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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Sunday 1st July 2012

Dr Monica Barrett tweeted a link to another article about the Silk Road website1 that I’ve written about before. Briefly, the Silk Road enables people to buy drugs (and other things) anonymously using Tor Networks and Bitcoins and public/private key encryption.

It reminded me of another site I saw a couple of weeks ago (sorry I can’t remember how I found it) that seemed to provide the opportunity to buy one type of illegal substance without all that bother.

Normally, I would provide a link at this point but the site in question is, simply, a wholesale chemist offering chemicals to legitimate purchasers. And the substance on offer is lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). I’m sure there is more to obtaining it than putting it in your virtual shopping basket and handing over the £63.60 asking price but I didn’t go any further.

I did, however, download the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) and that provided some interesting reading. All MSDS are laid out in the same format and, of course, not all the items in the standard layout are relevant to any individual substance.

Section 1 identifies the substance and the supplier and the next section is to detail the hazards inherent in the substance and give details of how it must be labelled. I was rather surprised to find that LSD has to be labelled;

H300 Fatal if swallowed.
H310 Fatal in contact with skin.
H330 Fatal if inhaled.

There seems to have only ever been one documented case of fatal LSD poisoning and that was someone who injected it. The consensus seems to be that even extremely high accidental overdoses don’t produce fatalities. I say consensus because there are no reliable figures for the LD50 of LSD in humans. I’ll come back to that after looking at the rest of the MSDS.

Section 9 deals with the physical and chemical properties of the substance. There are 18 separate physical and chemical properties listed beginning with ‘appearance’ and continuing through various measures of odour, flammability, solubility, density etc.

LSD we are told is ‘solid’ but the other 17 properties are all ‘no data available’.  For Section 10 on stability and reactivity we are told to keep it away from strong oxidizing agents but the other 5 items are ‘no data available’. For Section 11, on toxicology, the LD50 for rats, if given intravenously, is stated but for things like respiratory effects or skin irritation it is all ‘no data available’. The whole of Section 12 ‘Ecological Information’ is ‘no data available’.

Here’s my point. When Professor David Nutt gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into drug policy he said that one of the problems about scheduling substances is that people stop researching them because they are difficult or impossible to obtain and working with them creates a lot of additional problems. He developed the point more fully in a piece for the Guardian2 ahead of a lecture at University College London.

Judging by the MSDS for LSD, he is absolutely right because it would appear we know very little about this chemical.


1.Traveling The Silk Road to the Deep Web’s Darkest Corner The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange 27th June 2012
2.Psychedelic drugs can unlock mysteries of brain – former government adviser The Guardian 28th June 2012

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