Because of the rapid expansion of semi-legal 'research' in the last decade, many new drugs have cropped up in underground markets. Often, these are used as cheaper, less illegal substitutes for real narcotics.

Problem is, they're heavily untested, often dangerous and frequently fatal.

Synthetic cannabis is a particularly deadly example of these drugs, but — people usually know they're taking it. It looks, smells and tastes entirely different from real weed, and is often sold as a sort of potpourri-looking mixture in roadside gas stations. People take it assuming it must be safe if it's being legally sold alongside Cooler Ranch Doritos and Slim Jims; rarely are they tricked by shitty drug dealers into smoking it.

However, a much more insidious false drug is fake LSD, which claimed 19 lives in 2013 alone. Last year, several additional people died on the stuff after mistakenly thinking it was actual acid, and hundreds more were poisoned.

Fake LSD looks identical to the real deal, making it the perfect drug dealer scam. Often its psychedelic effects are similar enough that people chalk the bad, underwhelming trips they have on it to their own biochemistry or it being "just a bad batch," but they aren't aware that what they took was an extremely dangerous substance.

Yet although fake LSD does produce some sort lysergic sensation, the chemicals that imitate acid can have unforeseen side effects more that are far more sinister than just lasting longer than expected.

According to High Times, a typical fake hit of acid "actually contains NBOMe derivative (i.e. 25C-NBOMe), DOB or Bromo-DragonFLY. Essentially, any hallucinogenic phenethylamine derivative that last longer than 6 hours and is potent enough so that an active dose fits on a blotter hit can be sold as LSD.

These drugs produce unwanted physical side effects, such as vasoconstriction, and, in the case of 25I-NBOMe, caused at least 19 deaths in the United States as of 2013. The most common side effect, vasoconstriction, may cause your extremities to feel cold or numb and may make parts of your body turn temporarily blue (due to lack of blood flow). These drugs also produce a very heavy “body load” and may make you nauseous, uncomfortable and in some cases may cause diarrhea."

Death or diarrhea? No thank you.

Thankfully, you can learn the tricks on to differentiate it from real LSD so you don’t take some unknown, potentially dangerous research chemical.

1. Fake acid tastes bitter

Fake LSD and real LSD are visually indistinguishable, but once the sensation of taste gets involved, you start to get somewhere.

If you're taking acid on blotter paper, it should have no taste whatsoever, except for the paper it's on. Real LSD should be sold to you at concentrations virtually undetectable by the human tongue, hence the saying "If it's bitter, it's a spitter."

Basically, if it tastes like shit, puke and go home.

2. An Erhlich test kit

This sort of chemical test looks for the presence of an indole ring. Real LSD has an indole ring in its structure, but … so do many other legal and easily procurable chemicals, such as serotonin. In fact, some asshole fake acid dealers have been known to dissolve serotonin pills into their blotter solution just to fool the Ehrlich test. Dicks.

However, most drug takers usually don’t have the time or money to invest in a chemical test. That's where you come in. They're only $20 on DanceSafe.

3. If the dealer says you have to hold it in your mouth for it to work, it's fake

This one we're a little iffy on, but according to High Times, "If the dealer of the doses in question or somebody who has taken it says that they do not work if you swallow the tabs and that they must be held in your mouth to be absorbed, it means they are definitely fake LSD."

Real LSD, then, should still work even if you swallow it.

4. Do some detective work by talking to someone who's done real acid more than once

When the Erhlich test and tasting are ruled out, the best way to tell if what you've got is real LSD is to ask the right questions to someone who's done acid enough to know what it should fee like. Because both real and fake acid make you "trip," it's important to find someone who can differentiate the kind of trip you should be having on the real shit, because the two produce some very disparate sensations.

High Times summed up the difference between them beautifully, making it easy to know which questions to ask your burner buddy:

To know what questions to ask, you need to first understand a little about the drugs. LSD is a tryptamine derivative just like psilocybin (in magic mushrooms) or DMT (in ayahuasca). These three drugs have different effect profiles, but all three of them produce a body effect (a “buzz”) that feels slightly similar to one another.

The body buzz of fake acid is reminiscent to that of MDMA and amphetamine: it feels speedy and may cause teeth grinding. Vasoconstriction can also make your muscles feel tight. Ask the person what the body buzz felt like; if they say it reminded them more of mushrooms than of molly then they may have taken real LSD.

Ask them how long it took to kick in. Real LSD starts off around 30 minutes after taking it and should start peaking around an hour later. Fake acid takes longer to kick in, sometimes almost two hours, and can last longer than 10 hours. Real LSD shouldn’t last much longer than eight hours. A real acid trip comes and goes in waves; fake acid stays constant throughout the whole experience.

so ask about their hallucinations. LSD produces similar hallucinations and illusions in almost everyone who takes it. In the first hour, LSD makes objects around you “breathe.” Trees or walls will appear to move back and forth like they were alive. Stronger hallucinations start after 90 minutes or so and come and go in waves. Walking around doing activities normally prevents the onset of hallucinations, which only kick in strongly when you stop, sit down and focus on something.

LSD hallucinations are colorful, vibrant geometric patters that occur on surfaces like walls, faces of people or your own arms and hands. During the come-up, you may notice tracers: moving objects appear to have a blur behind them and leave a trace.

Fake acid produces hallucination in a completely different manner. It may produce vibrant colors but does not produce as many geometric patterns and does not cause tracers or breathing.

5. If you've got liquid LSD, it'll shine blue under a black light

If you don't have a black light (get with the program!), liquid LSD should appear slightly blue in sunlight. Either blue glow, whether a diluted one in sunlight or a fierce, obvious one under a black light, is a dead giveaway that it's real. That effect is hard to mimic with other chemicals … unless of course that other chemical is just blue Kool-Aid. Yummm.

So, there you have it kids. Stay safe out there, and don't take anything you suspect is fake. If you're going to hallucinating for the next nine hours, you might as well be doing so on the real shit, instead of puking out of your mouth and butt for that amount of time on the fake stuff.

[originally published December 27, 2017]