There’s a hand-written note stuck to the window of a Berlin store when I arrive one Monday morning. “We are out of LSD! Please come back soon,” it reads.
“We did an interview with [state broadcaster] RBB over the weekend and it just went crazy!” says shop owner Carl Philip Trump, a lanky blond German in his early thirties, as he jumps out of a taxi to greet me. “There should be more arriving today.”
Since opening in March, this small shop has been exploiting legal loopholes by selling an LSD analogue called 1CP-LSD – a recently developed substance that most governments haven’t got round to banning yet – labelled as a “research chemical”. When it’s in stock, there are usually crowds of customers in and out each day, buying micro-dosing, mini-dosing, full-dosing or “extra-dosing” tabs in batches of five to 100.
It’s not just the novelty of walking into a shop to buy a seemingly illicit substance that has been attracting German press attention. Trump himself, who claims to be distantly related to former US President Donald (“My father comes from the same village, Kallstadt, that the Trump family come from,” he tells me), has some unusual ideas about what he will use his profits for.
The former bitcoin trader – who attended a Catholic school in southern Germany that was at the centre of a child abuse cover-up – says he wants to sue the church for its involvement in similar cases around the globe. He’s even set up his own political party, Good People – a slightly derogatory term for “do-gooder” in Germany – whose two main policies appear to be “legalise drugs” and “jail the church ‘mafia’”. Some of his ideas wander into conspiracy theory territory – although this doesn’t seem to have hampered his LSD trade.
Trump says he began experimenting with psychedelics after suffering from depression a few years ago. “I lost a lot of money [with bitcoin], my girlfriend broke up with me – I really thought I ruined my life,” he explains. After trying antidepressants and therapy, he says it was a trip to a psychedelic retreat in the Netherlands that helped him get back on track.
“LSD allowed me to put everything in perspective,” he says. “And I thought, ‘This is something I want to share.’ I wanted somewhere you could meet other people and talk about this extraordinary experience.”
He regularly bought 1CP-LSD online to take himself, so he knew it was possible to sell. Little research has been carried out on the drug, but one study found that it’s a prodrug that the human body converts to LSD. “After seeing others selling it, I went to a lawyer and got a document written up stating it was legal,” he says. However, he didn’t have enough money to open a physical store right away.
So in September of 2020 he set up an online shop and a Telegram channel. Psychedelics are a bit of a niche market in Berlin, where the all-weekend techno party culture lends itself better to stimulants. But Trump claims that demand grew in lockdown, when people were stuck at home. He also organised controversial “legalise LSD” demos in a Berlin park, featuring DJs and a sound system, which he freely admits were a way of circumventing rules against raves during lockdown.
By March he’d made enough money to open the physical shop. His nervous landlord insisted on several months’ rent upfront. Out front, there’s a sign saying “Wir Verkaufen LSD” (we sell LSD), and inside there’s a huge psychedelic animal mural that he hopes to use as a tool in guided group trips, if he can find a way around COVID restrictions and encroaching bans.
When I return later, a new package of supplies has arrived, and there’s a constant stream of customers – mostly men, of all ages. The majority say they take the drug for fun, although some also mention mental health and chronic pain. One tells me he was put off LSD after a bad experience many years ago, but started experimenting again after discovering the shop, “as you can measure small doses here, which is better”.
Using psychedelics to treat mental health problems or achieve enlightenment is nothing new. Recent Global Drug Survey results show that increasing numbers of people are using them to self-medicate disorders such as anxiety and depression, and there is also scientific research suggesting they may be effective at helping . However, the exact role they play is still poorly understood. Is Trump doing anything to help his customers take the drug safely?
“I give them guidelines, such as don’t drink alcohol or smoke weed, have a safe setting and control your dosage,” he says. “But it’s hard to say, ‘Do A, B and C and everything will be fine.’ You might still have a bad experience.”
Unfortunately, the business of synthetic drug dealing doesn’t always run smoothly. Germany is set to make 1CP-LSD illegal at the end of this week. Trump says he is hoping his Netherlands-based supplier, Lizard Labs, will develop an alternative. However, if the entire drug group is made illegal – which might happen – then the next legal LSD-like substances will be quite different, and potentially more dangerous.
Trump’s backup is to take the shop to other countries where 1CP-LSD will still be legal, such as Russia and Poland. “Poland is a very conservative country, so the idea is to try and politicise the people through LSD, so they become more critical of institutions such as the church,” he says.
On Trump’s website, some of his statements veer from legitimate criticism of the church into wild ideas about the world being run by a “satanic cult”, which includes the Clintons and Bill Gates – something that feels reminiscent of the QAnon conspiracy movement beloved by many fans of the other, slightly more famous, Trump. I ask if he is pushing conspiracy theories through his platform. “I don’t believe in QAnon,” he says. “But the Clintons and Bill Gates had dinners with Epstein, which is fact.”
Some customers are rather bemused by the mixture of LSD dealing and extreme political theories. “People do argue with me a lot,” he admits. “But I don’t mind arguing.”
The majority of those queuing up have little interest in Trump’s politics and just want to have a good time. And as long as suppliers keep developing substances at rates drug laws are unable to keep up with, there will still be loopholes for them to do this legally.