LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) is a synthetic (not naturally occurring) substance first synthesized in 1938 by Dr. Albert Hofmann, a Swiss chemist who was seeking a headache remedy. He first isolated lysergic acid from the ergot fungus that grows on wheat. In the laboratory he manipulated the molecule to add the diethylamide molecule to the base compound. His initial tests on animals failed to elicit any outward sign that the substance was having any effect. Convinced that it was inactive he stored the chemical on his laboratory shelf.
In 1943, Hofmann decided to work with the LSD again, but in the process of using it he ingested a small, unknown quantity. Shortly afterwards he was forced to stop his work and go home. He lay in a darkened room and later recorded in his diary that he was in a dazed condition and experienced "an uninterrupted stream of fantastic images of extraordinary plasticity and vividness...accompanied by an intense kaleidoscope-like play of colors." Three days later Hofmann purposely took another dose of LSD to verify that his previous experience was the result of taking the drug. He ingested what he thought was a small dose (250 micrograms), but which in fact is about five times the amount needed to induce pronounced hallucinations in an adult male. His hallucinatory experience was even more intense than what he had experienced the first time. His journal describes the symptoms of LSD toxicity: a metallic taste, difficulty in breathing, dry and constricted throat, cramps, paralysis, and visual disturbances.
American chemists, hearing of Hofmann's experiences, imported LSD in 1949. Thereafter began a series of animal experiments in which the drug was given to mice, spiders, cats, dogs, goats, and an elephant. All of the animals showed dramatic outward changes in behavior, but few symptoms of toxicity. This led to an extension of research into the use of human subjects in an effort to find some therapeutic use for LSD. In the 1950s, such use of human subjects in drug experimentation was not under strict controls so scientists could give the drug as they wished.
Early experiments on humans involved using LSD for the treatment of various psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, alcoholism, and narcotic addiction. The rationale was that LSD induced major changes in brain function and behavior and that the patient might better be able to gain insight into his illness or addiction while under the influence of the drug. After only a short time, however, it became evident that this line of research was fruitless and it was abandoned.
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