LSD was originally synthesized at the Sandoz Pharmaceutical Company, in Switzerland, as part of a long-term project begun in the 1930’s. The aim was to develop useful medicines that were derived from ergot, a fungus (Claviceps purpurea) that infect grasses such as Rye. The chemist in charge of this drug development project was Albert Hoffman. In 1943, he synthesized a compound he called LSD-25. One night while at work he accidentally ingested some of it and within forty minutes he had the first LSD “trip. ” He told his colleagues he was not feeling well and got on his bike to go home.
Later, he carefully described the vividly clear flood of perceptions that are characteristic of the “mind manifesting” or psychedelic drug. After World War II, LSD caused a flurry of excitement among some professionals, and its medical value was tested in psychiatric patients, yet there was still no widely popular movement until the 1960’s. Because of its potency and the extensive reports of laboratory studies in animals and in the clinic, LSD has become the prototypical hallucinogen, or psychedelic drug. It also became the emblem of a social movement, which in fact, was a confluence of various movements that had begun in the early 1960’s.
By 1973, the “acid culture” had subsided into a small but still active subculture of various psychedelic drug devotees seeking meaning and profound insight. Timothy Leary, a young psychology instructor as Harvard, explored the Mexican or “magic” mushroom, Psilocybe mexicana, and LSD, claiming that criminals became loving and peaceful and others more creative. Between 1960 and 1966, the media repeatedly discovered LSD. As publicity increased, subcultures experimented with mushrooms and LSD grew up in the East and West Coast. Well publicized festivals celebrated LSD, marijuana, and mushrooms, such as Summer of Love in San Francisco.
Although subjective effects occur in some individuals after doses as low as 50 micrograms, typical street doses very widely (10-300 micrograms). The absorption of LSD from the gastrointestinal tract and other mucous membranes occur rapidly, with drug diffusion to all tissues, including the brain. The onset of psychological and behavioral effects occurs approximately 30 minutes after oral administration, peaks in the next 2 to 4 hours, the first 6 hours after a 200microgram dose are called a trip. In the next 4 to 8 hours after half of the drug has left the brain the “TV show in the head” stops.
During this last stage of the trip there is a feeling of hyperalertness, and that every some how revolves around oneself. Although slight there are some lingering effects such as the feeling of being letdown, and sluggish – as if you had just been on a long journey to a very exciting place. After experiencing such intense and/or frightening emotions and feelings the world might seem a little drab and boring. The emotional and psychological effects of the drugs are heightened clarity of the sensory signals (sight, sound, touch, lights, and colors).
Everything seems to have a sense of significance. Generally concentration on a single subject is difficult to maintain for long periods. These thoughts although short lived tend to be all consuming and even the simplest things are important. For example gestures and body language (many of which are normally in the background) are perceived to have a more profound meaning. The “breakdown in constancies” that are caused by the drug has stirred the interest of many specialist in perception. Usually our brain corrects what the retina sees by putting the world in to perspective.
This means focusing on the more important things that we need to get through the day, and suppressing the nonessential. The corrections do not occur while under the influence of LSD, mescaline, and psilocybin. Therefore, many of the sensations that are normally suppressed by the brain are free to run rampant on your body and in your mind. There is no craving to take more LSD, and one trip is enough to produce satiety for some time. No long-term effects have been found, but some experiments have been attempted.
In one experiment on creativity, participants in two groups were given either LSD or the stimulant amphetamine while listening to music. The only difference between the two groups after six months was a slight tendency for those who had ingested LSD to buy more music. One of the only lasting effects is “flashbacks”. Flashbacks are short periods of time (usually only a second or two) when you suddenly feel as though you are under the drug again. Scientists are unsure why or how this happens, because of the unpredictable nature of flashbacks.
Since there is no way of knowing who will have them or when they will occur it is nearly impossible to study flashbacks. Some scientists believe that a small amount of the chemical gets locked away in fat cells. When your body burns this fat cell for energy the chemical is released into your brain thus causing you to momentarily experience the effects of the drug. Few people experience these and even less are disturbed by them. Another lasting effect that has shown up in a large number of users is the breakdown in constancy tends to linger for some months after ingesting psychedelic drugs.
Many people find it difficult to suppress the irrelevant details of daily life. Objects that are normally in your periphery of your attention are now part of you focused attention. One scientist noted that riding on the train to work, he was distracted from focusing on his newspaper for several months by the telephone poles whizzing by. LSD, mescaline, and psilocybin produce little positive or negative aftereffects. Even though it has often been suspected there has been no evidence of permanent damage to brain cells. There is also no evidence to support chromosomal damage to the developing fetus.
No nonprescription drug during pregnancy is the only safe rule to follow. One astonishing feature of psychedelic drugs is their tolerance. Tolerance is the ability to resist the effect of a drug. With daily doses being administered the duration and effects quickly fade. After 200 micrograms per day of LSD, there is simply no detectable drug effects on the third or fourth day. After three or four days without LSD, the full initial effects can be triggered by the same dose that has been tolerated. During this period of tolerance the usual dose of mescaline, and psilocybin required for a trip no longer have any effects.
This cross tolerance and the fact that these three drugs have similar effects on serotonin levels, and brain neurons, has lead scientist to believe that there is some common factor that links these drugs and there effects. It is believed that the tolerance is directly related to the sertonin receptor 5HT2. In test on laboratory animals LSD and psilocybin lead to fewer of these receptors. However the number of 5HT2 receptors returned to normal after 3 to 4 days. LSD effects the brain in many places where the neurotransmitter sertonin are found. Most of the biochemical effects of psychedelic drugs are linked to these places.
LSD and psilocybin both act as imposters at the receptors where sertonin attach. This causes the receptors to send signals to other parts of the brain that the serotonin levels are too high. The cells that produce serotonin respond by slowing or stopping production of the neurotransmitter. If the brain is overloaded with serotonin during a trip, then the effects of the drugs are reduced, like wise if the levels of serotonin are reduces the effects are increased. The absence or abundance of serotonin does not it self-produce Hallucinations, nor does it effect your judgment or perception.
How this biochemical effect causes a trip is still unknown. See Illustrations on the following page. Though we may know alot about the biochemical effects of psychedelic drugs, there is still much to be learned. It is likely that progress will be slow due to the fact that the drug is illegal in the United States, and since there is no known medical benefits it is highly unlikely that it will ever become legal again. Psychedelic drug will remain part of the “underground” subcultures, and will surely be the only place where human experimentation will remain.