For the first time that Baltimore County school officials can remember, two middle school students have been expelled for possession of LSD.
Lysergic acid diethylamide, which gained popularity during the 1960s, may be making a comeback in the county as today's teen-agers become intrigued with the music and lifestyle of that older era.
The two students, from Arbutus Middle School, bring to nine the number expelled this year from county schools for LSD-related offenses, compared with seven in the 1990-91 school year, five in 1989-90 and two in 1988-89.
Moreover, expulsions in county schools for LSD have increased every year since 1988, according to Thomas Jordan, coordinator of the office of pupil personnel services.
Michael Gimbel, director of the county Office of Substance Abuse, calls the increase "extremely frightening."
LSD, a hallucinogenic, does not have a single, consistent effect. It amplifies whatever is occurring in the mind, producing a number of distortions in perception.
"It scrambles your senses, your ability to hear, to see, to speak," Mr. Gimbel says. "You might see a wall melt. You might 'see' a sound . . . your ability to do anything, really, is altered."
In addition, drug treatment officials warn that the dosage of LSD varies depending on a variety of factors, including the potency of the drug used and whether it was mixed with other substances -- one of the most common is amphetamines.
John Bosley, clinical director of a drug treatment center in Carroll County, says mixing LSD with other substances means the effect of each "hit" is unpredictable, and there is a chance of ingesting toxic substances that have been added to give the LSD an extra kick.
Mr. Gimbel believes that "tripping" is becoming a trend among suburban teen-agers.
Mr. Bosley agrees: "After alcohol and marijuana use, which we find in the majority of our adolescents, LSD has replaced cocaine and inhalants" as the drug of choice."
But Lt. Rob Dewberry, commander of the county Police Narcotics Unit, says the expulsions are not indicative of an overall increase in LSD use. Lieutenant Dewberry and other drug treatment officials say they see an increase in LSD use when The Grateful Dead -- a legendary rock band founded in San Francisco during the mid '60s -- comes to town.
But Mr. Dewberry says, "I'm not seeing a lot of it on the street . . . there are a few isolated incidents in this area, but we're not seeing something I would say is a trend."
Nonetheless, a recent statewide study of 12th-graders not only found an increase in LSD use from 1984 to 1989, but also found that almost 30 percent of the admissions to drug- and alcohol-abuse programs are now related to use of hallucinogens.
Officials say LSD's popularity is probably based largely on its low cost -- between $2 to $5 per dose.
"It's cheap, it's easy to get and you can do it in school," Mr. Gimbel says. Trooper Robert Heuisler, an undercover investigator with a Carroll County drug task force, says LSD is also popular because users can simply eat the evidence instead of getting busted.
Tracking LSD use among students is difficult, however, because not all counties break down drug expulsions or suspensions by drug type.
Howard and Carroll counties do not keep records of LSD-related expulsions, and only have totals for all drug or alcohol suspensions. In Anne Arundel County, which does keep such breakdowns, 12 students have already been expelled or suspended for possession or distribution of LSD this year -- a number that Huntley Cross, special assistant to the Arundel school superintendent, calls "very unusual."
"I've been in the system almost 30 years, and it's been 15 years since we've had anything of that magnitude," Mr. Cross said.
Harford County, which also keeps such statistics, reported no suspensions this school year for LSD. Similarly no students have been expelled or suspended for LSD in Baltimore City over the past two years, according to Helen Patterson, coordinator of special pupil services.
Still, school administrators, drug counselors and some police said they've seen enough anecdotal evidence to suggest a comeback of LSD -- and they say that education and drug awareness programs for teen-agers should include a section on LSD, which in the past may have been de-emphasized in favor of better-known drugs like alcohol, marijuana and cocaine.