Overview: LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide)
is a drug that triggers massive changes in thought and perception.
Discovered in 1943, its effects were so distinctive that a new
word, psychedelic (“mind-manifesting”), was
coined by researchers to classify the changes it unleashed. Widely
used in the ’60s, LSD began a comeback in the 1990’s, helped
along by lighter dosage and new-look packaging. Still, it can
cause the same old problems for unprepared, uninformed, and sometimes
even experienced users.
Nicknames: acid, blotter, dose, windowpane.
Appearance: LSD is an odorless,
colorless liquid and individual doses are often dripped onto
sheets of blotter paper preprinted with mystical or alternative-culture
icons, like Beavis and Butt-head (shown above).
Actions/Effects: LSD alters the action of the neurotransmitters
serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine,
triggering extreme changes in brain function. Physical effects
include increased body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure.
Psychological effects include perceptual and thought distortions,
hallucinations, delusions, and rapid mood swings.
Medical Uses: None. Although LSD has been tried as
a treatment for various forms of mental illness, the only currently-approved
research involving the drug is aimed at testing its potential
value as a treatment for drug dependence.
Risks/Side Effects: The main risk linked to LSD is anxiety
— effects are so disorienting and so unavoidable that users
sometimes panic. The drug may also “unmask” psychological
problems, since it involves such a stark confrontation with the
self that hidden conflicts can be exposed and potential problems
Trends: LSD use soared during the 1990’s, as dosage strength
dropped. Lighter dosage also meant a set of less intense, more
easily managed effects, resulting in fewer adverse reactions
than were common during LSD’s first trip around the recreational
drug circuit a generation ago.
Demographics: Following the upsurge in use a decade
ago, LSD use has fallen since, in large part due to decreased
availability of the drug resulting from federal disruption of
supply networks. In a national survey of the high school class
of 2010, 2.6 percent reported use in the previous year, down
from 6.6 percent in 2000. Similar declines are also noted in
other national reports of use patterns and hospital emergency-room