LSD-bunked: How Research Is Ultimately Separating The Facts From The Myths Surrounding Acid

LSD has had a colorful history since its accidental discovery by Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann. Cycling around the picturesque city of Basel while experiencing the worlds first acid trip-up in 1943, he could hardly have imagined that his problem child would soon fuel a countercultural revolution. However, with the 60 s now a fading memory and LSD firmly outlawed, opportunities for proper scientific research into the drugs consequences have been severely limited , opening hours an datum black hole that has significantly been filled with myths and hearsay.

Yet as the moratorium on LSD research begins to thaw, scientists are finally starting to dispel some widely believed misnomers regarding acid.

Myth one: LSD causes psychosis

In the early days of psychedelic research, neuroscientists believed medications like LSD were psychotomimetic, entailing they induce psychosis. This theory inspired the CIAs infamous Project MKULTRAin the 1950 s, which involved spiking unwitting civilians with acid in order to observe its effects, with a view to using it as a weapon against the Soviets during the course of its Cold War. The shocking outcome of these reckless experiments gave rise to much of the folklore surrounding LSD.

For example, most people have heard the story of the guy who took acid, ran mad, and jumped out the window reasoning he could fly. Though its possible person might actually have done this, the historical protagonist of this tale is American scientist Frank Olson, who fell to his death from a hotel balcony in 1953. Several days previously, he had unknowingly been dosed with LSD by MKULTRA agents, and while his death was officially ruled a suicide, many believe he was actually pushed.


Acid is traditionally taken on a sugar cube, although the CIA use much sneakier the methods used in furnishing LSD to unwitting civilians as part of the MKULTRA program.mikeledray/ Shutterstock

Regardless of what caused Olsons death, researchers soon abandoned the psychotomimetic hypothesi after was found that LSD does not in fact cause madness. Interestingly, though, a recent survey conducted as part of the Beckley/ Imperial research program found that the acute effects of acid do indeed mirror certain elements of psychosis such as delusional thought and a fragmented sense of ego although these soon give way to longer-term positive effects like elevated mood and positivity.

In light of this, Beckley Foundation founder and director Amanda Feilding told IFLScience that there is absolutely a truth given the fact that LSD particularly in larger dosages can be a very frightening experience, because there is a similarity to the characteristics of insanity in the ego dissolution.

However, by no means does this mean that the drug can construct you jump out of a window. Instead, it is widely accepted that the experiential effects of all psychedelics are largely determined by set and setting. Set, given this context, refers to the mental and emotional state of the user, while defining indicates the actual surrounds in which a drug is taken. As such, Feilding warns that when used inappropriately, LSD can be dangerous.

Myth two: LSD can be used as a truth serum

It is often reported that one of the major goals of MKULTRA was to use LSD as a truth serum, in order to extract secrets from captured adversaries. Although this ultimately demonstrated not to be the case, recent studies have shown that LSD does enhance suggestibility, as users intellects become more malleable and is accessible to manipulation.

By skillfully tinkering with set and set, some researchers believe LSD could be used as a powerful adjunct in psychotherapy, enabling therapists to harness this increased suggestibility in order to help patients alter their mindset regarding certain issues.

Myth three: LSD kills brain cells

This is your brain on narcotics, declared a now iconic US anti-drugs advertising campaign in the 1980 s, accompanied by an egg being fried in a pan. While many drugs do indeed damage brain cells, a growing number of prominent neuroscientists believe LSD should not be placed into this category.

The whole of America was conditioned with the image of the brain being fried by LSD and other psychoactive substances, says Feilding. That was a brilliant advertising image but its completely not based on reality. Theres perfectly no evidence that[ acid] kills brain cells.

Naturally, however, LSD should always be taken with caution and should not be automatically held harmless, as very little research exists regarding the long-term effects of taking big doses.

Regardless, LSD jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire in 1970, when the Drug Enforcement Administration( DEA) categorized it as a Schedule I substance, implying that it has a high potential for abuse and no therapeutic value.

At the time, people across the US were experimenting with LSD and developing a distaste for violence and a sense of insurrection, which didnt suit the orders of the day of a government that needed soldiers for its disastrous campaign in Vietnam. In reply, the creation began to make a series of unscientific and occasionally outrageous asserts about the dangers of LSD, use the front pages of newspapers as a weapon against those who endorsed the drug.

Newspapers became a weapon against LSD in the 1960 s. Source unknown

Myth four: LSD gives you more brain cells

Fighting fire with flame, those in favour of LSD have responded to the militancy of anti-drug campaigners with some unscientific claims of their own. For instance, after a few small-scale studies began to indicate that psychedelics can increase creative thinking and treat depression, rumors emerged that acid and other similar medications cause neurogenesisor the birth of new brain cells.

Though there is no evidence that taking LSD has this impact, a recent survey did reveal that some compounds found in a psychoactive Amazonian brew called ayahuasca can stimulate stem cells to develop into neurons when placed together in a petri dish. Our research hasnt shown that LSD causes neuroregenesis, but the beginning of our research with ayahuasca has shown that, says Feilding. Weve only done it in a dish, we havent done it in vivo although Im very much was intended to do it with LSD as well, because I wouldnt be at all surprised if we get the same results.


At present, there is no evidence that taking LSD directly destroys or creates new brain cells.Sergey Nivens/ Shutterstock

LSD: poison or medicine ?

Earlier this year, scientists imaged the brain on LSD for the first time, discovering that it weakens connectivity in a brain network called the default mode network( DMN ), which is associated with preserving a sense of ego. This explains why taking acid often leads to a sense of ego dissolution. At the same day, LSD renders a more entropic pattern of neural activity, increasing communication between brain regions that are normally highly segregated.

Psychotherapists have successfully harnessed these effects, using psychedelics to help patients break down their rigid thought processes and overcome issues including depression and alcoholism. At the same hour, the enriched brain activity produced by these substances has been found in numerous studies to increase users capability for creative thinking. Amazingly, biochemist Kary Mullis says taking psychedelic drugs helped him see the polymerase chain reaction, for which he won the Nobel Prize. LSD microdosing has also become a phenomenon in Silicon Valley, where it is believed to increase productivity.

However, the effects of LSD can also be frightening and potentially dangerous when the set and setting are not appropriate. As Feilding explains, when you take acid youve get simultaneous function in many more areas of the brain, and that can create those aha moments of creativity, but also when it gets out of control or get into a negative slant it can make paranoia.


Imaging surveys revealed how LSD( left) increasesconnectivity between brain regions that do not communicate with one another under normal conditions( right ). Beckley/ Imperial Research Program

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