January 8th, 2024
LSD, celebrated for its historical mystique and countercultural symbolism, has intrigued scientists, artists, and thrill-seekers with its profound effects on perception and cognition; yet, the often overlooked reality of its potential harm and addiction underscores the importance of recognising these risks, fostering awareness of symptoms, and understanding effective recovery routes to encourage individuals grappling with LSD-related challenges to seek necessary help.
What is LSD?
Lysergic Acid Diethylamide, commonly known as LSD or “acid”, is a powerful, mind-altering substance known for its visual hallucinations and altered states of consciousness. Discovered in 1938 by Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann, LSD was initially used in psychiatric research and therapy but gained popularity in the 1960s counterculture movement for its profound effects on perception and consciousness. The drug is typically ingested orally via LSD-soaked blotter paper “tabs”, with its effects known as a “trip,” lasting up to 12 hours.
Visual and sensory effects
- Visual and sensory hallucinations or distortions or hallucinations
- Differences in depth perception
- Synesthesia: “seeing” sounds and “hearing” colours
Physical LSD side effects
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
Psychological and emotional
- Heightened, unstable emotions
How does LSD work?
Scientifically, LSD works by interacting with serotonin receptors in the brain, specifically the 5-HT2A receptor. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that significantly influences various aspects of human behaviour, including mood, perception and cognition. When LSD binds to these receptors, it alters serotonin signalling and increases communication between different parts of the brain that don’t normally interact as much. It is this increased communication that is thought to trigger the unique alterations in consciousness and sensory perception experienced during an LSD trip.
While the psychedelic effects of LSD are well-documented, its potential therapeutic applications are still under exploration. Recent research has been investigating LSD’s potential in treating various mental health disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety, especially in end-of-life care. However, these medical uses of LSD are not yet officially recognised, and more research is needed to understand its potential benefits and risks fully.
LSD fast facts
LSD is derived from ergot, a fungus that grows on rye and other grains.
The CIA experimented with LSD in the 1950s and 60s as part of the MK-Ultra project, investigating its potential for mind control.
Flashbacks, or Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD), can occur long after the drug has been taken.
What is LSD addiction?
LSD addiction is a form of hallucinogen addiction which causes compulsive LSD use despite the problems it causes. However, unlike substances such as opioids or alcohol, LSD does not cause physical dependence. Instead, addiction to LSD often develops through recreational use, where individuals seek the profound and unique experiences the drug provides. Over time, this can lead to habitual use where they believe they must keep tripping for escape, enlightenment or pleasure.
Notably, many people who become addicted to LSD also suffer from other substance use disorders. This means that while they do not have a physical dependence on LSD, they are dependent on another drug with the combination of addictions causing complex issues in their lives.
What are the signs of LSD addiction?
Identifying LSD addiction can be challenging, especially since many users are not aware it can be addictive. This can lead to unchecked, chronic use and increased health and personal risks. Some common signs of LSD addiction to be aware of include:
Spending significant efforts acquiring, using or recovering from LSD use
Continuing to use LSD even though it is causing obvious issues with health, work or relationships
Neglecting responsibilities or interests in favour of LSD use
Using LSD in larger amounts or over a longer period than intended
A strong desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control LSD use
Engaging in risky behaviours while under the influence of LSD
Feeling that LSD use is necessary for creativity or socialising
If you spot any of the signs of LSD addiction in yourself or others, professional help can be crucial in preventing serious consequences.
What are the underlying causes of LSD addiction?
Several factors can contribute to the development of LSD addiction, with a mixture of personal and environmental causes often playing a part. These include:
- Psychological factors: Individuals with mental health disorders or those seeking escape from psychological pain may turn to LSD.
- Social and peer influence: Peer pressure or the desire to fit in with a social group that uses LSD can contribute to its initial and continued use.
- Curiosity and experimentation: Curiosity about LSD’s effects can lead to experimentation, which can then develop into habitual use.
- Escapism: Using LSD to escape reality, cope with stress or avoid dealing with problems can all lead to psychological dependence.
- Spiritual or philosophical exploration: The desire for spiritual insight or philosophical exploration can lead to repeated LSD use and eventual addiction.
- Environmental factors: Exposure to environments where LSD use is common can increase the likelihood of use and potential addiction.
- Genetic predisposition: There may be a genetic component that makes some individuals more susceptible to addiction, including LSD addiction.
- Past trauma: Individuals who have experienced trauma may use LSD as a form of self-medication.
What are the effects of LSD addiction and abuse?
The effects of LSD addiction and abuse can be far-reaching, affecting various aspects of a person’s life and health. These LSD side effects and impacts include:
Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD)
HPPD involves persistent and distressing alterations in perception, usually visual, that occur after the acute effects of LSD have worn off. Individuals may experience flashbacks, visual disturbances like halos or trails attached to moving objects and other perceptual anomalies. These symptoms can be incredibly distressing and are often mistaken for neurological disorders such as strokes, schizophrenia or brain tumours.
Mental health issues
LSD use can exacerbate and trigger mental health conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, causing symptoms like delusions, paranoia and confusion.
Frequent use of LSD can lead to difficulties with memory, attention and problem-solving, which can make daily life very challenging.
LSD abuse can cause significant emotional disturbances, including intense mood swings, heightened anxiety and feelings of paranoia. This emotional volatility can strain personal and professional relationships and lead to social isolation.
Regular LSD use can lead to profound alterations in the way users perceive the world, which can be both distressing and debilitating. These changes can affect all senses but are most commonly visual.
Although LSD is not toxic and does not cause traditional physical dependency, its use can lead to risky behaviours. Users under the influence might engage in dangerous activities, neglect their health or put themselves in unsafe situations.
Social and interpersonal issues
Users may withdraw from family and friends, struggle with social interactions or behave in difficult ways for others to understand or support. This can affect relationships, careers and educational opportunities.
How is LSD addiction treated?
LSD addiction treatment primarily involves psychological interventions, though a period of detox may be necessary to get the client in a clear state of mind first. A rehab programme comprising a range of evidence-based and holistic therapies can then identify the underlying reasons for LSD use, help the individual develop coping strategies and address any co-occurring mental health disorders.
Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and other forms of counselling can be effective in helping individuals understand and change their patterns of LSD use, while support groups and aftercare provide ongoing direction and prevent relapse.
This multi-faceted approach to hallucinogen addiction treatment ensures every aspect of LSD addiction is addressed to provide the best possible chance of recovery.
Seek help for LSD addiction today
If you or someone you know is struggling with LSD addiction, know that UKAT is here to help. We provide residential rehab programmes comprising a range of therapies and holistic approaches, which will give you all the tools you need for LSD recovery. Contact us today to find out how we can help you start a brand new life free from LSD addiction.
Is LSD the same as magic mushrooms?
LSD and magic mushrooms, though sharing some similarities, differ in their origins and effects; LSD, a synthetic compound derived from ergot, offers a longer-lasting and more intense psychedelic experience, while magic mushrooms, naturally occurring fungi, contain psilocybin and psilocin.
Can you die from taking LSD?
While death from an LSD overdose is extremely rare due to its high lethal dosage threshold, the main risks stem from its impact on perception and judgement, potentially causing misjudgments, hallucinations, and triggering psychological distress or harmful behaviours, particularly in individuals with underlying mental health issues.
Can LSD help with addiction?
There is growing interest in the potential of LSD to assist in treating addiction, although this area of research is still evolving and not yet definitive. Early studies and recent clinical trials have suggested that LSD, along with other psychedelics like psilocybin, may help reduce symptoms of addiction, particularly in cases of alcohol and tobacco dependence. However, it is crucial to note that these treatments, when effective, are conducted in controlled clinical settings and accompanied by psychotherapy. More research is needed to fully understand the potential benefits and risks of using LSD in addiction treatment.