The officers involved in the arrest of a Villanova student who did LSD and had a bad trip described the situation as unheard of, which shouldn’t be surprising. LSD is a drug you don’t often hear about in Philadelphia, even as a law enforcement official.

“We rarely track LSD in this area,” said Patrick Trainor, a public information officer and special agent with the Philadelphia DEA.    

In the last 15 years, Trainor recalls three cases involving the drug. The most recent one before this Villanova incident involved Drexel students.

In 2012, the District Attorney’s office, the DEA and Philadelphia Police worked together to quash an LSD ring in West Philly. Two Drexel students and three other men were involved. The police caught on to the operation when one of the Drexel students, facing marijuana and gun charges, fessed up.

This was a massive ring. For about a year, according to the D.A.’s office, the participants moved anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 worth of LSD per week. One hit cost between $10 and $30, so they could’ve been selling around 500 per week. The doses of LSD were applied to blotting paper featuring designs of “The Simpsons,” “Spongebob Squarepants” and John Belushi’s character from “Animal House.”  

LSD Drexel
Credit: Fox 29

When authorities infiltrated the drug ring, they found 9,500 hits of LSD and $10,000 in cash. The Villanova students’ operation was much smaller. Authorities found 37 hits and about $9,000 in cash.   

The LSD that comes through Philadelphia likely makes its way here from California, according to Trainor; the drug is rarely produced in the region.   

“Only one time did I see somebody here try to make it in this area,” Trainor said. “That was in Delaware a very long time ago and they didn’t succeed. It’s a very difficult drug to produce.”

The daily crime logs kept by public safety departments usually don’t note the type of drugs involved in drug incidents. As part of federal law, campuses are required to make public crime statistics every year. These statistics include drug arrests and drug referrals, but the information isn’t broken down by type of drug.  

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The great majority of those incidents are referrals, meaning violations of the campus’ drug code that don’t lead to an arrest.

Reports of LSD seem to surface just every once in a while. In 1983, use of LSD became an issue in a rape case brought against a Penn fraternity and in 1988 a few students were arrested for possession. In 1987, two Penn graduates were arrested for selling LSD and other drugs at what was deemed a drug “variety store” around 39th and Chestnut.  

Representatives from the public safety offices at Drexel, Penn and Villanova either declined to respond to interview requests about LSD or pointed to the statistics they are federally mandated to track.   

Nationally, data from the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse indicated 4.5 million people age 18-to-25 had used the drug at least once in their lives (about 1 out of every 6 persons). The number of people the same age who had used marijuana at least once was about three times higher.     

However, LSD might end up in fewer arrest reports because of the lack of complications it causes for users compared to other drugs like cocaine and heroin and its appearance.

“At face value it’s a very innocuous looking drug,” Trainor said.

Trainor said the drugs they’re most concerned with regarding college-aged people are prescription painkillers and, possibly after those drugs get too expensive or difficult to obtain, heroin.

“You can buy a bag of heroin in North Philly for seven bucks,” he said, “and it will do the same.”

Mark Dent is a reporter/curator at BillyPenn. He previously worked for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where he covered the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Penn State football and the Penn State administration. His...