LSD, or lysergic acid diethylamide, is a psychedelic drug that was first produced from a fungus as part of a pharmaceutical experiment in 1938. The Swiss scientist who synthesized LSD didn’t discover its hallucinogenic effects until several years later, when he accidentally ingested some of the drug and experienced powerful visual hallucinations. In the 1950s, LSD was used in American universities and research centers to study the effects of mental illness. But psychotic episodes and accidental deaths associated with this hallucinogenic drug led to it being classified as a Schedule I controlled substance in the 1960s.
Since the 1960s, the popularity of LSD has waxed and waned. Some generations have been drawn to its hallucinogenic effects, while others have been more conscious of its dangerous side effects. Unlike heroin, alcohol, cocaine or marijuana, LSD use does not cause chemical dependence, according to Brown University, but using the drug repeatedly may result in tolerance, or the need for higher doses of the drug to reach the same level of psychedelic experience. LSD abuse can cause other negative side effects, including:
- Extreme disorientation
- Frightening, nightmarish hallucinations
- Violent, aggressive behavior
- Disorganized thoughts
- Nausea and vomiting
- An increased risk of accidental injuries or self-harm
- Intensification of the symptoms of mental illness
Over the long term, LSD use can cause persistent psychosis, affect cognitive function and interfere with memory and mood. If you’ve been using LSD recreationally, you should be aware of the way it can affect you now and in the years to come.
The Rediscovery of LSD
Every generation of young people rediscovers illicit drugs that had been neglected by previous generations. The Institute for Social Research, which administers the Monitoring the Future survey of drug use among American youth, attributes these trends to a phenomenon that it calls “generational forgetting.” After a drug has lost popularity for several years, young people forget the health risks associated with that drug. According to the 2011 survey, the perceived risk of LSD among young people has dropped since the 1990s:
- In 2011, approximately 36 percent of 12th graders perceive a risk in using LSD casually.
- In 1991, over 40 percent of 12th graders perceived LSD as a “very great risk.”
- In 2011, approximately 85 percent of 12th graders reported that they disapproved of LSD.
- In 1991, close to 90 percent of 12th graders disapproved of LSD.
With the widespread use of club drugs, designer drugs and research chemicals, LSD may soon see an increase in popularity among young people. Like Ecstasy and other synthetic substances, LSD is often available at nightclubs, underground parties and raves. Using LSD with alcohol, opiates or stimulants may intensify the drug’s psychedelic effects and increase the risk of an accident, a psychotic experience or an overdose.
Health Risks of LSD Use
LSD has no odor or color, and the drug is usually distributed in tablet form, as a liquid or on sheets of blotter paper. The absorbent paper is decorated with colorful, psychedelic images, and individual doses are separated by perforations. After swallowing a tablet or placing a square of paper under the tongue, the drug may take from a half-hour to 90 minutes to produce its effects. Because the effects of an LSD high, also known as a “trip,” are unpredictable and the strength of the drug is always uncertain, users can never be sure whether their trip will be entertaining, enlightening or terrifying, warns Drugs.com.
Taking LSD produces changes in the way you perceive the world. While some of these sensory disturbances may be entertaining, other perceptual changes can affect your safety and increase your risk of injury.
According the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, LSD use can result in:
- Impaired coordination and depth perception
- Distortion of the size, shape and speed of moving objects
- Impaired judgment
- Reduced ability to perceive danger
LSD is best known for its ability to alter consciousness and produce vivid hallucinations. But the drug can also produce these harmful effects on the body:
- Elevated body temperature
- High blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
- Loss of sleep
- Loss of appetite
After taking LSD, you may feel shaky or sweaty. You may have a dry mouth and dilated pupils. The greatest risks of LSD, however, are associated with its effects on the way you think, act and feel. If you have a history of mental illness, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, LSD use can make your symptoms worse. A bad LSD trip can result in depression, anxiety and disturbing flashbacks, even after the effects of the drug have worn off. Taking too much LSD could cause an extended trip that ends in psychosis, self-injury or death.
Long-Term Side Effects
LSD flashbacks — colorful hallucinations that occur for months or years after an LSD trip — are nothing new to popular culture. But more recently, clinical researchers have identified a severe mental condition called hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD).
Unlike flashbacks, which are usually brief and non-distressing, HPPD episodes have the following characteristics, according to the Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences:
- Hallucinations are nightmarish and disturbing.
- Perceptual distortions — usually visual — can occur spontaneously.
- Hallucinatory experiences recur over long periods of time.
- The disorder may or may not be reversible.
- Hallucinations are followed by a fearful or depressed mood.
While LSD flashbacks are usually considered to be harmless, HPPD is a pathological state that may require intensive treatment. According to Drug and Alcohol Dependence, HPPD is more likely to occur in people who have taken LSD recreationally than in people who took the drug for research purposes. The psychotic experiences associated with HPPD may continue for months or even years after using LSD.
The exact cause of HPPD is unknown, and while the symptoms can be treated, there is currently no cure for this disorder. Prescription medications that are used to treat seizure disorders and anxiety have been used with some success to reduce the effects of HPPD. Pharmacological therapy combined with psychotherapy may help you deal with these sensory disturbances and create a more stable, healthy life.
Is LSD Worth the Risks?
Intellectuals and creative luminaries have explored the possibilities of LSD by experimenting with the drug and recording their experiences. Although some of these experiences may seem profoundly enlightening, the history of LSD use is also filled with bad trips, psychotic episodes, aggressive behavior and accidental death. The long-term effects of LSD on the brain are still being investigated, and LSD users can never be certain how the drug will affect them personally. Because LSD doesn’t have the same addictive power as alcohol, heroin or cocaine, it may not be considered as dangerous as these other illicit drugs. But with so many unknown dangers to your physical and mental health, dabbling in hallucinogenic drugs simply isn’t worth the risks.
Many people who experiment with LSD do so out of a desire to live life at a more vivid, meaningful level. They may also experiment with other drugs and abuse alcohol in order to intensify their experience. These behaviors can lead to chemical dependence and addiction if your substance abuse gets out of control. The recovery programs at The Canyon can help you find fulfillment in a life that’s free from the dangers of drugs and alcohol. If you or someone you care about is abusing LSD, contact our admissions counselors to find out how you can discover a meaningful life without drugs.