Psychiatry: An Epidemic of Acid Heads

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The disease is striking in beachside beatnik pads and in the dormitories of expensive prep schools; it has grown into an alarming problem at U.C.L.A. and on the U.C. campus at Berkeley. And everywhere the diagnosis is the same: psychotic illness resulting from unauthorized, nonmedical use of the drug LSD-25.

Patients with post-LSD symptoms are providing the U.C.L.A. Neuropsychiatric Institute with 10% to 15% of its cases; more are flocking to the university's general medical center and the County General Hospital. By best estimates, 10,000 students in the University of California system have tried LSD (though not all have suffered detectable ill effects). No one can even guess how many more self-styled "acid heads"* there are among oddball cult groups.

"Florid & Terrifying." Southern California devotees proclaim the alleged benefits of LSD with evangelistic fervor. They say it brings supernatural powers. It does not, say U.C.L.A. psychiatrists. Some say it is an aphrodisiac. It is not. They say it helps the user to solve his emotional problems. It may—but only if the solution is already in the mind, hidden behind an emotional block.

What LSD actually has done for far too many users, says U.C.L.A.'s Psychiatric Resident Duke D. Fisher, is to produce "florid psychoses with terrifying visual and auditory hallucinations, marked depression, often with serious suicide attempts, and anxiety bordering on panic. One patient tried to kill himself when he thought his body was melting, and he remained suicidal for more than two weeks, after only one dose of LSD. Other patients have required more than two months of psychiatric hospitalization. Still others have been sent to state hospitals for long-term treatment." Adds U.C.L.A. Psychiatrist J. Thomas Ungerleider: "The symptoms may recur in their original intensity long after the last dose of the drug. Many users have had this experience."

The varied types of LSD users include vast numbers of thrill seekers. Most have tried marijuana, then the amphetamines, before "graduating" themselves to what they regard as the ultimate in kicks. In the rebellious student groups like those at Berkeley (see EDUCATION) many are trying LSD because they feel lost on an impersonal, bustling campus; others have been squeezed by the need to make better grades to avoid the draft.

One of the most disturbing aspects of the LSD binge is that it has hit high schools and prep schools. A 17-year-old user reports that there is a sales ring in his Sherman Oaks school pushing LSD at a penny a microgram. The usual dose of the pure chemical, used by psychiatric investigators, is 100 mcg. (1/300,000th of an ounce), but even junior acid heads boast of taking walloping overdoses. "I've taken as much as 500 micrograms," says one youthful user. "At least that's what I paid for."

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