LSD History - Curious Minds Podcast

The History of LSD

Written By: Ran Levi

When Albert Hofmann accidentally discovered Lysergic Acid Diethylamide – LSD – he hoped that the unusual compound would help psychiatrists treat patients by inducing ‘temporary insanity’. It was the CIA who tested the LSD’s mind-bending potential as a psychological weapon, in a top-secret and horrifically cruel series of experiments known as MKULTRA.

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Well, when I was 25, I traveled to Central America: Three months in the rainforests and the enchanting beaches of Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Mexico. I rafted down the Rio Blanco, scuba dived in the caves of Yucatan and climbed the Pacaya volcano… I had the most amazing experiences. But if you ask me what was the experience that left a real, lifetime impression on me, you might be surprised to hear that it had nothing to do with the forces or beauty of nature.

It had to do with a cute four- or five-year-old indigenous boy. He stood by his father behind a small hot-dog stand in one of Antigua Guatemala’s small streets. When I passed by he smiled at me and waved: “Hey, Gringo!” he called out, “hot-dog?”

I smiled back. He reminded me of my younger brother, who was about the same age. I wasn’t interested in buying a hot-dog: I’m adventurous, but not that adventurous. so I kept on walking – but the child’s smile stayed with me the whole day. Only at night, right before falling asleep, I realized why, out of all the faces I have seen, this boy’s face stuck with me. Seeing him made me realize how random are our lives and destinies. My younger brother would finish high school, attend university and get a well-paying job. He would enjoy all the benefits of living in a modern, Western society. And the boy from the hot-dog stand? His father sold hot-dogs, and most likely, so would he. Two lovely boys, two very different fates – all because they were born in two different countries.  

This tiny and meaningless encounter changed my world view. Until that day I was a sworn capitalist: I believed with all my heart that every person can succeed if only he or she would put their mind and effort into it. While I’m still mostly a capitalist – that experience taught me what inequality really means. It was this experience that I felt I wanted to share with you listeners personally – and so I chose this episode to be my first solo episode.

But, why am I telling you this story?

To experience that life changing event, I had to travel to the other side of the world – an expensive and complicated affair. In contrast, some people claim that their lives had been turned upside down due to a deeply spiritual experience – after consuming LSD. 28 hours of flight, five thousand dollars, and one stolen credit card  – compared to a tiny little stamp on the tip of the tongue, while sitting on your Laz-E-Boy in your living room…

Everybody knows that LSD is a dangerous drug. Federal law defines it as a “schedule 1” drug which is, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration website, “a most dangerous drug of all drug schedules, with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence.” This classification makes LSD more dangerous than cocaine, which is a “schedule 2” drug – yet LSD is not addictive, and in the last hundred years not a single case of death as a result of an LSD overdose was reported.

Why, then, is LSD considered so dangerous? Why did the broad consumption of LSD in the 1960’s stir such a radical reaction from the authorities? The answers to these questions have to do not only with the physiological structure of our mind – but also with our social structure. Sit down, lean back, turn the volume up and close your eyes. Forget everything you thought you knew about LSD.

The Discovery of LSD

Albert Hofman received his chemistry diploma in 1929 and joined Sandoz, a drug manufacturer, as a research scientist. His expertise was in medical herbs and fungi: he extracted useful chemical compounds out of plants and tried to produce them artificially.

In 1935 Hofmann began researching Ergot, a fungus that grows on rye. Ergot has a long and troublesome history: midwives traditionally used it to ease labor pain, yet the smallest mistake in dosage led to severe poisoning. In the early 20th century chemists succeeded in separating the active material, Ergotamine, out of the fungus, and Sandoz sold it as a medicine for gynecological conditions. A few years after the success of Ergotamine, and as technology improved, Albert Hofmann decided to return to his research of this fungus.

It wasn’t easy. Ergotamine is a very sensitive compound that tends to break down easily and producing it was very expensive. When Hofmann requested half a gram of Ergotamine to begin his research, his supervisor reprimanded him for being too “extravagant.” So, Hofmann decided to work with a slightly different type of Ergotamine – a compound that required an additional refining process but was much cheaper.

This compromise turned out to be a blessing. During the extra refinement process, Hofmann realized that the molecule that, until then, was thought to be the active component in Ergot – was, in fact, a mixture of several molecules. He isolated these molecules and identified the one that formed the basis of all active compounds in the fungus: Lysergic Acid Diethylamide LSD.

In a short while, Hofmann learned how to produce the Lysergic acid artificially. He started experimenting with it by combining LSD with other compounds; his goal was to find a compound which could stimulate the respiratory and vascular systems. Each combination he created was numbered: LSD -1, LSD-2, and so on.

Combination LSD-25 wasn’t very successful: The technicians who tested it on rat labs reported to Hofmann that its effect on the respiratory and vascular systems was minor. As a side note, the report mentioned that the animals seemed “a bit restless.” Hofmann set aside this compound and turned to other research. Five years passed, but Hofmann hadn’t forgotten the LSD-25. His intuition told him that this molecule hadn’t yet exposed all of its secrets.

“I could not forget the relatively uninteresting LSD-25. A peculiar presentiment – the feeling that this substance could possess properties other than those established in the first investigations—induced me, five years after the first synthesis, to produce LSD-25 once again so that a sample could be given to the pharmacological department for further tests. This was quite unusual; experimental substances, as a rule, were definitely stricken from the research program if once found to be lacking in pharmacological interest.”

One day, While Hofmann worked on the LSD-25, a strange dizziness gripped him. Hofmann left the lab early and went home to rest. As he lay in bed, he felt as if he was dreaming, even though he knew that he was awake. He saw odd images, shapes, and shiny colors that struck him one after the other. After two hours, it was all gone.

Hofmann understood immediately that the LSD-25 had something to do with those sensations, yet he couldn’t understand how such a thing was possible. The Ergot fungus was known to be poisonous, and Hofmann had been strict about safety rules at the lab. So how did the material penetrate his body? The only likely explanation, he knew, was that a residue of the material was left on his fingers and that he had accidentally touched his mouth with them. But even so, the amount must have been extremely tiny!

Hofmann’s Bicycle Day

Hofmann decided to verify that the LSD-25 was indeed the source of his hallucinations. The only way to do so was to try ingesting it again, this time in a controlled manner. The amount he chose was the smallest he could imagine: 250 micrograms or 8 micro-ounces. For comparison, this amount is one-tenth of the weight of a grain of sand. Hofmann was certain that such a tiny amount could not be dangerous. He mixed the material in water and drank it.

It turns out Hofmann didn’t fully appreciate the potency of LSD… We now know that it is one of the strongest drugs known to men. Think of it this way: a single dose of cocaine – one tiny line of white powder – weighs about 100 milligrams – That’s almost a thousand doses of LSD. The amount Hofmann consumed, 250 micrograms, is five times more than the common dose.

Forty minutes later, the drug effects kicked in. dizziness…a slight sense of anxiety..eyes twitching…and a strong will to laugh.

“Here the notes in my laboratory journal cease. I was able to write the last words only with great effort… I had to struggle to speak intelligibly. I asked my laboratory assistant […] to escort me home. We went by bicycle. On the way home […] everything in my field of vision wavered and was distorted as if seen in a curved mirror. I also had the sensation of being unable to move from the spot. Nevertheless, my assistant later told me that we had traveled very rapidly.

Finally, we arrived at home […] and [I] had to lie down on a sofa. My surroundings had now transformed themselves in more terrifying ways. Everything in the room spun around, and the familiar objects and pieces of furniture assumed grotesque, threatening forms. They were in continuous motion, animated, as if driven by an inner restlessness. The lady next door, whom I scarcely recognized, brought me milk […] She was no longer Mrs. R., but rather a malevolent, insidious witch with a colored mask.

A demon had invaded me, had taken possession of my body, mind, and soul. I jumped up and screamed, trying to free myself from him, but then sank down again and lay helpless on the sofa. […] I was seized by the dreadful fear of going insane. I was taken to another world, another place, another time. My body seemed to be without sensation, lifeless, strange. Was I dying? Was this the transition? At times I believed myself to be outside my body, and then perceived clearly, as an outside observer, the complete tragedy of my situation. I had not even taken leave of my family […] Would they ever understand that I had not experimented thoughtlessly, irresponsibly, but rather with the utmost caution, and that such a result was in no way foreseeable?”

His frightened assistant called a doctor and explained the intent of the experiment. The physician examined Hofmann and shrugged. All was normal, he explained: the pupils were a bit dilated but other than that there didn’t seem to be anything wrong with the scientist. Hofmann’s pulse, his breathing and blood pressure were all normal. The physician had no way to assist him since physically, Hofmann was perfectly healthy.

Nowadays, the common treatment method for people who experience a “bad trip,” such as Hofmann’s, is to isolate them in a quiet room, without any external stimulations. Luckily, that was exactly what Hofmann’s doctor did: he laid him down in the quiet bedroom and monitored him. Slowly but surely the effects of LSD wore off, and the bad trip gave way to a more pleasant experience.

“The horror softened and gave way to a feeling of good fortune and gratitude, the more normal perceptions and thoughts returned, and I became more confident that the danger of insanity was conclusively past.

Now, little by little I could begin to enjoy the unprecedented colors and plays of shapes that persisted behind my closed eyes. Kaleidoscopic, fantastic images surged in on me, alternating, variegated, opening and then closing themselves in circles and spirals, exploding in colored fountains, rearranging and hybridizing themselves in  constant flux. It was particularly remarkable how every acoustic perception, such as the sound of a door handle or a passing automobile, became transformed into optical perceptions. Every sound generated a vividly changing image, with its own consistent form and color.”

Hofmann fell asleep. When he woke up the next day the hallucinations and visions had disappeared – but not entirely. He still felt a bit strange, as if a new life force encompassed him and sizzled in him. All his senses were sharper and fresher than ever. Breakfast was extraordinarily delicious, and even the sun shone brighter. When Hofmann later wrote a report to his executives, he already knew that he was onto something important: LSD was different than any drug he had ever encountered before. This turned to be also the mindset of Sandoz’s executives. They now had a powerful medicine in their hands – all they had to do was to find a proper illness.

Sandoz distributed the LSD to thousands of psychiatrists around the world, free of charge. One of the assumptions was that LSD could be used as a ‘psychotomimetic drug’, or in other words – a drug that temporarily causes symptoms of a psychotic state such as hallucinations and loss of mental control. Sandoz highly recommended psychiatrists to try LSD on themselves before giving it to their patients in order to see what it is like to be “crazy” – at least for a few hours.

Louis West’s negligent experiment

From the 1940s until the 1970s, thousands of articles were written about LSD and its potential to help people recover from alcoholism, its effect on creativity, treating anxiety, emotional blockage and more. Psychiatrists experimented with the new drug, trying to figure out its uses. One such experiment – a very controversial one – took place in 1962.

Elephants are usually quiet and peaceful animals. During their estrous cycle, on the other hand, male elephants can become very violent: they might attack their human trainers or even other females. This phenomenon is called “musth”, and biologists find it very interesting because…well, biologists.

The psychiatrist Louis West, of Oklahoma University, decided to test whether LSD could artificially induce musth in an otherwise peaceful elephant. His experiment took place at the Oklahoma zoo, where Tusko the elephant lived. “Tusko” is a generic name for elephants, like “buddy” for dogs, “kitty” for cats and “killit” for cockroaches.

Now comes the sad part. After arriving at the zoo, West and his colleagues filled a syringe with LSD and injected it into Tusko’s buttocks using a crossbow. They expected wild behavior and violence, but the result was the complete opposite. Tusko became imbalanced and could hardly stand on his feet. His female mate tried to steady him, but Tusko collapsed and fell to the ground. It lost control over its sphincters, its eyes crossed, and its entire body shivered with powerful epileptic seizures. The seizures lasted long minutes when West finally decided to inject the animal with an antipsychotic drug in order to neutralize the effects of LSD. The shivering faded, but Tusko died an hour and forty minutes later.

Louis West was strongly criticized for his experiment; both for the negligence that led to killing such a rare and unique animal, and for errors in the actual experiment itself. Some researchers claimed  that West miscalculated the dose: he injected about 300 milligrams of LSD – 3000 times more than the common dose for people. Even though an elephant weighs three tons, its brain is only three to four times bigger than a human brain – which is a crucial element when calculating a dose. Even the dose of the antipsychotic drug was exaggerated, and perhaps that was what actually killed the poor animal.  In other words, the experiment was so negligent that there was no way to determine even what the actual cause of death was! Yet the experiment on Tusko, as upsetting and unnecessary as it was, doesn’t even come close to the cruelty of another experiment which took place around the same time.


Some of the American soldiers who were captured during the Korean War went through terrible physical and psychological tortures. Their captors tried to break them psychologically and extract secret military information. The CIA feared that the Soviet Union and its allies were trying to develop advanced brainwashing techniques to ‘reprogram’ POWs and turn them into double agents.

LSD’s potential as a psychotomimetic drug intrigued the CIA because…well, CIA. Some people imagined that the drug could turn innocent people to cold-blooded assassins, or perhaps influence the decision-making of foreign countries’ leaders. In 1953, the CIA began a top-secret experiment, later to be known as MK-Ultra.

During the experiment, LSD and other more familiar techniques such as complete isolation and hypnosis were tested as ways to create emotional and mental stress. This multi-million dollar project included dozens of participating universities and research institutions. Since MK-Ultra was a top-secret experiment, no external supervision was allowed – and this fact allowed the CIA to run amuck with experiments which most people would find hard to imagine taking place in a modern democracy. For example, a CIA agent gave prostitutes $100 for them to slip a dose of LSD into their clients’ drink so that the agent could then observe the drug’s effect behind a two-way mirror. The CIA knew that no client would ever go to the police…

One of the more infamous experiments was that of Dr. Donald Cameron, a Canadian psychiatrist who worked for the CIA. Cameron developed a theory called “Psychic Driving” that he hoped would help treat mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, depression, etc. According to this theory, you could reprogram the brain by erasing traumatic memories and replacing them with different, more pleasant memories. The CIA funded Cameron’s research, hoping to use the “re-programming” part for other purposes, of course…

For this smilingly novel purpose, Dr. Cameron performed horrific experiments on unsuspecting patients who were admitted to psychiatric hospitals. These were the easiest victims: helpless people who could not resist any testing performed on them. Some of these unfortunate patients were ordinary people who were admitted as a result of minor issues, such as postpartum depression, or anxiety attacks.

Doctor Cameron injected these people with large doses of insulin, which put them in a coma for weeks. In other experiments, he electrocuted his patients with a voltage 30 times larger than the maximum amount normally allowed. LSD was a major part of these experiments as well: Cameron drugged his patients and forced them to listen to positive messages tapes over and over again, for days and weeks. These treatments or rather – psychological tortures – done by Doctor Cameron caused severe damage to his patients. Some people never returned to their former selves. many lives were ruined. for example, One patient lost twenty-six years worth of memories, including the memories from when her children were young.

MK-Ultra continued for ten years. The CIA came to the conclusion that LSD wasn’t efficient as a psychological weapon since it is often unpredictable, and there is no way to predict the effect of the drug on a specific human brain.

In the early 1970s, this top-secret project was exposed in an investigative story published by the New York Times. The public was appalled to discover the moral decrepitude of the CIA. Only thirty years earlier the United States was the main prosecutor of the Nuremberg trials, where the horrors of medical experiments conducted by Nazi doctors were exposed. Doctor Cameron himself was one of the experts who testified on behalf of the prosecution! How could it be that similar experiments took place in the enlightened United States of America?

In 1973, after the exposure of MK-ULTRA, the director of the CIA ordered the destruction of all documents related to the project in order to obstruct a congressional investigation. Much effort was made to settle civil claims outside the courts. All we know today about project MK-Ultra comes from some 20,000 documents that were filed in the wrong cabinet and thus saved from the shredder, and from people’s testimonies – those helpless psychiatric patients who became victims of the project.

One of those witnesses, by the way, was a young student called  Ken Kesey who worked at a military psychiatric hospital and volunteered to be a participant in the experiments. His experiences drove him to write, and his book – “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” – became a bestseller and was later adapted to a well-known film, starring Jack Nicholson.

If there’s one thing we can learn from MKULTRA, it’s the establishment’s attitude towards LSD. Many considered it to a very dangerous drug, potentially capable of radically altering thoughts and behaviors – which was what the CIA hoped to achieve using it. It is this attitude that will clash, head on, with the hippie movement in the 1960’s – whose members also had much the same attitude towards the drug. Both saw LSD as an agent of social change – but what should the change be? well, that’s a whole different matter.  In the next episode, part B of the History of LSD, we’ll talk about the effect of LSD on the Hippie movement of the 1960’s – and about one of its most famous icons: Dr. Timothy Leary. From there, we’ll try to decipher the actual neurological influence of LSD on our brain – and finally, discuss the true benefits – and dangers – of using LSD. Stay tuned.

Part B

I’m very much fond of Reddit, the social and news website. A bit too fond, really – this site has a reputation of becoming a huge time sink, and sadly I’m no exception. Trying to make my Reddit addiction a bit more useful, I browsed the subreddit dedicated to LSD usage as part of the research for this episode. It is there that I came across a rather new phenomenon known as ‘LSD Microdosing’.

Apparently, Microdosing is the habit of ingesting small amounts of LSD – usually about a tenth of a normal dose – as a way to enhance creativity and productivity in everyday life. While micro-dosing, you’re not exactly high – but not entirely grounded either. A recent story in Rolling Stone magazine quoted a young businessman who says that while micro-dosing on LSD –

“I was making a lot of sales, talking to a lot of people, [and] finding solutions to their technical problems.”

As you can probably guess, LSD Microdosing is a very controversial topic: Forbes Magazine described it in a recent article as a ‘Disturbing Trend’. But using chemicals to enhance our work life is nothing new. The coffee machine here at the CMPod studio is always working overtime – although, truthfully I hesitate to call the liquid it generates coffee.

So why is LSD Microdosing controversial and Coffee is not?

As we heard in the previous part of this episode, the MK-Ultra project clearly shows that many people, in and outside of the establishment, view LSD as a powerful and dangerous drug. Even Albert Hofmann himself, who discovered LSD and knew the effects of the drug from personal experience, didn’t imagine that the drug would someday be consumed for recreational purposes.

When the drug was first discovered it was initially kept within the walls of the medical profession – but in the 1960s the drug started “leaking” from the university labs right into the hands of the students, who were known to occasionally eat ancient leftover pizza slices, and so were clearly already accustomed to living on the edge. A short time later famous musicians such as Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, and the Beatles discovered LSD, and it became an icon of the hippie movement in America.

Most of us have heard songs written under the influence of LSD such as “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” but in fact, psychedelia had a deeper effect on the art and culture of the 1960s. Many artists drew the experience of consuming LSD, using dazzling colors in their paintings and records; the big fluid letters became a symbolic typeface of the hippies. Over time, those tiny stamps containing LSD became themselves a form of art, and were decorated with different patterns and colors. But Although a generation’s art was born from the effects of LSD,  this fact does not necessarily make LSD a beneficial substance: by the same token, just because a lot of artists were heavy drinkers – doesn’t make alcoholism a good thing either.

It’s also interesting to note that while being popular among painters and musicians, LSD never made its way to the world of popular literature – except maybe in the book “The Doors of Perception” by Aldous Huxley and ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ by Hunter Thompson. The reason might have to do with the fact that an LSD experience is mostly sensational, while literature uses rational symbols and representations in words. Another option is that us writers are just a boring bunch of nerds.

Timothy Leary

In the early 1960s, Dr. Timothy Leary of Harvard University conducted experiments whose objective was to observe the effects of LSD. As with other researchers, he too noticed that when consuming LSD the barriers between the “self” and the “outside world” collapse. Even the Ego, the part of our consciousness that tries to define self-identity and create a coherent  sense of control over the body, is completely gone. The death of the Ego and loss of self-control could sometimes force consumers to reflect on their current lives in a detached way as if viewing it from the outside. After such experiences, some people decided to change their lives completely.

Timothy Leary became a fan of LSD, mainly as a way to promote social change. His motto was “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out”: Turn On, as Leary mentioned in his biography, meant allowing the drug to open your conscience to new sensations and perspectives. Tune In meant reconnecting with the world around you with renewed harmony. Drop Out was about abandoning your old lifestyle.

Not surprisingly, this wasn’t the way worried conservatives understood Leary’s message. As far as they were concerned, Drop Out meant dropping out of school, quitting jobs and leaving parents, spouses, and children… Or in other words, abandoning all the sacred values and morals that make up the American Dream.

Leary’s outspoken opinions provoked firm opposition from the frightened authorities. He was fired from his teaching post and had to move to Mexico, which later deported him also. President Richard Nixon even referred to him as “the most dangerous man in the United States.” When Leary returned to the US and tried to revive his research, he was soon arrested for possession of half a joint of Cannabis– and was sentenced to thirty years in prison. Thirty years… This sentence was appealed and later commuted – but it demonstrates the antagonism against Leary and LSD in general. This antagonism later led to the classification of  LSD as one  of the most dangerous drugs; dealing it was considered a severe felony. Legal restrictions limited research possibilities, and as a result, the number of scientific experiments with LSD dropped significantly after the 1960’s.

How LSD Works

Is LSD truly so dangerous in the physiological sense – or do our fears of it stem from cultural taboos and traditions? to answer these questions, we must understand how LSD works.

The neurons in our brain communicate with each other using receptors: they exchange neurotransmitters, and so send and receive information from other neurons. Think of these receptors as mailboxes, and the neurotransmitters play the part of letters being sent back and forth between neurons. The LSD’s molecules take the place of natural neurotransmitters in the brain: they are ‘foreign’ letters inserted into the system from outside. In doing so, they affect the way information is being processed in the brain – just as by wearing pink sunglasses, for example, the world becomes California.

The LSD molecule connects to a vast variety of receptors, each of which has a different influence on information processing. As a result, not much is known about the exact way in which LSD affects the brain. One such effect is the release of massive levels  of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in  determining our mood and feelings. The serotonin receptors are located in many areas of the brain and in particular the frontal cortex and the thalamus. These two areas work together in order to regulate signals delivered by our senses. Think of them as filters that allow some information to be processed – while dismissing the unwanted information, so that the brain won’t be overloaded by confusing and irrelevant information. When LSD is attached to the serotonin receptors, it disrupts the normal activity of the frontal cortex and thalamus and information flow becomes unregulated and overwhelming.

Also, LSD promotes linkage between different parts of the brain – parts which are usually not connected. This causes LSD users to experience synesthesia: they begin to see sounds, hear colors and smell feelings. Their sense of time changes. External stimulations which are usually too weak to have passed the screening of the frontal cortex and thalamus – are now increased and become more meaningful.

This mechanism is the reason why the actual experience of consuming LSD is so dependent on the character of the external sensory input. Doctor Timothy Leary was one of the first researchers to notice that a psychedelic “trip” is never constant or identical, but depends on several components. The first component Leary identified is the “set” – the general mood and emotional load that a person carries with him when using the drug. If you are a stressful and worried type, your LSD experience could be very different than that of a calm and relaxed person. The second component is the “setting”: the physical and social surroundings during a psychedelic experience. A trip in a wild and noisy party differs radically from that of a peaceful picnic in the woods.

Most psychiatrists believe that despite the fact that LSD is not a cause of emotional damage, it can certainly enhance existing manifestations such as depression and bipolar  disorder. A best case scenario could be slight sadness or negative feelings becoming strong fear, anxiety, and paranoia – while in the worst case scenario, congenital tendencies of anxiety and depression could become a chronic psychotic state. A random reading of stories from LSD users in confirms this view. One Redditor wrote:

“I did LSD last November and since then every moment has been a living hell. At first, it felt like a giant weight was on my brain that was unbearable. Though the weighted feeling has gone away I still feel terrible and am restless and suicidal (to the point of going to a psyche ward for being suicidal…) I have been to at least 10 doctors […] that have prescribed things like antidepressants, mood stabilizers, Xanax, all to no avail.”

Another Redditor wrote:

“I went bonkers for close to 2 years coming off of a bad trip. Paranoid schizophrenic delusions. I thought everyone was speaking in code about me while around me.”

And a third:

“I had similar problems after a big dose of magic mushrooms, took me two years to fully recover. It turned out much later that I had an undiagnosed mental illness (bipolar disorder), and one thing looking into the void like that can do is unleash latent psychoses… I’ve been to hell so often they installed a revolving door.”

A known phenomenon of the drug is “flashbacks,” or random hallucination episodes which LSD users can experience weeks or even months after using the drug – even though it is clear that no trace of LSD could exist in the body for so long. The flashback phenomenon shows how little we actually know about LSD.

The return of LSD

The popularity of LSD decreased significantly since the 1970s. LSD parties became fashionable again in the 1980s and 1990s, but other drugs such as ecstasy (also known as MDMA) took the front row of the psychedelic show. Surprisingly enough, though, the academic interest in LSD has significantly rebounded. The research done in the 1960’s is nowadays considered poor when compared to modern scientific standards: many of the old experiments suffered from methodological flaws such as a lack of proper control. Today, on the other hand, researchers have technologies (such as MRI scans) and methodologies (such as controlled experiments) which allow researching LSD in a safer way. Recent research has also found that LSD can have a positive effect on psychological disorders such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

LSD, then, is a two-faced-drug. On the one hand, it can change people’s perceptions and provide them with positive, life-changing experiences, as advocated by Timothy Leary’s motto of ‘Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out’. It also has the potential to cure acute mental disorders such as PTSD and anxiety. On the other hand, LSD can awaken psychological demons that otherwise would still be sleeping if it wasn’t for the bad trip; The psychotic disorders it can unleash on its users can be devastating.

It appears that LSD isn’t a ‘good’ or a ‘bad’ drug: it is merely unpredictable. You might have a positive life-changing experience – or find yourself an emotional and psychological wreck. In both cases, it could happen on your first trip, or never at all.