The History of LSD

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  • 0:01 Invention of LSD
  • 1:54 Early Use of LSD
  • 3:49 Banning LSD
  • 5:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ashley Dugger

Ashley is an attorney. She has taught and written various introductory law courses.

LSD stands for lysergic acid diethylamide. It's a hallucinogenic drug that was popularized in the 1960s, though it's been around since the late 1930s. This lesson traces the history of LSD.

Invention of LSD

Words like 'trippy' and 'psychedelic' became popular in the 1960s and were often used when talking about acid or LSD. LSD is a hallucinogenic street drug formally known as lysergic acid diethylamide. LSD is a synthetic drug, meaning it's an artificial compound made in a lab. However, it's manufactured using ergot, which is a fungus that naturally grows on certain grains.

LSD was first produced in 1938 by a Swiss pharmaceutical company. It was developed to work as a stimulant drug. Stimulant drugs were popular during that time period. They were touted for improving breathing and circulation in order to give the user extra mental clarity, energy, and stamina. This particular formula for LSD was set aside because it wasn't quite as effective as the company hoped.

Several years later, the developing chemist accidentally ingested a small quantity of the LSD. That's when LSD's hallucinogenic qualities came to light. Hallucinogenic drugs are drugs that cause hallucinations, or intense distortions in the user's perceptions of reality.

Hallucinogenic drugs affect the user's brain to make the user see, hear, feel, taste, or smell things that aren't there. The result is sometimes compared to a dream-like state. The chemist described the experience as 'an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscope-like play of colors.'

Early Use of LSD

These new discoveries led to interest in LSD as a possible treatment for schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. Within a few years, the Swiss company marketed LSD as a cure for all sorts of mental and behavioral disorders, using the name Delysid. When Delysid hit the U.S. market in 1948, it was touted as a cure for everything from alcoholism to criminal behavior.

LSD seemed promising. During the 1950s, U.S. military and intelligence organizations considered the possibility of using LSD as a chemical weapon. This meant LSD showed potential to be used as a device, produced using chemicals, and formulated in order to kill, harm, or incapacitate others. LSD could debilitate enemy forces if unwittingly ingested. However, there were difficulties in growing enough ergot to produce the necessary quantities of LSD.

The high hopes for LSD soon faded. Though LSD was used extensively in psychiatric experiments throughout the next two decades, experts failed to ever establish a legitimate medical use for the drug. Instead, LSD became a popularly abused recreational drug. Researchers and students with access to and experience with LSD hyped its unusual qualities to friends, and it soon found its way into the 1960s drug culture. Prevalent figures, like Harvard University's Dr. Timothy Leary, helped popularize LSD. He publicly hyped its psychedelic effects and encouraged young, curious, and adventurous minds to experiment with it.

Banning LSD

By 1966, the Swiss company stopped producing LSD, and by 1967, the U.S. halted military and intelligence experiments using the drug.

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