Image Depicting Collage with Jello Cubes

Acid Gel Tabs Were Cool Once—But WTF Are They?

Acid gel tabs were popular characters in LSD stories of ‘ol. We asked hippies to share their memories. (And some harm reduction experts, too.)

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Rachel, a 68-year-old in Los Angeles, used to drop acid in Berkeley, CA in the 70s. The psychedelic was only recently made illegal back then. The two decades prior were the stomping grounds for psychedelic cool-kids like Humphry Osmand, Timothy Leary, Amanda Fielding, and Ken Kesey — a time when news reports were still positive. “[LSD-25] has rescued many drug addicts, alcoholics and neurotics from their private hells — and holds promise for curing tomorrow’s mental ills,” reads a 1959 feature in This Week Magazine

By 1966, public discourse struck a different tune. California and Nevada passed the first laws banning LSD. Former President Johnson asked congress to approve “indefinite LSD sentences” for those found with the drug. Yet, despite the rise of prohibition, psychedelic culture remained strong—and acid came in a variety of forms. 

“It was pure LSD dropped into gelatin,” Rachel remembers. “You mix the drug with gelatin, and then you just let it dry, and then you cut it into tiny squares, and that’s it.” These acid tabs, known as acid gel tabs, are less common today, but some still use them. “The kids nowadays have never seen it before, so they think it’s new,” she laughs. “It was completely tasteless and clear. We called it Windowpane; it looked like a tiny pane of glass.”

Paper vs. Gel Acid Tabs

Image Depicting Blotter Paper

The most common form of acid tab, known as a “blotter,” is made of thick, absorbent paper, explains Anton Gomez-Escolar, a psychopharmacologist and psychedelics expert at Drogopedia. Whoever’s making the drug drops LSD onto the paper so that it gets absorbed, and users typically put the paper tabs under their tongues. People can also take LSD liquid straight out of a dropper — but one needs to be careful with this because it’s easy to mis-count the drops and overdose. 

Safe(r) Tripping

(LSD is illegal to possess in most places around the world. However, if you choose to take liquid LSD, Dr. Erica Zelfand, a naturopathic physician specializing in integrative mental health, recommends dropping liquid LSD on your hand to measure it out before ingesting it. Otherwise, it can be easy to accidentally take more than you intended.)

Gel tabs, on the other hand, have a consistency more like Jello. They are easier to cut than paper tabs, allowing for more precise dosing, says James Giordano, professor of neurology and biochemistry at Georgetown University Medical Center. People can put gel tabs under the tongue, swallow them, or more rarely, put them on their skin, though you won’t absorb as much this way. “It looks like a honeycomb,” Giordano adds. However, gel tabs are also able to hold more LSD than paper tabs, leaving less experienced users vulnerable to overdosing.

Each gel tab typically contains about 150-250 micrograms of acid, says Giordano. Paper tabs, on the other hand, contain about 100 micrograms each — though both formats vary a lot in LSD concentration. The cuttable consistency of gel tabs makes them good for controlling your dose and even microdosing, but anyone who’s using them needs to be careful because they can contain a lot of LSD. If someone doesn’t know how much is in each tab, they should only take a small amount — half a tab or less to start — or they could easily end up in a risky situation.
Gel tabs also tend to last longer than paper tabs, both in terms of their shelf-life and in terms of how long they stay in the body. The average shelf life of a gel tab is 3-5 years, compared to 1-2 years for paper tabs, says Giordano. “The gelatin preserves the LSD better than a blotter or a liquid for and helps avoid evaporation or degradation from light or air exposure,” says Rachel Nguyen, project manager for the harm reduction organization Bunk Police. And in your body, gel tabs can last for 12 hours or more, compared to anywhere between 3 and 12 hours for paper tabs. However, the effects of gel tabs may set in sooner initially. Someone might begin to feel gel tabs after 15 minutes, compared to half an hour or more for paper tabs, according to Giordano.

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Testing Acid Gel Tabs

Since LSD is prohibited and purchased underground, it’s very possible for gel tabs, like paper tabs, to contain substances other than LSD. Many sellers lace their drugs to cut costs or enhance effects. “This is something I really, really worry about,” says Giordano. “Like any recreational drug you buy, know who you’re buying from, and even then, know where they’re getting it from as best as possible. You can lace almost anything these days. A big one everybody worries about is fentanyl.”

Image Depicting Skeletal Formua of LSD
Skeletal formula of Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD)

To check for the presence of adulterants in your acid, you can buy an LSD-specific reagent testing kit from a site like Bunk Police — look for Ehrlich and Hofmann reagents. “Hofmann provides the most distinct reaction for LSD gel tabs, as opposed to Ehrlich, which can sometimes cause inconclusive results from the gelatin itself — and from Ehrlich’s tendency to react to any indole, lysergamide, tryptamine, and even common food supplements,” says Nguyen. “For testing gel tabs, simply cut the tab down the middle and take a tiny bit of the center. This is typically where the LSD is concentrated for gel tabs. Take a tiny bit of the gel tab and put it in one test tube, and a tiny bit and put it in another test tube. Drop 1-2 drops of Hofmann in the first test tube, and watch the reaction. Then, drop 1-2 drops of Ehrlich in the second test tube and watch that reaction. A blueish reaction for Hofmann is especially important, and the confirmation test with Ehrlich should be purplish pink. Gel tabs can take a while to show a reaction (up to 30 minutes—much longer than blotters or liquid LSD), so you can look for these colors within that time frame, or even a bit of streaking is OK for gel tabs. ”

You can also send a portion of the drug to a testing service like Energy Control or Kosmicare for more advanced and accurate testing, says Gomez-Escolar. You can also use fentanyl strips to test LSD for fentanyl, according to Giordano.

Experiences With LSD Gel Tabs

Other than differences in the timing of the trip, experiences with gel tabs are pretty much the same as those with paper tabs, which both affect the serotonin, dopamine, and glutamate neurotransmitter systems, says Giordano. Common effects include “altered perceptions, heightened senses, and emotional shifts,” says Gomez-Escolar. “These can include visual hallucinations, changes in time perception, and introspective experiences.” 

Image Depicting Bending Tree on Window Sill
Image Courtesy of Aedrian Salazar via Unsplash

Robert, a 34-year-old in San Francisco whose first LSD trips were on green gel tabs bought in Golden Gate Park in 2016, says they affected him similarly to paper tabs. “The first time I tried them was with a bunch of outdoorsy friends the day after a three-person combined birthday party in the mountains,” he recalls. “Two close friends and I decided to take a tab and a half each at a run-down budget motel by the side of the highway. We proceeded to have a night that started off with a very uncomfortable watching of The Mummy while coming up and walks in the dark, pop rocks, getting emotionally overwhelmed while listening to music sung by my friend, and lots and lots of silly conversations.” 

Rachel has similarly trippy memories. “I remember taking a gel with my brother when we went out to the hills outside of LA and listened to music, and I remember it was very colorful — and a lot of body sensations,” she says. “We used to use it to party.”

Rachel says that LSD, both gel and paper, has helped her cultivate self-love: “When you’re in that place of beautiful, sweet, trusting self-love, anything flows.”

Harm Reduction with Acid Gel Tabs

Anyone who’s going to trip on LSD should be in an environment where they feel comfortable and have a sober tripsitter with them, whether it’s a friend or a professional guide. “The health risks of LSD lie in the fact that the individual is hallucinating, and that can put them in dangerous situations: thinking a gas flame or candle is a blooming flower, thinking your staircase is a waterfall into a beautiful pool and you can just jump off the stairs, thinking you can see all these animals — and you can say, ‘look, there are giraffes and elephants walking by,’ and you can walk into traffic,” says Giordano. 

It’s also important to “start low and go slow” when it comes to dosing, he adds. Around 100 micrograms is a moderate dose, though one might start with 50, or just 1-10 for a microdose. Before deciding that you need to take more, remember that it takes up to 90 minutes for LSD to kick in, advises Tricia Eastman, an initiated medicine woman, founder of Psychedelic Journeys and Ancestral Heart, and author of Seeding Consciousness: Plant Medicine, Ancestral Wisdom, and Psychedelic Initiation

When Zelfand has volunteered at music festivals, she’s seen lots of people having bad acid trips. “Nine times out of 10, when someone comes in with a bad trip, it’s LSD,” she says. “And usually, it’s because  they took the LSD nine hours ago and they’re still tripping, and they think that they broke their brain — and they didn’t.” Acid trips last a while because the brain’s serotonin receptors fold over the LSD molecules, essentially trapping them. This is normal, but it can make for a difficult trip if someone takes the acid late in the day and it keeps them up all night. “Sleep deprivation can be its own mental illness,” says Zelfand. “We can sometimes see people having manic episodes that are triggered just by sleep deprivation.” Add a hallucinogenic substance, and that’s a dangerous combination. It is better to take acid early in the day or, if you can’t, leave time to nap before and after the trip. 

If you find yourself in the midst of a bad acid trip, Giordano suggests communicating this to your tripsitter so they can remind you that it’s temporary — or call the Fireside Project hotline if nobody is available. Drinking water can also help clear the substance out of your system, though you can only clear out so much. Since LSD binds to your serotonin receptors, you have to wait for it to unbind, but water can help rid your body of what’s already unbound, says Giordano.

Some people should avoid all forms of LSD. Because it raises your heart rate and blood pressure, those with unstable blood pressure or cardiac issues should steer clear, says Zelfand. People with certain mental health issues also may be putting themselves at risk by taking acid. “Part of how LSD works is by disorganizing the electrical signals in the brain, and when we have the ability to think from different angles, we renegotiate some of our faulty formulas about our lives, how we are, and how we think about things,” says Zelfand. “There are some individuals for whom more brain chaos is not a good thing — for instance, individuals who have a seizure disorder. Too much brain chaos can trigger a seizure. For those with certain psychiatric conditions — schizophrenia or type 1 bipolar — those states are associated with undue brain entropy, and we’re introducing more entropy into the system.”

When in doubt, ask a medical or mental health professional about any concerns you have regarding your ability to use LSD. Eastman also urges checking with a licensed professional if you are using any medications, or book a consultation with the Spirit Pharmacist to understand what is contraindicated.

Set and Setting

While some underground practitioners offer LSD therapy, it is often used recreationally, outside a formal therapeutic or ceremonial setting. This doesn’t mean, however, that people cannot approach an acid trip with conscious intention and bring their learnings into their lives afterward. As Rachel puts it, “psychedelics are not meant to just have a psychedelic experience; they’re meant to show us what’s possible. Integrating that sense of self-love is something that has become part of my everyday practice of life.” 

Image Depicting Woman in Nature Journaling
Image Courtesy of Ashlyn Ciara via Unsplash

You’ll get more out of the journey if you reflect beforehand on what you’d like to get out of it, paying attention to the “set and setting” — that is, your mindset going in and the setting in which you trip. “Setting intentions, journaling, having an inspiring or moving playlist, and a safe, loving set and setting would be very important for any type of psychedelic experience,” says psychedelic integration coach Eve Harrison. In fact, set and setting make more of a difference than whether you’re taking gel or paper tabs, says Gomez-Escolar.

Eastman suggests creating “a safe and comfortable nest space with pillows, blankets, and hazard-free surroundings” to optimize the set. “Essential preparations include wearing comfortable clothing, having a change of clothes, and keeping lip balm, tissues, and a bowl or trash bin nearby. Choose supportive music for your journey, exploring curated playlists on platforms like Spotify beforehand to find the right vibe.”

Integration

Make sure you have people to rely on after the trip. “Establish a support network of trusted individuals, including friends, family, and therapists,” says Eastman, who suggests blocking out at least two free days after the trip. “Schedule rest and reflection time, consider massage or therapy sessions, and have a trusted friend available in case of challenging experiences.” You also might work with an integration specialist who can help you process what came up during the trip. Eastman recommends looking for local or virtual integration circles on Meetup.com or finding psychedelic integration therapists and groups on the site Psychedelic Support.

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“For integrating psychedelic experiences that have occurred outside of ceremonial contexts, it might be even more valuable to consider incorporating elements of the sacred into the integration process afterwards,” says Harrison. For instance, someone might make art, dance, or bring candles or spiritual music into integration sessions. “A felt sense of awe — sometimes perceived in the form of the quality of sacredness — is positively correlated with therapeutic outcomes with these medicines,” says Harrison. “Revisiting the material that surfaced during the journey during an integration session in an environment where the sacred or transpersonal can be explored or re-experienced may help to increase the therapeutic outcome.” 

But integration isn’t limited to formal sessions. Every day, Rachel solidifies the insights she’s gained from her trips “by being in the moment, getting outside of whatever stories are in my head, and recognizing that I am potentiality, that I am powerful, and that the reality that I’m experiencing is the reality that I’m creating — which is kind of a weird feedback loop, isn’t it? I could create any experience I want. I could. And [my integration is] just being in that zone and breathing it all in and reminding myself of that. It’s a battle every day. Sometimes, I’m in that zone. Sometimes, I’m away from it. And I pull myself back into the zone. That’s my daily life.”

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DoubleBlind Magazine does not encourage or condone any illegal activities, including but not limited to the use of illegal substances. We do not provide mental health, clinical, or medical services. We are not a substitute for medical, psychological, or psychiatric diagnosis, treatment, or advice. If you are in a crisis or if you or any other person may be in danger or experiencing a mental health emergency, immediately call 911 or your local emergency resources. If you are considering suicide, please call 988 to connect with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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