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LSD, lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD-25, is a semi-synthetic psychedelic drug that is derived from ergot alkaloids, which occur naturally in some plant diseases that infect rye, Achnatherum robustum ("sleepy grass") and other grains. The substance can bring about changes in the human nervous system in such small quantities that it was not, at first, believed possible (threshold dose is 50 micrograms).
"LSD" comes from the German name, "Lysergsäure-diethylamid." The "25" in LSD-25 refers to the fact that it was the 25th in a series of ergot derivatives made by Albert Hofmann. LSD is also an acronym for the pre-decimal British money system, for limited slip differential, and for low-sulfur diesel, none of which can make a weekend last eight days. So, if you are wondering why Manfred Mann did a song entitled "LSD," yup, it's about money.
Mode of action
LSD acts on the human nervous system by rapidly crossing the blood-brain barrier and binding to a host of receptors including most serotonin (5-HT) receptor subtypes and all dopamine receptors subtypes, with the serotonin agonism (especially the activation of the 5-HT2A receptor) being strongly linked to psychedelic activity. Serotonin receptors modulate mood, cognition, learning, consciousness, and sensory input. LSD mimics the effects of serotonin by providing an alternate algorithm of processing sensory stimuli. One theory is that hallucinogens such as LSD and psilocybin reduce the neurological filter in one's brain which is responsible for providing one with information that would be practical for use. When this filter, or reducing valve, is decreased, information is allowed to flow more freely.
Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann invented LSD-25 in 1938 as a failed attempt at creating a stimulant for the heart and/or lungs. Out of curiosity, he created more LSD-25 in 1943. It was just a few centigrams, but even that was enough to get him high. After this, he experimented with how much it took to get high. Turns out his first attempt at 250 micrograms was enough to get high. So, yeah. That stuff is very powerful.
Although it was initially experimented with as a drug with potential psychiatric and/or military uses, including the study of psychosis hence LSD was considered a psychotomimetic, its recreational use quickly became more significant. This was partly a result of some of the "test subjects" in university research programs reporting that some of what they experienced was, well, something they wanted to do again. As soon as the government found out that people were using it to have "fun," it was made illegal.
The U.S. government's CIA also experimented extensively (the infamous MKULTRA program) with using it as a truth serum, among other things, but purportedly gave up when the results on the subjects proved to be too unpredictable, compounded by the tendency of the test subjects to become more suggestible and liable to confabulation and being led by the interrogator(s) (similar to the effects of other "truth drugs", such as scopolamine or Sodium Pentothal).
While it can be used purely "recreationally," as in, "oh man, I'm so high my face is melting — and so is yours," it has also been used by many in more positive, although still amateurish, pursuits. These include seeking greater insight into life's mysteries, greater understanding of our oneness with life, intense contemplation of the hidden meanings on Beatles and Pink Floyd album covers, intensive creation of Pink Floyd albums, a more
indiscriminate developed sense of humor (i.e. uncontrollable laughter at everything), inspiration for audiovisual special effects via watching the trippy effects from moving your handses around... and the always important speculation as to why Jimi Hendrix needed to be excused in order to "kiss this guy."
LSD was used extensively in psychiatric research in the 1960s, but society was afraid of anything that could blow Huxley's mind after Brave New World; so they enacted legal measures that made researching the beneficial effects of any hallucinogens extremely difficult. Medically, LSD has been shown to treat the pain symptoms of cluster headaches in low doses, and along with other psychedelic hallucinogens has shown some potential in treating alcoholism, nicotine addiction, and post-traumatic stress disorder in combination with standard psychotherapy (leading some to suspect that at least some 1960s users were self-medicating).
John Lilly experimented with giving LSD to dolphins to try to form computer terminal-assisted, linguistically-based inter-species communication. So far we haven't heard anything on how well it's worked.
Effects on performance
In theory LSD should be a performance-reducing drug; however, in 1970 All-Star Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis managed to deliver a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres under the influence of acid. Steve Jobs also claimed that Microsoft would be, all-in-all, a more interesting software company if Bill Gates had ever done acid. However, in a 1994 interview with Playboy magazine, Gates implied he had.
On the other hand, if you were already in outer space like a lot of rock stars were in the 1960s, doing LSD several times a day by having one's "friends" spike everything one ate and drank was sufficient to create several permanent LSD casualties such as Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac and Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd.
Recent studies involving fMRI scans of the human brain on acid have shown that it not only DOESN'T reduce brain activity, but does quite the opposite--it creates a hyperconnected state of awareness in which axonal signalling is formed between cortices and lobes of the brain that otherwise never connect or interact with one another. The result is a human brain in which nearly all cortices are functioning at an extremely high rate of connectivity.  This state of overstimulated awareness can lead to potential fear and anxiety, especially if the user has pre-existing mental conditions, because all learned inhibition basically comes to the forefront of the conscious mind when using LSD. This means that repressed thoughts and memories become intensely vivid and inescapable--which has potential therapeutic use for obvious reasons, especially in the treatment of PTSD,  but in an uncontrolled environment can lead to serious cases of the heebie jeebies.
LSD has been indicated in the treatment of Parkinson's disease, and in fact, one of the modern-day prescription drugs given in hospitals to treat Parkinson's is modeled directly after LSD itself. It also happens to be several times more toxic than LSD itself.  Interestingly enough, a wide variety of drugs modeled from LSD, or pharmacologically very similar to LSD (in the sense that they target the same receptors and have the same action on the brain as LSD), have been used to treat a variety of physical illnesses, including brain tumors , dementia and stroke .
Or if you're a scientist like Francis Crick, using LSD might lead to the discovery of something as revolutionary as DNA. (Side effects may include acquiring a taste for tinfoil haberdashery.) (Disclaimer: Francis Crick is an asshole who stole all his ideas from Rosalind Franklin, so he isn't exactly a great example).
- Microdot (tiny tablets of LSD)
- Strips (10 'hits' of blotter LSD)
- Sheets (Multiple strips, often more than 100 individual 'hits')
- Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
People may refer to specific popular blotter designs as a nonspecific descriptor for LSD in general, especially if one particular design is locally prevalent:
- Albert Hofmann
- Jerry "Captain Trips" Garcia
- Aldous Huxley
- Richard Pryor
- George Carlin
- Bill Hicks
- Timothy Leary
- Richard Alpert (Baba Ram Dass)
- John Lennon
- Richard P. Feynman
- Watson Crick
- Robert Anton Wilson
- Terence McKenna
- New Left
- Ken Kesey
- Other ways of knowing
- Kool-Aid drinker
- Hunter S. Thompson
- Chemical Salvation? -- A history of LSD, à la Jack Chick
- LSD Makes Your Brain More Like a Thesaurus: Scientists found the drug actually elevates an innate language ability. -- Huffington Post (1 September 2016)
- Or £/s/d - pounds, shillings, and pence. For some reason the abbreviation refers to a Latin translation (Librae, solidi, denarii) rather than their English names.
- Shroder, T. (September 9. 2014). "'Apparently Useless': The Accidental Discovery of LSD". The Atlantic. Retrieved June 22, 2017.
- Arran Frood; Dropping acid may help headaches September 13th 2006, Nature
- No Hitter
- "I wish him the best, I really do. I just think he and Microsoft are a bit narrow. He'd be a broader guy if he had dropped acid once or gone off to an ashram when he was younger." Steve Lohr. "Creating Jobs." The New York Times Magazine, 1997-01-12.
- "My errant youth ended a long time ago. […] That was on the other side of that boundary. The young mind can deal with certain kinds of gooping around that I don't think at this age I could. I don't think you’re as capable of handling lack of sleep or whatever challenges you throw at your body as you get older. However, I never missed a day of work." Playboy, 1994