The LSD Experience

2011

LSD’s major effects, Hofmann and subsequent researchers found, are both emotional and sensory. Initially, there is a slight feeling of anxiety as the user begins to recognize that things are changing from the usual to the unusual. As the effects intensify, emotions may shift rapidly, going from concern, to fear, to euphoria, to meditation, and possibly back again. Sometimes when emotional transitions occur too quickly, the user may seem to experience several different emotions simultaneously.

LSD is best known for its ability to dramatically alter perceptions. Tastes, colors, smells, sounds, and other sensations seem greatly intensified. In some cases, sensory perceptions may blend in a phenomenon known as synesthesia, in which a person seems to hear or feel colors and sees sounds. As with other hallucinogens, the perception of time can also be altered. Some people feel that the hours fly by like minutes, while others feel minutes drag by like hours.

Most users report that they do not find these simple perceptual alterations alarming, but as the LSD trip progresses, the benign altering of the senses often escalates to hallucinations. Cartoon characters painted in whimsical colors may float over imaginary forests or fields, or objects such as automobiles feature laughing human faces in place of the headlights and grill.

Although users may find these outlandish images entertaining, hallucinations may also be disturbing. The beat poet Allen Ginsberg described one such hallucination he experienced under the influence of LSD:

I had the impression that I was an insignificant speck on a giant spider web, and that the spider was slowly coming to get me, and that the spider was God or the Devil — I wasn’t sure — but I was the victim. I thought I was trapped in a giant web or network of forces beyond my control that were perhaps experimenting with me or were perhaps from another planet or were from some super-government or cosmic military or science-fiction Big Brother.

LSD trips may also evolve into intensely personal spiritual experiences. In fact, many writers who explored the effects of LSD explained their principal interest in the drug as being based in a search for spiritual guidance. Psychiatrist W. V. Caldwell defined his LSD-inspired experience this way: “It comprises a religious sense of at-oneness, a resurgence of faith and hope, and a radiant affirmation of the value of life.”

As is the case with entheogens, no researcher to date has been able to explain such LSD-induced religious experiences. Psychologist Stanislav Grof, however, observes,

Some subjects [on LSD] had profound religious and mystical experiences that bore a striking similarity to those described in various sacred texts and in the writings of mystics, saints, religious teachers and prophets of all ages. Despite the fact that many leading scientists, theologians and spiritual teachers have discussed this theme extensively, the controversy about “chemical” versus “spontaneous” mysticism remains unresolved.