it wears off, however, the effect may linger for up to a day or longer, depending on the dosage and potency. The effects commonly experienced while using LSD, are:
• Perceptual distortions – users may experience visual and auditory perceptual changes related to the size and shape of objects, movement, colour, sounds, touch, taste and smell, along with impair depth and time perception.
• Hallucinations – auditory, visual or tactile
• Flashbacks – reliving previous moments in life, or ‘travelling’ into the future.
• Changes in mood – elation, excitement, euphoria.
The Current Climate Surrounding LSD
New studies performed under modern standards are necessary in order to strengthen our knowledge, help erase the stigma that still prevails around these substances and open new doors within the field of psychiatry and health science.