D-lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD, acid, blotter) belongs to a group of drugs known as hallucinogens. Like other hallucinogens such as peyote (mescaline) and psilocybin (magic mushrooms), LSD produces images, sounds, and other sensations that may seem real to users during the period of intoxication but are actually figments of their own imaginations.
LSD is created in the laboratory from lysergic acid, a natural substance found in Claviceps purpurea, a type of fungus that grows on rye plants. A Swiss chemist named Albert Hoffmann first created LSD in 1938, and from 1947 to 1966, it was sold as an experimental drug for psychiatry under the brand name Delysid. Possession and use of LSD was outlawed in 1970 under the Controlled Substances Act, and while the validity of LSD’s use in medicine is often argued, there are currently no accepted medical uses for this drug.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the most commonly encountered form of illicit LSD is of small squares of absorbent blotter paper that have been soaked in liquid LSD and dried. LSD-infused blotter squares are often decorated with designs or artwork. This drug is also sold on the black market as tablets, capsules, or liquid, and has been found in sugar cubes, gelatin squares, and candies 1.
LSD (“Acid”) Abuse
Perhaps the greatest danger of LSD abuse is that very low doses of LSD can produce strong effects. A “typical” dose of LSD is about 75-150 micrograms (millionths of a gram) 2, about 3,000 times less than the amount of aspirin in a regular strength tablet (325 milligrams).
With such small amounts involved, it can be difficult or even impossible for a user to know beforehand whether they are taking a “moderate” or “high” dose of LSD, and individuals who accidentally take higher doses may experience an intensely negative psychological reaction known as a “bad trip” (discussed in detail below).
Signs and Symptoms
The psychological effects of LSD intoxication can last, on average, between 6 and 10 hours 2. In some cases, LSD also produces intense, overwhelming negative psychological experiences in certain users, especially at high doses of the drug. Symptoms of a so-called “bad trip” include the following 5:
- Extreme anxiety and panic.
- Fear of losing personal identity or dying.
- Violent or reckless behaviors.
- Suicidal thoughts.
The short-term effects of LSD are similar to other hallucinogens, or psychedelics. Symptoms of LSD intoxication may include 3,4,5:
- Impulsive behavior.
- Quickly shifting mood and emotions.
- Altered perception.
- Hypertension (raised blood pressure).
- Rapid heart rate.
- Increased body temperature.
- Diaphoresis (increased sweating).
- Decreased appetite.
- Dry mouth.
Effects of LSD Abuse
Unlike many other illicit drugs, chronic users of LSD do not experience physical withdrawal symptoms when they stop using the substance. There is little evidence to suggest that there are long-lasting effects of LSD abuse on physical health.
Unfortunately, LSD does have long-term psychiatric effects on some abusers, who may continue to experience hallucinations and other visual disturbances long after the last drug use. The phenomenon of experiencing these repeating symptoms is known as Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD)—commonly referred to as “flashbacks”.
The exact causes of HPPD are not known, and there is no widely recognized treatment for this condition.
Although there are no official statistics available, HPPD has been reported to last for several months to a year, although it may sometimes continue for multiple years 2.
The main risk of ingesting high levels of LSD lies in the often profoundly disorienting psychological symptoms and the risk of having a “bad trip;” however, dangerous physical symptoms may also occur in some cases. Experiments in animals have shown that extremely high doses of this drug can result in fatal respiratory arrest (stopped breathing) . Those ingesting toxic levels of LSD may also experience 7:
- Hyperthermia (high body temperature).
- Loss of consciousness.
Since becoming illegal in 1970, the number of LSD abusers has been relatively small compared to other illicit drugs like cocaine or marijuana. Data from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) show that approximately 287,000 people over the age of 12 (or 0.1% of the population) were current LSD users 8.
Several factors – including the difficulty of chemically manufacturing this drug – have limited the black market popularity of LSD 6. Also, tolerance to the effects of LSD develops very quickly, which may discourage frequent use.
Although never technically banned, scientific research into LSD declined after it became a controlled substance. Since 2010, however, there has been renewed interest in using LSD as a treatment in psychiatric disorders, such as depression and anxiety, and as a tool for studying the human brain 6. However, routine use of LSD as a therapeutic drug is likely many years away.
Teen LSD Abuse
Relatively few people abuse LSD compared to other illicit drugs, but it is most popular among adolescents and college-aged adults. Nearly 64% of 287,000 current users in 2014 were between 12 and 25 years old 8.
The Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey of teen drug abuse has monitored LSD use among high school students since 1975. Data collected in 2015 revealed the following trends in teen LSD use 9:
- Use among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders has remained at very low levels since 2003, although there has been a slight increase in use among 12th graders since 2013 to 4.3%.
- The number of teens who believe there is “great risk” in using LSD once or twice has decreased since 2000, especially among the younger grades. This may reflect the fact that teens are less knowledgeable about this drug than earlier generations.
- Since 2014, 8th– and 10th-grade students are more likely to disapprove of LSD use, while disapproval has declined among 12th Once again, younger students were more likely to respond that they were not familiar with LSD than in past years.
These statistics suggest that, while the use of LSD in younger generations is relatively low, decreases in perceived risk and disapproval suggest there could be a rebound in the drug’s popularity. Answers to the MTF survey indicate that younger adolescents are less familiar with LSD and its effects than previous generations. It is critical to make sure teens get information about this hallucinogen to prevent abuse before it starts.
If you or someone you know is struggling with the effects of LSD abuse, there is help available. Call to learn about the treatment options available. There are many resources available to treat the short- and long-term effects of using LSD and help you start on the path of recovery.