The hallucinogenic LSD produces powerful and unpredictable hallucinations in users, making it potentially dangerous for people in crowds or other high-sensory environments. People under LSD’s influence may engage in hallucination-fueled bizarre and dangerous behaviors and seriously harm themselves or others.
History of LSD Use
Created in a Swiss lab in the 1930s, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) is a semi-synthetic drug made from ergot, a fungus found on tainted rye, through a process that synthetically builds ergot compounds from component chemicals. Large doses of ergot from tainted rye are toxic, leading to painful convulsions or loss of limbs to gangrene. Small doses of ergot, however, are an old folk remedy once used during childbirth to control bleeding and muscle contractions. The version created by Albert Hofmann in a pharmaceutical company lab produces powerful hallucinations after a person ingests a small dose.
Once discovered, the hallucinogenic properties of LSD interested many researchers, including members of the Central Intelligence Agency in the 1950s and 1960s. Worried other countries (Russia, North Korea and China) were using the drug as a way to brainwash Americans, members of the CIA gave the drug to unsuspecting Americans and then observed them. As part of the MK-ULTRA program, for example, a U.S. marshal swallowed LSD covertly slipped into his bourbon and then became increasingly paranoid. Worried that others were out to destroy him, he got his gun, drove to a bar and demanded money from the bartender as a way to raise funds to fly out of town.
Apart from the covert CIA experiments, psychology programs at some American universities gave LSD to college students as a way to learn more about the drug in the 1960s. Also during this time, LSD use spread to others off campuses and became part of the counter-culture movement. Dangerous and violent incidents associated with LSD use during this time led to the drug being made illegal and placed on Schedule 1 by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
The hallucinogenic nature of LSD means a person’s mood and environment profoundly impacts how he responds to the drug. People in stressful situations are more likely to have dangerous reactions to LSD.
How LSD Affects Users
LSD produces serious side effects. Since the drug brings on intense and involved hallucinations, it’s possible for a person to become paranoid or violent while on the drug. The intensity of LSD side effects depends on several factors: the amount of drug taken, the environment surrounding a person, and his or her mood and personality. Side effects range in intensity; they are usually felt within 30 to 90 minutes of taking the drug.3
LSD’s effects on behavior are forceful—the drug can bring on severe paranoia and fear or overconfidence prompting a person to engage in dangerous or violent behavior. One trip may produce feelings of bliss while another creates feelings of intense terror. Since LSD is a hallucinogenic drug, some users are unable to tell if experiences are happening in reality or are being created by the drug.
Additional behavioral and emotional side effects of LSD include the following:
- Distorted sense of time and identity
- Impaired depth perception
- Terrifying thoughts or feelings
- Panic attacks
- Flashbacks years after taking LSD
- Depression or psychosis4
Caught up in the powerful hallucinations brought on by LSD, a person may experience her deepest fears and significantly harm herself in an attempt to escape or endanger others through violent actions.
The Physical Side Effects of LSD
In addition to psychological symptoms, LSD brings on physical side effects that may change a person’ behavior. The drug affects body temperature, making a person feel either hot or cold. It also causes increases or decreases in heart rate and blood pressure. Some other physical side effects of LSD include the following:
- Dilated pupils
- Sweating or chills
- Loss of appetite
- Dry mouth
- Visual changes
A person who exhibits extreme paranoia or dangerous behavior while on LSD may need emergency help. In some cases, a physician may give a person a sedative or offer a safe environment for him or her to wait out the effects of the drug.
Unlike other drugs of addiction, LSD is psychologically addicting rather than physically addicting. It does not create physical cravings or extreme drug-seeking behavior, but users develop a psychological desire to take the drug. In addition, LSD creates flashbacks of trips days, months or even a year after a person stops using the drug. LSD abuse also leads to drug tolerance, which means users need more of the substance to achieve the same effect.4
Finding Help for LSD Addiction
If you or a loved one struggles with LSD abuse, our admissions coordinators are here to help. Call our toll-free helpline 24 hours a day, seven days a week to learn answers to your questions and find out about treatment options.
 Shroder, Tom. (2014). ‘Apparently Useless’: The Accidental Discovery of LSD. The Atlantic. Retrieved Sept. 26, 2016 from http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/09/the-accidental-discovery-of-lsd/379564/.
 Szalavitz, Maia. (2012). The Legacy of the CIA’s Secret LSD Experiments on America. Time. Retrieved Sept. 26, 2016 from http://healthland.time.com/2012/03/23/the-legacy-of-the-cias-secret-lsd-experiments-on-america/.
 Davis, Kathleen. (2015). What is lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD)? Effects and hazards of LSD. Medical News Today. Retrieved Sept. 26, 2016 from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/295966.php.
 National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). What are hallucinogens? Drug Facts. Retrieved Sept. 26, 2016 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/hallucinogens.
 Rega, Paul P. (2015). LSD Toxicity. Medscape. Retrieved Sept. 26, 2016 from http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1011615-overview.