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A lot of recreational drug slang is reasonably comprehensible. Some is pretty cryptic, possibly by design. A common expression for "take LSD" is "drop acid". The "acid" part is obvious; it's a common expression for lysergic acid diethylamide. But whence "drop"?

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  • 2
    Drop it into your mouth.
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 24, 2017 at 1:35
  • 4
    I am fairly sure that the original method of taking LSD was in liquid form. You would therefore take it by taking it up in a bulb dropper and allowing a few drops to fall on the tongue. I suspect that this is the source of the term; however, I have evidence for this. Nov 24, 2017 at 10:34
  • * have NO evidence of this. Sorry for the typo Nov 24, 2017 at 11:54
  • @JackAidley - I was under the impression that sugar cubes were used.
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 25, 2017 at 3:05
  • @HotLicks I thought that came slightly later as a more pleasant way to do it? Nov 25, 2017 at 9:12

5 Answers 5

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Green's Dictionary of Slang links all uses of drop related to drugs under one definition.

v.6. 1. (drugs) to consume pills or any drug that can be taken orally.

The earliest cited use is from 1961:

The drugs are either inhaled, swallowed or injected [...] To take orally is to ‘drop it’.

  • 1961 - The Real Bohemia by Francis J. Rigney and L. Douglas Smith. New York

It's possible that the word "drop" grew in association with LSD because of the well-known counter-cultural mantra coined by Timothy Leary:

Turn on, tune in, drop out

Wikipedia quotes Leary describing the meaning of drop out in this phrase:

"Drop Out" meant self-reliance, a discovery of one's singularity, a commitment to mobility, choice, and change. Unhappily my explanations of this sequence of personal development were often misinterpreted to mean "Get stoned and abandon all constructive activity".

So it is clear that "drop out" in the phrase was not meant to refer to the act of taking LSD, but Leary's reputation as a popularizer and proponent of LSD use might have led to misinterpretations of "drop out" referring either to dropping away from social awareness or, possibly, "dropping acid."

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    As a veteran of the '60s, I can attest to the fact that my friends and I never considered the "drop" of "drop acid" to be derived from, or even closely related to, the "drop" of "drop out". We also rarely, if ever, used the verb "drop" in reference to any drug but LSD, even other psychedelics. One simply did not drop, say, mescaline or psilocybin. Nov 24, 2017 at 3:58
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    The "drop out" answer has the appeal of actually sounding like an etymology; it has the fault of not actually being correct. And as you note, I've never heard "drop" used to any other drug, recreational or medicinal.
    – Steve
    Nov 26, 2017 at 2:40
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I think it's fairly obvious. From a transitive sense of drop, "to let fall (like a drop or drops)," the OED gives

  1. slang
    drop
    c. To swallow or take (a drug); esp. in phr. to drop acid (cf. acid adj. and n. Compounds 2). slang.
    1966 R. Alpert & S. Cohen LSD (inside cover) Drop a cap, swallow a capsule of LSD.
    1967 R. Bronsteen Hippies' Handbk. 13 I dropped my first acid in Paris.
    1969 Guardian 3 Dec. 9/1 She had dropped some LSD and had been tripping for an unknown number of hours.
    1971 ‘E. McBain’ Hail, Hail, Gang's all Here ii. 170 I realized he was on an acid trip... I tried to find out what he'd dropped.
    1973 M. Amis Rachel Papers 183 I was using the Mandrax my dentist had given me, surreptitiously dropping one at ten thirty.
    1984 S. Bellow in Vanity Fair (N.Y.) Feb. 110/2 Some kids are dropping acid, stealing cars.
    1985 S. Vanauken Under Mercy iv. 81 We obtained two six-hit caps and, recklessly, decided to drop the lot.

When I was young it was always understood that to drop a pill (or a liquid drop of a drug) meant to swallow it.

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    This does not explain the etymology, merely lists the early usages, as such it does not answer the question. Nov 24, 2017 at 10:28
  • @JackAidley: The etymology would be the same as the etymology of the transitive drop (i.e., to drop something), which ought to be obvious. You "drop" the tablet (or droplet) down your throat.
    – Robusto
    Nov 24, 2017 at 14:34
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I too survived the 60s, and the first time I dropped acid it was still legal. We didn't use "drop" when speaking of any other drug + it was acid-specific. My guess is that it was because early LSD was in liquid form, and an eye-dropper dispensed, or dropped, a dose onto a sugar cube or piece of blotter paper. I have no evidence, though. Just speculating.

3

The notion of dropping a pill onto the back of the pill-taker's tongue in order to facilitate swallowing goes back to at least 1950 and appears to be descriptive, not slangy in origin.

From Leon Whitney, The Complete Book of Home Pet Care (1950) [combined snippets]:

With your right hand pick up the pill or capsule between the thumb and first or second finger and with the little finger pull down the lower jaw. Hold it open with the side of the little finger and drop the pill as far back on the tongue as possible. With your forefinger, or with the forefinger and second finger, push the pill gently but quickly as far back in the throat as you can. Then withdraw your hand quickly, let the mouth close and hold it together until the dog sticks out his tongue in the act of swallowing. Several pills and capsules may be poked down in this way at one time.

Slang use of "dropping pills" in the sense of swallowing narcotic pills, capsules, or tablets dates to at least 1959. From testimony of R.B. Brooks, Narcotic Detail, Los Angeles [California] County Sheriff's Office, on November 9, 1959, in Hearings Before the Subcommittee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency of the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, part 5, November 9–20, 1959 (1960):

Senator CARROLL. Do you find that these [Dexedrene pep pills] are being used by juveniles? Why do we raise this question? Is this a part of juvenile delinquency?

Mr. BROOKS. That is correct, sir. We find many, many of our kids that we handle are what we call dropping pills, these and the barbiturates. On an arrest it is not uncommon to seize two or three thousand of these from kids.

From statement of Marvin R. Fullmer, Chief Investigator, U.S. Senate Subcommittee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency, on November 10, 1959, also in Hearings Before the Subcommittee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency of the Committee on the Judiciary, read on United States Senate, part 5, November 9–20, 1959 (1960):

We know that the tragic evils of drug addiction have affected young boys and girls to an alarming degree. As the chairman of this committee stated yesterday, a recent study at a nearby junior high school [in Los Angeles County] indicated that 59 percent of the students were regular marihuana smokers. At another school, the estimate ranged as high as 90 percent of the student body. But marihuana use is not the only dangerous habit acquired by many teenagers in this area. “Dropping pills” enjoys a surprising popularity among boys and girls of high-school age, or even younger. These pills include barbiturates and amphetamines, which apparently are readily available to youngsters from various sources.

From Narcotics Arrests in California: July 1, 1959 – June 30, 1960 (1960):

In certain instances it is almost a guess as to whether an arrest actually occurred, and if one did occur whether there was actually new narcotic involvement. As an example, if a juvenile is arrested for burglary and admits that sometime in the past he once smoked a marijuana cigarette or "dropped a pill", should he now be considered to have been arrested for a narcotic-type offense? In the case of an adult there would be no question. Without physical or other evidence there could be no charge and consequently no narcotic involvement in the arrest. Juveniles frequently admit guilt to offenses even extraneous to the offense being investigated, and charges could have been brought which were based only on their admissions.

From [California] Youth and Adult Corrections Agency, Department of the Youth Authority, Division of Research, Research Report (1961) [combined snippets]:

I went to Paso Robles [Youth Correctional Facility] in '59. I was about fourteen or fifteen, something like that. It was for pills, that time.

I started usin pills, you know--well, this other friend of mine, you know, I was over to his house one time. You know, he was goin to throw a party. He said, Did you ever drop pills before?" I said, "What are those?" I had heard of them, but I said, you know, "What are those?" He said," They are better than, you know, weed." And I said, "Why don't you give me some and I'll try them out?" So he gave me some seco ballefs [literally, "dry whales"]. Seco ballefs, that's Spanish. You get them down at Tia Juana. See, people from L.A., they never heard of them, see?

And from an unidentified article on drugs in an issue of Newsweek magazine (August 13, 1962) [combined snippets]:

Perhaps most pervasive is the attitude in some neighborhoods that you're square if you don't "drop" a pill or join a whiff session. "If the other fellow tries it," says one Los Angeles probation officer, "you also want to." Kids who have been brought in as barbiturate addicts have told the tale again and again of first trying goofballs at teen-age soft-drink parties. They just don't recognize the danger—until too late.

The earliest instance of "dropping acid" that I've been able to find may be this one from "Soft-Core Pornography of the Month: April 1966," in The Realist (April[?] 1966):

Just about this time (5 p.m.), the word had gotten out, people (mostly young) all over the [San Francisco] Bay Area would be "dropping acid"—ingesting LSD—in preparation for a prelude to the Trips Festival that was advertised in the papers as "The Acid Test," to begin 9 o'clock that night at the Fillmore Auditorium.

The Trips Festival/Acid Test Program occurred in San Francisco in January 1966, and it appears that this article is revisiting the event several months later (presumably not in the form of a flashback).

From Mr. Jones, "Something's Happening: Things Are Getting Out of Control," in the [Berkeley, California] Daily Californian (May 5, 1966):

Last Saturday, one of the national television networks filmed part of ta story on LSD in Berkeley. In an apartment on Durant St., a seven-man television crew took films of four people (two from SF and two from Berkeley) while they were high on acid. Dropping acid and filming began at three in the afternoon and finished at 11 p.m. that night, all the time indoors. One person just sat around and played cards. At one point the four people locked themselves in a bedroom to talk about how to deal with the camera crew. There were about twenty people altogether running around and finally the four taking acid went up to the roof and refused to come back until everyone had left.

From A. Head, "Sproul Hall Acid Bust," in the [Berkeley, California] Daily Californian (May 20, 1966):

Special Assistant John Snarl commented on the potential of LSD in campus politics. "Just think what would happen if the members of the VDC all dropped acid," he reflected.

"Imagine the sense of unity they would feel, the oneness with the administration.” He imagined, "Together we would present a united front to the students, press and the Regents, from the immortal Sproul Hall.

And from California Teachers Association, Proceedings (1966):

Touching briefly on the drug scene, one of the common concepts about dropping-out is that perfectly normal well-adjusted, mature, healthy young people--if there are such people in our society--suddenly smoke pot or drop acid and are transformed into a drop-out. This kind of magical thinking about the way drugs operate pervades our society, because it is much easier to attribute a complex social phenomenon to some very simple thing like taking a drug or a particular political philosophy.

The concentration of early matches from California offers fairly strong circumstantial evidence that the slang use both "dropping pills" (from no later than 1959) and "dropping acid" (from no later than 1966) originated in that state's drug culture—and possibly in the juvenile subsector of it.

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We used to put liquid acid on sugar cubes. We would drop the acid on the cube

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  • If I understand correctly, dropping acid meant ingesting acid. By analogy, cooking eggs and eating eggs are different things.
    – jimm101
    Apr 6 at 1:21
  • 1
    Joe, a source would be useful per the help center. Please take a moment to tour EL&U, and welcome.
    – livresque
    Apr 6 at 5:07

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