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What chemical properties make LSD so psychoactive?

What chemical properties make LSD so psychoactive?


2 Answers

Anjali Ahuja
askIITians Faculty 240 Points
7 years ago
Hello student
Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) also known as lysergide is a well known hallucinogen and (usually) illegal psychoactive drug.
It act as agonists for serotonine receptors in the frontal cortex and thus trigger visual enhancements. it is stable indefinitely
It is well known for its psychological effects, which can include altered thinking processes, closed- and open-eye visuals.261-2415_lsd.jpg
Raheema Javed
156 Points
7 years ago
LSD is a chiral compound with two stereocenters at the carbon atoms C-5 and C-8, so that theoretically four different optical isomers of LSD could exist. LSD, also called (+)-D-LSD, has the absolute configuration (5R,8R). The C-5 isomers of lysergamides do not exist in nature and are not formed during the synthesis from D-lysergic acid. Retrosynthetically, the C-5 stereocenter could be analysed as having the same configuration of the alpha carbon of the naturally occurring amino acid L-tryptophan, the precursor to all biosynthetic ergoline compounds.

However, LSD and iso-LSD, the two C-8 isomers, rapidly interconvert in the presence of bases, as the alpha proton is acidic and can be deprotonated and reprotonated. Non-psychoactive iso-LSD which has formed during the synthesis can be separated by chromatography and can be isomerized to LSD.

Pure salts of LSD are triboluminescent, emitting small flashes of white light when shaken in the dark. LSD is strongly fluorescent and will glow bluish-white under UV light.


LSD is an ergoline derivative. It is commonly synthesised by reacting diethylamine with an activated form of lysergic acid. Activating reagents include phosphoryl chloride and peptide coupling reagents. Lysergic acid is made by alkaline hydrolysis of lysergamides like ergotamine, a substance usually derived from the ergot fungus on agar plate, or theoretically possible, but impractical and uncommon from ergine (lysergic acid amide, LSA) extracted from morning glory seeds. Lysergic acid can also be produced synthetically, eliminating the need for ergotamines.

Reactivity and degradation

"LSD," writes the chemist Alexander Shulgin, "is an unusually fragile molecule...As a salt, in water, cold, and free from air and light exposure, it is stable indefinitely."

LSD has two labile protons at the tertiary stereogenic C5 and C8 positions, rendering these centres prone to epimerisation. The C8 proton is more labile due to the electron-withdrawing carboxamide attachment, but removal of the chiral proton at the C5 position (which was once also an alpha proton of the parent molecule tryptophan) is assisted by the inductively withdrawing nitrogen and pi electron delocalisation with the indole ring.

LSD also has enamine-type reactivity because of the electron-donating effects of the indole ring. Because of this, chlorine destroys LSD molecules on contact; even though chlorinated tap water contains only a slight amount of chlorine, the small quantity of compound typical to an LSD solution will likely be eliminated when dissolved in tap water. The double bond between the 8-position and the aromatic ring, being conjugated with the indole ring, is susceptible to nucleophilic attacks by water or alcohol, especially in the presence of light. LSD often converts to "lumi-LSD", which is inactive in human beings.

A controlled study was undertaken to determine the stability of LSD in pooled urine samples. The concentrations of LSD in urine samples were followed over time at various temperatures, in different types of storage containers, at various exposures to different wavelengths of light, and at varying pH values. These studies demonstrated no significant loss in LSD concentration at 25°C for up to four weeks. After four weeks of incubation, a 30% loss in LSD concentration at 37°C and up to a 40% at 45°C were observed. Urine fortified with LSD and stored in amber glass or nontransparent polyethylene containers showed no change in concentration under any light conditions. Stability of LSD in transparent containers under light was dependent on the distance between the light source and the samples, the wavelength of light, exposure time, and the intensity of light. After prolonged exposure to heat in alkaline pH conditions, 10 to 15% of the parent LSD epimerized to iso-LSD. Under acidic conditions, less than 5% of the LSD was converted to iso-LSD. It was also demonstrated that trace amounts of metal ions in buffer or urine could catalyze the decomposition of LSD and that this process can be avoided by the addition of EDTA.

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