One of the peculiar figures in the story of LSD was a man named Al Hubbard whose personal history seems more like fiction rather than fact.
Part bootlegging felon from Kentucky and part sophisticated CIA operative, Hubbard took an interest in LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) in 1951 when his lift felt bereft of meaning despite his wealth.
Within a few years, Hubbard altered the course of psychedelic history.
Convinced that the LSD drug was “something tremendously important to the future of mankind”, he used his considerable influence to acquire a liter bottle of LSD from the manufacturer.
From 1951 to 1966 Hubbard introduced an estimated 6,000 people to the psychedelic including some of the most famous minds of the 20th century . For this he’d receive the moniker “Johnny Appleseed of LSD”.
Alongside such famous names as Timothy Leary, Hubbard forever changed the perception of this chemical and that of all psychedelics.
Today the usage of LSD is less taboo and a scientific renaissance is reversing some of the misinformation produced in previous decades.
What is LSD (and What Makes it Special)?
LSD is the short term for lysergic acid diethylamide, which is a semi-synthetic psychedelic compound derived from lysergic acid (LSA) from an ergot fungus.
Unlike many other classic psychedelics, LSD is highly psychoactive even at low doses. This makes it easy to use, travel with, and experience transformation.
Similar to psilocybin mushrooms, peyote (mescaline), and DMT (ayahuasca), the LSD compound interacts with the serotonin system in the brain and specifically the 5-HT 2A receptor .
This is one reason why LSD trips might last longer than other psychedelics.
In the scientific community there is a running joke that psilocybin is easier to study than LSD because the researchers can actually go home at night and get some rest!
The Discovery and Controversy of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide
The story goes that Albert Hofmann, a Swiss scientist working for Sandoz Pharmaceutical company, discovered the LSD drug on November 16, 1938 while searching for medical applications.
It wasn’t until 5 years later on April 19, 1943 when Hofmann “accidentally” used the substance and started feeling the psychoactive effects while riding his bike home on that day.
One researcher named Stanislav Grof conducted numerous studies in what is now the Czech Republic concluding that the potential of psychedelics for psychiatry was comparable to the microscope for medicine or telescope for astronomy .
Stanislav Grof was at the forefront of the early psychiatric work with psychedelics, but dozens of other therapists found LSD to be valuable to better understand their patients.
By 1960 there were over 25,000 psychedelic sessions using LSD as a treatment.
A scientist named Sidney Cohen analyzed the safety profile of lysergic acid diethylamide and found it superior to any of the existing work at the time .
Despite the overwhelmingly positive evidence of LSD (which became the poster child for psychedelics in general), the Counterculture movement began to shift perceptions of the government and power structures.
Alongside Hubbard, the other most controversial figure in the psychedelic movement of the 1960s was Timothy Leary.
Once absurdly dubbed “the most dangerous man in America” by president Nixon, his introductions to psychedelics started out modest enough.
Founding the Harvard Psilocybin Project as a precocious psychology student, Leary introduced hundreds of “participants” to psilocybin mushrooms.
When he ran afoul with Harvard, he simply moved on to advocating usage of other substances and specifically LSD.
As reporting became increasingly hostile towards LSD, mass hysteria suggesting psychedelics drove people crazy became the norm.
In an unprecedented change of public opinion (which was scientifically baseless) LSD started to become public enemy #1 during the late 1960s and 70s.
A Modern Renaissance: LSD Studies
Despite the fallout from the culture war in the 1960s and 70s, modern researchers are renewing efforts with psychedelics and LSD in particular.
After many decades when psychedelic research was banned, scientists are using new technologies like fMRI brain scans to better understand how LSD works and the benefits of the substance.
At Imperial College London the prohibition of psychedelic research was in the same place it was everywhere else in the world, but that didn’t stop Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris.
He became the first scientist to study LSD in human subjects in 40 years and specifically looked at fMRI data on the compound .
What he found (and continues to find) has shocked the establishment and led to further research on LSD.
Unfortunately, the research on LSD is lagging behind other compounds like psilocybin mushrooms or dimethyltryptamine (DMT) in ayahuasca.
These other psychedelics don’t have the same stigma or associations and with people purporting “natural” benefits, scientists seem reluctant to try their luck with LSD as much as the other substances.
Nonetheless, the old research on LSD makes the benefits quite clear and modern scientific methods are slowly but surely proving this true.
LSD Effects and Potential Benefits
Compared with other psychedelics, LSD is highly potent requiring no more than 75 – 150 micrograms (mcg) to produce “acid trips”.
A lower dose of 5 – 15 mcg is considered sub perceptual (depending on the person) and is being tested in microdosing applications .
Most of the scientific literature focuses on the benefits of LSD in certain conditions including:
Studies on alcoholics consistently suggest that a single dose could reduce the consumption of alcohol .
In fact, Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous was an avid LSD advocate even suggesting the organization organize experiences for members as therapy .
The studies today are slowly starting to roll out. The Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Sciences (MAPS) organized a pilot study of LSD-assisted psychotherapy with 12 participants in Switzerland .
While research continues to come in, the old research from the 1950s is being perused by avid researchers and scientists.
Physical sensations include heightened visual phenomena (visions of flashing lights, geometrical figures, and illusory transformation of the environment).
The sensation of time is distorted and some thought processes are accelerated while others depressed.
As many LSD psychonauts will attest, logical and abstract thinking is possible though sometimes challenging (especially to communicate) .
While the applications for sick individuals are being tested in a laboratory setting (and are most likely to receive approval from governmental organizations), what interests many LSD users is the possibility of enhancing performance.
Mystical Experiences and Enhancing Wellbeing Using LSD
When scientists had more freedom to study LSD the results were inspiring.
While some researchers might wince at the “results”, the International Foundation for Advanced Study (IFAS) made some interesting finds.
According to their papers, 78% of clients increased their ability to love, 71% noted increased self-esteem, 83% experienced a glimpse of a “higher power” during their LSD trip .
The dose for these experiences does matter. According to a visual representation of the effects of LSD, higher doses provide something different:
It is clear from research with psilocybin and other psychedelics that this family of drugs can create a “mystical experience”.
Indeed, LSD is a modern variation of LSA, which may have been used in ancient Greece (and presumably other parts of the Mediterranean) in the Eleusinian Mysteries rituals, which often created a mystical type experience .
Is LSD Safe?
No matter how many benefits are involved with a compound like LSD, safety is always first.
Lysergic acid diethylamide has been researched heavily for many decades and a 2008 meta-analysis of all the literature showed there were no fatal overdoses of LSD attributed to LSD .
Not is LSD safe at high doses, but according to scientists in the United Kingdom, the danger of LSD and similar drugs is much lower than that of marijuana, caffeine or alcohol:
As we will describe below, the “set and setting” of psychedelic and LSD drug usage matters.
The chemical compound itself may not create many negative side effects (besides discomfort), but being in an unsafe environment can create danger.
This is one reason to be conscious of where and when you are taking any kind of psychedelic.
There are dangers associated with getting the wrong compound, which is an unfortunate side effect of the war on drugs and the illegal nature of LSD.
While it is rare, there have been some problems with a substitute drug called 25I-NBOMe, which is similarly disorienting, but toxic at higher doses .
Finally, there are some myths that need to be dispelled on the safety of LSD.
Many of these were formed during the hysteria of the 1960s and 70s when scientific inquiry into the drugs was stopped, but journalists kept publishing anecdotal, poorly evidenced pieces.
One myth is that LSD is laced with poisons (like strychnine), but this has been unsubstantiated.
In fact, research suggests out of 581 samples of street LSD there were 84.5% that contained LSD, 6.9% containing PCP, and 0.9% containing some form of amphetamine.
How to Use Lysergic Acid Diethylamide
Using lysergic acid diethylamide is still considered illegal in the United States and most other countries. If you plan on using the substance, there are a few things to be mindful of in order to protect yourself.
For one, anyone with a history of mental illness or schizophrenia should be evaluated by a professional before undergoing any kind of LSD trip.
We highly suggest anyone with these conditions use psychedelics and definitely not alone.
For all the grief that Timothy Leary receives for his part in the banning of psychedelics, many attribute his work on “set and setting” to be the most important contribution that he made.
His observations in the lab suggest that having a specific standard operating procedure for the experiences could make sure the subjects were safe and consistently having (mostly) positive outcomes .
Because “set and setting” so important, sometimes using psychedelics in a retreat setting can prove highly valuable.
Oyasin has developed such a retreat setting called Schema where you can experience these psychedelic substances in a legal and safe way.
- Michael Pollan. How to Change Your Mind. Pg. 167.
- Stanislav Grof. LSD: Doorway to the Numinous. Pg. 32.
- Ibid., Pg. XXV – XXVI.
- Stanislav Grof. LSD: Doorway to the Numinous. Pg. 8.
- Michael Pollan. How to Change Your Mind. Pg. 152-153.
- Stanislav Grof. LSD: Doorway to the Numinous. Pg. 10-12.
- Michael Pollan. How to Change Your Mind. Pg. 178.
- Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal. Stealing Fire.
- Michael Pollan. How to Change Your Mind. Pg. 190.