Where has all the acid gone?
Among the gifts of LSD to America were 1960s culture, psychedelic rock & roll music, and sleek, user-friendly computers (via Apple co-founder Steve Jobs). Countless people have credited the psychedelic substance, first synthesized in the late 1930s, for opening their worldviews and leading them toward spiritual enlightenment. It even shows promise in treating disorders like anxiety and depression.
However, the hallucinogenic chemical, often sold in doses on blotting paper, appears to be fading from public view and consciousness. Are people really using it less, and if so, why?
Io9 compiled some of the statistics that confirm the diminishing role that LSD is playing in society: Emergency room visits due to bad acid trips dropped from 5,000 per year in 1999 to between 2,000 and 4,000 in more recent years. Furthermore, the percentage of high school seniors who used LSD in a given year dropped from around 10 percent in the mid-1990s to around 3 percent in the last decade, and the percentage who thought it was easy to acquire plummeted from over 50 percent to around 25 percent during the same time period.
“It looks to me like lack of availability has played a major role in the decline of this drug,” University of Michigan researcher Lloyd Johnson said to Io9.
So what happened to cut off the supply? It turns out that a single man was responsible for much of the LSD available on the market in the 1990s. When UCLA researcher William L. Pickard was arrested in 2000, the supply abruptly dwindled to a trickle. Pickard was busted by federal agents in Kansas as he worked to transform an old nuclear missile silo into a massive LSD laboratory. Once he was out of the picture, no one moved in to fill the void.
While acid is not particularly complicated for a skilled chemist to manufacture, its main ingredient is quite tricky to acquire. Ergot alkaloid, a fungus that grows on rye and other grains, is strictly controlled by the Drug Enforcement Agency and therefore is nearly impossible to buy or import in the United States.
Another possible concurrent explanation for the disappearance of LSD is the decline in jam-bands. Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead died in 1995, and Phish cut back on their tours in the early 2000s. Certain followers of the band were allegedly major LSD suppliers and used the tours to sell their goods to local distributors around the country. When the tours stopped, so did the easy connections.
For whatever reason, the acid market has dried up considerably, which is bad news for people with aspirations to use it therapeutically. Given its usefulness in treating anxiety and depression, one possible solution would be for the DEA to remove it from Schedule I of the Controlled Substance Act so it would be easier for practitioners to use with their patients — not to mention for researchers to acquire it for study to discover whatever other hidden benefits the chemical has locked in its molecules.
“These drugs offer the greatest opportunity we have in mental health,” researcher David Nutt said of one study earlier this year. “There’s little else on the horizon.”
For now, prohibition remains in place, and even the black market has withered. “We’ve banned research on psychedelic drugs and other drugs like cannabis for 50 years,” Nutt said. “This is a truly appalling level of censorship.”