Everything you need to know about LSD

Lysergic acid diethylamide or LSD is a hallucinogenic drug. Visual disturbances, heightened sense of sight, smell, and sound, and sweating are all symptoms of the drug. Despite its effects, LSD is rarely physically addictive. Continue reading for everything you need to know about LSD.

LSD
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What is LSD?

LSD stands for lysergic acid diethylamide—a manmade, synthetic chemical made from a fungus called ergot that typically infects grain. LSD belongs to the class of drugs known as psychedelics or hallucinogens. This means that it causes changes in senses and cognitive processes. With intense “trips” lasting up to 12 hours, individuals under the influence of the drug disassociate from reality by seeing and hearing things that are not there (e.g. hallucinations). It is one of the most powerful hallucinogens to ever exist. The drug is also referred to as acid, tab, loony toons, and zen.

Forms of LSD

LSD is produced illegally in crystal form. However, it is melted into a liquid for distribution. Once liquid, it is odorless and colorless with a bitter taste. The dose of LSD required for users to experience the drug’s effects is so small that it is diluted with other substances. The most common forms are tablets, capsules, or gelatin squares. The liquid can be incorporated into paper squares with designs.  

How LSD Works In the Nervous System

LSD drug binds to dopamine, adrenergic, and serotonin receptors. This interferes with the nervous system’s use neurotransmitters, important brain chemicals that regulate emotions, mood, and perception. A subclass of serotonin receptors known as the 5-HT2A receptor is the primary factor in LSD’s burden on the nervous system that results in visual and auditory hallucinations. It acts as a partial agonist and repeated use downregulates or decreases the amount of serotonin receptors. Additionally, the use of LSD increases glutamate transmission in the frontal cortex, which stimulates the present 5-HT2A receptors leading to overactivity and susceptibility to perceptual distortions.

Effects of LSD

The effects of LSD are influenced by the dose of the drug, mood of the individual taking the drug, and the environment in which it is used. Someone taking LSD while already nervous or in an unsafe environment is increasingly prone to negative effects. In these instances, the “trip” may be frightening, provoking anxiety and depression.

Physical Effects of LSD

LSD has few physical effects on the body.

  • High or Low Body Temperature
  • Dry Mouth
  • Tremors
  • Dilated Pupils and Blurred Vision
  • Sweating or Chills
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Increased or Decreased Heart Rate and Blood Pressure
  • Weakness
  • Nausea
  • Insomnia
  • Increased Sense of Smell

In rare cases of severe overdose, the following symptoms are possible:

  • Respiratory Distress
  • Internal Bleeding
  • Syncope or Fainting

Overdosing on LSD is a rare occurrence. Most incidence of overdosing on LSD are due to mistaking the drug for another substance. Normal LSD dosing is between 10 and 500 micrograms, but overdose does not typically occur until 1000 micrograms.

Psychological Effects of LSD

The psychological effects of LSD are unique. As a hallucinogen, all of the senses to become heightened. The intense visual and auditory changes are often said to be “noisy”—everything in the environment is brightened, along with emotions felt at the time the drug is taken.

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Distorted Visual Perception of Shapes, Colors (i.e. seeing trails behind objects)
  • Changes in Mood—Bliss, terror, anxiety, depression
  • “Spaced Out” Feeling
  • Impaired Depth Perception
  • Skewed Sense of Time (i.e. Time slows or stops)
  • Flashbacks
  • Psychosis (i.e. Mimics schizophrenia or severe depression)

Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD)

Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD) is a condition characterized by spontaneous, recurrent flashbacks of visual disturbances like that of being under the influence of a hallucinogen drug. HPPD differs from a “bad trip” because it occurs after the discontinuation of the drug. While depression symptoms are occasionally present, HPPD mainly manifests with visual changes—seeing flashes of color, shapes, floaters, halos around objects, strange patterns, altered dimensions. The visual flashbacks are transient and can be long lasting. Individuals suffering from HPPD do not experience full hallucinations or delusions. The cause is unknown and can occur regardless of the length of drug use.

Who Uses LSD?

The National Household Survey on Drug Abuse confirms that approximately 20.2 million individuals in the United States age twelve or older have used LSD. While those of all ages use LSD, teenagers and young adults are especially susceptible. The frequency of use increased by 56 percent in three years with over 70 percent of that population being young adult age.  

Is LSD Addictive?

Physically, LSD is not as addictive as other drugs. For example, if someone uses LSD three days in a row, by the third day, they will not experience the psychedelic effects unless they increase their LSD dose exponentially because the tolerance of LSD rapidly develops.

LSD is addictive psychologically. The primary dangers of LSD use are the risky behaviors that occur while using the drug. Users become impulsive with low inhibition often partaking in behaviors that have physical, social, or legal consequences.

History of LSD in Psychiatry

In the 1950s, psychiatrists believed LSD was suitable for therapeutic purposes. Before outlawed in the 1970s, it was used to treat personality changes, anxiety, depression, addiction, and psychosomatic disorders (Fuentes, 2020). LSD was the substance given in psychedelic therapy, which combines talk therapy with hallucinogenic drugs. Instead of traditional psychiatric medications prescribed daily, patients were given large doses of hallucinogens in intervals of 1 to 2 weeks to conduct therapy at its peak effects. The practice resurfaced briefly in the 2000s. Researchers report that 65 percent of recent studies have had patients with improved symptoms of depression after the use of LSD (Weston et al., 2020).

Treatment for LSD Addiction

The risk of physical dependence on LSD is very, very low. However, users may become psychologically addicted which warrants treatment. There are inpatient and outpatient therapy options. Firstly, especially if the patient has comorbid mental illness diagnoses, it is important to ensure the patient is not on medications such as antidepressants or lithium while also using LSD, as there are dangerous life-threatening contradictions.

The most successful form of therapy for hallucinogenic dependency is dialectical behavior therapy—a therapy designed to include skills training, individual therapy, phone coaching, and team consultation. The recovering individual learns real-life skills beneficial for their daily routines. For example, the therapist teaches them to remove drug triggers, avoid certain environment, and introduces them to peer support groups.

References

Fuentes, J. J., Fonseca, F., Elices, M., Farré, M., & Torrens, M. (2020). Therapeutic Use of LSD in Psychiatry: A Systematic Review of Randomized-Controlled Clinical Trials. Frontiers in psychiatry10, 943. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00943

Weston, N., et. al. Historic psychedelic drug trials and the treatment of anxiety disorders. (2020). Depression & Anxiety. https://doi.org/10.1002/da.23065