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How Does LSD Work?

Updated on May 10, 2015

Awareness is our ability to perceive, with our awareness we are aware of the existence of objects and so can direct our attention toward them. Without awareness of something we cannot direct our attention toward it and so can never truly experience it. Awareness is a mysterious phenomenon, mainly because there are many different levels of awareness. A sleeping person is strangely in connection with the room they are in and subtly aware of their bodily functions (think of all the times you've woken up at 6am needing to pee), and even a person in a deep coma can be aware of visitors or voices.

LSD is a drug that affects our awareness. To affect our awareness a drug has to make changes to the chemistry within our brains. This is because awareness is created in the brain by a chemical reaction.

In your brain you have many thousands of long string like cells called neurons. These neurons are like cities bustling with activity. When you have a thought a particular neuron get's excited and sends many transport units out to it's neighbouring neurons, creating a chain reaction of excitement. These transport units are known as neurotransmitters.

The different type of neurotransmitter arriving in the new neuron determines what type of reaction the neuron has. If the neurotransmitter is glutamate, which is extremely common and regulates memory and learning, it is like a normal car arriving in the city. If the arriving neurotransmitter is dopamine, it is like a rock band arriving in town and everyone begins to party. If the neurotransmitter is serotonin, it is like a great public speaker or politician who arrives in the city and influences the cities mood and vibe.

Serotonin is an incredible neurotransmitter, largely because it has such a unique effect on our minds. It is the regulator of many important functions such as mood, memory, sleep and awareness. Furthermore it is present in a huge amount of animals, including single celled bacteria.

Serotonin has the effect of arousing us or bringing us to attention. Attention is what engages us with our awareness. Essentially if a sleeping person or comatose person is aware of their surroundings, they have very poor attention to it and are so not engaged with it. Whereas a waking person is intensely engaged with their awareness, as is someone sexually aroused.

You may notice that you remember things better when you have an emotional connection with them. This is because memory is like with arousal, and arousal is linked with serotonin. If you are slapped every time you bite your nails, pretty quickly you will remember not to do it. This has also linked serotonin with depression, where someone depressed has a waking awareness of the world, but they become chronically upset because their lack of serotonin does not allow them to be aroused and engage with the world.

LSD is a chemical created by Albert Hoffman in the mid Twentieth Century that alters our arousal and engagement with our awareness. The amazing thing about LSD is that its chemical shape is almost identical to the chemical shape of serotonin. So if serotonin is a public speaker or politician who preaches to the city, LSD is like a strange painter or graffiti artist who starts to exhibit weird paintings around town.

Serotonin creates what we would call normal attention, which is practical and useful for going about our day to day routines. It keeps our memories in check and allows us to direct our attention to the parts of our awareness that matter for our survival and it deals with things in a logical and reasonable fashion, as a public speaker or politician would.

LSD creates an altered attention, which seems to drag us out of the realm of routine into the realm of imagination and art. Like how walking down the street on your way to work is something you do everyday, but this morning you notice a magnificent piece of graffiti on the wall that really snaps you out of autopilot.

LSD has this effect by being profoundly engaging. Like serotonin it acts on your attention, and arouses you intensely. It does not cause strange aliens to appear like pop culture would have you believe, it causes you to engage deeply with things in your field of awareness, be they bodily functions, thoughts, fantasies, nature or conversations.

This can be very intense and even unnerving. Imagine becoming so engaged with you body that you begin to hear your own heartbeat. What's more it allows you to engage deeply with your memories, memories that serotonin thinking rendered impractical for day to day use. Memories like getting bullied as a child or having the best hug of all time. These would render you an emotional mess if they were always on your mind, but LSD opens the floodgates and forces your to engage with these memories that you had to hide for the sake of functioning in society.

Granted drugs are incredibly taboo in our current paradigm, and can have various negative social effects, I believe that the analysis of their effects on the mind can have profound ability to expand our collective awareness of how the deep and hidden inner workings of the brain literally create our reality, and the study of these chemicals may produce tools that can effectively change our realities for the better. One day this may even lead to our ability to change our shared reality for the better.


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    • Steafan Fox profile image

      Steafan Fox 2 years ago from Dublin

      Thanks, I checked it out. The 60's were an interesting time.

    • Dr Billy Kidd profile image

      Dr Billy Kidd 2 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      You got that stuff down in a good way about neurotransmitters, attention, and how these things effects of our engagement in the world.

      For a rare discussion with an '60s Acid Guide see: