LSD in the United States
Published by U.S. Department of Justice – Tuesday 19 November, 2002
Copyright: Drug Enforcement Administration
The availability of d-lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) has increased in the United States in the last 2 to 3 years; the hallucinogen is available in at least retail quantities in virtually every State. The sources of supply for most of the LSD available in the United States are believed to be centered in northern California.
At the wholesale production and trafficking levels, LSD remains tightly controlled by relatively small, fraternal California-based organizations that have evaded drug law enforcement operations successfully for over two decades. Mid-level distribution networks generally are comprised of individuals who have known each other through long years of association and common interests.
Over the past several years, an increasing number of individuals have attempted to manufacture LSD. Many of these individuals are not associated with the traditional northern California groups that are believed to have produced most of the LSD available in the United States since the late 1960’s.
Compared with methamphetamine, PCP, and other domestically manufactured illicit drugs, few LSD laboratories have been located or seized. Six clandestine LSD synthesis laboratories have been confiscated by DEA since 1981; however, there have been no seizures since 1987. This is due primarily to the shifting of law enforcement resources to target and dismantle the escalating number of cocaine trafficking and distribution organizations established during the crack epidemic that began during the mid-1980’s and continues into the present.
Public and private mail systems appear to be the primary means used for the transportation and distribution of wholesale and retail quantities of LSD.
LSD is relatively inexpensive with an average street dosage unit or “hit” costing approximately $5 and often as little as $1 or $2. Retail-level doses are available primarily in paper form; microdot tablets and gelatin squares also have been encountered.
Current LSD potency ranges from 20 to 80 micrograms per dosage unit. This potency is considerably below levels reported during the 1960’s and early 1970’s, when potency ranged from 100 to 200 micrograms (or higher) per dosage unit.
The National Household Survey on Drug Abuse for 1993 estimated that 13.2 million Americans 12 years of age or older have used LSD at least once in their lifetime compared to 8.1 million in 1985.
According to the 1993 Monitoring the Future Study, sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, lifetime, past-year, and past-month use of LSD among seniors in the class of 1993 increased to the highest level since 1985. Moreover, the survey revealed that LSD use has increased significantly in every frequency category except daily use at every grade level.
Reporting from the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) indicates that the number of LSD-related hospital emergencies remains low compared to other major illegal drugs of abuse. This low number most likely is due to the fewer adverse reactions generated by the low-potency LSD that has been produced since the late 1970’s. As a result, the DAWN figures do not reflect the increases in LSD use measured by other indicators such as the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse and the Monitoring the Future Survey.
LSD: The Drug
Background D-lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) is the most potent hallucinogenic substance known to man. Dosages of LSD are measured in micrograms, or millionths of a gram. By comparison, dosages of cocaine and heroin are measured in milligrams, or thousandths of a gram. Compared to other hallucinogenic substances, LSD is 100 times more potent than psilocybin and psilocin and 4,000 times more potent than mescaline.
The dosage level that will produce an hallucinogenic effect in humans generally is considered to be 25 micrograms. Over the past several years, the potency of LSD obtained during drug law enforcement operations has ranged between 20 and 80 micrograms per dosage unit. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recognizes 50 micrograms as the standard dosage unit equivalency.
LSD is classified as a Schedule I drug in the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. As a Schedule I drug, LSD meets the following three criteria: it is deemed to have a high potential for abuse; it has no legitimate medical use in treatment; and, there is a lack of accepted safety for its use under medical supervision.
LSD was synthesized in 1938 by a chemist working for Sandoz Laboratories in Switzerland. It was developed initially as a circulatory and respiratory stimulant. However, no extraordinary benefits of the compound were identified and its study was discontinued. In the 1940’s, interest in the drug was revived when it was thought to be a possible treatment for schizophrenia. Because of LSD’s structural relationship to a chemical that is present in the brain and its similarity in effect to certain aspects of psychosis, LSD was used as a research tool in studies of mental illness.
Sandoz Laboratories, the drug’s sole producer, began marketing LSD in 1947 under the trade name “Delysid” and it was introduced into the United States a year later. Sandoz marketed LSD as a psychiatric cure-all and “hailed it as a cure for everything from schizophrenia to criminal behavior, ‘sexual perversions,’ and alcoholism.” In fact, Sandoz, in its LSD-related literature, suggested that psychiatrists take the drug themselves in order to “gain an understanding of the subjective experiences of the schizophrenic.”
In psychiatry, the use of LSD by students was an accepted practice; it was viewed as a teaching tool in an attempt to understand schizophrenia. From the late 1940’s through the mid-1970’s, extensive research and testing were conducted on LSD. During a 15-year period beginning in 1950, research on LSD and other hallucinogens generated over 1,000 scientific papers, several dozen books, and 6 international conferences, and LSD was prescribed as treatment to over 40,000 patients. Although initial observations on the benefits of LSD were highly optimistic, empirical data developed subsequently proved much less promising.
As enthusiasm for the untested assumptions became tempered by the findings of actual experiments—and as less scrupulous professionals in the industry relaxed supervision and control of experiments—LSD emerged as a drug of abuse in certain, primarily medical, circles. Some psychiatric and medical professionals, acquainted with LSD in their work, began using it themselves and sharing it with friends and associates.
During the early 1960’s, this first group of casual LSD users evolved and expanded into a subculture that extolled the mystical and pseudo-religious symbolism often engendered by the drug’s powerful effects. The personalities associated with the subculture, usually connected to academia, and the propaganda they circulated soon attracted a great deal of publicity, generating further interest in LSD.
During the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the drug culture adopted LSD as the “psychedelic” drug of choice. The infatuation with LSD lasted for a number of years until considerable negative publicity emerged on “bad trips”— psychotic psychological traumas associated with the LSD high—and “flashbacks,” uncontrollable recurring experiences. As a result of these revelations and effective drug law enforcement efforts, LSD dramatically decreased in popularity in the mid-1970’s. Scientific study of LSD ceased circa 1980 as research funding declined.
As a casual drug of abuse, LSD has remained popular among certain segments of society. Traditionally, it has been popular with high school and college students and other young adults. LSD also has been integral to the lifestyle of many individuals who follow certain rock music bands, most notably the Grateful Dead. Older individuals, introduced to the hallucinogen in the 1960’s, also still use LSD.
LSD most often is found in the form of small paper squares or, on occasion, in tablets. On occasion, authorities have encountered the drug in others forms—including powder or crystal, liquid, gelatin square, and capsule—and laced on sugar cubes and other substances. LSD is sold under more than 80 street names including acid, blotter, cid, doses, and trips, as well as names that reflect the designs on sheets of paper (see Appendix 1). More than 200 types of LSD tablets have been encountered since 1969 and more than 350 paper designs have been acquired since 1975. Designs range from simple five-point stars in black and white to exotic artwork in full four-color print. Inexpensiveness (prices range from $2 to $5 per dosage unit or “hit,”; wholesale lots often sell for as little as $1 or less), ready availability, alleged “mind-expanding” properties, and intriguing paper designs make LSD especially attractive to junior high school and high school students.
LSD has been available—at first legally, then on the illicit market—for over 40 years. Its use in scientific research has been extensive and its use has been widespread. Although the study of LSD and other hallucinogens increased the awareness of how chemicals could affect the mind, its use in psychotherapy largely has been debunked. It produces no aphrodisiac effects, does not increase creativity, has no lasting positive effect in treating alcoholics or criminals, does not produce a “model psychosis,” and does not generate immediate personality change.
However, drug studies have confirmed that the powerful hallucinogenic effects of this drug can produce profound adverse reactions, such as acute panic reactions, psychotic crises, and flashbacks, especially in users ill-equipped to deal with such trauma.
LSD Use and Effects
LSD is ingested orally. A microdot tablet or square of the perforated LSD paper is placed in the user’s mouth, chewed or swallowed, and the chemical is absorbed from the individual’s gastrointestinal system. Paper squares are the preferred medium because their small size makes them easy to conceal and ingest. Also, because LSD is not injected or smoked, paraphernalia are not required.
The National Household Survey on Drug Abuse data for LSD are limited to estimates of lifetime use, defined as the use of LSD at least once in a person’s lifetime. During 1993, 13.2 million Americans, 12 years of age and older, reported having used LSD at least once compared to 8.1 million in 1985, an increase of more than 60 percent. In addition to the steady increase in LSD use since 1990, the data reveal two significant expansions in the number of lifetime users of LSD; one expansion occurred from 1985 to 1988 and the other from 1990 to 1991.
According to the 1994 Monitoring the Future Study, lifetime, past-year, and past-month use of LSD among seniors in the class of 1994 increased to the highest level since at least 1985. Moreover, the survey revealed that LSD use has increased in every category (except daily use) at every grade level. In addition, the proportions of students associating great risk with the use of LSD and other drugs have been declining significantly.
The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) indicates that the number of LSD-related hospital emergencies remains low compared to those related to cocaine, heroin, marijuana, methamphetamine, phencyclidine, and other major illicit drugs of abuse. For example, over the past 5 years, the number of LSD-related hospital emergencies has not exceeded 3,900 in any given year while the number of cocaine-related hospital emergencies has approached 125,000 per year during that same time frame. The low number of LSD-related hospital emergencies most likely is due to the fewer adverse reactions generated by the low-potency LSD that has been produced since the late 1970’s. As a result, the DAWN figures do not reflect the increases in LSD use measured by other indicators such as the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse and the Monitoring the Future Survey.
DAWN data also reveal that the majority of LSD abusers are in their late teens and early twenties and usually are white males. This general profile of LSD users has been a common characteristic associated with the drug since it became popular as a substance of abuse and, for the most part, has been unchanged since at least 1989. In 1993, LSD-related emergency room episodes ranked fourth among youths aged 6 to 19, after alcohol in combination with other drugs, marijuana, and cocaine.
LSD generates a wide variety of effects, the intensity of which are related to the size of the dose ingested, the mental state of the user, and the setting in which it is used. Although the minimum dose required to induce effects is considered to be 25 micrograms, a dose of as little as 10 micrograms can relax inhibitions and produce mild euphoria. As the dosage is increased, the effects become more pronounced and more prolonged. The LSD high is uncontrollable once the drug has been ingested because there is no antidote.
LSD is absorbed easily from the gastrointestinal tract, and rapidly reaches a high concentration in the blood. It is circulated throughout the body and, subsequently, to the brain. LSD is metabolized in the liver and is excreted in the urine in about 24 hours.
Several factors provide LSD with a virtually inherent governor to its regular use, meaning that the drug will never become as frequently abused as other drugs, most notably, crack cocaine. First, the duration of the effects, which may persist for up to 12 hours or more, ensures that the user will not need to purchase the drug on a rapidly recurring basis. Second, tolerance to the drug develops rapidly if used daily, rendering its repeated ingestion useless, and cannot be overcome by ingestion of increased dosages. Third, the uncertain and mixed effects, especially adverse reactions, lead to erratic instances of LSD use. Finally, the extremely powerful and intense hallucinations often prompt users to abstain from LSD ingestion as they require periods of reorientation.
LSD use can produce a number of physical changes: mydriasis (prolonged dilation of the pupil of the eye), raised body temperature, rapid heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, increased blood sugar, salivation, tingling in fingers and toes, weakness, tremors, palpitations, facial flushing, chills, gooseflesh, profuse perspiration, nausea, dizziness, inappropriate speech, blurred vision, and intense anxiety. Death caused by the direct effect of LSD on the body is virtually impossible. However, death related to LSD abuse has occurred as a result of the panic reactions, hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia experienced by users.
LSD distorts electrical messages sent to and from various parts of the brain, primarily those pertaining to visual information. Messages from any of the senses can be perceived as merged together, creating a sensation known as “synesthesia.” This most commonly is represented as “hearing colors” or “seeing sounds.”
LSD also affects moods and emotions and suppresses memory centers and other higher cerebral functions, such as judgment, reason, behavior control, and self-awareness. The combination and intensity of these factors create the profound mental effects most closely associated with LSD.
The mental effects most commonly associated with LSD use, particularly at high doses, are visual images or hallucinations, often involving simulated philosophical or religious connotations. It is this artificial imagery which has been advocated erroneously as providing true psychological insight and benefit.
The cause of most LSD-related problems is the intense visual illusions triggered that seem real and become overpowering, prompting the user to want to withdraw from the drug state immediately. Initially, at lower dosage levels, the visual images are intensified in color or flashes of light are seen. The visual images progress to brightly colored geometric designs and become distorted. At higher dosages, images appear as distortions of reality or as completely new visual images and can be seen with the eyes open or closed.
Hallucinations also take other forms: thoughts become dreamlike or free-flowing, perception of time can become slowed or distorted, and out-of-body experiences may occur or the perception that one’s body has merged with another person or object.
Emotional responses to the vivid hallucinations can be wide-ranging, from euphoria and contentment to disturbing feelings of confusion, fear, and despair. Moods can change profoundly in a short period of time, from excitability to tranquility.
The consequences of LSD use can be deleterious, not merely benign as is commonly perceived. Powerful hallucinations can lead to acute panic reactions when the mental effects cannot be controlled and when the user wishes to end the drug-induced state. While these panic reactions more often than not are resolved successfully over time, prolonged anxiety and psychotic reactions have been reported. The mental effects can cause psychotic crises and compound existing psychiatric problems.
Flashbacks are one of the most dangerous side effects of LSD use. They are recurrences of images or effects that were experienced during a previous LSD administration and they can vary in frequency and duration. Flashbacks can occur spontaneously or they can be spurred by the use of other drugs (particularly marijuana or hashish), emotional stress, fatigue, or movement from a light to a dark environment. These flashbacks can last from a few seconds to several hours. Ironically, some experienced LSD users do not consider flashbacks to be an adverse consequence of LSD use and actually enjoy the renewed perceptions or images as a “free trip.”
Illegal LSD Production
LSD has been manufactured illegally since the 1960’s. A limited number of chemists, probably less than a dozen, are believed to be manufacturing nearly all of the LSD available in the United States. Some of these manufacturers probably have been operating since the 1960’s.
LSD manufacturers and traffickers can be separated into two groups. The first, located in northern California, is composed of chemists (commonly referred to as “cooks”) and traffickers who work together in close association; typically, they are major producers capable of distributing LSD nationwide. The second group is made up of independent producers who, operating on a comparatively limited scale, can be found throughout the country. As a group, independent producers pose much less of a threat than the northern California group inasmuch as their production is intended for local consumption only.
Drug law enforcement officials have surmised that LSD chemists and top echelon traffickers form an insider’s fraternity of sorts. They successfully have remained at large because there are so few of them. Their exclusivity is not surprising given that LSD synthesis is a difficult process to master. Although cooks need not be formally trained chemists, they must adhere to precise and complex production procedures. In instances where the cook is not a chemist, the production recipe most likely was passed on by personal instruction from a formally trained chemist. Further supporting the premise that most LSD manufacture is the work of a small fraternity of chemists, virtually all the LSD seized during the 1980’s was of consistently high purity and sold in relatively uniform dosages of 20 to 80 micrograms.
LSD commonly is produced from lysergic acid, which is made from ergotamine tartrate, a substance derived from an ergot fungus on rye, or from lysergic acid amide, a chemical found in morning glory seeds. Although theoretically possible, manufacture of LSD from morning glory seeds is not economically feasible and these seeds never have been found to be a successful starting material for LSD production. Lysergic acid and lysergic acid amide are both classified in Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act. Ergotamine tartrate is regulated under the Chemical Diversion and Trafficking Act.
Ergotamine tartrate is not readily available in the United States, and its purchase by other than established pharmaceutical firms is suspect. Therefore, ergotamine tartrate used in clandestine LSD laboratories is believed to be acquired from sources located abroad, most likely Europe, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Africa. The difficulty in acquiring ergotamine tartrate may limit the number of independent LSD manufacturers. By contrast, illicit manufacture of methamphetamine and phencyclidine is comparatively more prevelant in the United States because, in part, precursor chemicals can be procured easily.
Only a small amount of ergotamine tartrate is required to produce LSD in large batches. For example, 25 kilograms of ergotamine tartrate can produce 5 or 6 kilograms of pure LSD crystal that, under ideal circumstances, could be processed into 100 million dosage units, more than enough to meet what is believed to be the entire annual U.S. demand for the hallucinogen. LSD manufacturers need only import a small quantity of the substance and, thus, enjoy the advantages of ease of concealment and transport not available to traffickers of other illegal drugs, primarily marijuana and cocaine.
Cooking LSD is time consuming; it takes from 2 to 3 days to produce 1 to 4 ounces of crystal. Consequently, it is believed that LSD usually is not produced in large quantities, but rather in a series of small batches. Production of LSD in small batches also minimizes the loss of precursor chemicals should they become contaminated during the synthesis process.
LSD crystal produced clandestinely can be as much as 95- to 100-percent pure. At this purity—and assuming optimum conditions during dilution and application to paper—1 gram of crystal could produce 20,000 dosage units of LSD. However, analysis of LSD crystal seized in California over the past 3 years revealed an average purity of only 62 percent. Moreover, LSD degrades quickly when exposed to heat, light, and air and is most susceptible to degradation during the application process and once it is in paper form. As a result, under less than optimal, real-life conditions, actual yields are significantly below the theoretically possible yield: 1 gram of LSD crystal genarally yields 10,000 dosage units of LSD, or approximately 10 million dosage units per kilogram.
Over the past 30 years, the traditional dilution factor for manufacturing LSD has been 10,000 doses per 1 gram of crystal. Therefore, dosage units yielded from high-purity (95- to 100-percent pure) LSD crystal would contain 100 micrograms. However, dosages currently seen contain closer to 50 micrograms. This discrepancy stems in part from production impurities: during the sythesis process, manufacturers generally fail to perform a final “clean-up” step to remove by-products, thereby lowering the crystal’s purity. Further, though average purity of tested LSD crystal samples is, as noted, 62 percent, the average potency of doses analyzed is approximately 50 micrograms rather than 62 micrograms, as would be expected. The diminished potency can be attributed to distributors who, when applying the crystal to paper, often “cheat” by diluting 1 gram of crystal to produce up to 15,000 or more dosage units.
Pure, high-potency LSD is a clear or white, odorless crystalline material that is soluble in water. It is mixed with binding agents, such as spray-dried skim milk, for producing tablets or is dissolved and diluted in a solvent for application onto paper or other materials. Variations in the manufacturing process or the presence of precursors or by-products can cause LSD to range in color from clear or white, in its purest form, to tan or even black, indicating poor quality or degradation. To mask product difficiencies, distributors often apply LSD to off-white, tan, or yellow paper to disguise discoloration.
At the highest levels of the traffic, where LSD crystal is purchased in gram or multigram quantities from wholesale sources of supply, it rarely is diluted with adulterants, a common practice with cocaine, heroin, and other illicit drugs. However, to prepare the crystal for production in retail dosage units, it must be diluted with binding agents or dissolved and diluted in liquids. The dilution of LSD crystal typically follows a standard, predetermined recipe to ensure uniformity of the final product. Excessive dilution yields less potent dosage units that soon become unmarketable.
LSD crystal usually is converted into tablet form (“microdots” that are 3/32 inch or smaller in diameter), thin squares of gelatin (“window panes”), or applied to sheets of prepared paper (blotter paper—initially used as a medium—has been replaced by a variety of paper types). LSD most frequently is encountered in paper form, still commonly referred to as blotter paper or blotter acid. It consists of sheets of paper soaked in or otherwise impregnated with LSD. Often these sheets are covered with colorful designs or artwork and are usually perforated into one-quarter inch square, individual dosage units.
Evolution of Illicit LSD Trafficking
Throughout the history of LSD trafficking, supplies have mirrored the demand for the drug. The illicit drug market has never experienced a serious shortage or glut of LSD and the overall supply of the drug has remained relatively constant since 1980. Over the years, investigations throughout the country have established that LSD sources of supply are located primarily in northern California’s San Francisco Bay area.
Initially, LSD was supplied by small groups that obtained limited quantities of ergotamine tartrate on the commercial market. By the end of the 1960’s, a single group—securing significant amounts of ergotamine tartrate from Mexican and Costa Rican sources—emerged as the principal supplier of LSD in the United States. With the immobilization of this group in the early 1970’s, another organization took over as the principal source of supply, purchasing virtually all of its ergotamine tartrate through front companies from legitimate domestic suppliers. The neutralization of this organization wiped out the large-scale production and distribution of LSD within the United States. Immediately following this drug law enforcement effort, the number of LSD dosage unit removals from the illicit drug market decreased dramatically.
By 1976, however, another organization, centered in the San Francisco Bay area, had assumed the primary role in the production and distribution of LSD. The organization operated at least one clandestine laboratory in northern California and was believed to have managed virtually the entire LSD market through its control over the illicit importation of ergotamine tartrate and through its franchising of LSD production rights. Ergotamine tartrate was secured, indirectly, from legitimate European chemical firms: the firms supplied the precursor to European criminal organizations that, in turn, smuggled it through American middlemen to the San Francisco organization. (Since 1976, there have been no known significant diversions of ergotamine tartrate from legitimate sources in the United States.)
During the late 1970’s, virtually all LSD tablets analyzed by DEA’s Special Testing and Research Laboratory exhibited the same chemical composition and a roughly proportional presence of diluents. The finding suggests a possibility that a single organization manufactured the raw granulated material used in LSD tablet presses nationwide. More probably, however, the analyses indicate that LSD crystal cooks merely have passed on a single recipe for producing the tablets.
Due to the variety of shapes and sizes seen among seized tablets, it would seem that sizable amounts of the LSD crystal were distributed to specific tablet press operators. Press operators changed tablet punches and metal dies partly as a security measure and partly due to extreme wear on the non-case-hardened steel dies.
The San Francisco organization also shipped LSD in liquid form to individual conversion operations located in areas in the United States where LSD demand was greatest and to foreign, primarily English-speaking, nations. The LSD liquid was applied to paper either by using syringes to dispense LSD onto individual paper squares or by immersing sheets of paper squares in a less concentrated LSD liquid solution.
Paper emerged as the most popular means of distributing LSD. Paper distribution does not entail use of expensive pill presses. Also, pill press operations require a higher level of skill and security than paper application operations. The paper squares and sheets are easy to conceal and transport. Unique designs can be applied to the paper to make the drug more appealing to young users and to serve as brand identification. The paper designs also can be changed regularly to stimulate demand. Unlike the administration of other drugs, particularly the injection of heroin, the method of LSD ingestion (oral) is unobtrusive. In addition, the paper dosages are not readily associated by users with drugs or medicine, allowing the sellers to portray it as “natural” or unlike other drugs. Moreover, the “noncommercial social philosophy of the environment surrounding LSD use and sales makes it difficult for young people to view LSD as a dangerous drug.”
In contrast to the trafficking of other drugs, in which profit is the sole motivating factor, LSD trafficking has assumed an ideological or crusading aspect. The influence of—and probable distribution by—certain psychedelic generation gurus has created a secretiveness and marketing mystique unique to LSD, particularly at the higher echelons of the traffic. Their belief in the beneficent properties of LSD has been, over the years, as strong a motivating factor in the production and distribution of the drug as the profits to be made from its sale.
Large amounts of LSD have been seized by drug law enforcement authorities during the last several years, and numerous distributors have been arrested and convicted. Those at the upper echelon, however, continue to evade the law. These individuals appear to run an efficient and profitable operation that is difficult to penetrate.
Current Trafficking and Distribution
DEA reporting indicates that LSD is available in at least retail quantities in virtually every State in the United States and that availability is increasing in a number of States. More than half of all DEA field divisions report increased availability of LSD within their respective jurisdictions, and the remaining field divisions report that LSD is readily available. Northern California appears to be the source of supply for most of the LSD available in the United States.
At the wholesale production and trafficking level, LSD is controlled tightly by California-based organizations that have operated with relative impunity for almost 20 years. Reporting also indicates that an increasing number of individuals or groups nationwide are manufacturing and distributing LSD, or attempting to do so, on a limited basis.
LSD traffickers sometimes supply or “front” consignments of LSD to distributors who have established an acceptable level of reliability; the traffickers are reimbursed once the LSD has been sold. For the most part, however, payment for consignments of LSD is made in advance by wire through Western Union or by postal money orders. Upon receipt of payment, LSD is shipped to the distributor. At the retail level, LSD is sold strictly on a cash-and-carry basis. Money laundering is not conducted on a sophisticated level, except by LSD traffickers with international connections.
Investigative intelligence reveals that major trafficking organizations are attempting to boost LSD sales through the extension of credit, especially to mid-level distributors and occasionally to low-level sellers. This suggests that competition at the highest levels of the traffic is increasing, possibly due to an increase in the number of LSD crystal manufacturers.
LSD traffickers have adapted their tactics to circumvent the mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines. For instance, an investigation in California revealed that one trafficker was unwilling to conduct transactions in excess of 9 grams of LSD crystal because the threshold of 10 grams triggers the mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years imprisonment.
LSD usually is transported in two ways from the San Francisco Bay area. First, overnight delivery services, including express mail, Federal Express, and DHL, are used extensively to transport large amounts of LSD throughout the United States. Second, LSD is shipped to major distributors in cities that host concerts of the “Grateful Dead” band. The concerts are used as a forum for large-scale LSD distribution, as well as low-level or retail sales. In addition, intelligence reveals that major transactions also are consummated at these events. Local police agencies have consistently reported that LSD use and arrests rise significantly prior to the concerts and persist for a period after the band leaves town.
Traditionally, retail-level LSD distribution networks in the United States have been comprised of individuals who have known each other through long association and common interests. This has facilitated not only hand-to-hand sales of the drug, but a proliferation of mail order sales.
Distribution of LSD usually occurs in one of three ways. First, an individual attends a rock concert, meets a source of supply, and exchanges telephone numbers. Typically, these purchases are for retail quantities of up to 100 doses. Second, individuals, who decide to continue distributing, call the source for additional amounts. Usually, the source has either continued on the concert tour or has returned home, which frequently is in northern California. If the source intends to stay on the tour—making subsequent communication difficult—the telephone number of an associate is provided for future orders. After the initial purchase, almost all transactions are made via the public and private mail systems. (Payments to a source of supply usually are made through legitimate money wiring services.) Third, some distributors travel directly to California to meet sources of supply.
The mail system is the primary means used to ship wholesale quantities of LSD to distributors located nationwide. Reporting indicates that shipment methods used to transport both large and small quantities of LSD are often similar. LSD frequently is concealed in greeting cards, in cassette tapes, or in articles of clothing that are mailed to a post office box established by the recipient. This post office box usually is listed under a fictitious name or business. Normally, no return address is provided on the package or envelope.
LSD is sold in several forms, including crystal, liquid, tablets, gelatin, or applied to sheets of paper or sugar cubes. At the highest levels of the traffic, LSD is sold in crystal form. LSD in liquid form is destined for transfer to a paper medium, and commonly is associated with mid-level distribution. At the retail level, the vast majority of dosage units are in the paper form, although tablets can be purchased in several areas.
LSD, when diluted and applied to paper, begins to degrade quickly, necessitating a high rate of product turnover. As a result, “stash” houses containing large quantities of the drug, common in the traffic of cocaine and marijuana, seldom are encountered by drug law enforcement authorities.
LSD liquid and crystal generally are sold in plastic film canisters or, occasionally, in small, opaque plastic bottles to prevent oxidation, which turns the LSD darker than the preferred white or off-white color.
LSD in crystal or liquid form is applied to sheets of paper by traffickers who operate clandestine conversion laboratories located in the San Francisco Bay area or by distributors in mobile conversion laboratories. These conversion laboratories can be erected quickly and efficiently almost anywhere, usually in hotel or motel rooms in cities where rock concerts are scheduled or in recreational vehicles that follow certain rock bands on their concert tours, most notably the Grateful Dead Band.
Sheets of paper usually are prepared with colorful designs or artwork of many different characters or images. The designs often are applied commercially by printing companies using off-set lithography, screen printing, or silk screening. Photocopiers also can be used to reproduce distinctive designs onto sheets effectively. Otherwise, the designs can be applied by rubber stamps or hand-drawn.
The sheets are perforated to create small squares which represent a single dosage unit or “hit,” isolating one design per dosage unit or several designs per sheet. Some LSD paper samples contain only one elaborate design per sheet. Major traffickers use methods developed in the printing industry to perforate the paper sheets. However, smaller operations may employ cruder methods, such as razor blades, pizza cutters, or sewing tools (e.g., the “Dritz” pattern marking wheel). The sheets then are ready for the application of liquid LSD.
The printed sheets are dipped into shallow pans containing LSD crystal dissolved in methanol, ethanol, or other solvent (water can be used; however, its slower evaporation rate increases the likelihood of degradation) and then are laid out or hung up to dry. The printing inks generally are insoluble in the solvents to ensure that the image does not run. Because this production procedure is inexact, the potency of LSD can vary from sheet to sheet and even from square to square.
The LSD application process is performed in this order to minimize loss of product. If the LSD is applied to the sheets prior to adding the designs, the bloated sheets of paper could jam printing or photocopying machines, wasting the valuable drug-soaked paper. In addition, there is a certain amount of waste inherent in commercial printing or photocopying operations.
Once the paper sheets are printed, perforated, and impregnated with LSD, they are ready for distribution. The traffickers often communicate with local contacts to establish distribution outlets for the drug.
LSD is relatively inexpensive. The average price is approximately $5 per retail dosage unit and less than $1 per dosage unit in wholesale lots of 1,000 or more. When compared with marijuana, which sells for $40 to $450 per ounce, LSD is perceived by many drug users as a bargain, especially considering the duration of its effects, which, in higher doses, can persist for up to 12 hours. Although LSD prices have fluctuated nationally during the past several years, overall prices remain relatively low.
The low cost of LSD has given rise to incidents where the drug is misrepresented as another illicit drug of abuse. While a small amount of liquid LSD will yield a certain number of individual dosage units for sale at from $1 to $10 each, the same amount of liquid can be applied to other substances and sold at significantly higher prices. For example, LSD can be applied to gourmet mushrooms to create ersatz psilocybin mushrooms that sell for $30 to $350 per ounce. It also can be applied to tablets and sold as 3,4 methylenedioxy-methamphetamine (MDMA) for $8 to $25 per dosage unit. This versatility allows the distributor to offer a variety of drugs for sale and provides him with the potential for increased profits.
LSD potency or strength is measured in micrograms. In the 1960’s and early 1970’s, LSD potency generally ranged from 100 to 200 micrograms per dosage unit or higher. Analysis of exhibits during the late 1970’s indicated an average potency in the 30- to 50-microgram range. From the mid-1980’s to the present, LSD potency has remained considerably below levels reported during the 1960’s and early 1970’s and generally has been in the range of 20 to 80 micrograms per dosage unit. As a result of this comparatively low dosage level, many users perceive LSD as “safe,” thus enhancing the drug’s attractiveness.
The production of lower potency LSD was a conscious marketing ploy passed down from an older generation of producers for two primary reasons. First, producing lower potency doses meant that the same volume of LSD liquid or crystal could be diluted into a larger number of dosage units, thereby boosting profits significantly. Second, lower potency doses yield fewer adverse reactions on the scale of those seen during the 1960’s and early 1970’s.
Lower potency doses probably have accounted for the relatively few LSD-related emergency room incidents noted during the past several years. However, there are several reasons why these incidents still occur. For example, users who seek a more intense hallucinogenic experience merely consume multiple dosage units at once. In addition, novices who are unaware that the effects of LSD may take up to 1 hour to develop are tempted to ingest additional dosage units and unwittingly increase the size of the dosage consumed.