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The history of LSD

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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

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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.

Addiction Research Foundation (1991). Facts About LSD. [Online]

Cohen, S. (1960). Lysergic Acid Diethylamide: Side Effects and

Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. 130: 30-40

Drug Free Resource Net (1999). LSD [Online] Available:


Gilliam, T. (Director). (1980). Gilliam [Film]. Universal.

Hofmann, A. (1983). LSD — My Problem Child. Los Angeles: J.P.

Inaba, Darryl S., Cohen, William E. & Holstein, Michael E. (1997).

Uppers, Downers, All-Arounders. (3rd ed.). Oregon: CNS Publications INC.

Keeler, Martin H. & Reifler, Clifford B. (1967. January 7). Suicide

During an LSD Reaction. American Journal of Psychiatry. 123: 884-885.

Loughman, W.D., Sargent, T.W. & Isrealstam, D.M. (1967, October

27) Leukocytes of Humans Exposed to Lysergic Acid Diethylamide: Lack of

Chromosomal Damage. Science. 158:508-510

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. (1997). Drugs Of Abuse –


Wesson, D.R. & Smith, D.E. (1976). An Analysis of Psychedelic

Flashbacks. American Journal Of Drug And Alcohol Abuse. 3: 425-435

Cite this The history of LSD

The history of LSD. (2018, Jun 26). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/the-history-of-lsd/

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