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pharmacology: lysergic acid diethylamide (lsd)

Word on the Street:

Acid, blotter, California sunshine, microdot, trip, yellow sunshine, and many others. LSD can cause time and space distortions, emotional swings, and with higher doses, hallucinations. The effects can last from 8 to 10 hours

What is it?

Abbreviation of LYSERGIC ACID DIETHYLAMIDE, also called LYSERGIDE, potent synthetic hallucinogenic drug that can be derived from the ergot alkaloids (as ergotamine and ergonovine, principal constituents of ergot, the grain deformity and toxic infectant of flour caused by the fungus of grasses, Claviceps purpurea). LSD usually is prepared in the laboratory by chemical synthesis. Its basic chemical structure is similar to that of the ergot alkaloids. LSD also is related structurally to several other drugs (e.g., bufotenine, psilocybin, harmine, and ibogaine); all can block the action of serotonin (the indole amine transmitter of nerve impulses) in brain tissue. LSD is possibly the most used Hallucinogen in the US. It is also the most potent. Since it is so potent and easily dissolved, it is generally diluted and dissolved in liquid. Dealers can then package LSD by placing drops of solution onto a piece of absorbent paper (blotter paper) or a sugar cube, but it can also appear in pill form.

In the brain:

The first effect is generally a slight distortion of sensory perception: the user sees wavering images and a distortion of size. After that, with high doses, users can experience hallucinations ranging from simple color patterns to more complex scenes. Users often experience a confusion of senses and sometimes a feeling of profound understanding and enlightenment. As the drug effect wanes, users often feel a vague sense of otherworldliness and fatigue.

In the body:

LSD users begin by experiencing slight numbness, muscle weakness or trembling. There is a mild fight-or-flight response: heart rate and blood pressure increase a little and pupils dilate. Many users feel nauseous and/or dizzy. After that, users begin to feel a range of visual distortions and incoordination.

How it works:

It is believed that LSD's effect has something to do with the neurotransmitter serotonin. Scientists have found that there are two major groups of serotonin receptors. LSD acts on both classes, by blocking one while it stimulated the other. The serotonin group stimulated, serotonin 2, was found to be responsible for causing hallucinations. However, the research is still inconclusive, since other drugs (such as antidepressants) that increase serotonin levels in the brain do not seem to cause hallucinations.

The downside:

First, it is difficult to know whether one is definitely taking LSD, since it has been shown that about 50% of patients admitted to hospitals for LSD toxicity had actually been given other dangerous substances. Also, since it is synthesized in underground labs, LSD is often poorly synthesized and can contain other byproducts. LSD does not generally cause any dangerous physical reactions. However, the psychological consequences can be extreme. "Bad trips" are quite common. Mood shifts, time and space distortions and impulsive behavior can make the user increasingly suspicious of the intentions and motives of those around her and may act aggressively against them. However, there is no proof of any long term effects, or whether LSD can cause psychosis. On the other hand, the chance for flashbacks increases as the number of hallucinogenic experiences increases.

Kuhn, Cynthia, Scott Swartzwelder and Wilkie Wilson. Buzzed : the straight facts about the most used and abused drugs from alcohol to ecstasy. New York: W.W. Norton, 1998.

portions reprinted from:
"LSD" Britannica.com. Vers. 2001
1999-2001. Encyclopædia Britannica.
1 Sep. 2000

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