The Comic-Strip Trip
LSD's making a name for itself
again in most parts of the country. And it's making a name by
cashing in on the names -- and faces -- of a growing list of
comic strip heroes and other cartoon figures.
According to drug treatment personnel
and law enforcement officials we contacted around the country,
use of LSD is up over recent years -- and is continuing to rise.
"It's becoming more and
more of a problem," Detective Wayne Burch of the Harris
County (Texas) Sheriff's Department told us in a recent interview.
"There for a while it died down and it seemed like no one
used it, but it's back."
A spokesman for the U.S. Drug
Enforcement Administration admitted that there has been an "upswing"
in LSD use in recent years, adding that the revival has been
especially prevalent in California and in large urban areas in
the East and Midwest.
"We feel that this resurgence
started on the West Coast and to a great degree involves some
of the old organizations, the old-timers, getting back into the
But if LSD's new wave is a product
of LSD's old wave -- a wave that most thought had crested a dozen
years ago -- then there's a hole somewhere in the theory that
you can't teach an old dog new tricks. Because LSD today is as
different from vintage LSD in as many ways as it's similar in
Smaller is Better
The subject of all the sound
and fury currently swirling around LSD is blotter acid -- tiny
squares of absorbent paper soaked in liquid LSD. Over the past
several years, blotter has emerged as the dominant LSD format,
and for several understandable reasons.
Since newly-manufactured LSD
is odorless, colorless, and tasteless, there is virtually no
limit to the number of objects and substances that can be used
as carriers. And although in acid's early days sugar cubes and
animal crackers were favored media for delivering doses of the
drug, they fell from favor over the years...in large part due
to their bulk.
Tablets emerged to dominate the
street acid market from the mid-sixties to the mid-seventies,
but gradually gave way to increasingly small formats, particularly
"windowpane" (small gelatin chips), "microdot"
(tiny pellets), and blotter.
The object of the smaller-is-better
mentality in LSD marketing has been strictly utilitarian: to
make the drug as undetectable from prying eyes as possible.
The very minuteness of effective
psychoactive doses of LSD has contributed to the small-is-beautiful
ethic in LSD marketing: As little as 25 micrograms (one forty-thousandth
of a gram) can produce noticeable perceptual and cognitive changes,
with progressively higher doses producing increasingly pronounced
perceptual distortions and pseudo-hallucinations.
One key consideration that distinguishes
today's LSD from the LSD of the past is potency. Most acid today
is simply not as strong as the stuff that's gone before. "It
used to be around 250 micrograms, but now we're getting around
50 (mcg)," Detective Rene LaPrevotte of the San Francisco
Police Narcotics Unit told us in a recent interview. "So
it's about one-fifth the dosage it used to be."
LaPrevotte's observation was
corroborated by chemists at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
According to the DEA, the average LSD content of currently available
street acid ranges from 40 to 100 mcg, with an average dosage
of 60 mcg. This compares with an average potency level of 150-200
mcg in LSD's heyday a decade ago, according to a DEA spokesman.
Lower dosage levels may account
for the increasing use of LSD, which has been reported in most
parts of the country over the past year. "It's weaker now,
so it produces a more manageable reaction," according to
Willie Fennell, a counselor with the New York Division of Substance
Abuse Services. "You don't get that instant insanity. It's
more of a recreational drug than a heavy mind-expansion thing
But if lighter dosage is one
factor in increased LSD use around the country, another important
factor is surely product packaging. Whereas only a few years
ago little thought was given to the appearance of individual
doses of LSD, a greater concern for the esthetics of acid has
emerged over the last year or two, as manufacturers and distributors
have developed a greatly increased awareness of the time-honored
American art of packaging. And while this concern for appearance
developed as a means of establishing "trademarks" for
otherwise indistinguishable products, lately it's turned into
a full-scale preoccupation on the parts of acid entrepreneurs.
Today, fairly sophisticated color-screening
processes and printing technology have become an increasingly
important part of the street acid biz, with a number of well-known
cartoon characters peeking playfully off surfaces which their
creators never dreamed they'd grace. Probably the single-most
desirable LSD "brand" today is "Sorcerer's Apprentice,"
which features a full-color Mickey Mouse outfitted in wizard's
garb from the film, "Fantasia," although Snoopy, Goofy,
and the old blotter standby Mr. Natural each retain its own devotees.
In addition, a variety of lesser-known
blotter "brands" are also available, featuring various
cartoon figures and objects, including dragons, unicorns, flying
saucers, stars, and pyramids.
Fennell sees LSD's current vogue
as a triumph of the new packaging techniques. "The cartoon
stamps cater to a younger generation of users," he said.
"It's a device to make LSD more palatable and more attractive
to new users...lt's packaging, and packaging sells."