Wondering how is LSD made? You’ve come to the right place. In this post, we’ll cover:
- What is LSD?
- The History of LSD
- The Effects of LSD
- How to Take LSD
- How LSD is Made
How LSD is Made
LSD synthesis is a complex process that demands a strong working knowledge of organic chemistry, a complete laboratory setup, access to a darkroom, the ability to sterilize equipment, and compounds that are restricted, highly regulated, or closely monitored by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)—and they can’t be found in fairly ordinary household items, unlike the chemicals needed to cook methamphetamine.
Some LSD recipes start with lysergic acid amide or LSA. Other online recipes call for highly toxic morning glory seeds. Many begin with ergot alkaloid, the substance that Albert Hofmann was working with.
Ergot is itself hazardous, but so are the solvents and reagents you need to finish making LSD—which can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin. For example, the solvent anhydrous hydrazine is carcinogenic, poisonous, and can explode when heated. Chloroform, also often used, is also carcinogenic, and can damage the liver and kidneys.
The darkroom is important, because the fungus and the LSD itself decompose under bright lights. And caution is critical at each stage due to the extreme toxicity of each component.
The maker synthesizes ergot alkaloid by first adding chemicals and heat. They then cool the compound, blend it with an acid and a base, and evaporate it to produce iso-lysergic diethylamide. They finally isomerize the iso-lysergic diethylamide once more to produce the active LSD which is then purified and crystallized.
Next you get the final LSD product: microdots which are tiny tablets, sugar cubes, a water or other liquid solution to drop or made into “window panes,” gelatin squares. The most common process is to dissolve the LSD in ethanol, dip sheets of blotter paper into the LSD solution, and dry them. These are the printed sheets with cool graphics like cartoon characters that are perforated into tiny squares, each square being one dose. Just one page can contain hundreds of doses of LSD.
Even so, commercial operations can remain fairly small since a standard dose of LSD is only 25 micrograms. A relatively low level of local substance use can create a decent market, and blotter paper can last on the shelf.
Technically, it’s possible to synthesize LSD from the ergot fungus itself. But, since the ergot fungus is toxic, accidental poisoning is a serious risk. Poisoning from ergot fungus is not the same as an LSD trip and can cause severe illness called ergotism—prevalent enough during the Middle Ages to be called “holy fire” in Europe.
What is LSD?
Lysergic acid diethylamide or LSD is a powerful psychedelic known as acid. But since walking around saying “lysergic acid diethylamide” is a bummer and LSD is mostly illegal, it has lots of nicknames—including acid, mellow yellow, blotter, California sunshine, dots, Electric Kool-Aid and many others.
Unlike other entheogens such as peyote or magic mushrooms, LSD is synthesized in a lab. It’s difficult for most people to understand exactly how to make LSD, because its Schedule I legal status renders most underground chemists fairly shy to the public. Here we’ll start with how it was first made and go from there.
How is drug use with LSD different from other hallucinogens such as mescaline, magic mushrooms/psilocybin, peyote, and MDMA?
The primary difference between LSD and hallucinogens such as mescaline, magic mushrooms/psilocybin, peyote is the need to synthesize it since those other options are natural. MDMA is also synthesized, although it is a different compound that acts in different ways in the body.
Learn more about how the US government feels about hallucinogens from NIDA, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, here.
History of LSD
It was an accidental ingestion of LSD that led to its discovery.
In 1938, a Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann was working for Sandoz, a pharmaceuticals company. Hofmann was researching a parasitic fungus called ergot, also called Claviceps purpurea, which grows on rye. Hofmann derived various compounds from lysergic acid, and then developed several medicines from them, including blood pressure and brain function drugs. The 25th in a series of the derivatives was lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD-25.
LSD-25 failed to stimulate circulation and breathing and was abandoned until Hofmann synthesized another batch for further testing five years later. He felt strange and went home from work early during the process, however. At home he experienced a “dreamlike state” and perceived more colors, shapes, and other visual effects. Later, Hofmann determined that he must have accidentally ingested some of the mixture and experienced the psychedelic effects of LSD.
The next day, Hofmann purposely dosed himself with 250 micrograms of his solution, 10 times more than a typical minimum dose. He quickly panicked and called a doctor, who found his heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration were all normal. Eventually his panic eased and he again experienced euphoria and saw beautiful colors and shapes. The next day, others at Sandoz repeated the experiment with similar results.
Sandoz patented LSD in 1947 and began to market it for use in analytical psychotherapy sold in 25-microgram tablets called Delysid. Sandoz also recommended that psychiatrists use the hallucinogenic drug to better understand their patients.
Researchers went on to develop other drugs from the ergot fungus, including ergometrine, a medication used to stop bleeding after childbirth, and ergotamine tartrate, a pharmaceutical drug that is sometimes prescribed in conjunction with caffeine for headaches.
But this was really just the beginning. In the 1960s, LSD lost its medicinal feel and went recreational as Timothy Leary, a psychologist, writer, and drug counterculture experimenter, told the world to “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” Along with Richard Alpert, also known as Baba Ram Dass, Leary promoted the spiritual use of LSD.
A 1989 United Nations report named ergotamine tartrate and ergometrine as among the most common starter components for making LSD—although it’s not clear whether this is still true.
Effects of LSD
LSD produces effects called a “trip” that typically start within about one hour that can last up to 12 hours. The effects of LSD tend to peak about halfway through the experience. Increased blood pressure, dilated pupils, and elevated body temperature are all common, although all trips are different. Others feel sweaty, dizzy, drowsy, and tingling in their hands and feet.
The main effects of LSD are visual, with brighter, stronger lights and colors. Objects might seem to move or have a halo around them. Distortions and trails are common, and LSD users often see shapes, patterns, and textures. Sometimes LSD users feel that time is moving very quickly or running backward. Occasionally tripping can cause synesthesia, confused sensory perceptions such as “seeing” colors.
Microdosing is popular among those seeking increased productivity and positive feelings. People on LSD often feel highly emotional, and large doses may make users feel particularly contemplative and spiritual.
Most users experience a positive experience. However, a “bad trip” is always possible—although it’s not totally clear what causes one. Many LSD users believe that a bad trip is usually due to the set and setting. But even the worst trips are not going to leave users with any lasting side effects.
Still, for some people, serious physical and mental health issues can arise from even one bad trip, especially if it involves heavy use of LSD and lawbreaking, injuries, trauma, or other related problems.
How to Take LSD
Unlike many drugs, which may require injecting, snorting, or smoking, LSD is colorless, odorless and tasteless and easy to take orally. A tiny amount, just 25 micrograms, about two salt grains, produces psychoactive effects, and that’s a fairly standard modern dose. It’s also very discreet. In the 1960s, users regularly consumed four times as much.
Although researchers aren’t totally certain what LSD does in the brain or central nervous system, it seems to alter the way the brain’s serotonin receptors work. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that regulates appetite, moods, muscle control, sleep, sexuality, and sensory perception.
Although a common urban legend says that the brain can store LSD forever, causing flashbacks, a flashback is just an experience similar to that of an actual trip that occurs in a person who has used LSD before. It is not clear that the prior use of psychedelics actually causes the flashbacks based on the research, although some psychiatrists report the experience in their patients.
On the numbers, most users don’t experience flashbacks. Some doctors suggest that what the user perceives as a flashback is really a form of psychosis or mental illness that may have emerged due to LSD use. For example, some suggest that people with illnesses such as schizophrenia might be more vulnerable to bad results after using LSD, while others simply describe the results of drug-induced psychosis as similar to that disease. See, for example, recent research which finds no evidence of the medically recognized disorder called Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD), in people without mental health issues but with LSD experience.
Final Thoughts on How to Make LSD
It is no easy thing to actually get the ingredients for LSD—let alone transform them safely into a usable product. But as more research is done, it might be easier to find anyway—and let’s hope so. Read more about what LSD is and how it’s used in our other posts.