Ca­sual use of acid, es­pe­cially in low doses, on rise again T

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hey were sci­en­tists and writ­ers in the ’40s and ’50s, mys­tics and mu­si­cians in the ’60s and ’70s, neo-psy­che­delic coun­ter­cul­tur­al­ists in the ’80s and ’90s.

And in the 2010s, they’re back — as col­lege stu­dents. “They” are users of LSD — ly­ser­gic

ofIr­re­sistibly acid di­ethy­lamide, the psy­che­delic drug that causes vis­ual hal­lu­ci­na­tions, a dis­torted sense time and a feel­ing of eu­pho­ria.

The pro­por­tion of 18- to 25year-olds who re­ported us­ing LSD in the past year grew by 40% be­tween 2013 and 2015, ac­cord­ing to the gov­ern­ment-funded Na­tional Sur­vey on Drug Use and Health. In com­par­i­son, use rates among peo­ple ages 26 and older stayed con­stant over the same time pe­riod.

The up­swing re­flects not only new uses for LSD — like tak­ing small doses to im­prove cre­ativ­ity or fo­cus — but also a shift in at­ti­tude among stu­dents who see the il­licit drug as rel­a­tively safe and even po­ten­tially ben­e­fi­cial, de­spite the risks.

“Peo­ple start out of cu­rios­ity,” said Nick Mor­ris, who used LSD “ca­su­ally” while at the Univer­sity of Colorado-Boul­der, from which he grad­u­ated in 2015. “Peo­ple are cu­ri­ous about ex­pand­ing their minds and de­vel­op­ing new thought pat­terns. A lot of peo­ple do it just to see what it feels like.”


Part of the rea­son for the up­swing in LSD use is that the stu­dent pop­u­la­tion tends to be less afraid of the drug than in pre­vi­ous decades, said Frank White, a so­ci­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of North Dakota who teaches a class on drugs and so­ci­ety.

Taken in tab form, acid, as it’s com­monly known, evokes im­ages of drug-fu­eled es­capades: peo­ple jump­ing out of win­dows while “trip­ping” be­cause they be­lieved they could fly or star­ing at the sun for so long they went blind. Though some of th­ese sto­ries have been proven false, in­stances of peo­ple be­hav­ing er­rat­i­cally — and even vi­o­lently — while on LSD are well-doc­u­mented.

But although some users have had “bad trips” with neg­a­tive ef­fects like panic at­tacks, flash­backs and psy­chosis, White said stu­dents to­day don’t have the same neg­a­tive as­so­ci­a­tions with LSD that their par­ents and grand­par­ents did. Be­cause LSD use fell sig­nif­i­cantly in the early 2000s fol­low­ing a drop in avail­abil­ity, many col­lege-age stu­dents haven’t heard the ex­treme sto­ries that cir­cu­lated among ear­lier gen­er­a­tions and view LSD al­most with fresh eyes.

“Some of the stigma has been re­moved,” White said. “Stu­dents to­day are more open to it. They haven’t grown up with the same scare tac­tics.”

Part of the rea­son is that LSD to­day is much less po­tent, with the av­er­age dose less than half of what it was in the 1960s. This makes over­doses, se­ri­ous ac­ci­dents and bad trips less likely to hap­pen, White said.

In fact, statis­tics from the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion show that the num­ber of over­dose deaths from LSD has stayed near zero since 1999. And Steve Sussman, a Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia pro­fes­sor spe­cial­iz­ing in drug use among ado­les­cents and adults, points out that LSD typ­i­cally isn’t ad­dic­tive.


Stu­dents have dif­fer­ent rea­sons for want­ing to try LSD, from en­hanc­ing their ex­pe­ri­ence at mu­sic fes­ti­vals to go­ing against the grain of so­ci­ety, said Kyle Buller, who founded hal­lu­cino­gen-ori­ented news site Psychedelics To­day last year. Buller, 29, said it’s some­times seen as a rite of pas­sage or part of typ­i­cal young adult ex­plo­ration, like ex­per­i­ment­ing with al­co­hol or sex.

“Psychedelics are not new, but the in­ter­net makes in­for­ma­tion spread like wild­fire, and new in­for­ma­tion keeps grow­ing,” Buller said.

One newer form of LSD use that’s taken root in some col­leges is mi­cro­dos­ing, a prac­tice that in­volves tak­ing small amounts of LSD — usu­ally about one tenth of a com­mon dose, or 10 mi­cro­grams — to en­hance cre­ativ­ity or sharpen fo­cus with­out caus­ing the strong vis­ual ef­fects of a full dose. The trend has been widely doc­u­mented among Sil­i­con Val­ley tech ex­ec­u­tives, and re­searchers like

James Fadi­man are ac­cept­ing vol­un­teers for self-re­ported stud­ies on how the tech­nique af­fects their lives and work.

And for stu­dents, mi­cro­dos­ing is a way to “en­hance ev­ery­day ex­pe­ri­ences,” Mor­ris said. As an un­der­grad­u­ate in 2014, he founded the Psy­che­delic Club to pro­vide a space for stu­dents to talk about their ex­pe­ri­ences with psychedelics, and he now runs the na­tional non-profit that grew out of it.

Mor­ris — whose flag­ship club at CU-Boul­der now has about 100 mem­bers, by his es­ti­mate — said he knows stu­dents who mi­cro­dose while hik­ing, study­ing, ex­er­cis­ing or jour­nal­ing. They find that LSD makes ex­pe­ri­ences like pro­duc­ing art, sky­div­ing or test­ing out vir­tual re­al­ity pro­grams all feel deeper and more in­tense.

The prac­tice has a sci­en­tific ba­sis, Sussman said: “While trip­ping dosages may lead to a va­ri­ety of per­cep­tual dis­tor­tions … light dosages have been as­so­ci­ated with mood im­prove­ment, in­crease in sen­sory per­cep­tion, pos­si­bly bet­ter so­cial col­lab­o­ra­tion.”

And “there is con­tin­ued con­sid­er­a­tion as to whether LSD might help per­sons suf­fer­ing from anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion,” he said. Emerg­ing re­search in this area — which is still re­stricted be­cause of LSD’s sta­tus as a Sched­ule I drug — is look­ing into how LSD can as­sist in psy­chother­apy.

“Stu­dents to­day are more open to it. They haven’t grown up with the same scare tac­tics.”

A so­ci­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of North Dakota who teaches a class on drugs and so­ci­ety PAUL J. RICHARDS, AFP/GETTY IM­AGES

Di­ana Kruz­man LSD is of­ten in­gested in tab form, por­tioned into doses and dropped onto tear-apart sheets. Frank White, Di­ana Kruz­man is a Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia stu­dent and a USA TO­DAY Col­lege in­tern.

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