Thursday, 11 October 2012

LSD - did it ever go away?

With the tragic 'tasering' death of the young Brazilian in Sydney earlier this year,  hallucinogen use is an issue that is now being discussed. Described by police at the coronial inquest into his death as being "in an LSD-induced ''psychotic state''', one article was quoted as saying that the drug had left the young man "paranoid, restless, and possessing "superhuman strength" as he tried to avoid arrest".

Whether or not any drug can give someone "superhuman strength" is highly debatable! Can someone affected by LSD be difficult to deal with, aggressive and violent? Without doubt, but "superhuman", most probably not ... so what is the story around LSD, what is it and what are the risks, particularly for the young?

Amazingly some commentators are surprised to find out that LSD even exists anymore, with many believing that it disappeared in the 60s, along with the 'flower power' generation. That couldn't be further from the truth! 

LSD, otherwise known as ‘trips’ or ‘acid’, certainly came to prominence in the 1960s and is closely associated with the 'hippy' movement, however, in recent years a range of hallucinogenic drugs, including LSD, has seen a resurgence in popularity, particularly amongst the younger set (in 2010 8.8% of the population reported that they had ever used hallucinogens at some time in their life - an increase from 2007).  It always amazes me when I give a talk to parent groups, how many of them actually believe that the drug no longer exists! 

LSD, like all hallucinogens, causes an altered sensory experience of senses, emotions, memories, time, and awareness. Unlike many other drugs, LSD's effects can last for a very long time - 6 to 14 hours (depending on your tolerance and how much you use) - for many, they are seen as 'value for money'. Users report seeing colours, hearing music differently and their sense of touch may be heightened. Of course, things can also go terribly wrong and the user may experience a 'bad trip' - an unpleasant, even terrifying experience where the effects are frightening and confusion and delusions result. 

LSD (d-lysergic acid diethylamide) is derived from the fungus ergot, which grows on rye and other grasses.  In its natural form ergot has been used for centuries as an aid to childbirth.  It was not produced synthetically until the 1920s, when researchers investigated the possibility of the drug treating migraines and assisting with obstetrics and geriatrics. In April 1943, Dr Albert Hoffman accidentally ingested a tiny amount of one of the substances he had derived from ergot. Shortly afterwards he pedalled home on his bike and becoming ‘transported into other worlds’.  Hoffman had become the first person to go ‘tripping’.

In the 1960s the potency of the drug was extremely high, each trip containing approximately 250 micrograms of LSD.  Nowadays available evidence suggests the average potency of a tab is much more 'manageable', being roughly 50 micrograms.  Its current popularity appears to stem from the fact that its potency is fairly stable, it is extremely cheap and readily available. Possibly most importantly for some, it is not detectable by sniffer dogs!

LSD is not a particularly toxic drug.  The deaths that have been linked to the drug are usually classed as ‘accidents’, suggesting the tripper was involved in a fall, a traffic accident, or something similar. It is rare to find people who use this drug daily as the tolerance of LSD’s effects build quickly so that a normal dose taken three or four days running will, by the fourth day, produce no trip. 

In vulnerable people, adverse psychological effects can persist after comedown. Users may suffer mental and emotional instability, depression, loss of confidence, paranoia and flashbacks.  Hallucinogen Persisting Percetive Disorder (HPPD) is now a medically recognised condition in which some people who have taken LSD constantly experience visual hallucinations, as opposed to brief flashbacks - why some people are more susceptible to this than others is not yet known.  What we do know is that if you have a pre-existing mental condition, LSD can ‘unlock’ that condition.

Most people have no idea whether or not they may have a mental condition. Experimenting with drugs is always a risk, particularly for the young.  One of the greatest risks is in the area of mental health.  No-one can give you a definite answer on whether using a particular mind-altering substance wil lunlock a pre-existing mental condition or not. You really are playing russian roulette.