790: Control

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Jump to: navigation, search
Which, at one point, led to a study showing that LSD produces no more hallucinations than a placebo.
Title text: Which, at one point, led to a study showing that LSD produces no more hallucinations than a placebo.


This is another comic in the My Hobby series. In a product experiment, two groups of people are given a certain pill or lotion. Some people are given the product to be tested, while others (the control group) are given a placebo; nobody is told which group they belong to. The control group acts as a norm for comparison against the others.

Randall has messed with this process by giving LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) to the control group. LSD is a drug that causes hallucinations and distortions in the perception of time and space. Megan, apparently a control, is experiencing spiders in her hallucinations. Since the control group is supposed to reflect what "normally" happens, this is indeed very confusing to the scientists. While hallucinating in the comic Megan is drawn as if she has six arms indicating that she's waving her arms. Though this also makes her look (together with her lower limbs) as if she has eight 'legs', in the manner of an actual spider.

The scientists are confused. This may mean that, in the light of the unusual adverse events, they have executed the option of unblinding the study. This implies that the trial has (or is being) ended, as not being double-blinded itself impacts the veracity of a continuing study. In a properly double-blinded study, the scientists would not know Cueball or Megan was the control and would only dutifully record their observations. However, it may be equally confusing even if they don't yet know which cohorts either participant are members of (for all they know, these two are from the same one), as the treatment may or may not be creating hallucinations even as the non-treatment may or may not seem to clear up rashes.

Depending upon how the flailing-limbed individual is interpretted, one or other 'treatment' may even have actually promoted the growth of additional body parts. Logically, this is more likely to arise from a trial drug intended to affect surface tissues (though still far from the usual expectations of any "anti-rash treatment") than a commonly used hallucinogen whose effects are generally understood to be on brain-chemistry and nervous function. Either outcome should worry any observer, even those not under the misconception that a placebo (also an unlikely cause, by definition) might be the provocative agent in this instance.

The title text suggests that, in a different study, this substitution was performed when the product being tested was itself LSD. This led to the conclusion that LSD is no more likely to cause hallucinations than the 'placebo', implying that LSD is not a significant hallucinogen. We can only hope they were able to redo the test, as in layman's terms "Nonsense MUST be wrong". Randall could also have only sneaked placebo in as the 'LSD' element of the study, to get the same comparative effect, though (if checked) the difference between the whole cohorts, from each modified type of study, would be striking.


[Caption above the frame:]
My Hobby:
[Cueball looks down at his arm calmly, while next to him Megan is violently flailing around in terror. In the foreground a Cueball-like guy stands next to Ponytail who is holding a clipboard. They look on in puzzlement.]
Cueball: My rash seems to have shrunk by about 20% today.
Cueball-like guy: ? ?
Ponytail: ?
[Caption below the frame:]
Sneaking into experiments and giving LSD to the control group.

comment.png add a comment! ⋅ comment.png add a topic (use sparingly)! ⋅ Icons-mini-action refresh blue.gif refresh comments!


Soon followed by psychologists recommending the tested drug as a depressant after looking at the results of the trials. Davidy²²[talk] 02:21, 24 April 2013 (UTC)

This has always bothered me: If LSD Lysergic Acid Diethylamide, why isn't it LAD? What's so special about the S in LySergic that it beats out the A in Acid? Anonymous 01:06, 5 December 2013 (UTC)

It is from the German "Lysergsäure-diethylamid" where "säure" refers to the acidity. 14:39, 8 December 2013 (UTC)
Ah, that makes sense. Anonymous. 00:10, 12 January 2014 (UTC)

LSD invokes hallucinations, not delirium. By definition, you know when you're hallucinating. Just saying. 00:21, 22 January 2014 (UTC)

People who do insane things like jump off a building or flee from hallucinations while on LSD are usually those who had it slipped to them without their knowledge. The reason most people who are tripping aren't fooled by the things their poorly filtered mind brings up is that they're aware it's happening, not that it's not convincing. If you think you're sober, those impressions are entirely believable. They are not even really a hallucination, but in fact are the triggering of memories by sensory stimulus or thoughts. LSD blocks part of your brain's normal chemical filtering of memories and thoughts, which would keep you from being distracted by only slightly-relevant thoughts. — Kazvorpal (talk) 21:33, 28 October 2019 (UTC)
Hallucinations are, in fact, indistinguishable from reality, like delirium. LSD-like effects, where things feel real but you know they aren't are sometimes called pseudohallucinations. Delirants like belladona, datura, mandrake or even nutmeg are more likely produce true hallucinations, usually of the unpleasant kind. GuB (talk) 13:56, 23 October 2015 (UTC)
If you are not aware that you have been given a drug that would cause hallucinations, and are going in to have the size of your rash analyzed, you have no expectation of perceiving things that aren't real to help cue you in to what is happening
Saying 'LSD does not cause delirium' might make sense when reading wikipedia or someone's sanitized lab report, but "OH GOD SPIDERS" is not a very abnormal response to the drug. Singlelinelabyrinth (talk) 03:15, 25 July 2020 (UTC)

There is an argument that, when doing tests on humans, who leave the lab and do things that may accidentally or by design affect the data (say, a person being given the placebo rather than a drug for blood sugar, blood pressure, etc who happens to start walking more at work because they are moved to a less centrally located desk, the term "comparison group" should be used instead of "control group," because they can compare the two data sets but not control for all variables Katt3 (talk) 17:48, 19 September 2016 (UTC)Katt3

I always thought the multiple arms were to show motion. 05:32, 2 May 2016 (UTC)

An alternative explanation (which was actually my first thought) is that what we see is Megan's perception of herself. Not only does she see spiders around her, but she also sees some features of spiders (having 8 legs/limbs) in her own body. Bebidek (talk) 13:13, 11 March 2024 (UTC)
Theory: upper-limb triplication is an unforeseen adverse reaction *specifically* when combining LSD and a particular type of placebo. But never discovered because there's never been any reason to combine them, before, let alone test for this exact 'drug' reaction.
In this case, everything would have been 'ok' (more or less) if the LSD hadn't been mixed into the previously chosen placebo, or if the prior (proper) doses of theoretically inert 'sugar pill' substance had been flushed out of the recipient's system before the psychoactive dose got administered.
...I know... But this is the xkcdverse, and there's been weirder things than a stealthily-intereactive 'placebo'. ;) 14:03, 31 May 2024 (UTC)