Ah, the mystifying lysergic acid diethylamide—more commonly known as LSD, acid, tabs, stamps, blotters, and so on.
LSD was accidentally discovered by the chemist Albert Hoffman in the 1940s while he was trying to derive an analeptic (a drug that stimulates the nervous system) from ergot root. By the 1950s, the drug was being sold to psychiatrists under the name “Delysid,” with researchers lauding the mystical effects the drug had on patients. The interest in LSD then left the medical sphere, with figures like Harvard psychologist Timothy Leary praising the drug for its “healing capabilities.” LSD soon became integrated into the 1960s counterculture movement, with its popularity especially seen in music—the likes of the Beatles, Pink Floyd, and Jimi Hendrix. It was around this time that the CIA began to experiment on people with the drug. But the drug’s strong association with hippie culture and accounts of damaging mind alterations led to the U.S. government making it illegal to own LSD in 1966. Still, it’s out there—and since the start of the pandemic, the use of LSD and other psychedelics has nearly doubled among young people in the U.S. The rise of psychedelics can be explained by the pandemic-induced desire to “escape” and the changing perspective on psychedelics.
While LSD is still a Class A drug in most countries, the public attitude toward it has changed. There are many myths surrounding LSD, with some people claiming it kills brain cells or causes genetic mutations—not to mention the urban myths, like the story of a babysitter putting a child in an oven while tripping or a man permanently thinking he’s an orange. Over the past couple years, however, researchers have started noting the positive therapeutic effects of LSD, leading to research on psychedelic therapy. In the U.S. and beyond, we seem to be in the midst of another psychedelic revolution, with more people than ever looking to benefit from the effects of psychedelics.
Personally, I became curious about LSD after hearing my friend talk incessantly about it. He showed me his trip journals, filled to the brim with otherworldly imagery. I wanted to explore new pathways in my brain like my friend talked about, and gain a better understanding of reality. Most of all, tripping just seemed fun. And after doing acid for the first time, I really did feel a sense of renewal; it was as if I’d been completely rearranged and was seeing the world with new eyes. Since then, I’ve wanted to learn more about psychedelics and the effects they’ve had on different people. In order to gain a wider variety of perspectives, I interviewed eight young adults around the world to talk about their first time tripping acid—and the wildly different experiences they all had.
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
The trip: I was 15 the first time I tried LSD, and I ended up at the dentist during my peak. I got the idea through a friend of mine, whom I had actually just met. He told us he would stay sober and be a guide for me and my friend. So at 8 AM the next day, I took a tab, and started one of the most ridiculous days of my life. The world was magnificent—magical, even. I was used to getting ridiculously stoned, but this was a completely different ball game. The three of us walked on trails, hung out on the playground, rode our bikes and skateboards, and just lived. It all went south pretty fast. My parents texted me and told me to be home by 1:30 to go to the dentist. Quickly, I was overwhelmed with anxiety. I had no choice but to calm down and figure out my trip. I accepted that I was going to be tripping for the rest of the day, and that there was nothing to do about it. So I ended up at the dentist, with light beaming through my wide open pupils and a drill pulling at my teeth. It definitely wasn’t a pleasant first trip experience. But honestly, I think I could handle anything now.
Advice: Make sure your entire day is clear. You’re going to need at least twelve hours to finish tripping, and even after that you’re going to feel weird. It also helps to have the next day pretty free. LSD wipes your body clean of serotonin, which means you’re going to feel a little sad for a day or two.
The trip: I went to my friend’s house in the middle of nowhere in the mountains. We split a tab and a half in the morning and then started tripping 40-60 minutes later. It started slow, so I didn’t even realize that I was feeling it at first—my body just felt warm. We watched swallows fly around the house, picked flowers, and laid down in the sun. At this point we decided to take another tab each. We walked down the river for about an hour, and then split up and went off on our own. I sat on a rock for a while and saw a ton of homoerotic imagery around me. (This was the same time in my life I was coming to terms with being gay.) After a while, me and my friends gathered together and watched the sun set from a hill. Then, we ate supper outside and went to bed.
Advice: Be in a good headspace before you trip, and make sure that you’re well-fed and well-rested. Be in a place where you feel comfortable—ideally in nature.
The trip: It was at a techno high school party in a club. I only did a quarter of a tab, so it didn't really hit me—I just saw some visuals. The second time, I tripped with some friends and we had a great time listening to music and drawing.
Advice: You can always take more but never less, so go slowly. Communicate what you're feeling to avoid feeling paranoia or that people are judging. Try to do it with people you trust. I know people always talk about testing, but if you live somewhere where reactive test kits are more criminalized than LSD (as is the case here in Argentina), make sure to buy from a trustworthy source. Finally, remember: if it’s bitter, it’s a spitter.
The trip: I tripped with my friend, and it’s very hard to describe what happened. At first it felt like we were in a desert, because everything was yellow and orange and I saw cactuses out of the corner of my eye. Then, everything had a slightly purple tinge and felt like I was in the Duat, like from ancient Egyptian mythology. Then, I made a sandwich that looked straight out of The Fairly OddParents. Then, me and my friend mapped out our entire lives and the lives of everyone we knew. I remember constantly looking at my friend and getting scared because she looked like a goblin. After it was over, I felt like I’d absorbed the way my friend thought—like she’d gone into my brain and reorganized my mind.
Advice: Trip with a person you trust who’s already done it. Also, make sure you don’t have work the next day.
S, New York City
The trip: I took acid for the first time on Halloween weekend with a friend at a club. I probably took around 200 micrograms, which was a lot for my first time. I realized around midnight that the acid was actually hitting, because I could physically “feel” the beat drop. Physically and emotionally, acid took a toll on me. I had so many thoughts running through my head—mostly about my family and my future. Still, I really enjoyed it! It felt like a glimpse into spiritual enlightenment.
Advice: If you think you’re going to be paranoid, it’s probably best not to do it. Find the right space to trip and do it with people you trust.
PHC, Puerto Rico
The trip: Well, I thought I would be microdosing but I ended up taking a full tab. I felt so uncomfortable—like I was a witness to my own life. I could feel everybody's energy and realized the people who’d administered the LSD were weird and sketchy, so I immediately wanted to leave. When I did, I found myself in a room with checkered floors and found that I was afraid of the floor. Then I saw myself in the mirror and my pupils were huge. The mirror became an infinite loop of falling into myself. When I ate pizza, it tasted like rubber and the textures were all weird. It was a bad trip.
Advice: Don’t trip with strangers!
The trip: I was gifted a tab by my friend. It sat in my room for nearly two months, and then one Saturday morning I spontaneously decided to take it. (In retrospect, it was a very haphazard decision.) I went out with my friends for lunch, and only one of them knew I was tripping. Right as we were eating, the acid started to hit. I remember staring at my sandwich and thinking the meat felt like plastic. Afterwards, I panicked and went home and proceeded to sit in my room for hours journaling. I used up about half of my journal that day. While a lot of it was surreal drawings and scattered thoughts, there were quite a few keen observations. I think I realized how damaged and repressed I was. Honestly, I'm glad I was alone for most of my trip. It was an uncomfortable trip, but not necessarily a bad one. Toward the end of the trip, I remember smoking a cigarette outside my window while listening to Daniel Johnston. I watched the smoke dissipate into the swirling sky and felt like I was the stars. When I left home the next morning, everything felt so surreal—it was all tinged with an angelic glow.
Advice: Plan your trip ahead of time so you can emotionally prepare for it.
The trip: I took LSD around 9 AM, and it hit while I was having breakfast. I felt unable to physically swallow my food. I was in sensory overload—everything had so much texture. My friend and I walked around the lake and sat directly in front of a temple; the trees were waving, and it was absolutely beautiful. When we listened to music, it felt like my mind was multitasking. I would look at random things and see patterns emerge, which kind of looked like an Aztec calendar. We watched a man fish in the lake and kill a fish in front of us, and while I thought it would be terrifying it was actually quite profound—it made me aware of the wildly different lives we lead. I became very aware of my thoughts and started to question why I was so self-conscious. I realized that none of it really mattered. I could be whoever I wanted to fucking be. I was able to let go of everything that was holding me back.
Advice: Let yourself experience the trip. Even if it’s scary, accept that you’re tripping and just go with it.