September 04, 2009

LSD! (Important Info for All You Hippies Out There)

Illicit drugs have a powerful appeal. They are a quick and powerful release from the mundane, painful and frustrating realities of life. According to type, they might offer extreme levels of pleasure, an excited state of being, an altered perception of reality or, in some cases, a combination of effects. Its no wonder, humans beings seek out drugs. To quote an expert, “its that innate propensity of mankind to supply some grateful means of promoting the flow of agreeable thoughts, of emboldening the spirit to perform deeds of daring, or of steeping in forgetfulness the sense of daily sorrow” (Stille). As much as drugs might quickly serve these ends, they are not without negative consequences. Its important to understand the consequences lest one fall into addiction or a debilitating mental or physical condition. The purpose of this paper is to educate the laymen as the effects and consequences of LSD. I will describe the effects, give a brief history and end by offer my own advice.

LSD (Lysergic Acid Diethylamide) AKA acid is a substance derived from argot, a fungus that grows on cereal grains. The effective human dose is a miniscule one-thousandth of a gram. It can come in the form of a saturated bit of paper with a graphic, a saturated sugar cube, a pin-head sized pill or a thin gelatin square (placed under the eyelid).

LSD is considered a pseudo-hallucinogen. It affects serotonin receptors in the brain to cause intense auditory and visual distortions and hallucinations (Iverson 94). Unlike a true hallucination, the LSD user doesn’t see things that dont exist, like three headed monsters or psychedelic butterflies. He merely sees, hears and experiences things in a distorted, wavering, or kaleidoscopic way. (Brecher 348). He may see patterns, geometrical figures or panoramas that aren’t there, but the visions are perceived by the user as drug induced, rather than a genuine perception of the concrete world.

LSD is a recent invention but can be grouped into a family of similarly effecting drugs that include pyote, psilocybin and mescaline. LSD was discovered by a Swiss chemist named Dr. Albert Hofmann while experimenting with argot. He was unintentionally exposed to the new compound during his research and was startled by the powerful effect it had on him. He described the experience in his journal as fantastic visions of extraordinary realness with an intense kaleidoscopic play of colors. After the trip subsided, he tried the drug a second time to corroborate the effects in a more controlled way. He didn’t have an agreeable response. The side effects he listed were vertigo, visual disturbance, grotesque perception of faces, motoric unrest and an intermittent feeling in the head, limbs and the entire body, as if they were filled with lead (Breecher 346-7).

As the news of LSDs effects spread through the scientific world various uses for the drugs were considered. The Untied States Army tested its usefulness for brainwashing in interrogation. For a time it was later stockpiled as a weapon for its disabling effects but was abandoned as a weapon in favor of more effective biological agents. The most substantial claim was as an aid to psychotherapy (Breacher 349).

In Edward Breachers famous consumer report Licit and Illicit Drugs, he compiles numerous studies that measured the effects of LSD is psychotherapy. Certain studies recorded positive results for the treatment of alcoholism and depression, enough that psychiatrists took notice. They claimed that in the proper setting LSD can lower a patience defenses and encourage a sense of closeness with the therapist. Negative findings usually involve the unmanageability of mind-altering effects by the patient. This lack of control can cause paranoia, delusions and unpleasant feelings. Patients panic or behave wildly. The logic of the psychiatric use is that, if the environment and the expectation of the patient can be effectively controlled, these negative effects could be mitigated and the beneficial aids to therapy maximized (Brecher 350).

It should be mentioned that positive experiences with LSD are taken by some to have intense spiritual or educational potential. A famous and controversial LSD advocate during the 1960s counter culture movement, Timothy Leary, has described LSD in an explicitly religious way: “LSD, marijuana, piody and similar chemicals which expand consciousness are sacraments. A sacrament is a visible object, which is a key to the inner divinity; something which helps you find God. For those of us in this country who use these sacraments in our worship they play the same part in our religion as the aids to worship in other religions.” Leary wasnt the first to see hallucinogens as a religious tool. Their use in religious practice has a history that goes back to the Aztec Indians who ingested Peyote, a spineless cactus, as a mystical means of obtaining a deeper understanding of the world.

Just like LSD, peyote powerfully effects visual and auditory sensations. Users sometimes report a synthesis of senses as in seeing music or hearing a painting. For the Aztecs and other Indian tribes in Mexico, this experience was Gods gift to man and a means of gaining wisdom. One of the chief propagators of the spread of peyote to American Indians, Quanah Parker (a Comanche), claimed that the Great Spirit spoke to him in a vision and told him that the flesh of the Great Spirit was planted in peyote. And he should lay down his arms against the white man and unite all the tribes with the drug. Indeed, the use of peyote in religious Indian religious practices helped create a sense of solidarity and brotherhood among tribes, which helped against a shared sense of subjection under settlers. By 1954 it was estimated that one half of all American Indians had tried pyote (Brecher 338). Users formed the Native American Church of North American claiming to represent 250,000 American Indians using pyote. At times, they successfully blocked Congressional action against the drug by appealing to religious freedoms guaranteed under the constitution (Brecher 339).

Another advocate of hallucinogens, the well-known writer of Brave New World, Adolous Huxley gives an account of his experience with mescaline (the hallucination-inducing component of peyote) in an essay called The Doors of Perception. In it, he describes how the drug changed his perception of the flowers in his office: “At breakfast that morning I had been struck by the lively dissonance of [the flowers] colors. But that was no longer the point. I was not looking now at an unusual flower arrangement. I was seeing what Adam had seen on the morning of his creation-the miracle, moment by moment, of naked existence.” Huxley expounds upon the mind-expanding qualities of the drug while frequently inciting religious terminology. “I continued to look at the flowers, and in their living light I seemed to detect the qualitative equivalent of breathing -but of a breathing without returns to a starting point, with no recurrent ebbs but only a repeated flow from beauty to heightened beauty, from deeper to ever deeper meaning. Words like “grace” and “transfiguration” came to my mind, and this, of course, was what, among other things, they stood for.”

The most famous hallucinogen users of all, the Beatles, describe the LSD trip in their song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds

Picture yourself in a boat on a river With tangerine trees and marmalade skies Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly A girl with kaleidoscope eyes.

At this point you may ask, whats so bad about LSD, if American Indians, pop icons, famous authors and psychologists can recognize the good in it, what the harm of trying it? What consequences, if any, exist?

An interesting aspect of LSD which has been studied vigorously, is the influence of expectation and environment. The expectations the user has, weather positive or negative, going into the event, largely determine the outcome. Paranoid, fearful, and lonely thoughts generally lead to a bad trip. And conversely, positive and socially minded thinking make for a good trip. Psychologists recognize the harm LSD can cause in people with schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is defined as broadly as a severe mental disorder characterized by some, but not necessarily all, of the following features: emotional blunting, intellectual deterioration, social isolation, disorganized speech and behavior, delusions, and hallucinations. A person with these symptoms doesnt need any more detachment from reality. The mental instability is only heightened with LSD.

Unfortunately, the appeal of drugs is especially potent for people that are lonely and detached from society. Their pre existing condition and effects of LSD makes for some devastating consequences. Most of us have herd stories of people committing suicide while on LSD and while no studies I have read conclusively link the two, according to the logic above, LSD will have a negative effect on someone with suicidal thoughts.

The most extensive study of the long-term effect of LSD comes from Drs. William H. McGlothlin and David O. Arnold. In the study the benefits listed were fairly consisting with the experience of the American Indians and popular figures I refered to. The studies respondents reported, more understanding of self; more tolerance of others; less egocentricity; a less materialistic and aggressive orientation; and more appreciation of music, art and nature But, the negative evidence against LSD comes from its unreliability to consistently provide those effects. Only 22 of the 247 respondents admitted to using LSD more than ten times after their initial experimentation. Only 3 formed a habit, in this case, once a week. What Mcglothlin and Arnold found is that users didnt develop long-term patterns of use. The drug couldnt consistently deliver the sought after effects because it is dependant on mood. Also the power of LSD is in its novelty. When the altered perceptions provided by LSD cease to be novel, they lose their ability to provide relief from the day-to-day ailments of life. The escape is no longer an escape.

The most damning caution against LSD, surprisingly, is not directly to its effects, which can be controlled but to its distribution which cannot. Because LSD is only available on the black market, those controlling supply have no pharmaceutical standards to comply with. The supplies could be easily contamination or might include other substances from Argot that were mistakenly included during processes of the black market chemist. LSD also requires a bulking agent to administer the miniscule quantity of LSD. Illicit Drug makers sometimes use amphetamines to bulk the drug and provide a more instantaneous kick before the effects of the LSD start. The bottom line is, you never know what you’re getting when you purchase a drug on the black market. It might be laced with harmful drugs. Or it might contain an unmanageable or toxic amount. There are no standards to ensure safe delivery (Breacher 375-380).

My personal aversion to LSD comes from a combination of factors. Obviously its against the law and subject to punishment in the form of fines, a criminal record or jail time. And as I’ve said, the black market is not a safe or reliable place to obtain the drug. But even if neither of these were true, I still wouldn’t use LSD. I’d rather develop a natural appreciation for art, music and nature as opposed to a chemically induced one. Second, I don’t trust that I could control the effects. And third, when I listen spokespeople for LSD like Timothy Leary, I don’t hear a wise man. I hear a crackpot. If LSD causes me to think like him, Ill abstain. The same idea applies to the Beatles, although I’ll still listen to their music.

Works Cited

  1. Breacher, Edward M. and Editors of Consumer Reports. Licit and Illict Drugs. Boston: Little, Brown Co, 1972
  2. Huxley, Aldous. The Doors of Perception and Heaven Hell. New York: HarperCollins, 2004
  3. Inverson, Leslie. Drugs: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford, 2001
  4. Leary, Timothy TIMOTHY LEARY DRUGS LSD. 6 Mar 2007. YouTube 10 Dec 2008.
  5. Stille, Alfred, M.D. Therapeutics and Materia Medica. Philadelphia: Henry C. Lea, 1868

Hi! My name is Matthew Halbe.

I'm a web developer working at Vistaprint in Silver Spring Maryland. I have four kids, August, Liesel, Levi and Clementine, and a wonderful wife, Dory.

I spent 6 years as an enlisted soldier in the Army before coming out to the DC area for school and work.

My main interests are web development, US-Iran Relations and documentary films.

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