LSD: Everything You Need to Know
Last Updated Dec 2, 2021
LSD is an illegal psychedelic drug that can cause long-lasting episodes in which an individual experiences sometimes intense warping of their perceptions and their connection to reality. It isn’t generally addictive, and some of its dangers have been overblown, although LSD use is not without risk.
What Is LSD?
LSD, which stands for lysergic acid diethylamide, is an illegal mind-altering drug. It acts on the brain and changes the way you feel and perceive the world.
LSD is a hallucinogen and can temporarily distort your understanding of reality. It can make you see and hear things that aren’t really there. It is a fairly strong drug, with only a small amount needed to have a substantial, long-lasting effect.
Effects of LSD
When taken by mouth, the effects of LSD are usually noticed within 20 to 30 minutes. These effects will peak within 2 to 4 hours, but they can last much longer, with some LSD episodes lasting as long as 12 hours.
In the short term, LSD will cause a person to experience a hallucinogenic experience, usually called a trip. How a person trips is difficult to predict, with most experiences being generally pleasurable, which is referred to as a good trip.
On a good trip, a person will feel a sense of floating and may feel as though they have left their body. They may experience a rush of joy and an almost complete loss of fear. While tripping, a person may have immense self-confidence, such as believing they have superhuman strength or similar abilities they don’t actually have.
However, it is also possible to experience a bad trip, which can involve a terrifying or otherwise overwhelming psychedelic experience where you may see and hear things that disturb you. You may also experience a heightened version of thoughts and fears you normally feel you can control, such as feeling like you are about to die or that you want to harm yourself or others.
In either case, LSD use will generally cause a person’s senses to temporarily alter. Shapes may distort and some people experience a mixing of senses, such as hearing the things they see and seeing sounds.
In some cases, LSD has been known to trigger long-term mental health issues, such as schizophrenia, in vulnerable people. Notably, this doesn’t necessarily mean LSD can give a person mental health issues they otherwise aren’t at risk for, but it does mean it can trigger mental health issues they were already at risk of developing and may have avoided if they were able to avoid triggers.
Long-term LSD use can sometimes cause people to have seemingly random, temporary psychedelic episodes (called flashbacks) even if it has been months or years since they last used LSD. However, these episodes tend to be less intense and less frequent once a person stops using LSD.
Side Effects of LSD
Beyond its psychedelic properties, LSD use can cause the following:
- Increased heart rate
- Increased blood pressure
- Faster breathing rate
- Raised body temperature
- Excessive sweating
- Problems sleeping
- Reduced appetite
What Does LSD Look Like?
LSD is odorless and colorless, produced as a liquid or powder. It is then sold in many different forms, including these:
- Saturated paper, which can come in many shapes and colors
- Saturated sugar cubes
- Microdots (very tiny tablets)
It’s important to remember that even a small amount of LSD can have a significant effect, and many first-time users may underestimate the effect the dose they’re taking is going to have. It’s especially important not to take more LSD if you don’t feel the effect of an initial dose because LSD can take 20 or more minutes to affect you, meaning that you can accidentally stack doses if you assume the first dose didn’t work.
Is LSD Addictive?
LSD is not generally considered addictive, and addiction to hallucinogens is rare. It’s more common that people who struggle with other types of addiction frequently engage in polydrug use, combining hallucinogens with other drugs that they’re addicted to.
Signs of LSD Abuse
Because of its effects, LSD use is typically fairly obvious. A person high on psychedelic drugs would have significant difficulty hiding that fact for long, and many users wouldn’t be in a mental space to meaningfully try to do so anyway. LSD lasts a while, and it can significantly warp a person’s ability to perceive reality around them.
The specifics of how a person acts will depend on the amount of LSD they do and the nature of their drug trip. People having a good trip may act very aloof, strange, and generally euphoric. People having a bad trip may act afraid or extremely paranoid.
In either case, treat individuals currently high on psychedelics carefully, as they cannot think entirely rationally and may say or do things that don’t make sense to a rational person. They will likely have trouble performing even basic tasks and shouldn’t be allowed to operate heavy machinery or drive while high.
Treatment for LSD Abuse
If a person struggles with LSD abuse, they will typically benefit from individual counseling, where they will work with an addiction specialist to identify why they use LSD and find techniques to help avoid drug use. They may also benefit from group and family therapy as part of a comprehensive addiction treatment program.
If a person has developed mental health problems as a result of LSD use, they will also need to receive treatment for those issues. This may involve different types of therapy in addition to their drug counseling, as well as taking medications to treat mental health issues where appropriate. A treatment program that addresses co-occurring conditions can be beneficial.
Is Overdose Possible?
Even at very high doses, it isn’t generally possible to overdose on LSD in the traditional sense. LSD has not been shown to cause organ damage or neuropsychological deficits, although distressing and persistent hallucinations have been reported in rare cases.
Also in rare cases, a person can experience a severe bad trip, which may cause severe fright and panic attacks from which the person may never fully recover. The rate this type of drug trip occurs at and what causes it isn’t entirely clear.
Some notable health problems LSD use may cause, the risk of which may increase with use, include the following:
- Heart palpitations
- Elevated blood pressure
For most people, the reality is that LSD is not an especially dangerous drug, at least in the short term, when person uses it in a safe space and avoids engaging in dangerous behavior. The most significant risks for users are generally severely distressing bad trips, which are rare, and the triggering of mental health problems, the risk of which depends on the individual.
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Therapeutic Use of LSD in Psychiatry: A Systematic Review of Randomized-Controlled Clinical Trials. (January 2020). Frontiers in Psychiatry.