What Is LSD?
LSD, or D-lysergic acid diethylamide, (1) is a hallucinogenic drug. Historically, LSD and other similar drugs were used in religious rituals, but in recent decades, the drug is more commonly used recreationally. In addition to inducing hallucinations, LSD is known to intensify feelings and senses, impede coordination and enhance relaxation.
LSD is one of the most potent hallucinogenic drugs available. The drug is made from lysergic acid, which is extracted from a fungus that can be found growing on rye and other grains. LSD is typically a clear white fluid and can be consumed on blotter squares, but because it’s a liquid, it can be consumed in or on nearly anything.
Although LSD isn’t physically addictive, many users develop behavioural addictions as a result of abusing the drug. The dangers associated with LSD use are plentiful, and overdose can lead to complications including coma and even death. Additionally, long-term mental health effects are known to occur in those who’ve used the drug and can be present after just one experience with LSD.
LSD was first synthesized in 1938. It was notoriously used by the US Government in mind control experiments, and for a short time, the drug was used to alleviate labour pains. It became popular for recreational use in the 1960s when notable figures such as Timothy Leary encouraged use among young adults.
Analysing LSD Chemistry
LSD is a synthetic drug that’s derived from ergot of rye, (2) a fungus that attacks rye and some other grains. Ergot of rye is produced by claviceps purpurea, a lower form of the ergot fungus. Lysergic acid, the chemical ingredient in LSD, is extracted from ergot of rye. When condensed with diethylamine, (3) lysergic acid forms an ergoline alkaloid known as LSD. As well as being an ergoline alkaloid, LSD is an organic heterotetracyclic compound and a monocarboxylic acid amide that is derived from a lysergamide.
Chemical Formula C20H25N3O
The molecular formula of LSD is C20H25N3O. Its molecular weight is 323.4 g/mol, (4) and its topological polar surface area is 39.3 A^2. The formula is odourless, colourless and tasteless, and it has pointed prisms. LSD’s melting point is approximately 82.5 degrees C.
Routes of LSD Administration
LSD users administer the drug in several ways. (1) Most commonly, it’s taken orally on small pieces of paper called tabs or blotters that are taken sublingually, meaning they dissolve under the tongue. Alternatively, some users prefer to simply swallow the tab, and in most cases, the effects of the drug are reportedly the same either way.
Less common choices for administration include intravenous or intramuscular injections, as well as in the eye with LSD-infused eye drops.
Drug Class — Class A
In the UK, LSD is considered a Class A drug. (5) That means that it’s illegal to take, carry, manufacture, sell or share under any circumstances, and those who break that law risk punishment that may include jail time, fines or both. A person in the UK who possesses the drug may face up to seven years in prison and/or an unlimited fine, while those who supply or produce it may face up to life in prison and/or an unlimited fine.
LSD is known by several other synonyms by chemists, users and suppliers. Some of these synonyms include:
What Are Common Street Names for LSD?
Outside of the medical and science world, LSD goes by many names. Someone who uses, manufactures or sells the drug may refer to it by any of the following names:
- Battery acid
- California sunshine
- Golden dragon
- Heavenly blue
- Loony toons
- Lucy in the sky with diamonds
- Purple heart
- Window pane
- Yellow sunshine
Pharmacodynamics of LSD
LSD affects the brain (1) in a number of ways. First and foremost, it’s been suggested that hallucinogens such as LSD disrupt communication between the brain and the spinal cord, which is what causes most of the physiological effects users of the drug tend to feel. In the case of LSD, in particular, it interferes with serotonin distribution and the way the brain reacts to serotonin, which is a natural brain chemical that regulates a number of functions including mood, sleep, sensory perception, hunger, arousal, motor skills and body temperature.
Pharmacokinetics of LSD
When a person ingests LSD, it acts on their neural circuits, which use serotonin. (7) The drug travels into the user’s prefrontal cortex, which regulates mood and perception. Additionally, LSD may travel into other regions of the brain — in particular, those that control stress, panic and arousal. As the drug affects these parts of the brain, the user may experience any or all of the pharmacodynamic effects that are listed above.
Once LSD is ingested orally, its effects can generally be felt within 20 to 90 minutes, depending on the dose and potency. In one study of the drug, (8) with doses of 100 µg, users’ maximum plasma concentration reached 1.3 ng/mL 1.4 hours after LSD was ingested. In this study, the effects of the drug lasted approximately 8.2 hours. In some cases, though, the effects of LSD may last as long as 12 hours.
What Is the Difference Between LSD, Psilocybin Mushrooms and Acid?
While LSD is commonly known as acid, and in many cases, acid purchased on the street is pure or at least partially LSD, there is never any guarantee that a street drug is what the dealer says it is. In some cases, acid may be LSD that’s been cut or laced with another drug, or it may be something different altogether.
Psilocybin, (9) while also a hallucinogen, is a different drug. It’s a chemical that’s found in some types of mushrooms, which are identifiable by their thin, long stems and dark gills. This drug produces some similar effects to LSD, including hallucinations, panic attacks, loss of muscle control and psychosis. Psilocybin is taken orally, either in tea or eaten with other foods. Overdose of the drug may result in death or permanent psychosis.
While LSD is synthetic, psilocybin occurs naturally. LSD is the by-product of a man-made chemical reaction. Psilocybin, on the other hand, can be ingested without modification.
Is LSD Addictive?
Is LSD Dangerous?
Just as with any drug that alters the brain’s chemistry or affects the central nervous system, the dangers associated with LSD abuse are vast. (10) In addition to harmful physiological effects, hallucinations caused by LSD may result in what users often call a bad trip.
The hallucinations one experiences while under the influence of LSD seem very real and, in many cases, users will act on what they think they’re seeing, hearing or doing. During a bad trip, the user might find themselves having dark and disturbing thoughts, fleeting through negative emotions, feeling as though their fears are overcoming them and experiencing distorted sensory perception, during which things may seem larger, smaller, louder, quieter, faster or slower than they should be.
When it comes to the harmful effects LSD might have on the body, the list is long. Abuse can directly cause health problems including heart palpitations, hypertension, fever, insomnia, anxiety, schizophrenia and depression.
Risks of Abusing Lysergic Acid Diethylamide
Perhaps the biggest risk of abusing LSD is the potential for long-term mental and physical effects that continue even after the user stops taking the drug. These effects can include drug-induced schizophrenia, anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts, as well as long-term psychosis and flashbacks, which are discussed in detail below.
Increased tolerance to LSD is another serious risk that can have potentially fatal consequences. Users who continually increase their dosage to feel the same effects put themselves at risk for persistent long-term mental health problems, as well as overdose and LSD toxicity, which is a life-threatening situation. The risk of toxicity is most common with doses of 0.4 milligrams or higher, and the symptoms include hyperthermia, heart failure, coma and in some cases, death. Additionally, those who use higher doses of LSD risk severe injury as a result of their actions while under the influence of the drug.
LSD Addiction: Signs and Symptoms
Because LSD isn’t necessarily a physically or psychologically addictive drug, the signs of addiction can be more difficult to spot than with other drugs. Those who use LSD don’t typically display behaviours that are normally seen in addicts. While a physical or psychological addiction leads to dangerous drug-seeking behaviour and financial problems, as well as severe physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms, those who are addicted to LSD generally portray a completely different set of symptoms.
Most commonly, LSD addicts may seem disorganized or chaotic, particularly if they’re encountered during a trip. Additionally, they may exhibit secretive or suspicious behaviour or seem incapable of engaging in meaningful conversation or day-to-day activities.
In addition to the aforementioned, a person addicted to LSD may have the following symptoms during an LSD trip or occasionally afterward if they’ve been using the drug frequently or for an extended period of time.
Sensory and perceptual symptoms
- Visual hallucinations
- Amplification of sensations like sounds and smells
- Distorted sense of time
- Blending of senses, such as ‘seeing’ sounds or ‘hearing’ colours
- Sensation of the mind leaving the body
- Impulsive behaviour
- Mystical or religious sensations
Physical signs and symptoms
- Dilated pupils
- Salivation or dry mouth
- Tingling fingers or toes
- Negative effects including emotional distress, anxiety, depression, disorientation or paranoia
- Sweating or chills
- Blurred vision
- Inability to perform complex tasks like driving or operating machinery
- Severe anxiety
- Panic attacks
- Rapidly changing emotions
- Feeling of detachment from one’s own mind and body
- Losing a grip on reality
- Fear of dying
- Aggressive or violent behaviours
- Suicidal thoughts and intent/suicide
LSD Low Toxicity and Overdose Explained
LSD toxicity occurs when a person ingests a dangerous amount of the drug. While it’s been known to be medically safe in low doses, a high dose can result in more than just a bad trip. LSD toxicity and overdose can lead to uncomfortable and even dangerous health effects. As of May 2018, there have been five reported incidents of LSD toxicity causing death. (11) While two of these incidents occurred after users ingested extremely high doses of the drug, three were the result of standard doses, proving the potential dangers of LSD abuse.
- Dangerously elevated body temperatures
- Gastric bleeding
- Difficulty breathing
How to Tell If You or a Loved One Is Using LSD
There are several signs that may indicate someone has ingested LSD, and luckily for concerned loved ones, these signs are usually pretty distinctive. (12) One might notice a person who has used LSD portraying the following symptoms:
- Dilated pupils
- Dry mouth or drool
- Anxiety or depression
- Rapid heart rate
- Loss of appetite
- Inability to have a conversation
These symptoms may be present for up to 12 hours and may intensify as time passes. A person who is on LSD may have a difficult time masking their symptoms.
How Does Taking LSD Make You Feel?
Taking LSD can feel different each time it’s taken. When ingesting the drug, a user doesn’t know whether their trip will be good or bad, and a good or bad trip may be different each time. Most often, users report a feeling of detachment and heightened or altered perception.
During a trip, whether good or bad, the user almost always hallucinates. In some cases, these hallucinations are elaborate and may include things such as conversations with people who aren’t present and visiting places that they’ve never been or don’t even exist. In others, they may simply perceive colours, shapes, faces or other objects differently. Time may feel as though it’s moving faster or slower than normal. The way a person interprets these hallucinations is typically what determines whether a trip is good or bad.
During a bad trip, the user may feel anxious, uncomfortable, dizzy, nauseated and paranoid. In some cases, bad trips may involve terrifying or dark thoughts and frightening hallucinations.
Mental Disorders Associated with LSD Use
LSD use has been known to lead to a number of mental disorders. Long-term use has been reported to lead to or worsen permanent or long-term psychosis, depression, anxiety and, in some cases, even schizophrenia. (13) LSD use may lead to temporary or long-term mental disorders.
Psychosis is generally a symptom of mental illness; however, it can occur independently in those who use LSD or have used it in the past. It’s characterized by extremely disorganized thoughts and alternative perception of reality. People who suffer from psychosis may hear voices or experience visual hallucinations. They also often entertain ideas and beliefs that aren’t rooted in reality.
Depression is a mood disorder, and those who have it are plagued by a persistent feeling of sadness. They may lose interest in hobbies or activities they once enjoyed, disengage from relationships and in severe cases, find it difficult to engage in regular day-to-day activities including hygiene and self-care.
Schizophrenia is a long-term mental illness that’s characterized by a total breakdown in one’s perception of reality and ability to relate thoughts, emotions and behaviours. Without medication, a person with schizophrenia may withdraw from society and reality and experience fantasies and delusions. They often have disorganized speech, hallucinations, poor hygiene and difficulty functioning regularly.
Tolerance to LSD
Over time, a person who abuses LSD will build up a tolerance to the drug. When this occurs, users find that they need to ingest higher doses of the drug in order to feel the same effects they’re used to. With higher doses, users may find their experiences on the drug intensified and their risk of overdose and toxicity drastically increased.
Behavioural Changes and LSD — Suicides and Fatalities
In the long term, LSD may permanently affect one’s behaviour. (14) Studies have shown that personality changes brought on by LSD use can occur after only one experience with the drug. Of these changes, the most noticeable difference was in the subjects’ openness, which refers to their appreciation of new experiences. Additionally, as mentioned earlier, hallucinogenic drugs can lead to long-term bouts of anxiety and depression.
LSD flashbacks, (15) also known as Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD), occur when an individual continues to experience hallucinations beyond the period of intoxication. Flashbacks are most likely to occur in those who used the drug long term or who have taken it in high doses; however, they can occur in those who use the drug in a standard dosage after only one use.
Flashbacks typically only include visual or auditory hallucinations and aren’t accompanied by functional impairment in any way. While in most cases these hallucinations are simply trails or movement of light or spots and they only occur for a couple of days after the user has ingested the drug, there are instances of more severe hallucinations that have lasted up to several years, even with discontinued LSD use.
In some more severe instances, users may be diagnosed with HPPD Type-2, which consists of extreme anxiety and/or depression, severe concentration problems and disturbing visual hallucinations. Some of these hallucinations consist of grainy vision that’s reminiscent of TV static or halos around objects, while others have reported palinopsia, which is the sense that something is being seen in their peripheral vision while in fact, nothing is there. HPPD Type-2 may last up to several years.
LSD Addiction Statistics
In the UK, LSD use was down among teens and adults in 2015 and 2016. According to the Home Office Statistics, (16) only 0.6% of 16- to 24-year-olds use the drug, which is down 50% since 2014. It’s thought that the extreme risk of permanent mental health effects has contributed to the decline in LSD usage in the UK and around the world.
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, (17) which is conducted in the US, an estimated 200,000 people try LSD for the first time each year. Of Americans aged 12 and over, 9.7% have tried the drug at least once and 12.1% of 18- to 25-year-olds have tried it, which is down from 15.9% since 2002.
LSD Behavioural Addiction
A person who ingests LSD on a regular basis may not run the risk of physical or psychological dependence on the drug itself, but they do risk developing a behavioural addiction. (18) A behavioural addiction is defined by a lack of control of behaviour and actions. Simply put, the user becomes addicted to the act of ingesting and using LSD.
Behavioural addictions don’t always involve substance abuse. Gambling, shopping and stealing addictions are all considered behavioural addictions as well. Each of these acts, including hallucinogen use, creates short-term rewards and affects the brain’s reward centre. Those who are susceptible to addiction or have an underlying mental illness are more likely to develop a behavioural addiction.
These addictions differ from physical dependence and addictions because they don’t produce any physical symptoms when the person discontinues the behaviour. Usually, this type of addiction can be treated without medical intervention.
Making the decision to quit using LSD can be a difficult one. Since the drug doesn’t cause physical dependence, there aren’t any withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting or chills that force the user to feel the need for more of the drug. However, a psychological/behavioural addiction may result in cravings for LSD, which can be hard to resist for many LSD users.
The dangers of using LSD should be enough to encourage users to quit, but many times, they need additional encouragement. This encouragement may come from their loved ones, or it may be from within after the user experiences a bad trip or realizes the drug is having permanent effects on their mental health. They might feel as though they’re losing touch with reality or find that they’re experiencing frequent flashbacks.
When an LSD user attempts to stop the drug and realizes that their attempts are unsuccessful, that’s a sign that they should seek professional help in a drug treatment programme.
LSD Rehab Treatment Process
LSD rehabilitation can be a lengthy and tumultuous process. While medically supervised detoxification isn’t necessary during LSD rehab, many of the standard techniques used in other substance abuse programs aren’t effective in treating LSD addiction.
Treatment options for LSD vary, and the recommended course of action and ease of recovery typically depend on a variety of factors, including the user’s typical dosage, duration of use and personality. Additionally, treatment plans may vary if the user has developed a mental illness or has any underlying mental health disorders.
Although there is no medically prescribed cure for HPPD, those who suffer from it may require more intensive counselling and medication to counteract the effects of long-term visual and auditory hallucinations.
Outpatient care is often sufficient for LSD addictions when severe HPPD isn’t present. Outpatient programmes are less intensive than residential care and generally consist of regular counselling and group therapy. Prescribed treatments are often the same as what those in residential treatment receive; however, counselling sessions are only required several times per week instead of daily.
Residential treatment programmes typically have the highest success rates when treating any substance abuse problem. Those who suffer from LSD addiction can benefit from the intensive counselling and care provided in residential treatment programs. Those who have received a dual diagnosis, such as a mental disorder or other substance abuse problem such as alcoholism, are recommended to enrol in a residential treatment program.
At UKAT, we offer 7-, 14- and 28-day residential treatment programs. Twenty-eight days is the most commonly recommended length of stay and for most addicts, it’s the most successful. Our residential treatment programmes consist of several stages. Those who are being treated for other substances along with LSD may be required to undergo medically supervised detox prior to embarking upon a counselling programme. Medically supervised detox may also be recommended to those who check into rehab within 24 hours of ingesting LSD
Medically supervised detox
Detox is a process that cleanses the body of harmful substances and chemicals. During this process, doctors monitor withdrawal symptoms if any are present and prescribe treatments to alleviate or reduce the intensity of those symptoms whenever possible.
Patients who are enrolled in residential treatment are required to attend daily group counselling sessions. During these sessions, patients with varying substance abuse and addictions disorders discuss techniques for coping with cravings and work together to uncover issues that may have led to their substance abuse problems.
Families and other loved ones are often among those most affected by LSD addiction and other substance abuse disorders. During LSD rehab, families are invited to attend counselling sessions both with and without the patient to discuss techniques for coping with change and helping their loved one to overcome their addiction.
Individual counselling is considered the most important part of LSD rehab. During sessions with a certified counsellor, LSD addicts and abusers who’ve enrolled in treatment are offered new coping techniques to assist them in dealing with their cravings for the drug. They may discuss the issues that led them to using LSD in the first place and discover new ways to cope with stress, depression and anxiety. Behavioural therapy is a vital part of individual counselling sessions, as it helps the user to change the behaviours that led them to their dangerous addiction in the first place.
Many patients who are treated for LSD addiction require medications to treat other disorders or illnesses. During medication management counselling, users are taught to safely and effectively use prescribed medications while decreasing the risk of addiction to other substances.
Medications that may be used
Anxiety is a common side effect of LSD abuse, as is depression. Those who are dealing with these issues, as well as those with HPPD, may be prescribed anti-anxiety medications or antidepressants to improve their mood and reduce panic attacks and other symptoms.
Patients with other substance abuse disorders or mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or dissociative disorders may be prescribed other medications including antiemetics, antipsychotics or anticonvulsants.
What happens after treatment?
After any substance abuse treatment programme, patients are invited to continue aftercare treatment, which often consists of 12-step programmes, group therapy, individual counselling and continued family therapy. Before leaving a residential treatment programme, a comprehensive assessment of the client’s needs will be conducted to determine exactly which treatments are best to prevent the risk of relapse, which is highest in the first 60 days after treatment is complete.
Looking for LSD Treatment?
If you or a loved one has decided to quit using LSD, UKAT can help. We offer a variety of treatment programme options including outpatient care, residential treatment and family support. Our treatment programmes include group, individual and behavioural therapies. Our staff and counsellors are trained to treat dual diagnoses, including multiple substance abuse disorders and addictions disorders with underlying mental illness.
Get help to end LSD use today!
When you contact UKAT, a member of our admissions staff will help you to determine the best course of treatment for your LSD addiction. You’ll undergo a thorough assessment over the phone and will be provided with treatment recommendations that are customized to your specific needs. Our admissions staff members are fully trained to provide you with these recommendations based on the answers you provide during your assessment.
Once you’ve agreed to enrol in an outpatient or residential treatment programme, you’ll be provided with specific details about cost, payment and admissions. You’ll be required to provide your own transportation to and from your treatment centre. Upon arrival, you’ll be welcomed by our supportive and friendly addictions staff and shown to your accommodations. Once you’re settled in, you’ll meet with your assigned counsellor, and your treatment will begin starting with medically supervised detox, if necessary.
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