Hacker Dosed With LSD While Restoring Historical Synth

[Eliot Curtis] found himself a little too close to 1960’s counterculture while restoring a vintage modular synthesizer — he began tripping out on acid. The instrument in question is a Buchla Model 100. The Buchla is a modular synth. Instead of a keyboard, it used capacitance-sensitive touch plates. This particular model 100 was purchased by California State University East Bay Campus. The synth was popular for a while, but eventually fell into disuse, and was stored in a classroom closet.

Modular synths are experiencing a renaissance, as can be seen right here on Hackaday. The Buchla was pulled out of storage and given a proper restoration. [Eliot Curtis] is the Broadcast Operations Manager at KPIX 5, the San Francisco CBS TV station. He also is the hacker who volunteered to restore the Buchla.
During the restoration, [Curtis] found residue and crystals stuck under one of the knobs of the Control Voltage Processing Module. Was it flux, conformal coating, or something else? [Eliot] hit the board with contact cleaner and wiped it down. Within 45 minutes, he was feeling a strange tingling. It was the beginning of a nine-hour LSD trip. Three independent tests on the module came back positive for LSD.

Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD for short) can be readily absorbed through the skin, which is exactly what happened to [Eliot]. Synth designer [Don Buchla] was friends with [Owsley Stanley], who worked for the Grateful Dead and allegedly cooked up some very potent LSD. Some of Buchla’s modules even found their way into Ken Keesey’s hands, where they wound up on his famous bus “further”. As it turns out there were rumors that modules had been dipped in LSD back in the ’60s. Why someone would do that to an electronic module, we’re not sure — they must have been on drugs. [Eliot] recovered from his brush with the ’60s and continued with the restoration with gloves on.

If there is a moral here, it should be to take precautions when working on equipment which might contain dangerous substances. We’ve learned this lesson ourselves cracking open broken laptops. You might find anything from coffee to soda, to pet urine or worse. A box of nitrile gloves definitely should be standard equipment in any hacker’s lab.

48 thoughts on “Hacker Dosed With LSD While Restoring Historical Synth

    1. LSD is also effective in really microscopic amounts. If it was literally a mm sized crystal of pure LSD soaking through skin with harsh contact cleaner solvent, could a ug or two survive 60 years, in just the right crack to stay out of the light?

      1. Which makes this even more unbelievable. It is potent on a microscopic scale (one gram being 10,000 standard doses). If he visually saw it, it’s not “a couple ug” which would be imperceptible to the human eye, it would be dozens/ hundreds/ thousands of doses. Even 10 doses, which would still be not visible to the naked eye, is not going to result in “herpaderp I think I am on LSD”, and if it was say 100 doses it would be immediately and massively apparent, and he would be unable to do anything.

        Totally #fakenews.

    2. I don’t know much about LSD, or drugs in general, but never really read anything about an expiration date on LSD. Never read anything about liquids degrading it either, common distribution/dosing method. Doubt they intentionally coated the electronics, maybe a little spillage. Could have been used as a stash box, since drugs were illegal. A search for drugs, wouldn’t commonly include ripping apart expensive equipment.

      1. “A search for drugs, wouldn’t commonly include ripping apart expensive equipment.”

        Au contraire…. There are, and always have been, cops that would most assuredly destroy anything and everything during their search to send a message.

        In this case, though, I would suspect accidental contamination, since the acid wasn’t soaked into a carrier or contained. If it was to be used as a stash, I would have bet on soaking a label and sticking it inside a cover, to make loss unlikely.

        And to the OP: old acid is just as good as fresh. When I was in grad school (late 1980’s), a friend shared some special holdout from her time at Berkley in the late 60’s. It was a good 20 years old at the time. Not 60, I know, but still well aged.

      2. Lysergic acid and its derivatives are sensitive to a wide variety of commonly encountered things: heat, light, even trace amounts of chloride in any water that comes in contact with a reaction mixture. This sensitivity is nearly nonexistent when the material is made in to a crystal, which is the ideal manner to store and suitable compound.

      3. When soaked into blotter paper it has a maximal exposed surface area and moisture and oxygen can wick in to get the the places not directly exposed (after all that’s what blotter paper is optimized for). In this format LSD can start to become ineffective in months of room temperature storage, especially exposed to light and heat.

        I would imagine, however, that a gob of the stuff thoroughly dried onto the bottom of a knob would experience the most degradation at the surface while the innermost core would remain active the longest. Given that this symth was sitting in a cool, dry, and dark storage room in an air conditioned building (away from heat, light, and moisture) it is entirely possible that under a weathered exterior was some still potent LSD.

        Given that the description in the article indicates that it was one heck of a chunk for a substance that in its prime would be taken in quantities ≤ 100 ug. It might well have been a much more alarming experience if it had been fresh (or, for that matter, if the solvent he was using also softened the skin for absorbtion of more of the stuff). *shudder*. Nothing sucks quite like being stoned off your ass quite unexpectedly and without having intentionally ingested/consumed anything to that end.

    3. So does this line from the article not count for anything?

      “Three individual chemical tests identified the substance as LSD”

      Everywhere I see this article posted, LSD experts claim that this is impossible, and yet I have not seen anyone address this line. It is almost like no one RTFA’ed
      Additionally, while I am suspicious that this was quoted anonymously, I am still curious about this line:

      “A well-known LSD researcher and expert who asked to remain anonymous told KPIX that LSD can remain potent for decades if kept in a cool, dark place.”

      1. YES! Names of the independent testers? Who paid them? When did this happen? Name of our hacker? Comment or react from school or “victim”? I want to believe, but there is zero sourcing here.

      1. All of these documentations refer to pure LSD. “Real” LSD is a totally different matter. It is almost every time treated with conservants and stabilizing agents.
        I can totally assure you that 20year old “real” LSD works just fine.

  1. Unfortunately finding good nitrile gloves that don’t tear easily against sharp points and edges is troublesome. If you find a good brand that doesn’t tear easily, buy as many boxes as you can as soon as you can. They’ll only be available for a month or two before they wind up replaced with a cheaper brand that tears the moment you look at a sharp thing.

  2. I hope the guy doesn’t get fired from his job over this (although since he has proof that it wasn’t his fault and he didn’t intentionally take LSD I dont think that will happen)

  3. The way he describes the trip coming on: “It was … felt like I was tripping on LSD” makes me suspect it might not strictly speaking be his first encounter with LSD :)

  4. He saw stuff on the machine. If you can see it, it’s NOT LSD. Also LSD doesn’t degrade in water. As for absorbing it through the skin, that takes a solvent like DMSO. Otherwise, cool story, bro.

    1. I recommend a mild ammonia-based cleaner like Windex to dissolve the residue and counteract the smell. You might also experiment with Nature’s Miracle or another enzymatic cleaner. Definitely test for compatibility; I wouldn’t apply ammonia directly to a PCB.

      Once you’ve managed the cleanup, consider countermeasures.

      1. Was going to say that I had a cat once that peed on a fire alarm I’d foolishly left on the ground. Took forever to figure out where the alarm came from, because I kept checking the ceilings.

    2. I know people who have run electronics through dishwashers and left them to dry for two weeks before powering them up. I will say from personal experience that this is really hard on switches and some relays, but I’ve had friends who have successfully run a keyboard through a dishwasher.

      1. IIRC, back in the old days…
        Tektronix would (water) wash scopes arriving for repair.
        I don’t know if the water was de-ionized, or if a special detergent/soap was used.

  5. Bullshit.

    LSD is an organic compound that is highly sensitive to bothe light and temperature. Anything above freezing and the molecule stsrts to degrade rapidly. You might get a few months of shelf life out of it before to turns back into LSA, which is not a chemeically reactive substance with your dermal layers.

    I have read both PHIKAL and THIKAL

  6. When you read just WHO the design engineer was friends with then thd story becomes much more plausible. That is assuming you know a bit of history.

    BTW I can personnally attest that old “ACID” still works years after production.

  7. If you actually read the story and learn just WHO the design engineer was friends with the story become MUCH more plausible.
    BTW I can personally attest that “old Acid” worked just fine….

    1. Of course. Acid which is sold in the “counterculture” is laced with stuff that stabilizes and conserves it. Otherwise it would be impossible to sell and use.

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