Other Names: Lysergide, LSD-25, purple mikes, acid, trips, blotter, Lucy, tabs, microdots, window pane, dots, blotter acid, mellow yellow, blue cheer, electric Kool-Aid, hits, Lucy in the sky with diamonds, purple haze, sugar cubes, sunshine tabs, white lightning, tripping, back breaker, Elvis, Loony toons, Superman, Zen, battery acid
LSD, or lysergic acid diethylamide, is a potent hallucinogenic drug derived from lysergic acid found in the ergot fungus that grows in grains like rye. This drug is so powerful that only a tiny amount can lead to mind-altering effects, known as “trip.” An LSD trip can range from a pleasurable and stimulating high that makes the user feel euphoric (“good trip”) to a horrible and frightening experience that feels like hell (“bad trip”).
Although LSD has been examined for its potential therapeutic uses, such as treating alcoholism and depression, it is worth noting that this drug remains a Schedule I substance in the United States under the Controlled Substances Act. That means LSD is still regarded as an illegal substance with a high potential for abuse and serves no valid medical value.
Despite being illegal in the US, people of all ages still use LSD. In 2018, close to 6 million individuals aged 12 or older were past-year users of LSD and other hallucinogens, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). A study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence also found a staggering 56.4% increase in LSD use among American adults from 2015 to 2018.
LSD may not be considered an addictive substance since using it does not result in compulsive drug-seeking behavior, but repeated use can lead to tolerance. That means LSD users must consume increasingly larger doses to experience the “high” feeling that they seek.
LSD abuse is a real concern to law enforcement and public health agencies, and the public, in general. If you are interested to learn more about the many facets of LSD use and abuse, read on. Below is a discussion on LSD’s history, manner of use, mechanism of action, and effects. You will also discover the signs of LSD abuse, treatment, and how to get help.
A Brief History of LSD
Although LSD was developed in 1938 by Dr. Albert Hofmann, a researcher with the Swiss chemical company Sandoz, its hallucinogenic effects were only discovered by accident in 1943. Dr. Hoffman, who was then synthesizing LSD-25, unintentionally ingested a small amount of the acid and later perceived odd shapes with a vivid, kaleidoscopic play of colors.
To know whether the bizarre effects came from LSD, Hoffman conducted a self-experiment on April 19, 1943. He dissolved 250 millionths of a gram of lysergic acid diethylamide tartrate, the crystallized salt form of the compound, and drank it. Hoffman was not expecting any effects, considering the minuscule amount. But within 40 minutes of ingestion, he experienced dizziness, anxiety, visual distortion, need to laugh, and signs of paralysis.
Once the negative symptoms subsided, Hoffman’s mood changed for the better. The following day, all his senses were heightened, and the world seemed newly created. Believing that lysergic acid can be useful in neurology and psychiatry, Hoffman started experimenting on animals and, eventually, humans.
In 1947, Sandoz introduced LSD as a cure-all solution for psychiatric disorders, from sexual perversions and alcoholism to schizophrenia and criminal behavior. Through a research program called Project MKUltra in the early 1950s, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) introduced LSD into the US, in the hopes of using the drug as a form of truth serum. The drug became well-known in the 1960s and was even promoted by doctors from Harvard University.
Nonetheless, by the end of the 1960s, the downside of LSD was revealed as mental breakdowns, murders, suicide, psychotic reactions, and criminal acts linked with LSD use were reported. Sandoz ceased LSD production in 1965, and psychotherapists stopped using it for treatment purposes. Subsequently, the US made possession of LSD illegal on October 24, 1968.
How Is LSD Used?
LSD is commonly sold as a liquid. Distributors packaged them in small bottles or applied them to blotter paper, sugar cubes, gelatin squares, and postage stamps. The small tabs of paper soaked in liquid LSD are dried and placed by users under the tongue, where it can be absorbed into the bloodstream through mucous membranes.
People who prefer LSD-infused sugar cubes and gelatin usually consume them by licking, while those who take the tablet and capsule forms of LSD swallow them. Some users elect to inject liquid LSD, but this is a rare method of administration.
Typically, this drug is taken in an amount that ranges from 20 to 100 micrograms per dose. However, since the manufacture and distribution of LSD is illegal, it is difficult to ascertain the purity and true potency of each dosage.
LSD users generally take the drug in groups, especially during parties or similar conditions that could enhance LSD’s effects. Note that consuming LSD while at work, in school, at home, and in places where people can observe users is very uncommon.
How Does LSD Work in the Human Body?
As a mind-altering substance, LSD acts on the brain or the central nervous system and changes the person’s mood, behavior, and how they relate to the world. Specifically, LSD impacts the receptors involved in the control of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates perceptual, behavioral, and regulatory systems, such as mood, the senses, and thinking.
The use of LSD disrupts these systems and causes intense distortions in the person’s perception of reality. The individual experiences hallucinations, seeing images, hearing sounds, or feeling sensations that appear real. In actuality, however, these imageries, noises, and feelings are mere creations of the mind.
As mentioned above, these sensory hallucinations can be pleasurable or abhorrent. Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing for certain what the LSD effects would be.
What Are the Immediate and Long-Term Effects of LSD Abuse?
LSD is highly potent. Even first-time users can experience physical, psychological, and emotional effects within 30 to 45 minutes after taking the drug orally, and as fast as 10 minutes after injection. Immediate physical outcomes include the following:
- dilated pupils,
- increased body temperature
- rapid heart rate
- increased blood pressure
- loss of appetite
- dry mouth
Apart from the abovementioned physical effects, LSD also affects the different senses. Within an hour after ingestion, the user may experience a wide variety of perceptual changes, often involving the senses of sight and touch, emotions, and thinking. For instance, the LSD user may see vivid colors, halos of light, or distorted shapes and colors of faces and things.
They can also feel intense happiness, heightened awareness, and feelings of well-being. Mystical experiences, a sense of transcendence, enhanced creativity, remarkable insights, and a strong sense of purpose are common during a “good trip.”
On the other hand, a “bad trip” could be likened to short-term psychosis, wherein the person has frightening thoughts, feelings of paranoia, extreme fear, and perception of dying, being in hell, or going crazy. A “bad trip” can also cause panic attacks, anxiety, pain, and psychotic episodes.
Heavy and prolonged use of LSD, like any other hallucinogens, can lead to long-lasting negative neuropsychiatric consequences, especially for people with an underlying mental health disorder. Some of the long-term issues linked to chronic and heavy LSD use include:
- severe depression
- violent behavior
- altered perception of time
- rapid mood swings
- flashbacks wherein former users experience recurring hallucinations and other drug effects, even after weeks of no longer using LSD
- continuing visual disturbances
- cardiac or respiratory failure
Signs of LSD Use Disorder
Although LSD is not considered a physically addictive drug, its abuse can result in psychological dependence and tolerance. If you want to know if a loved one suffers from LSD use disorder, you may want to take note of the following diagnostic criteria for substance use disorder according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, or DSM-V:
- Taking LSD in larger amounts or for an extended period than the person intended.
- Desiring to cut back or stop LSD use but not being able to.
- Spending a considerable amount of time obtaining, using, or recovering from LSD use.
- Craving to use LSD.
- Failing to manage domestic, career, societal, or academic commitments because of LSD use.
- Continuing LSD use, even when the habit causes relationship issues.
- Giving up essential domestic, occupational, social, or recreational activities in favor of LSD use.
- Constant LSD use, even when the habit puts the individual in danger.
- Unceasing LSD use, even if the dependency causes existing physical or psychological problems to become more severe.
- Requiring higher LSD doses to achieve the desired effect.
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
The symptoms described above characterize a person suffering from substance use disorder. Take note that the person does not have to exhibit all of these to be diagnosed with substance use disorder due to LSD. Experiencing two or three of the symptoms above already suggest a mild condition, four or five of them indicate moderate LSD use disorder and having at least six of these warning signs indicates a severe problem. If you know someone who is abusing LSD based on these criteria, it is best to encourage the individual to get help immediately.
Rehab and Treatment for LSD Use Disorder
The type of rehab care and treatment for LSD abuse depends primarily on the severity of the problem, the individual’s condition, and the history of failed attempts at stopping drug use. If the person is experiencing continuing or unexplained psychotic symptoms or has underlying medical conditions, inpatient care is advisable.
Entering an inpatient rehab facility is also warranted if the individual uses multiple drugs, is suicidal, or is suffering from comorbid psychiatric disorders. Because such a treatment set-up requires the person abusing LSD to live in the facility for at least a month, they can focus all their energy on their recovery journey. More importantly, they will be surrounded by trained medical personnel and addiction specialists 24/7 who can administer behavioral therapies, counseling, and medications as may be necessary.
It is essential to point out that although there are no FDA-approved medications to treat LSD use disorder to date, there are times when clinicians provide medicines to target specific symptoms of LSD use. For instance, if an individual abusing LSD manifests agitation or violence, medical staff may administer benzodiazepines to sedate the person. Anxiolytics or anti-anxiety drugs are also commonly given to individuals receiving inpatient care.
Admission to a rehab facility offers numerous benefits, even among less severe LSD abuse cases. For one, the center provides a drug-free and conducive healing environment. They also meet people with similar struggles who can understand what they are going through. Through group and individual therapies, the LSD user also discovers the cause behind the abuse and learns healthier coping skills to prevent relapse.
Besides inpatient treatment, people struggling with LSD dependency can also opt for outpatient care. Instead of living in the rehab facility full-time, they can attend counseling and therapy sessions during the day and return to their homes when done. With this type of care, the person may continue working and tending to their daily responsibilities.
While scientists need to carry out more research to discover the effectiveness of behavioral therapies for LSD abuse, some treatment modalities such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) have been observed to help patients with substance use disorder. CBT is a type of talk therapy that stresses the need to manage thinking patterns to modify behavior. Through CBT, the LSD user can learn how to think and respond to stressors to prevent substance abuse and even the occurrence of disturbing flashbacks.
Motivational Interviewing (MI) is another technique that is often used to assist individuals abusing LSD. This counseling method helps people discover their intrinsic motivation to change their behavior and make better choices. MI is particularly essential for LSD users who have little desire to modify their drug-seeking ways.
Get the Help You Need
The absence of physical dependence should not make anyone complacent with LSD use because the development of psychological dependency and tolerance could be just as bad or even worse. After all, no other substance can make a user experience intense psychedelic events and psychotic reactions, even long after quitting, in the way that LSD can.
Ready to Get Help?
Let our team of Addiction Counselors help find the Right Rehab for You!
If you or someone you love is abusing LSD, the time to get help is now. You do not have to wait until you experience severe depression, thoughts of suicide, and other adverse effects before seeking professional help.
To find a reputable rehabilitation facility for your recovery journey, rely on Better Addiction Care, a national network of prominent treatment centers. Browse our comprehensive directory of rehab facilities or call us now for free advice, so you can readily find a reputable center that will tailor-fit their program to your unique situation.