Long Term Effects of LSD: Health Effects & RisksAnna Ciulla
The heyday drug of the 1960’s that’s still in use today poses some dangerous health risks that everyone should know about. Explore what they are here:
LSD remains one of the most highly potent synthetic hallucinogens in the world. The drug is not as popular a drug of choice or among drug initiates today as it was during its heyday in the 1960s when taking an “acid trip” was wildly popular. Still, first-time users in 2016 amounted to 2,300 per day or a total of 844,000 individuals aged 12 or older. Anyone using LSD faces risks, moreover, and with long-term use of the hallucinogenic drug come increased risks from its effects as well as other health dangers.
WHAT IS LSD?
LSD, or lysergic acid diethylamide, is one of a group of illicit drugs known as hallucinogens. Other hallucinogens include peyote, PCP, psilocybin, DMT, and Ayahuasca. As there is no known legitimate medical benefit from use of hallucinogens, they are illegal to buy and use and are classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as either a Schedule I or II drug under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. They have a high potential for abuse.
Typically sold as a liquid, LSD can come packaged in small bottles, applied sugar cubes, squares of gelatin, blotter paper, and tablets.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU TAKE LSD?
While users of LSD may be motivated by peers to experience an altered state of consciousness or experiment with the trip on acid, the reality is that a lot can go wrong – much of it very dangerous. Furthermore, the LSD effects are wildly unpredictable, which only magnifies the potential risks for LSD users. Specifics of how LSD affects a person depends on how much of the illegal drug is taken, the surroundings where the user is when the drug is taken, as well as the user’s expectations from taking the drug, his or her mood, and personality.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) says hallucinogens such as LSD distort perceptions of “time, motion, colors, sounds, and self,” adding that such drugs disrupt the user’s thinking, ability to communicate rationally, or recognize reality, “sometimes resulting in bizarre or dangerous behavior.” Some users report feelings of despair, loss of control, mind-numbing fear, including that of going insane or dying. Fatal accidents may happen while under the influence of LSD.
Users begin to feel the acid effects on the body from taking LSD within 30 to 90 minutes. The acid trip may last from six to 12 hours and users may require an additional 2-6 hours to start to feel normal again. They may also be unable to sleep until the LSD side effects begin to wear off. Acute adverse and unpleasant LSD experiences are called “\bad trips”.
Taking LSD and antidepressants can be extremely dangerous. Users combining the drugs may experience seizures, be unable to communicate, or become violent. Effects of the acid trip are also magnified, and not in a positive way.
Ongoing aftereffects from taking LSD include terrifying flashbacks, even after they’ve stopped taking the drug and days, weeks or months have passed without further LSD use.
Although not considered addictive, users often develop a tolerance to LSD that results in their taking stronger doses to achieve the desired altered consciousness effect.
LONG-TERM EFFECTS OF LSD ABUSE
Long-term LSD users can experience several negative LSD health effects from chronic use of the hallucinogen. These include:
- Flashbacks, the most extreme of which occur during Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD), for which there is no treatment
- Ongoing visual disturbances
- Disorganized thinking
- Long-lasting psychoses, such as schizophrenia or severe depression
Cases have been reported of individuals who used LSD long ago and later required treatment with antidepressant medication for new onset LSD flashback syndrome.
In addition, long-term users of LSD will develop tolerance to the illicit drug, requiring increasingly larger doses of LSD to achieve the state of euphoria or intoxication they previously experienced. Given LSD’s unpredictability, this is an extremely dangerous practice as it can result in debilitating and long-lasting negative effects of LSD, including the development of HPPD.
Individuals who become addicted to LSD use do not have any treatments approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As such, there is no FDA-approved treatment for addiction to LSD or other hallucinogenic drugs. However, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) continues research to determine if behavioral therapies may prove beneficial in the treatment of LSD and hallucinogen addiction.
A review of data from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that most of individuals over the age of 12 perceive great risk from using LSD weekly (83.9%), compared to their perception of great risk from trying LSD only once or twice (69.5%). Among adolescents, the perception of great risk is lower in both categories at 70.5% from using LSD weekly and about half (50.4%) from using LSD only once or twice. About three out of four young adults (74.4%) see great harm from weekly LSD use and about half (54.5%) from LSD use only one or two times. The greatest percent of perceived great risk from weekly LSD use is among older adults (over age 26) at 87.0%, compared with 74.2% seeing great risk from trying the hallucinogen once or twice.
SEEKING HELP TO OVERCOME LSD ABUSE
While there are currently no approved FDA drugs to treat LSD abuse, treatment from a licensed, certified treatment center can help anyone who wants to quit using the drug and learn to live a healthier lifestyle. After detoxification from the drug, treatment may involve behavioral therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), that may prove helpful in overcoming a pattern of LSD abuse.
In addition, joining appropriate 12-Step or self-help groups can assist in providing positive reinforcement and a community of others in recovery to help motivate and support continued sobriety.
Family members and friends who are supportive of the LSD user’s decision and commitment to stop using the drug are also important in the user’s recovery journey.
CESAR, Center for Substance Abuse Research, “LSD.” Retrieved September 30, 2017
The Fix, “Hallucinogen Harm Reduction, or How to Deal with a Bad Trip.” Retrieved October 1, 2017
Narconon, “The Effects of Drug Abuse: Effects of LSD Abuse.” Retrieved October 1, 2017
National Drug Intelligence Center (archives), U.S. Justice Department, “LSD Fast Facts.” Retrieved October 1, 2017
The Mix, “LSD (acid).” Retrieved October 1, 2017