Last week I was at the pub with my partner when we bumped into a friend of ours who was being his usual jolly self, quick witted, laughing, chatty, the life of the party. We didn’t think anything of it because that’s his usual behaviour. But in between dancing and joking around he blurted “I took acid tonight, but I’m not tripping or anything”.
I later asked my partner “Do you think he was joking?”. “Who knows” he said “I wouldn’t rule out anything with him.”
I’ve learnt that something I shouldn’t rule out when it comes to our jolly friend is depression or some other mental illness. Not many people can maintain a constantly upbeat exterior and self medication can be a way to keep it up. One recreational drug becoming increasingly popular for this purpose in very small microdoses, is LSD.
LSD (Lysergic Acid Diethylamide) is a psychedelic drug made from ergot, a fungus that grows on rye and other grains. It was first synthesised by the Swiss scientist Albert Hoffman in 1938, but it was in 1943 that he accidentally ingested it and discovered the altered state of consciousness that LSD could bring on. He famously rode his bicycle home and now Bicycle Day is celebrated every year in honour of Hoffman’s discovery. Between 1947 and 1953 there were over 30 scientific publications about LSD. In 1954 scientists discovered a structural relationship between LSD and Serotonin, a natural chemical in the body that acts as a mood stabiliser. It was thought that LSD might interfere with the actions of serotonin in the brain and that’s what could cause the mind altering effects on the brain.
Then along came the counter culture movement of the 1960s. After Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (who later became Ram Dass) were fired from the Psychology Department Harvard University for their unorthodox methods while studying the hallucinogenic Psilocybin, Leary coined the iconic slogan “Tune in, Turn on, Drop out”. Psychedelic drugs were being used to treat alcoholism, OCD, schizophrenia, depression, end of life anxiety, autism, and to enhance creativity at the time. However the US government didn’t like counter culture hippies using psychedelic drugs recreationally, so by 1970 LSD was outlawed. Medical research on the drug also ceased.
Fast forward to 2017 where taking microdoses (usually 10 to 20 micrograms) of LSD is becoming more commonplace amongst young professional people in order to enhance creativity, energy and alertness, reduce stress and anxiety and improve sleep. It has become popular in Silicon Valley amongst tech wizards. Even Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are said to have experimented with LSD.
Medical research on the drugs has recently opened up again. A study in 2016 at Imperial College London found that psychedelic drugs increase communication between areas of the brain that don’t regularly communicate with each other, and decrease in areas of the brain that do communicate regularly, leading to an altered state of consciousness. Participants also reported a sense of reconnection with themselves, others and the outside world, known as ‘ego-dissolution’. This led to an increased sense of well-being even after the drug’s effects had subsided.
Combining LSD with music caused participants to experience more complex visions and hallucinations. That may explain why tripping hippies had such a great time at Woodstock in 1969.
There is hope of finding therapeutic uses for LSD and other psychedelic drugs thanks to research opening up after decades of legal restrictions. As with the counter culture of the 1960s, underground drug users aren’t waiting. Microdosing is happening now.