It’s Surprisingly Easy to Get ‘Legal’ LSD in Japan (2023)

One Tokyo afternoon I heard two words which I thought I’d never hear together, let alone in Japan: legal LSD.

“When I took it, I was on a little island next to Kobe –I had to take a boat to get there,” Rose, a young psychonaut tells as we sit in a cafe. For obvious privacy reasons, Rose is going by her first name in the notoriously drug-averse country. “It was really funny, or it sounds like a fun journey on the surface. I thought, ‘What the heck’s this? It was stronger than the normal LSD. Don’t take the whole thing!’”


Japan’s small psychedelic community have discovered a workaround that allows them to sneak past the country’s strict drug laws and shaming culture. Legal replacements for weed and acid, indistinguishable from and sometimes even stronger than the real thing, are sold openly in CBD dispensaries and sometimes even on Amazon.

“If you ask the average person on the street, they will say that Japanese people don’t take drugs – that’s the standard kind of robotic response you will get, which is, of course, nonsense,” says Andrew Gallimore, a psychedelics researcher based in Japan. “Japanese people do take drugs, it’s just they tend to take alcohol as their drug of choice and it’s very, very accepted, and dare I say promoted, by Japanese society.”

“But if you go into the fringes – the counterculture – psychedelics are very popular. I think a lot of it particularly comes from the ease with which you can bring sheets of LSD into the country illicitly. You don’t need to transport a lot.”

While not as deeply-rooted as other cultures such as Siberians or Native Americans, Japan has some history with psychedelics. Ancient folk tales spoke of “dancing mushrooms” that make you feel funny and want to dance–sound familiar? Shrooms (also known as wariai kinoko, or “laughing mushrooms”) were sold openly in headshops until the government, worried about their rising popularity, outlawed them in 2002. The doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo, which carried out a deadly sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995, even manufactured LSD in their compound at the base of Mount Fuji for use in bizarre initiation ceremonies.

But while LSD, cannabis and all the usual psychoactive drugs are highly illegal – unlike Britain, which bans anything psychoactive by default, with the exception of alcohol, tobacco and caffeine – there’s no such law in Japan. Instead, Japan restricts drugs on a case-by-case basis which, as Gallimore points out, is arguably less ideologically regressive than the UK. That leaves room for 1V-LSD and 1D-LSD, just two of many LSD analogs which have appeared as designer drugs in recent years.

“They’re LSD analogs, and they’re also LSD pro-drugs, in that they’re converted to LSD in the body after being consumed,” Gallimore explains. “They differ from LSD in having this chemical group attached to the indole ring, which is the main ring at the bottom of the molecule. This makes it a completely different molecule, in terms of the legal definition, so it's no longer LSD. But as soon as you consume it, it's quite rapidly converted to LSD so the effects are very, very similar. They might be a little bit slower to come on but basically, it's the same.”

Gallimore, however, doesn’t agree with Rose that the legal LSD is particularly more potent than the original. “I think the problem with psychedelics is that every trip is different,” he says. “When someone says ‘I took 1V-LSD and it was different to when I took LSD’, it's not particularly reliable because trips are variable, anyway… Based on the known pharmacology, there's no reason why it would be subjectively different in terms of the actual experience.”


1V-LSD and 1D-LSD are part of the lysergamide family of hallucinogenic compounds, the most famous of which is, of course, acid or LSD. Unlike acid, however, research about these other substances is scarce, but experiments on mice show 1V-LSD activates the same brain receptors as acid. 1V-LSD is a slightly modified molecule of 1P-LSD, which was itself being sold as a “legal acid” in online shops around 2012. The LSD pro-drugs were supplied by European companies such as Holland-based Lizard Labs, which was recently targeted by law enforcement in 2022 after American authorities accused them of clandestinely manufacturing fentanyl.

Before it was stuck on the government’s banned list in March this year, leaving only 1P-LSD on the market, you could buy 1V-LSD by simply logging onto Amazon Japan and handing over $50 for a tab. Christopher, an anonymous American expat living in Japan, tells VICE: “It's great! I've done 75ug, and I was in a great mood and laughing at everything. The second time [I took] it was 75ug and 300mg DXM [dextromethorphan, a dissociative found in some over-the-counter medicines], and I had all these great insights thinking about humanity as a ‘superorganism’ of which we are cells. It's too bad that they made it illegal.…”


LSD is not the only trippy tonic to enjoy a legal loophole in Japan. In 2017, VICE reported on Aoi Glass, young man in Tokyo who’d invented a purported ayahuasca substitute using just antidepressants and traditional Japanese herbs, Glass conducted unofficial ceremonies until 2020, when the authorities decided what he was doing was a bit naughty after all and he was arrested for manufacture of narcotics. After a two-year court battle, he received a suspended sentence, which is relatively lenient, but not unusual for certain first-time offenders in Japan.

And while many places around the world are relaxing their war on weed, Japan is doubling down on prohibition. Instead of catching you with a spliff in your hand, cops will soon be able to bust you for merely having THC in your bloodstream. Since THC can stay in your body for up to a month, that means if you smoked recently in a place where it’s legal (e.g. nearby Thailand) before visiting Japan, you may be in trouble.

But here, too, are alternatives. For the past four years, Toshiki Inoue, or Toshi for short, has been running a business, Chillaxy, supplying legal cannabinoids to CBD dispensaries, vape and wellness stores around Tokyo.


“A couple of things are popular right now like HHCP, THC-H, THC-B – that’s just three but there’s actually more, and these are way way stronger than THC to be honest,” says Toshi.

“Some compounds have more of a head high; some compounds have a body high; some compounds last longer. With THC you may smoke and it will go away in a couple of hours, but some of the ones in the market right now last a day!”

These semi-synthetic cannabinoids are piggybacking off the growing, wellness-based CBD industry in Japan. Since CBD itself has no trippy side effects, it can be legally imported to Japan, often from the US, where there’s a surplus of hemp and then, using a bit of chemistry, synthesised into THC-B and the like.

“I would say it’s becoming popular because the thing about Japanese is that they tend to very strictly follow the rules and they don’t touch cannabis because it’s illegal,” Toshi explains. “So THC or normal weed, people wouldn’t bother, but these are basically OK –they are willing to try [it] and they like it. The market is expanding.”

However, the relative ease with which CBD can be converted to psychoactive compounds is exactly the reason why it’s been banned in Hong Kong in February, following the lead of mainland China, which banned it a few years earlier. While there’s no sign CBD will be banned in Japan in the foreseeable future, Toshi has to keep a close eye on what’s on the government’s latest banned list.


“Every quarter, the Ministry of Health and the government regulator announces what’s next to get banned,” Toshi says. “So everyone in the market pays close attention to that. The THC-O, HHC-O, they got banned but that's still OK because there are other other things that we can sell.”

“It’s a question of how quickly they can ban, because they can only ban per compound basis and there’s new compounds coming in every few months. The regulation is basically not catching up.”

As well as earning him a tidy profit, Toshi sees his line of work as speeding up the end of prohibition. Having grown up in North America, the young entrepreneur hopes to replicate the process there where the Japanese public came to realise maybe –just maybe – pot isn’t so bad.

“Selling these types of psychoactive compounds would speed up the process of legalisation of cannabis in Japan,” he argues. “Rather than just chasing you or restricting all these compounds, if the government legalised cannabis and THC, it would simplify the regulation, right? Honestly, none of these compounds would have a market if THC from cannabis is legal here.”

Niko Vorobyov is the author of Dopeworld. Follow him on Twitter @Narco_Polo420

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