Sunday, January 11, 2009

LSD and Strychnine

The Legend: Most LSD contains strychnine and can poison the user.

Status: False

  • Strychnine is cheaper so unscrupulous drug dealers sell it as a substitute for LSD.
  • Strychnine is a byproduct of LSD synthesis, so it's in all real LSD.
  • Strychnine is necessary to bind the LSD to the blotter paper.
  • For you to be able to get high from the LSD there has to be some strychnine in it.
  • The body produces strychnine as a result of LSD metabolism.
  • Body aches and fatigue after LSD use are caused by the strychnine.

None of these statements are true, but that hasn't stopped well-meaning drug educators and health teachers from repeating them for the past 20 years. Even drug users repeat these rumors, as evidenced by browsing through online chat rooms and message boards.

If this were true, if there was strychnine in LSD, it would follow that people would die from using LSD. Conversely, if people were dying from using just LSD there would be some backward logic in saying that there must have been a poison involved. In fact, while there are a few cases of LSD overdoses and massive ingestions, there are few if any deaths reported to have been absolutely caused by LSD.

The active does of LSD for a human is 50-200 micrograms. A microgram is a millionth of a gram.  It takes over 12,000 micrograms, or "mikes," of LSD to kill a lab rat. Do the math. If it takes 120 hits of acid to kill a 1 lb. lab rat, and a human weighs about 150 lbs., a lethal dose for a human would be, well, a whole lot of LSD. Something like 18,000 hits. Considering the extremely low potential for overdose deaths, it seems odd that rumors about poison-laced LSD would originate and persist, but they have.

If you consider our culture's ingrained message that illegal drugs are deadly and to be feared, then add the belief that drug dealers are unscrupulous people who would think nothing of selling strychnine as LSD, then this rumor makes a little more sense. Or at least it is understandable why it has persisted.

LSD is commonly absorbed into blotter paper, the user then consumes the small square of paper. A dose of blotter is not big enough to hold enough strychnine to harm a human. You just can't get enough poison on a tiny square of paper.

Strychnine is an odorless white powder. However, it is very bitter and can be detected in miniscule quantities way below a toxic dose. Since most LSD in ingested orally, the user would notice this adulterant.

There have been a few murder investigations where one person tried to poison another person by mixing strychnine with LSD or other drugs, but it has never been associated with recreational LSD sale or use.

Human strychnine poisoning is rare with less than 100 cases a year being reported.  That does not stop the rumors, though.