LSD - Effects, Addictiveness & Treatment

LSD is one of the most commonly used hallucinogenic drugs. It is not addictive, however, it does come with a variety of side effects and health risks. Hence it’s classification as a Schedule I drug.
Evidence Based
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What is LSD?

Lysergic acid diethylamide, commonly known as LSD or acid, is a powerful synthetic hallucinogen. It is produced using a lysergic acid found in ergot — a fungus that grows on rye and other grains. LSD disrupts the interaction of serotonin and nerve cells, causing hallucinations, heightened senses, and other intense physical and mental effects.

LSD is a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substance Act. Schedule I drugs are considered to have a high potential for abuse. There are no currently accepted medical uses of LSD in the United States.

Common street names for LSD include:

  • Lucy
  • Doses
  • Tab
  • Dots
  • Blotter
  • Windowpane

Approximately 30 to 90 minutes after ingestion, LSD induces a “trip,” which can last up to 12 hours. Users experience a distorted sense of reality and increased responsivity to external stimuli.

LSD was discovered in 1938 and was the subject of thousands of medical experiments until it became illegal in the 1960s.

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Types and Forms of LSD

LSD is a clear, odorless, water-soluble crystal. It is often crushed into a powder and dissolved. The most common method of distribution is a liquid applied to a small piece of paper. However, it is sold in several forms, including:

  • Crystal
  • Liquid
  • Powder
  • Capsules
  • Gelatin
  • Sugar cubes
  • Laced with other drugs

Each dose contains approximately 20 to 80 micrograms. Users typically chew or swallow them. However, they can also be inhaled, injected, or dropped onto the user’s eyeball.

Icon of transparent brain showing mental health.

Physical and Mental Effects of LSD

Users typically begin to feel the effects of LSD 30 to 90 minutes after ingestion. The effects of the “trip” usually last 4 to 8 hours. Although, with a higher dosage, the effects can last up to 12 hours.

Physical effects of LSD use include:

  • Raised body temperature and facial flushing
  • Dilated pupils
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Tingling in extremities
  • Weakness and tremors
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Nausea and loss of appetite
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Restlessness

The mental effects of LSD are classified as psychedelic and include:

  • Visual hallucinations - from intensified colors and flashes of light to geometrical patterns, distortions of reality, and false images
  • Heightened senses
  • Distorted sense of time
  • Depersonalization
  • “Out of body” experiences
  • Synesthesia
  • Mystical or religious encounters
Graphic human body showing symptoms.

LSD Short and Long Term Side Effects

There are several common adverse effects of LSD that can be dangerous:

  • Change in mood or personality
  • Impaired depth perception
  • Inability to sense the passing of time
  • Impaired judgment
  • Insensitivity to common dangers

Some people may experience an adverse reaction, known as a “bad trip.” These symptoms typically end after the primary effects of the drug wear off, but may be experienced for up to 48 hours after ingestion:

  • Anxiety and intense panic
  • Delusions and paranoia
  • Rapid mood swings
  • Irrational thoughts
  • Loss of identity
  • Disillusionment
  • Seizures
  • Flashbacks

In some cases, users may experience long-term adverse effects from LSD. Frequent users are more likely to experience them. However, first-time users are also susceptible to drug-induced psychosis, HPPD, and PTSD.

Drug-induced Psychosis

Drug-induced psychosis, or substance-induced psychosis, can be experienced for weeks, months, or even years after taking the drug. It is characterized by psychotic episodes in which the user is unable to think rationally or communicate with others. They may experience:

  • Visual disturbances
  • Disorganized thinking
  • Paranoia
  • Mood swings
  • Hallucinogen-persisting Perception Disorder

Hallucinogen-persisting Perception Disorder, or HPPD, is commonly referred to as “flashbacks.” In these cases, a user will experience a spontaneous recurrence of psychedelic mental effects. Common effects include:

  • “Halo” vision
  • Trails attached to moving objects
  • Flickering of lights and colors
  • False motion in peripherals
  • Sense of levitation

These effects are sometimes mistaken for other disorders such as a stroke or brain tumor. Furthermore, they may cause long-term problems including:

  • Inability to focus
  • Intense anxiety
  • Depersonalization
  • Derealization
  • Depression and suicidal thoughts

Is LSD Addictive?

LSD users do not experience addiction symptoms such as withdrawal or drug-seeking behavior. Therefore LSD is not considered addictive. There are four main reasons for this, including:

  • The effects are long-lasting, so users don’t need to take more of the drug.
  • Tolerance develops quickly, so repeated ingestion doesn’t produce the desired effects.
  • The effects of LSD are unpredictable and potentially adverse, leading to limited use.
  • The intense psychedelic effects that users experience often cause them to refrain from repeated use. Most people take ample time to recover and reorient themselves.

Although LSD is considered to be a non-addictive drug, people can become addicted to the sights, sounds, and revelations they experience while “tripping.” Users can develop a psychological dependence on psychedelics like LSD.

Graphic of teacher and students

LSD Abuse Treatment

Although LSD is not considered addictive, treatment may be necessary for other adverse reactions to the drug. “Bad trips” are often treated by placing the individual in a quiet, nonstimulating environment. Direct monitoring is necessary so that they don’t cause harm to themselves or others. Hospitalization may also be required. In some cases, a low to medium dose of a benzodiazepine may be administered to reduce anxiety and promote sedation.

Long-term effects, such as drug-induced psychosis and hallucinogen-persisting perception disorder, are much more severe and may require long-term treatment. There are currently no recognized medical treatments for these disorders. However, research suggests that drug treatment with anti-seizure medications — specifically lamotrigine and clonazepam — may provide lasting relief. Other treatment options include talk therapy, mindfulness, meditation, and yoga.

The best course of action is to abstain from using LSD, seek help, and undergo supervised treatment until the symptoms are gone.


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Resources

“LSD Fact Sheet .” Drug Policy Alliance, 2017, https://www.drugpolicy.org/sites/default/files/LSD_Facts_Sheet.pdf

Drugs of Abuse. 2017 ed., U.S. Dept. of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration, 2017

Hermle, Leo et al. “Hallucinogen-persisting perception disorder.” Therapeutic advances in psychopharmacology vol. 2,5 (2012): 199-205

4 Physical Detoxification Services for Withdrawal From Specific Substances. Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2006

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Hallucinogens.” NIDA, National Institute on Drug Abuse, Apr. 2019, https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/hallucinogens

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Updated on: June 29, 2020
Author
Michael Bayba
About
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Medically Reviewed: March 5, 2020
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Annamarie Coy

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