LSD art




Rarely in the annals of human history has the discovery of a medicinal concoction held such a significant influence over the sphere of audio-visual culture, as is evident with LSD. Even more so, when ruminating upon LSD, one’s thoughts are promptly awash with images of psychedelia and protracted rock ballads. The popularity of LSD witnessed two zeniths: first during the 1960s until its proscription, and later resurging in the 1980s. Notwithstanding, the revelation of its psychedelic attributes predates these epochs.

During the 1940s, laboratories embarked upon an initiative to identify and synthesize the active constituents residing within specific flora. An adept Swiss chemist by the name of Albert Hofmann initiated investigations into ergot, a toxic fungus that besets grains. Termed Claviceps purpurea in the scientific lexicon, this fungus generates ergotamine, a secondary metabolite that lays the foundation for lysergic acid diethylamide, more famously recognized as LSD. Hofmann meticulously extracted other potent compounds from this fungus and, in addition to LSD, devised a medication to mitigate postpartum hemorrhages. Yet, this effort faced a setback.

Then, in the year 1943, a small amount of LSD inadvertently landed upon the chemist’s hand, begetting within him peculiar sensations and visions. This experiential journey enabled him to delineate the psychoactive repercussions of this substance: temporal and existential distortion, profound alteration in the perception of time, vivid hallucinations, feelings of elation or certainty, distorted perception of object dimensions, movements, colours, sounds, tactile sensations, corporeal representation, and delusions. Presently, we comprehend that LSD exerts its effects by augmenting glutamate release in the cerebral cortex and influencing the dopamine-serotonin receptor complex. Nevertheless, the precise mechanism remains elusive.


Albert Hoffman

Not only did he discover LSD, but he unwittingly initiated an entire culture. 


Perchance, the facet from the era of psychedelia that has etched itself into history is the artistic realm: The likes of The Beatles, Pink Floyd, poster artisans such as Rick Griffin, Aldous Huxley’s literary work «The Doors of Perception» (1954), the verses of Allen Ginsberg, the oeuvre of artist Alex Grey, and the kaleidoscopic visage of corporate advertisements. Sundry individuals remain oblivious to the fact that between Hofmann’s revelation and the efflorescence of psychedelic art, LSD was routinely employed within clinical praxis. The era spanning 1950 to the mid-1960s bore witness to over a thousand clinical treatises, expounding upon 40,000 patients, accompanied by several score volumes, and six international symposia centered around psychedelic drug therapy. Hence, it stands as a veritable assertion that the true launchpad for the popularization of LSD was the field of psychiatry, intertwined with the crucible of LSD experimentation.

LSD debuted as a commercial pharmaceutical under the brand name Delysid for assorted psychiatric applications in the year 1947. Initially regarded as a psychotomimetic capable of simulating psychosis, it proved efficacious in grappling with alcoholism. Numerous psychiatrists advocated its use for trauma, anxiety, and sundry other mental perturbations. However, undeniably, the nexus between the neuroscience underpinning LSD and its artistic employment was forged by the psychiatrist Oscar Janiger.

Between the years 1954 and 1962, Janiger administered nearly 3,000 doses of LSD to approximately 1,000 volunteers, a roster encompassing personalities like Cary Grant, Anais Nin, Andre Previn, Rita Moreno, Jack Nicholson, and Aldous Huxley. He acquainted myriad artists and illustrious figures with the then-legitimate drug, thus evolving into the motive force propelling the LSD subculture. In this vein, he founded an institution advocating for the legitimization of psychedelic substances.

Upon delving into Janiger’s work, which nowadays invokes a measure of controversy, one encounters endeavors to delineate LSD’s potential for intellectual and artistic enlightenment. For instance, he marshaled a cohort of 70 artists to craft artworks before and after ingesting LSD. The outcome illuminated how LSD dissipated the distinct artistic styles of each creator, ushering in a more abstract expression.

If one element epitomizes art influenced by LSD, it would be its predilection for vividness and abstraction: an interplay of vibrant, high-contrast hues, optical illusions, repetition (with a subtle nod to art brut), horror vacui, and more. However, LSD-infused art did not manifest in isolation; rather, it emerged as an amalgam of divergent visual idioms, embracing surrealism and art nouveau. From the former, LSD artisans drew metaphysical themes, while the latter lent its kaleidoscopic allure.

Yet, why does LSD-engendered art exhibit such consistent characteristics? On one hand, it ought to be recognized that LSD art cultivated its aesthetics independently of the imbibing of these substances, thereby fashioning a lingua franca accessible to all. On the other hand, LSD elicits an inundation of information by obstructing the thalamus’s role in sieving sensory input. This, in broad strokes, elucidates the overwhelming impact and extrasensory experiences.

In 1962, Janiger terminated his pursuits as the Food and Drug Administration initiated investigations into researchers and their utilization of LSD in experiments. By the close of the 1960s, LSD had earned the status of a proscribed substance in many nations, with its clinical applications relegated to the periphery of orthodox medical practice.

In contemporary times, there’s growing fascination surrounding LSD’s potential to alleviate depression, particularly gaining favor among the creative community in Silicon Valley. The aesthetic emblematic of LSD endures in art, literature, music, and cinema. Thus, though the epoch of LSD culture may have waned, its influence remains indelible.


Doblin, R., Beck, J., Ph.D., Chapman, K., Alioto, M. (1999). Dr. Oscar Janiger’s Pioneering LSD Research: A Forty Year Follow-up. Bulletin of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, 9(1): 7-21.

Hodge, A. T., Sukpraprut-Braaten, S., Narlesky, M., & Strayhan, R. C. (2023). The Use of Psilocybin in the Treatment of Psychiatric Disorders with Attention to Relative Safety Profile: A Systematic Review. Journal of psychoactive drugs55(1), 40–50.


The texts and this website have been developed by Erik Aostri. All rights reserved.