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Is It Worse to Get Caught with LSD Than Other Drugs?

caught with LSD
Written by Alexandra Hicks

Everyone knows about the dangers of getting arrested with acid. Why is it so different than other drugs?

If you fancy yourself a psychonaut, or at the very least, have higher than entry-level experience with psychedelics, you’ve probably heard about the dangers of getting arrested with acid. Most psychedelic drug dealers will tell you that they have no problem selling mushrooms, ecstasy, ketamine, or other substances, but only the brave are willing to deal in LSD. Is it worse to get caught with LSD than with other drugs? And if so, why is that? Let’s take a closer look.

Getting caught with LSD – federal regulations

There are a few different ways that people can be charged for LSD-related crimes: trafficking, distribution, simple possession, or intoxication in cases where a drug test is administered. Regarding that last part, there are no mainstream drug tests that can detect LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide), however, there are specific tests that can check for LSD use about 15 to 28 hours after use. These are often used by probation officers and employers, but it’s unlikely that someone would choose to trip balls with an important engagement so soon after.  

That being said, the majority of LSD charges are for trafficking and distribution. According to the DEA, these are the following minimums for LSD trafficking: 

  • First Offense: Not less than 5 years, and not more than 40 years. If death or serious injury occurs, not less than 20 years or more than life. Fine of not more than $5 million if an individual, $25 million if not an individual.  
  • Second Offense: Not less than 10 years, and not more than life. If death or serious injury occurs, life imprisonment. Fine of not more than $8 million if an individual, $50 million if not an individual.  

These mandatory minimums are the same for most harder drugs regardless of the schedule, including methamphetamine and cocaine which are a schedule II, and heroin which is a schedule I (just like LSD, but with a MUCH higher body count, quite ironic). Where the law differs, is in the amount a person is caught with.

For example, to get a federal tracking charge for heroin, you would need to be arrested with 100-999 grams (mixture). With Fentanyl, which is up to 50 times more potent than heroin, you would need to have 40-399 grams (mixture) before you get slapped with a trafficking charge. When it comes to LSD, a mere 1-9 grams (mixture) would result in the same charges. It’s insane to think that having as little as one gram of acid, a substance that is nearly impossible to overdose on, is treated the same as almost 1000 grams of heroin.  

As if that’s not bad enough, here’s where things get even more dicey. The key is in the word “mixture”. As per sentencing rules, the mandatory minimums dished out for drug trafficking are based on the “mixture or substance containing a detectable amount” of the drug in question. So, the more the mixture weighs, the longer the prison term will be. It’s done this way because to prevent dealers from getting shorter sentences when their drugs are diluted with cutting agents. The government likes to call this a “market approach” to the war on drugs.  

Why the “market approach” does not work in LSD cases

It makes sense in some situations, but not at all in cases involving LSD. Because LSD is dropped or sprayed on paper, sugar cubes, gelatin, and other carriers in order to be consumed, the weight of the mixture is significantly greater than the weight that the pure substance would be. It’s a much more exaggerated difference than heroin or meth that’s cut with something. But the government does not care how illogical and unjust this is, the paper and sugar cubes are considered part of the LSD “mixture”. 

A perfect example of this is the case of Stanley Marshall, a 30-year-old man from El Paso, Texas, who was arrested in June of 1988 and charged with “leading a conspiracy to distribute LSD”. The total amount of LSD he was caught with was less than half a gram, but because the carrier paper weighed 113 grams, he was charged for 113.3 grams of LSD “mixture”. Had sentencing guidelines allowed him to be charged for the weight of the pure LSD, he would have spent three years or less in prison. But since the paper weighed over 100 grams, he was sentenced to 20 years.  

On the flip side, if someone happens to get caught with liquid LSD – which is much more concentrated and almost a guarantee that the person is selling because most consumers don’t have vials of pure, liquid LSD – they benefit from the weight/mixture sentencing laws. So consumers or people who are selling small amounts of the drug will likely end up with much longer sentences than people who might actually be trafficking LSD.  

Have you tried the new legal psychedelic tinctures?

And that’s how completely a** backwards our government is. They do acknowledge this obvious design flaw, yet more than 3 decades later they have yet to change it in any official capacity; although some judges might start to take a bit of leniency in LSD cases as we head into a second, and much more publicized, psychedelic renaissance.  

The Drug Abuse Act of 1986 

The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, a series of laws passed by congress and signed by President Ronald Regan, was a fundamental part of the war on drugs. Among many other things, one of the biggest issues with this bill is that it changed the process of dealing with drug offenders and those released from prison from a rehabilitative system to a punitive system.  

H.R. 5484 also introduced new mandatory minimums, especially in cases involving crack cocaine. The bill required judges to sentence offender to at least five years’ imprisonment for the possession of only five grams of crack cocaine. However, someone would need to be caught with 500 grams of powder cocaine to receive the same five-year sentence. From a scientific standpoint, crack and powder cocaine are nearly identical. There are no noted pharmacological or chemical differences, and the effects are very similar. The only difference is in the way the drugs are taken (powder is usually snorted whereas crack is smoked).  

Another difference? Powder was used mainly by white Americans, and crack was largely used by black Americans. Again, same drug… just with a different delivery method and user base. But due to sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine, black Americans faced disproportionate punishment with long, discriminatory prison sentences and stricter policing throughout their communities.  

Mandatory minimums, which started to emerge in the late 1970s, require judges to impose a prison sentence of at least the minimum amount of time specified in a statute. Interestingly, a judge can use their discretion (or their judgement) to impose longer terms, but not to offer shorter ones. Today, mandatory minimums are commonly used in federal courts, especially in drug cases. In fact, recent studies show that mandatory minimums are used in more than half of all federal criminal cases to this day.   

Getting caught with LSD – Final thoughts

Although I started off thinking this acid thing was an urban drug myth that stuck around since the 70s when drug crimes were more severely penalized in general, I realized that even today, getting caught with LSD is much worse than other drugs. Perhaps this is something we should focus on as we dive into psychedelic reform and reassess the benefits of hallucinogenic drugs.


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About the author

Alexandra Hicks

Managing editor at Cannadelics and U.S based journalist, helping spread the word about the many benefits of using cannabis and psychedelics.