If someone were to ask you to name top five most dangerous drugs in the world, which drugs would you name? Depending on your background or experiences, you may name drugs like heroin, prescription painkillers, benzodiazepines, cocaine, or even alcohol, all of which are considered extremely dangerous for a number of reasons. The point of this exercise is to show that many individuals don’t often think about the various hallucinogens that exist. Due to the nature of their effects, hallucinogens haven’t reached the level of mainstream use as substances like alcohol and, more recently, heroin; however, hallucinogens like LSD are extremely dangerous and warrant deep conversation. Specifically, people should know what LSD is, what its effects are, and about its addictive or habit-forming properties.
Many of the mind-altering substances used today — such as alcohol, marijuana, and opiates — have been an ongoing presence throughout much of human history. For instance, both alcohol and opium use extend back at least several thousands of years. In fact, there are even some hallucinogens that have a long human history, too; for instance, the use of hallucinogenic substances derived from mushrooms have been part of the shamanic rituals of a number of primitive tribes. The synthetic hallucinogens — those that were man-made in a laboratory setting — are relatively new with a comparatively short history, which is the case with LSD.
Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) was first synthesized by Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann in late 1938, but it wasn’t until five years later that the full extent of the drug’s psychoactive properties was discovered. At the time, Hofmann was researching respiratory and circulatory stimulants, so when his experiments using lysergic acid yielded LSD, he set the substance aside for a time to continue his search for a stimulant drug. In fact, it was when he accidentally resynthesized the drug and inadvertently absorbed some of it through his bare fingertips that he discovered LSD’s effects firsthand, inspiring keen interest in the bizarre new substance.
According to Hofmann, the experience of LSD was like “a remarkable restlessness, combined with a slight dizziness…. I sank into a not unpleasant intoxicated-like condition, characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination. In a dream-like state, with eyes closed, I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shape with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors. After about two hours this condition faded away.”
After his initial experience with LSD, Hofmann conducted an intentional experiment on himself by ingesting what he felt to be a threshold dose; in hindsight, Hofmann ingested what we currently consider to be more than ten times an actual threshold dose of LSD. On a bike ride home, Hofmann’s condition deteriorated due to the large dose of LSD, which caused him to intermittently believe he’d been poisoned or that his neighbor was a witch. Upon examination, his doctor found there was nothing wrong with him aside from his incredibly dilated pupils. This event would come to be known as Bicycle Day, an ongoing celebration that originated in 1985 in Illinois.
Hofmann continued to experiment with LSD and many other teams experimented with the drug around the world, too. Even the C.I.A. conducted experiments with LSD via Project MKUltra; the government agency was researching mind-control and was testing LSD on unwitting participants, adding LSD to their drinks and observing their reactions. Of course, the project was shut down in the 1960s. Meanwhile, LSD came to be strongly associated with the psychedelic youth counterculture of the late 1960s and early 1970s, during which time the drug gained a cult following. There were also a number of renowned psychologists who conducted experiments with the drug, showing just how keen the interest in the drug had become.
Today, the subject of LSD evokes the psychedelic counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s, but the drug is still used by recreational users even today. For the most part, LSD and other hallucinogens have become much less popular than other drugs, particularly depressants like alcohol and opiates, which have become especially problematic in recent years. But it’s important to note that LSD is still around and is still used today.
As a hallucinogen, the effects of LSD are quite different from those of other drugs, including stimulants, depressants, and opiates. When a person imbibes LSD, he or she typically experiences either an increase or decrease in body temperature, dilated pupils, intermittent sweating and cold chills, insomnia, shaking or trembling of hands, a sense of euphoria, distortions in perceptions of space and time, impaired depth perception, paranoia, anxiety, possibly panic attacks, sudden and seemingly irrational fears, visual and/or auditory hallucinations, severe depression, and occasionally symptoms of psychosis.
Being a hallucinogenic drug, LSD isn’t abused at the same level of magnitude as drugs like heroin and alcohol. The primary reason for this is because LSD effectively impairs normal functioning while other substances will still allow a person to function at a mostly-normal level (assuming that the dosage isn’t too high). For instance, a person addicted to heroin will use a limited amount of heroin before going to work so that he or she won’t be experiencing withdrawal symptoms at his or her job, but he or she also won’t be so high from the heroin that the individual can’t function at his or her job. By comparison, a person would be virtually unable to function on the job while under the influence of LSD, which limits the level to which a person can become dependent on the drug.
Although it’s not addictive in the traditional sense, the frequent use of LSD does have consequences. Since the drug completely alters a person’s mood, cognitive ability, and overall perceptions of reality, the frequent use of LSD could cause lasting damage to one’s brain. However, the most common scenarios that frequent LSD users experience are called “flashbacks”. These are instances when, due to the build-up of LSD in the body, a user may randomly experience brief LSD ‘trips’ where he or she will feel as if under the influence of LSD although the individual hadn’t actually ingested the drug. Therefore, while the use of LSD at all is strongly discouraged, it’s especially dangerous to use the drug with any level of frequency.
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