LSD is classified as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning that it has no currently accepted medical use. It is illegal in most jurisdictions. That said, in some contexts, it is decriminalized for personal possession in the US or abroad, and has been authorized by some research institutions, such as Imperial College London, to be studied in scientific research. However, while LSD has been under prohibition for the past 50+ years, prior it was used legally in research and therapy as an aid to various mental health conditions. In fact, it was even used by the CIA as a “truth serum” in an initiative called MK Ultra.
Things to Know
- LSD is a Schedule I substance, illegal under U.S. federal law to manufacture, distribute, or possess
- LSD was decriminalized in the state of Oregon in 2020
- There are a number of pending measures around the U.S. to decriminalize LSD, which have yet to become law
- LSD is decriminalized in Portugal, and in small amounts in the Czech Republic and Mexico. A few countries have granted research institutions the ability to study LSD
In the United States, LSD is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Schedule I substances are considered to have a high potential for abuse and defined as having no currently accepted medical use by the FDA.
As a Schedule I substance, LSD is illegal to manufacture, distribute, possess, or use in the United States without a valid research or medical license from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The penalties for LSD-related offenses can vary depending on the quantity involved and the circumstances, but they can include significant fines and imprisonment.
There is some government-approved pharmaceutical research into LSD, with the intent to submit applications for FDA approval. Researchers at the drug development company, Eleusis Benefit Corporation, are looking into the anti-inflammatory activity of LSD as a treatment for Alzheimer’s. Another company MindMed, is financing clinical trials looking into LSD as a form of anxiety treatment.
On the local level, LSD is decriminalized in the state of Oregon, which decriminalized small possessions of all drugs in the 2020 election through Measure 110,1 the Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act. A number of local decriminalization bills have also been introduced in other jurisdictions, as well, including California, Maryland, and Iowa, although none have passed.2
Internationally, LSD is mostly illegal, although there are a few jurisdictions where decriminalization policies and government-approved research have lifted some restrictions.
Under the UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances, a.k.a. The Vienna Convention, LSD is identified as a Schedule I substance deemed to have no medical value and with a high potential for abuse, similar to its legal characterization under federal law in the U.S.
In July 2021, Portugal decriminalized personal possession amounts of all drugs, including LSD. Instead of criminal penalties, individuals caught with small amounts of substances may face administrative sanctions, like fines or attendance at counseling or treatment programs. In the Czech Republic, small amounts of LSD have also been decriminalized in the context of personal use, although the production and sale of the substance remain illegal. In the Netherlands, while LSD is illegal, the country has a “gedoogbeleid” or tolerance policy when it comes to psychedelics. Mexico, as well, has decriminalized the possession of small quantities of drugs, including LSD.
And in various countries, including the U.S., the UK, and New Zealand, scientists have garnered government approval to carry out research. Among these efforts include Imperial College in London, MindMed in collaboration with University Hospital Basel, and the Centre for Brain Research at the University of Auckland.
Decriminalization vs. Legalization
Decriminalization is not the same as legalization.3 The former refers to lifting criminal sanctions for certain activities, which can happen at the state level, however any federal laws would still remain in effect. In other words, a substance can be decriminalized in a certain state or municipality, but under federal law it would remain illegal. In cases prosecuted by federal law enforcement, federal law trumps state law. Legalization doesn’t necessarily refer to free-for-all use or possession of a substance, but refers to when a once-prohibited substance is legalized according to certain regulations governing production, retail, or other activities.
A number of efforts around the country include the decriminalization of LSD, although many of them have yet to take effect as legislation. These efforts4 include pending initiatives supported by activists in Iowa, Maryland, Missouri, and New Hampshire.