Soniya, a Y13 student here at BHS has been researching the topic of drug addiction and has produced the following blog in preparation for her university interviews.
Here, let me ease you in…
Ever heard of the song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds? Well, you will have if you’re a true Beatles fan or maybe you know your drug slang cause this song title is one of many slang terms used for LSD as the song itself was believed to be about this drug (hence Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, LSD). Until Lennon later confirmed that the song was a response to a picture painted by his almost-four-year-old son, Julian. Cute! Also referred to as dot or acid, LSD is one of the most dangerous drugs within the category of not currently having an accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Only tiny amounts of LSD are needed to gain an effect which is why the standard units of drug measurements (milligrams/ grams) are replaced with micrograms (which is 1/100000th of a grain of sand) as less than 70 micrograms can induce an effect on an individual.
Let’s go back to the accidental origin story of LSD…
LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide) is a derivative of ergot, a fungus that infects rye and wheat. Ergot can affect the nervous system, digestive system, or cardiovascular system, constricting the blood vessels. This can lead to gangrene, which is when tissues die due to a lack of oxygen. Small doses of ergot were however used in the past to aid childbirth by quickening the delivery and stopping the bleeding afterwards. This practice was first recorded in 1532 and despite the thousands that it killed in the Middle Ages due to the side effects such as uterine rupture, this practice was continued till 1828.
Albert Hofmann was a Swiss chemist whose most well-known achievement was arguably the discovery of the LSD drug while trying to isolate the alkaloid, ergot, with the motive of establishing medication that doesn’t have death-defying side effects. It was during his work on the ergot fungus that he stumbled on LSD, accidentally ingesting a trace of the compound that remained on his fingertip one Friday afternoon in April 1943. This might be a good time to debunk the myth that the LSD was absorbed through his skin. Lies, I tell you! Soon he experienced an altered state of consciousness like the one he had experienced as a child. His statement reads:
‘Last Friday, April 16, 1943, I was forced to interrupt my work in the laboratory in the middle of the afternoon and proceed home, being affected by a remarkable restlessness, combined with a slight dizziness. At home I lay down and sank into a not unpleasant intoxicated-like condition, characterised by an extremely stimulated condition. In a dreamlike state, with eyes closed, I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colours. After some two hours this condition faded away’.
April 16 is now known as bicycle day, the first recorded LSD trip by good old Albert.
Studies show that hallucinogens like LSD work on serotonin receptors in the brain called 5-HT2A receptors. The LSD hits the receptor at an unexpected angle causing it to fold over and create a lid. The LSD is trapped making the receptor continuously fire thus causing a hallucination. The body’s response to this rapid firing is sucking the 5-TH2A receptor into the cell in order to degrade the LSD but this can take up to 12+ hours resulting in long-lasting highs. Clare Stanford, a psychopharmacologist at University College London, believes that serotonin helps keep a handle on perception and stops us from hallucinating. This can be explained by the DMN, a network of interacting brain regions that is active when a person is not focused on the outside world. LSD decreases the blood flow in the default mode network (DMN) correlating in strong changes in consciousness characterised by ego-dissolution a feeling where the boundary that separates you from the rest of the world dissolves.
“The drug can also cause synaesthesia, a condition which happens naturally in a small percentage of the population, where your senses get mixed up and you start smelling colours and tasting sounds,” says Dr Stanford.
LDS is considered a non-addictive drug despite the potential to become dependent on the sights, sounds and revelations that can be experiences while under the influence of a trip. Development of a tolerance or psychological dependence to acid can result from long-term use of this drug. If this drug is taken regular in the span of several days a tolerance can develop within as little as a week and at this point no significant changes occur to an individual’s metal state if additional doses are taken.
One of the potential consequences taking LSD is developing hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD). This long lasting and potentially lifelong syndrome is characterized geometric hallucinations, perceiving movement in peripheral visual fields, macropsia¸ afterimage, reoccurring perceptual disturbances reminiscent of ones generated while subjected to intoxication of hallucinogen. There is no relationship between HDDP, and amount of substance used. There have been documented cases of prolonged, intense use causing negative side effects such as paranoia or psychosis.
The mice depression has been resolved! Yes, you heard me. It started with Hoffman experiments combining lysergic acid with other molecules. The 25th combination was resulted from the reaction between lysergic acid and dimethylamine and the compound was abbreviated to LDS- 25. Hoffman trailed LSD-25 on animals including mice and found it made them highly excited.
Scientists have also trailed drugs based on LSD and concluded its ability to treat depression in mice without the psychedelic trip giving it potential for a role as an antidepressant in modern medicine
Animal testing does of course have its downsides like this one carried out in 1962 at the University of Oklahoma with the intention of discovering whether LSD will induce a condition known as musth in Tusko (a popular name given to elephants in captivity). This condition is naturally occurring in all bull elephants, it is considered a period of heightened testosterone production and high aggression. Tusko collapsed within five minutes under influence and died under 2 hours later.
Macropsia – a neurological condition in which objects within affected section appear larger than normal
Afterimage – visual illusion in which retinal impressions persist after the removal of a stimulus, believed to be caused by the continued activation of the visual system.