LSD is short for d-lysergic acid diethylamide, a psychotropic compound discovered by Albert Hoffman in the 1940s which he created by slightly changing a natural molecule found in a type of fungi (ergot fungus). Although technically it is not ‘natural’ it is derived from a chemical in nature so some consider it ‘semi-synthetic and sometimes it is considered to be in a similar category as ‘plant medicine’ compounds such as DMT and psilocybin by those who use it in wellness or therapeutic context. In the 1950s and 1960s LSD was used medicinally by mainstream medicine and over 1000 medical research papers were published on its use in psychotherapeutic settings to treat conditions ranging from addiction to depression with promising results. Unfortunately, due to the political ‘counterculture’ backlash and widespread recreational use, the US federal government banned its use even for research purposes, stalling research and medical use for over half a century until recently. Mainstream medicine and scientific research have restarted however and are currently investigating LSD in clinical trials to treat various conditions including headache disorders and mood disorders, although these are still in early stages.
LSD in classic doses produces a psychedelic experience, often known as a ‘trip’ which is highly individual but generally involves changes in perception in multiple ways, where how you think, see and feel can be dramatically different. For example, having visual hallucinations which classically people report things like patterns on wallpaper moving or changes in the way they think. These effects are dose-dependent. The effects of a ‘trip’ last for around 4 hours for the most intense part; more subtle aspects of the trip experience can last for up to 12-16 hours, making LSD a long-acting psychedelic compared with other compounds.
The ‘trip’ experience can be highly positive or even mystical for some people. It may also lead to a lift in the mood for days afterward for some people, which is why it is currently again under investigation for conditions such as depression and anxiety as it has become legal as a research molecule in many places once again. People can also experience meaningful insights that can be used for self-improvement and healing. However, a trip can also be overwhelming and even terrifying depending on the ‘set and setting’ and is highly dependent on the person’s expectations and state of mind when they go on their trip. For some, buried and possibly traumatic memories can come to the surface.
Whether the experience is positive or negative, enlightening or scary depends a lot on what is known as ‘set and setting.’ What this means is the mindset of the person, including factors like mental preparedness and expectations as well as your mood and emotional state when you take your trip. Part of the set would generally involve sitting down before your trip in the days leading up to the experience and taking time for quiet reflection the day before. Take time to ask yourself if there are any goals or self-information or insight you would like to gain or questions you would like to ask yourself. You may also think about any preconceived notions you have about the substance and the experience or any anxieties you may have around it. Ideally, these reflections are discussed before the trip with your guide or ‘sitter’ as a pre-trip debrief to help create the best ‘setting’ too. Setting refers to the environment, which generally should feel safe and supportive and include a ‘trip sitter’ who can watch out for you and if experienced, help guide you on your trip. Taking an LSD trip in a crowded nightclub with people you don’t know and with alcohol, for example, would be a bad setting vs. taking it in a safe uncluttered space where you may have access to nature would be considered a more therapeutic setting.
Regardless of whether the trip is perceived as positive or extremely challenging, most people report feeling mentally and/or physically drained for a day or two after the experience, in part potentially because of the long duration of action of LSD and the recovery period. Psychedelic doses of LSD for a starting range are typically between 25-100ug, with less than 10 ug considered ‘micro dosing ranges.
Risks & Cautions: LSD is illegal in many countries outside of a research context. It is currently not considered addictive, but it can produce intense experiences and hallucinations as a psychedelic, which can lead to unpredictable behavior during a trip or bring up traumatic buried memories. A ‘bad trip’ also known as a psychedelic crisis can also occur, but generally, these risks can be reduced by a therapeutic or supportive set and setting. Contrary to many myths surrounding LSD, the chance of ‘going crazy’ or triggering a psychotic episode is very low for most people after a single trip of LSD. However, it is higher for those who suffer currently or have in the past with a psychotic condition or have a close relative who has. Even if a psychotic episode is triggered in a high-risk individual, the risk of that episode becoming a chronic condition like schizophrenia is still very low.