How Cost and Availability Influence LSD Use

Traditionally, LSD is a drug people have turned to when trying to extend or intensify an experience. Iconically, people used it in the 1960’s and 1970’s when trying to follow Timothy Leary’s advice to “turn on, tune in, drop out.” Today, partiers take it with similar hopes that it will make parties more interesting.

This intensification comes with a cost. The price on the street of a single dose of LSD is usually around $10. However, this price can go up and down wildly and quickly depending on local conditions and global supply.

Buying drugs from street dealer

Delicate Supply Lines

The technical, physical, and chemical properties of LSD make the economics of its production and distribution different from most other kinds of drugs. Synthesizing the drug is a complex process that requires a sophisticated laboratory, rare ingredients, and advanced chemistry skills. The finished product provides a very large number of doses per kilogram of LSD.

This combination of high skill and low weight means that the world’s LSD users and distributors can rely on just a few small groups of people to produce the drug. But because so few people are producing the drug, disruption of just one LSD lab can dramatically disrupt worldwide supply. During the federal prosecution of one LSD manufacturer, Leonard Pickard, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) claimed that he had been producing less than a pound of LSD every two weeks. The DEA estimated that his arrest and the prevention of that amount of the drug from reaching the market resulted in a 90% drop in LSD availability. As a result of such disruptions, the street price of LSD would be expected to rise.

Absorbing Fluctuations

However, even if that dramatic estimate of LSD supply disruption is accurate, its effect on the illegal drug use patterns of LSD users might have been small overall. LSD and its users are different from many other kinds of drugs and users in two important ways.

First, using LSD does not usually create a physical dependence in a way similar to alcohol or opiates. People who use LSD, even on a regular basis, almost never need it to function normally or to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Second, there are many other drugs which have very similar psychedelic effects. For a natural alternative, LSD users might try magic mushrooms or peyote. These substances grow naturally yet still provide hallucinations. On the more artificial side, ecstasy and other designer drugs with LSD-like properties are widely available and popular among those who go to all-night dance parties. Since it is the experience of hallucination an LSD user is seeking rather than a specific chemical, he can simply move to one of these other drugs when the cost of LSD goes up due to supply disruptions.

Durability of Habit

Unfortunately, a reduction in LSD use due to supply disruption may not have a very significant positive effect on the lives of those who abuse the drug. Although they may not use LSD if cost or availability becomes unfavorable, swapping one substance for another is not a change that yields gains in health or daily functioning. Polydrug use, as switching among drugs is called, enables someone to give up a drug while still remaining psychologically dependent on the effects of drug use.

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