Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) is classified as a psychedelics drug that alters mood and perception. LSD is synthesized chemically from ergot fungus and has been used for recreational and medicinal purposes. LSD is orally consumed where it dissolves under the tongue, injected or smoked. The effect of the drugs occurs 30 minutes after consumption and are referred to as trips. LSD effects include; dilation of pupils, mood and perception change, sweating and chills, irregular heartbeat and euphoria. However, bad trips occur whose effects include delusions, increased anxiety, paranoia, increased fear of losing identity and hallucinations (Hartney, 2020). LSD is classified as a schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substance Act. The thesis for this paper states, the banning and classification of LSD as a schedule 1 drug was motivated by moral panic rather than medically proven facts.
Development and Prohibition
LSD was discovered in 1942 by Albert Hoffman, a Swiss chemist researching migraines. Hoffman was on an assignment to produce a stimulant when he accidentally ingested the LSD-25. He later ingested a larger dose of the drug consisting of 250 micrograms and accidentally had the first acid trip in the world (ITV News, 2018). Albert described the experience as an intense, kaleidoscopic play of colours and an extremely distorted sense of perception. Upon ingestion, the only side effect was dilated pupils. Afterwards, Hoffman felt an increased quality of life and improved sense of wellbeing. This led to the onset of experimentation with the drug among scientists. Sandoz, the pharmaceutical company Hoffman was working for, began distributing LSD 25 for free to scientists worldwide in open-source research where the scientists were obligated to report their findings (LSD, 2018). This ushered in the era of experimental health research and treatment starting in the mid-1940s.
LSD was particularly used in psychotherapy and as a treatment for schizophrenia (LSD – Alcohol and Drug Foundation, 2020). In 1947, Sandoz patented LSD and began selling it as a treatment for all mental conditions. However, extensive research continued through the 1950s on psychedelics as a treatment for various mental illness. The results were promising where the treatment of alcoholism with LSD led to an efficacy level of 50% (Fuentes, Fonseca, Elices, Farré, & Torrens, 2020). Therapists used LSD to stimulate the patient subconsciousness thus were able to help patients who have a severe mental illness. According to the research in the 1950s, LSD had the potential of reducing anxiety and depression (Kyzar, Nichols, Gainetdinov, Nichols, & Kalueff, 2017). The research progress on LSD as a treatment for mental health illness led to the military and the Criminal Intelligence Agency (CIA) testing the drug on military personnel, unsuspecting civilians and prisoners (Gross, 2019). The CIA was particularly worried about the perceived Soviet and Chinese breakthroughs in brainwashing and mind control, establishing their program, Project MK-ULTRA. The CIA believed the drug could be used to control minds and as a truth serum, thus used uncontrolled testing methods on civilians and during interrogations (Grant, 2015). However, the project was deemed to be dangerous and shut down in 1964.
Influence of Moral Panic on Drug Ban
In the 1960s, people began using LSD for recreational and spiritual use. Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, two Harvard psychologists, were the most prominent LSD researchers in this era. The researchers conducted experiments on faculty students by sharing LSD to explore alternative modes of consciousness. They preached about the drug’s mental health benefits through the slogan, turn on, turn in and drop out. In the 1960s, the Federal Drug Agency (FDA) curtailed studies of all investigational new drugs, including LSD; thus, the testing of all experimental medicines was subject to stringent guidelines. However, the drug had already slipped from the hands of therapists and state agencies into the pockets of the counterculture. The counterculture began manufacturing LSD, thus leading to widespread use (Jarnow, 2016). The Beatles, Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane popularized the drug through music, and LCD became the symbol of counterculture.
Members of the counterculture popularly known as hippies began challenging traditional forms of society, especially the Vietnam war. This led to the exaggeration of the threat of psychedelics by the government. LCD was also feared by mainstream media, who feared the drug represented a dangerous hippie lifestyle that posed a threat to the middle-class work ethic and morality. LSD was viewed as a threat to public safety and national stability; thus, mainstream media began to feed the LSD propaganda to fuel moral panic (DiPaolo, 2018). The media assumed that disaster emanating from LSD was apt thus began running scary fiction stories of its dangers.
The supposed threat of LSD used exaggeration and bogus claims to discredit its use and research. There was common propaganda such as LSD that made users dangerous, psychotic and homicidal. The media entrenched fears into the public, indicating users tended to imagine themselves as invulnerable, capable of jumping from buildings, jumping onto the path of speeding cars, and stopping bullets (Goode, 2008). There were also claims LSD caused chromosome damage, and the effects of the drug had led to users going blind after staring at the sun for hours. There was no scientific evidence presented to back up the claims; thus, the claims were considered true due to the prevailing sentiments at the time. The mainstream media fueled the LSD moral panic leading to pro-LSD researchers such as Timothy Leary being labelled as folk devils (Farrell, 2019). Moral panic led by the media sensitization of the LSD theme as harmful also exacerbated the public fear since they sought to find newsworthy stories to conform to and confirm the bias.
Many of these stories peddles were false, but the moral panic resulting from LSD use influenced their credibility. This conforms to popular notions wherein the heat of the moment, false stories are more pleasing to the public than the reality. The false claims were also appealing since they corresponded to prior knowledge of what new drugs would change society (Abu-Jamal, 2016). There was no concrete investigative report on the number of users that the claims purported showed these effects, such as jumping off buildings thinking they could fly. In the 1970s, the government responded to moral panic and banned the drug for recreational use. Scientific studies of LCD as a psychiatric treatment are halted through the US Controlled Substance Act of 1970. LSD was criminalized and classified as a schedule 1 drug. Schedule 1 drugs are classified as having no medical value and have a high affinity for abuse (Lopez, 2016). This shows the banning of LSD was propagated by moral panic as the heat it stirred up was not equal to the threat it posed. The public fear generated by LSD was more of a safety risk than an addiction risk, and its banning was not medically motivated.
Medical Benefits of LSD
Today’s research builds on studies conducted 40 years ago before the criminalization of LSD. The research primary focus was the use of LSD to treat depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), reducing anxiety in patients with a life-threatening disease and drug dependency. In addition, LSD weakening of the ego helps individuals see the bigger picture beyond their issues, thus improving mental health (Reiche, Hermle, Gutwinski, Jungaberle, Gasser, & Majić, 2018). This is achieved through taking a potent dosage of LSD, which stimulates hallucinogenic trips. Hallucinogenic trips have also been claimed to cure obsessive-compulsive disorder (Nichols, Johnson, & Nichols, 2017). LSD use is particularly common in cancer patients as it helps them deal with the fear of death. Besides, the possibility of a psychedelic’s addiction is minimal since they are not physically addictive like tobacco, and there are no known physical withdrawal symptoms.
Harm Reduction Approach
Harm reduction refers to an evidence-based approach that aims at reducing social harms related to substance use. The approach applies to illicit and licit drugs and does not obligate drug users to stop or abstain from drug consumption (Understanding Harm Reduction: Substance Use, 2020). Harm reduction approaches include drug checking, drug consumption in a controlled environment, psychosocial support, syringe programs, and information on safe drug use. Harm reduction approaches are scientifically proven and have a positive impact on individual and community health. One goal of the harm reduction approach is to improve drug laws and policies (What is harm reduction, 2021). The US drug policy exacerbated the potential risk and harm of LSD when enforcing its criminalization. The FDA drug policy led to the criminalization of LSD users and, in the process, denied lifesaving medical care for mental health patients.
There is a real possibility that the drug policy in the US is holding back new treatments for depression, OCD and addiction. Reclassifying LCD as a schedule II drug would allow its therapeutic value to be more easily studied (attn, 2015). The best policy to address drug use is classification as a health issue instead of a criminal issue. Harm reduction approaches to LSD use include use in a controlled environment and micro-dosing. LSD can also be administered in controlled trials where trained professionals observe participants ensure the bad effects of the LSD are minimized (Schwartz, 2016). Micro dosing refers to taking small doses of LSD such as ten micrograms intermittently to improve productivity, creativity and alleviate symptoms of depression.
LSD was accidentally discovered in 1942 by Albert Hoffman, a Swiss chemist. LSD was taunted as having psychoactive elements thus was extensively researched from the mid-1940s. Research proved the drug could treat various mental illnesses such as depression, PTSD, anxiety, and drug dependency. However, the increased usage of LSD by the counterculture in the 1960s influenced its banning through mainstream media propaganda. LSD was viewed as a threat to public safety and national stability; thus, mainstream media began to feed the LSD propaganda to fuel moral panic. LSD users were labelled dangerous and psychotic, a false claim that led to its classification as a banned substance. The criminalization of LSD was significantly motivated by unverified claims rather than scientifically proven medical facts.