LSD Addiction, Withdrawal and Treatment
Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) is a potent, psychedelic drug manufactured from the lysergic acid of ergot, a fungus that grows on rye and other grains. LSD, also known simply as “acid,” is a hallucinogen. Drugs in this family alter perception, thoughts, and feelings, and cause hallucinations. LSD is made in crystal form and converted to a colorless, odorless, slightly bitter liquid. The liquid is then combined with other ingredients and distributed in many forms. Tablets called “microdots,” capsules or gelatin squares known as “window panes,” and absorbent paper known as “blotters” are just a few examples.
LSD originated in the 1950s as a therapeutic drug used by psychologists to treat patients with schizophrenia and to facilitate therapy. In the 1960s, recreational use of LSD increased, as did negative stories associated with its use. Public perception of the drug changed and, as a result, it was made illegal in 1968. In 1970, LSD was added to the list of Schedule I drugs and defined as having a high potential for abuse and no legitimate medical use. The popularity of the drug has ebbed and flowed in the years since. Currently, use is relatively low. Research continues regarding its medical potential.
It is understood that LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs produce effects by disrupting communication between the brain’s neurotransmitters in the brain and spinal cord that control mood and sensory perception, as well as bodily functions like sleep, hunger, temperature, sexual behavior, and muscle control. When ingested, LSD activates serotonin receptors and deactivates serotonin regulation, which results in dramatically higher serotonin levels in the brain. Presumably, the combination of increased serotonin levels and decreased prefrontal cortex activity leads to an increase in brain connectivity and, therefore, psychedelic effects.
When under the influence of LSD, a person may see or hear things that aren’t really there or be unable to recognize reality, think rationally, or communicate clearly. Long-term effects of LSD use may include flashbacks or other psychological disturbances.
One of the most dangerous effects of LSD use is the inability to make wise decisions regarding one’s own health and safety due to a distorted reality. While there have been no known deaths or instances of overdose due to the drug itself, cognitive impairment and distorted reality have led to severe injury or death when some users misjudged their surroundings or responded poorly to delusions.
Signs & Symptoms of Abusing LSD
Within 30 to 90 minutes of ingesting LSD, a user begins to feel the effects of the drug. This experience is called a “trip” and can last up to 12 hours.
The most common physiological effects of LSD use are dilated pupils, reduced hunger, and sleeplessness. Users may also experience a heightened patellar reflex that causes instability while walking, an altered gait, or tremors. Other physical side effects may include:
- Changes in body temperature
- High blood sugar
- Increased heart rate
- Clenching of the jaw
- Increased saliva and mucus
LSD users also experience noticeable psychological side effects due to the drug’s hallucinogenic qualities. Many times, users will experience distorted reality or dissociate from their surroundings entirely. Hallucinations can affect all of the senses, causing the person to hear, see, touch, taste, or smell things that do not exist. Some users experience intensified sensations, like brighter colors or louder sounds, while others report mixed senses, like seeing sounds or hearing colors. Hallucinations may also alter a user’s sense of time, making it move more slowly.
While LSD users take the drug in hopes of a positive escape from reality, the drug can sometimes cause a severe, negative reaction known as a “bad trip.” Users having one of these experiences commonly appear fearful, anxious, and panicked. They may also suffer from delusions, paranoia, and identity loss. Sometimes, these feelings become so intense that users may attempt to harm themselves or others.
LSD Withdrawal & Detox
Unlike other illicit drugs, LSD is not known to have any physical withdrawal symptoms, even with chronic use. Users do develop a tolerance to the drug that requires them to increase dosage amounts in order to produce the same effects. However, tolerance to hallucinogens is short-lived. After several days of non-use, tolerance is lost.
Furthermore, the drug is rarely used consistently. Due to the drug’s powerful effects, users will often abstain from using the drug to give themselves time to recover and reorient with reality. The intensity of the effects also makes it undesirable to feel constantly. Some users abstain in order to minimize the possibility of a bad trip.
Treatment for LSD Dependency
Like other hallucinogens, users do not become physically dependent on LSD. Because the drug does not cause the brain to crave the drug, users typically do not feel compelled to abuse it. Though rare, some people use LSD habitually to escape a reality they find hard to bear.
Use of LSD can have long-term side effects that require treatment, however. Even a single exposure to LSD can result in “flashbacks,” instances where users experience the drug’s psychological effects months or even years after taking it. In more extreme cases, users may experience more serious conditions:
- Persistent psychosis is a rare condition in which former LSD users consistently experience visual disturbances, disorganized thinking, paranoia, and mood disturbances.
- Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD) occurs when a patient experiences hallucinations, visual disturbances, and neurological symptoms similar to those of a stroke or brain tumor.
There are no established treatments for these conditions, though some people utilize antidepressant and/or antipsychotic prescription drugs to help manage the symptoms. Psychotherapy may also help patients cope with the fear and confusion that occurs with the conditions.
Hallucinogens – National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
Hallucinogens and Dissociative Drugs Research Report – National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)