Las Vegas has always been known as the city of sin, and the movie Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas corroborates this belief. From drug experimentation to gambling, this movie portrays a surprisingly thoughtful glance into the mind of addiction and of drug usage. Though various drugs were used in this movie, psychedelics seemed to be the drugs of choice for the characters. The focus of this paper is to define the hallucinogens by using it’s most popular member, LSD. After LSD has been adequately defined, a comparison of the drug and the portrayal of the drug in this movie will be Before LSD is outlined, here is a brief introduction to the movie in case you haven’t seen it yet. The movie is set in the early seventies, and the main character is sent to Las Vegas to write an article on an annual motorcycle race. Under the advice of his estranged lawyer, both ride out to Las Vegas in a non-stop LSD and mescaline trip. Not only are these two drugs abused, but other drugs such as ether, cocaine, marijuana, Thorazine, and a variety of uppers and downers are also abused. As the main character experiments with the different drugs, the audience can hear his thoughts as they ramble from extreme paranoia to thoughtful insights. This aspect of the movie is important because along with great special effects and distorted sounds, it is a fairly realistic view into the thoughts and actions of a person on a psychedelic drug. To better describe these thoughts and actions, here is an explanation of LSD and it’s effects on the body. The history of LSD doesn’t go back very far. It’s full name is lysergic acid diethylamide, and it was synthesized for the first time in 1938 by Albert Hofmann in Basel, Switzerland, who was looking for a blood stimulant. It was basically untouched until five years later, when Hofmann accidentally experienced a small amount during a routine synthesis. It was at this time that the psychoactive elements were made known.
The first article on LSD was written by Werner Stoll in the Swiss Archives of Neurology in 1947. During the early 1950’s the CIA became aware of the drug, and organized the infamous Project MK-Ultra, which led to the suicide of a patient who was given LSD. Use of LSD rose rapidly until 1967, when it was banned federally by the U.S. government. On October 27, 1970, the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act was passed, which made hallucinogens a Schedule 1 drug. LSD use tapered off until the nineties, where a resurgence of the drug is occurring, especially among adolescent use. Pure LSD is a white, odorless crystalline powder that is soluble in water. It can be administered to the body in several ways, the most common being oral ingestion through paper, sugar cubes, gelatin, or by pill. LSD may also be administered intravenously, intramuscularly, or smoked. After the drug enters the body, it normally takes between 15 minutes to an hour for the psychoactive properties to take effect. Once the “trip” begins, it will continue for an average of six to eight hours. A typical dosage of LSD is around 150 – 300 micrograms, and the effects of the drug depend on several factors: the manner in which the drug is taken the circumstances in which the drug is taken These factors are especially important with LSD, because the effects on any user, or even the same user at a different time, are difficult to predict. The normal physical reactions to LSD usually include dilated pupils, lowered body temperature, nausea, goose bumps, profuse perspiration, muscle weakness and trembling, impaired motor skills and coordination, lose of appetite, increased blood sugar, and a rapid heart rate.
The initial effects begin with a feeling of euphoria and dizziness, followed by pseudo-hallucinations. Pseudo-hallucinations are hallucinations that the user is aware of but knows isn’t real. In the hallucinatory state, distortions of time and distance occur, accompanied by a distorted perception of the size and shape of objects, movements, color, sound, touch, and the user’s own body image. The body’s senses become fused together, explaining why users are able to see music and hear colors. Usually feelings of a mystical or cosmic nature fill the person taking LSD, and reflections on the self and the world Adverse effects of LSD are feelings of paranoia, fear, anxiety, and depression. These reactions are indications of a “bad trip”. In these “bad trips”, the pseudo-hallucinations give way to terrifyingly true hallucinations that the user can’t control or stop. These hallucinations sometimes result in violence, homicide, or suicide. There are no reported deaths of exclusive LSD overdose, but cases of suicides that occurred while the individual was intoxicated with LSD have taken place. Tests on chromosomal damage that may be linked to LSD are still being studied, but there is no significant proof to support this hypothesis.
The most common adverse effect of LSD are the flashbacks that may occur after prolonged LSD usage. The flashbacks experienced are often visual images ranging from formless colors to frightening hallucinations. The cause of these flashbacks are still unknown, but researchers do know that these usually occur after an LSD user smokes Tolerance to LSD’s hallucinatory and physical effects develop rapidly, making larger amounts of the drug necessary to produce the same effects. If the drug is taken consecutively over a period of days, no amount of LSD will cause any significant change in the mood of the user. Also, if the drug is discontinued for a period of days, the hallucinatory and physical properties occur again, even in small doses. There is no physical dependence to LSD, but a few users develop a psychological dependence to the drug. The production of LSD has been done illegally since the 1960’s. A limited number of chemists, the DEA thinks less than a dozen, are believed to be manufacturing nearly all of the LSD available in the United States. These chemists, or “cooks” as they are referred to, are located somewhere in Northern California in or near San Francisco. LSD commonly is produced from lysergic acid, which is made from ergotamine tartrate, a substance derived from an ergot fungus on rye, or from lysergic acid amide, a chemical found in morning glory seeds. Lysergic acid and lysergic acid amide are both classified in Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act.
Only a small amount of ergotamine tartrate is required to produce LSD in large batches, so this makes it even harder for law agencies to stop the process. The “cooking” of LSD is very time consuming, taking from 2 to 3 days to produce 1 to 4 ounces of the crystalline powder. Impurities are often found in the finished product, especially those cooked up by independent people who are selling to their limited location. These impurities don’t change the effects of the LSD, but it will usually lower the potency of it. Scientists are still uncertain of the mechanism of action of LSD and other psychedelics, but the following is a popular belief held by scientists that is found in Biological Mechanisms by S.J. Watson. “LSD acts to preferentially inhibit serotonergic cell firing and seems to spare postsynaptic serotnergic receptors. This preference is shared by other similar hallucinogens but in a limited fashion. Nonhallucinogenic analogs of LSD show no preference. These results suggest that there are two different steric conformation of serotonergic receptors, one of which has higher affinity for LSD than the other. In general, 5-ht is an inhibitory transmitter; thus, when its activity is decreased, the next neuron in the chain is freed from inhibition and becomes more active.
Since serotnergic systems appear to be intimately involved in the control of sensation, sleep, attention, and mood, it may be possible to explain the actions of LSD and other hallucinogens by their disinhibition of these critical systems.” Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas was an extremely realistic view of the mind on acid. Of the few films that I’ve seen in relation to LSD, all of them treated the drug as if it was all fun and games. What I really liked about this movie was that it didn’t dwell on kaleidoscope shapes and colors to portray LSD usage, but instead focused in on the mental struggles that the user undergoes during the experience. Several bizarre behaviors occur in the movie, but they weren’t primarily used as jokes. Instead it was more of an intense feeling about the understanding of the drug. As I stated earlier, the thoughts of the main character while he was on the drugs was made present to the audience, so as he would describe the drug, the audience could see what he sees, hear what he was hearing with the distorted soundtrack, and then feel what he was thinking as he would explain his emotions. All together it made for a very believable trip, and for those who have taken acid before, a reflection, or flashback if you will, of their unusual thoughts and reactions On the effects of LSD, all were shown in this movie. The main character experienced several hallucinations throughout the movie. One was when he thought bats were attacking his convertible, another being when the hotel check-in clerk’s face became extremely distorted, and looked similar to a lizard. He was also often seen shaking and full of perspiration. The main character experienced the artistic insights, and he would document them in his writings. Not only did the movie show the normal side of LSD, it also showed the adverse side as well. There were many scenes where the two men thought the cops were coming for them and experienced extreme paranoia about this all through the movie.
One of the characters also had a terribly “bad trip”, as he threatened to kill his friend, himself, and a waitress they met This movie has made a great impact for me on the comprehension of LSD and other psychedelics. My perspective on LSD changed drastically. I once viewed this drug as a way to embark on a spiritual journey. That’s all I knew about the drug and all I really wanted to know. After watching the movie, I saw the huge contrast in my thinking compared to the portrayal of the drug in the movie. As I was doing the research on LSD, I found out about the negative consequences that may occur after ingestion. Even though it isn’t an addictive drug, reading the case studies and journals of what people can do while on this drug put a little fear in me. To end on the note, you won’t see me swatting at bats with a fly-swatter anytime soon.