Lysergic acid diethylamide  

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"The Deputy Director of the CIA revealed that over thirty universities and institutions were involved in an "extensive testing and experimentation" program which included covert drug tests on unwitting citizens "at all social levels, high and low, native Americans and foreign." Several of these tests involved the administration of LSD to "unwitting subjects in social situations." At least one death, that of Dr. Olson, resulted from these activities. The Agency itself acknowledged that these tests made little scientific sense. The agents doing the monitoring were not qualified scientific observers." -- 1977, Senator Ted Kennedy

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Lysergic acid diethylamide, LSD, LSD-25, or acid, is a semisynthetic psychedelic drug of the ergoline family. Probably the most widely known psychedelic, it has been used mainly as a recreational drug, an entheogen, and a tool to supplement various practices for transcendence, including in meditation, psychonautics, art projects, and illicit (though at one time legal) psychedelic therapy, whether self-administered or not. It is synthesized from lysergic acid derived from ergot, a grain fungus that typically grows on rye and was first synthesized by Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann. The short form LSD comes from its early codename LSD-25, which is an abbreviation for the German "Lysergsäure-diethylamid" followed by a sequential number.

Introduced by Sandoz Laboratories as a drug with various psychiatric uses, LSD quickly became a therapeutic agent that appeared to show great promise. However, the extra-medicinal use of the drug in Western society during the mid-twentieth century led to a political firestorm that resulted in the banning of the substance. A number of organizations—including the Beckley Foundation, MAPS, Heffter Research Institute and the Albert Hofmann Foundation—exist to fund, encourage and coordinate research into its medicinal uses.

LSD first became popular recreationally among a small group of mental health professionals such as psychiatrists and psychologists during the 1950s, as well as by socially prominent and politically powerful individuals such as Henry and Clare Boothe Luce to whom the early LSD researchers were connected socially.

Several mental health professionals involved in LSD research, most notably Harvard psychology professors Dr. Timothy Leary and Dr. Richard Alpert, became convinced of LSD's potential as a tool for spiritual growth. In 1961, Dr. Timothy Leary received grant money from Harvard University to study the effects of LSD on test subjects. 3,500 doses were given to over 400 people. Of those tested, 90% said they would like to repeat the experience, 83% said they had "learned something or had insight," and 62% said it had changed their life for the better.

Their research became more esoteric and controversial, as Leary and Alpert alleged links between the LSD experience and the state of enlightenment sought after in many mystical traditions. They were dismissed from the traditional academic psychology community, and as such cut off from legal scientific acquisition of the drug. Drs. Leary and Alpert acquired a quantity of LSD and relocated to a private mansion, where they continued their research. The experiments lost their scientific character as the pair evolved into countercultural spiritual gurus associated with the hippie movement, encouraging people to question authority and challenge the status quo, a concept summarized in Leary's catchphrase, "Turn on, tune in, drop out".

The drug was banned in the United States on October 6, 1966, with scientific therapeutic research as well as individual research also becoming prohibitively difficult. Many other countries, under pressure from the U.S., quickly followed suit. Since 1967, underground recreational and therapeutic LSD use has continued in many countries, supported by a black market and popular demand for the drug. Legal, academic research experiments on the effects and mechanisms of LSD are also conducted on occasion, but rarely involve human subjects. Despite its proscription, the hippie counterculture continued to promote the regular use of LSD, led by figures such as Leary and psychedelic rock bands such as, The Doors, The Grateful Dead. Acidhead has been used as a — sometimes derogatory — name for people who frequently use LSD. According to Leigh Henderson and William Glass, two researchers associated with the NIDA who performed a 1994 review of the literature, LSD use is relatively uncommon when compared to the abuse of alcohol, cocaine, and prescription drugs. Over the previous fifteen years, long-term usage trends stayed fairly stable, with roughly 5% of the population using the drug and most users being in the 16 to 23 age range. Henderson and Glass found that LSD users typically partook of the substance on an infrequent, episodic basis, then "maturing out" after two to four years. Overall, LSD appeared to have comparatively few adverse health consequences, of which "bad trips" were the most commonly reported (and, the researchers found, one of the chief reasons youths stop using the drug).

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