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LSD: What is It?

Written by Joseph Mcqueen

Across the past few articles in our what is (drugs) series we’ve looked at some of the new kids on the block: Mephedrone, 2C-B, Nos and GHB, exploring the world of designer drugs and how they’re changing the wider drug scene around the world. In today’s article we’re going to look at the grandfather of designer drugs. Arguably the most famous psychedelic, influencing a generation in the 60’s, changing the world of art, culture, politics and psychology permanently… of course it’s time to talk about LSD.

This titan of the drug world has been fascinating trippers and scientists for years and we think it’s time we get to know the drug properly. In this article I’ll look through the history of LSD, the psychology, the legality and even some research on the drugs’ therapeutic uses. So sit back, relax and pop on some early Pink Floyd, it’s time to get trippy.   

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What is LSD? 

Lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD for short, is a  synthetic psychedelic  that was synthesised from a chemical that can be found in a parasitic fungus that grows on mouldy rye. Taking acid leads the user to experience altered realities, hallucinations and introspective thoughts and in lower doses can just result in an elevated mood and a sharpening of the senses. It was first synthesised in the 40s, accidentally, by Dr Albert Hoffman and then went on to become one of the most popular drugs of the late 20th century inspiring entire music genres and most of the hippy movement. 

What Does it Look Like?

LSD comes in different forms, but in its purest state it is a white crystalline powder. You’re much more likely to see it as a small paper tab with the Acid blotted onto it. The patterns on these tabs can vary but often you’ll come face to face with a neon coloured cartoon or a smiley face. These tabs are then placed on or under the tongue and left there as you wait for the drug to enter your bloodstream. LSD can also be bought in its liquid form although this is much more expensive and harder to dose, but when taken this way, you drop a small amount of the liquid directly onto the tongue. Acid gummies and candies are also available for those with more of  a sweet tooth.

The History of LSD 

LSD has its origins in a fungus called Ergot, which grows on mouldy rye. The chemical was known to cause hallucinatory experiences when ingested although paired with other less fun side effects, including convulsions. Ergot has even incredibly been linked to the Salem Witch trials, the theory being that there was a blight of mouldy rye at the time and this could have caused the experiences associated with witches! With the knowledge of Ergot’s potential powers a Swiss scientist called Albert Hoffman decided to work on synthesising a new structure combining some parts of Ergot’s chemicals with others, until one day he created LSD.

He initially was unaware of how powerful the chemical would be and accidentally first experienced LSD’s effects. He got a small amount on his finger whilst at work and reported feeling dizzy and restless, going home to experience heightened sensory experiences. The first deliberate trip was taken when Hoffman decided to experiment on himself and take more LSD. His cycle ride home has become legend as he fought the surreal trip, describing the experience as follows: 

“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..”

After these early experiments, LSD was produced on a larger scale by the company Hoffman worked for and taken recreationally throughout the 60’s. Psychologists even promoted it arguing that it spread love and peace throughout people and the drug was incorporated into some therapy sessions. In the 60’s LSD was seen as a wonder drug, trialled for almost anything. Soldiers were given it to see if it gave them super powers, psychopaths given it to feel empathy, you name it LSD was probably used to treat it.  Eventually though stories emerged of accidents and the dangerous side of LSD and it was eventually made illegal in both the US and the UK. The cultural impact of LSD was hard to ignore though. In the 60s and 70s bands became famous for their psychedelic sounds. Pink Floyd, Hendrix and the Beatles all were synonymous with Acid and the psychedelic generation, started by Dr Albert Hoffman in the 40’s.

How Does it Feel?

It’s tricky to exactly write how LSD makes a user feel as each person has a different experience. In general LSD gives you a feeling of giddiness, dizziness and sometimes euphoria. It heightens the experiences of colors, sounds and tastes and in high enough doses produces hallucinogenic effects. The effects of LSD often kick in after 20-90 minutes and trips last for quite a long time, ranging from 6-15 hours. When on a trip people can experience all sorts of things, sometimes good and sometimes bad. Being in a comfortable environment and making sure that your head is in a good place are ways to increase the likelihood of having a good trip. DO NOT take LSD if you are feeling low, or uncomfortable or if you are in a strange environment as these are all factors that can lead to a bad trip. Of course, if you do have a bad trip, being around people who can look after you (trip sitters) and making sure that you can get somewhere safe will help. 

What are the Psychoactive Effects?

LSD like most psychedelics affects serotonin, a neurotransmitter often associated with mood and inhibition. LSD binds to serotonin receptors in the brain. Studies have shown that the particular Receptors that LSD binds to are associated with deciding what’s important to the brain. For example,  recognising someone you know in a crowd of faces.  On LSD the brain is better at locating actually important stimuli and can move on from dwelling on negative thoughts as patients with depression and anxiety often do. Even more recent studies have shown that when the brain is on LSD it moves away from the usual structures of neuronal connections that its anatomy controls and is able to freely form new associations across the brain, integrating areas that usually wouldn’t work together, potentially explaining the feelings of wholeness one feels on a trip. 


LSD is an incredible drug that has been used in many areas of research. It can give you an experience unlike any other drug, leading to hallucinations and thoughts that can genuinely be life changing to the individual. Because of this LSD has been used in forms of therapy. LSD has recently been used with great effect in the treatment of Alcohol dependency. The drug has little to no withdrawal effects and a very low chance of dependency. When compared to other drugs including alcohol and tobacco a recent study in the lancet ranked it as one of the lowest drugs when it comes to risk of harm to the user and to others. It is, when used correctly, a very safe drug and it’s clear to see the benefits it offers. As mentioned earlier, the role LSD played in art and music in the 1960’s also can’t be ignored. Many artists owe some of their greatest hits to the drug. The Beatles album Revolver arguably couldn’t have been made without it.


LSD is illegal in most countries, being listed as a Schedule 1 drug in the US and a Class A in the UK, both countries’ most severe classification. Possessing and selling LSD is a criminal offence and can lead to heavy fines or even prison sentences. Beyond the legality, it must also be remembered that LSD is a very powerful psychedelic, which if taken in the wrong environment can cause dangerous side effects. A bad trip isn’t fun for anyone and can even lead to subtle forms of PTSD (Acid flashbacks) if particularly traumatic. Famous stories of Syd Barrett from Pink Floyd and Peter Green, of Fleetwood Mac, both having traumatic experiences with LSD are warnings of what can happen if acid is taken without the necessary precautions. As with any psychedelic, know the risks, be safe and you should be fine.

My own experiences 

Even though I am aware of the many positives of LSD and have seen and heard of lots of friends having a great time on acid, I was always quite wary of it. Hearing the horror stories about ‘bad trips’ and Syd Barret going bald led me to believe that Acid was a scary drug that would irreversibly change me, so I took some time before trying it. Of course, when I did, I had a great time and a particularly introspective trip. My vision was the main thing I noticed changing, becoming sharper and brighter and I saw fractal patterns in the lights. The only down side was when I was coming down I imagined that my dead nan was watching over me in my bedroom, but hey Highs and lows… 


LSD has a long and vivid history, spanning across the last half of the 20th century and leaving a permanent mark on the arts and science together. It can be a life altering drug when taken safely and correctly, but it has to be treated with respect. Perhaps it isn’t as popular as it was in the 60’s and people don’t see it as the wonder drug they used to, but the impact of cultural LSD can’t be overstated. 

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Disclaimer: Hi, I’m a researcher and writer. I’m not a doctor, lawyer, or businessperson. All information in my articles is sourced and referenced, and all opinions stated are mine. I am not giving anyone advice, and though I am more than happy to discuss topics, should someone have a further question or concern, they should seek guidance from a relevant professional.

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About the author

Joseph Mcqueen

Joseph is a cannabis journalist in the UK. His search and love for the truth in the cannabis industry is what drives him to write.