Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Bachelor of Social Sciences Honours


Faculty of Health and Human Sciences

First Supervisor

Howard Sercombe


There is little recent literature which identifies social controls operating among illicit drug users in Perth, Western Australia. This hinders understanding of the local illicit drug scene and makes the formulation of appropriate harm reduction strategies difficult. This study is a qualitative investigation of rituals and social sanctions which surround the use of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD). The research describes these rituals and sanctions, and examines their various functions for eight experienced users. The research adopted elements of a phenomenological approach, using in-depth semi-structured interviews to elicit a description of users' subjective experiences with LSD, and Colaizzi's (1978) phenomenological analysis method to probe the data for typical structures and 'essences'. Credibility and validity are achieved through the use of data triangulation, participant verification, and a clearly identifiable audit trail. The results suggest that rituals and sanctions surrounding informants' use of LSD are intertwined and serve a number of important functions. These include governing use through the reduction of harms and risks associated with LSD use and the maximising of pleasurable and beneficial elements of the experience. Users achieve this through the imposition of order, which is learned and practised in the social setting. Rituals and sanctions are integrated into the life of the LSD-using peer group, and have social meaning. Results indicate that the array of social controls which govern participants' use of LSD have varying degrees of success. A dialectical relationship between rituals and sanctions and the social setting exists, with both adapting to the presence and impact of the other. The outcome of this is that rituals and sanctions are modified, corrected and strengthened by their own outcomes. Results also challenge popular constructions of illicit drug users which dominate public discourse. The implications for harm reduction, drug education and future research are discussed.