LSD, also known as acid, is a drug that has seen a rise in popularity over the last decade or so. It’s a psychedelic drug that saw its first popular culture references in the 60s. As a hallucinogen, LSD can create vivid and sometimes terrifying images capable of convincing the user that they’re caught up in a different reality. This ability to ‘alter reality’ is foremost among LSD effects.
At the height of its popularity, ‘acid’ was often taken by people attending concerts as well as across social gatherings, events sometimes designed specifically to ingest the drug. It eventually became a recreational drug of choice among certain members of society that considered it a way to show their disdain for the dominant culture of the time.
LSD’s popularity stems from how long a single dose can last and how low the amount needed to get high is. Users could consume the drug, and the high could last anywhere from eight to twelve hours. The vivid hallucinations mentioned earlier could become dangerous and even deadly if the person were to have a “bad trip.” Even so, many people thought that the sense of euphoria and wonder they got from taking the drug was balanced out by the chances of having a bad trip.
The massive popularity of the drug died out in the US around the 80s as other harder drugs took their place. Some individuals still preferred to use it since the concentration of LSD needed to get high is usually very small. In many cases, the individuals choosing LSD over other drugs had a fear of random drug testing at their jobs. Modern drug tests are usually unable to detect LSD because of the low concentrations needed to get high.
LSD is typically distributed on blotter paper, with the droplets themselves resembling stamps. For a person to get high on LSD, all they would need to do is lick one of the stamps, and they would develop the feelings of euphoria associated with the drug within the hour. Because the drug is fat-soluble, the chemical sometimes gets incorporated into the body’s fat stores.
Later on in life, these stores begin to break down, releasing the drug back into a person’s bloodstream. This leads to what is commonly referred to as “acid flashbacks.” LSD is difficult to synthesize, but it is also difficult to market since individuals can’t constantly take the drug and get the same euphoric effects over and over again consistently. Before we delve into how LSD can impact a person, we must first look at its history and how it was first created.
What Does LSD Stand For?
LSD is short for lysergic acid diethylamide, hence why it’s called “acid” as one of its street names. It can be marketed as a white powder or a clear, colorless liquid, but in most cases, it’s sold in pre-cut blotter strips. The blotter strips are part of the reason why other drugs see more success with specific users.
Since the blotter paper uses the solution of dissolved LSD, there’s no control over how much goes into a single dose. As a result, a single sheet of blotter paper might have some “stamps” that have a higher concentration than others (leading to a potentially harmful trip or a much shorter period of euphoria).
In popular culture, LSD had seen a lot of research in the 50s and 60s. While some of the experiments were bizarre, others seemed to have reasonable scientific backing. However, as the regular production of the drug dried up due to a lack of demand, those who still wanted it were forced to try to synthesize it on their own.
Many of these kitchen labs resorted to using grain mold extracts to produce their LSD. Grain mold, also known as ergot, is a natural producer of the psychedelic agent that can be made into LSD. Ergot can be obtained from corn mold or other grain-based growths, although harvesting the mold extract can be difficult. The process of extracting ergot for use in LSD from these sources may be too complicated for the average user to bother.
Historically, there have been a few situations where ergot-infested food has led to widespread mania and hallucinations. Even the Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder mentioned Ergotism (the fallout of ingesting ergot-infected flour) nearly 10,000 years ago. Later in history, the Greeks realized the potential for abuse on the battlefield and developed ergot into a powerful and frightening biological weapon of war.
LSD still has a significant pull in scientific circles, as several scholars are researching its effects in dealing with a wide range of disorders. Modern Alzheimer’s disease treatments are beginning to show some promise. But where does the contemporary iteration of LSD come from?
Origin Of LSD
The first scientific synthesis of acid came about in 1938, thanks to the dedicated work of a scientist named Albert Hoffman. Hoffman worked on behalf of the Sandoz Pharmaceutical and stumbled upon the drug while searching for a blood stimulant. While the discovery of the chemical happened in 1938, the actual hallucinogenic properties of the drug weren’t realized until 1943. Hoffman accidentally consumed some of the LSD he made and produced vivid hallucinations. He also calculated that as little as 25 micrograms (as tiny as a grain of salt) in solution could lead to similar hallucinations in other participants.
Popularity for the drug rose rapidly in the 1960s when many users saw it as part of the counterculture revolution. Authors and academics such as Timothy Leary were responsible for widespread social acceptance of the substance. It’s from these beginnings that the drug spread across the world.
The purported actions of the drug did not go unnoticed by security personnel, but they had other plans for it. In a series of zany experiments in the 50s and 60s terms Project MK-Ultra, the US military researched if it was possible to use it for mass mind control and manipulation. These experiments continued until the government banned the use of the drug in 1967.
As mentioned before, LSD’s market dominance as a drug of choice declined in the 80s as more people turned to cheaper alternatives with more consistent feelings associated with them. However, the drug regularly sees an uptick now and again as people “rediscover” it or rebrand it into something new.
It showed up on the party scene in Europe in the 90s, from where it eventually made its way over to the US. However, it has once again declined in use as partygoers prefer to use Ecstasy (E or Mollie) instead of the unpredictable LSD. This is little consolation for people who have been using the drug for years and have become dependent on it.
LSD And Its Cultural Impact
LSD came to popularity around the time of the sexual revolution and “free love” movement. The drug is mainly associated with “hippies,” who would preach non-violence as a way of life and stand against governmental abuse and tyranny. Yet, its impact on art and culture in the Western world is mostly an undercurrent. While many people think that their favorite artists from the 50s and 60s were probably doing drugs, it’s a different matter altogether to confirm that was true. There are recorded sessions where artists like Jimi Hendrix or The Grateful Dead would take acid before their performances, as well as the acclaimed album ‘Bitches Brew’ by the jazz legend Miles Davis.
Most of LSD’s impact on culture comes from artists using it to create truly magical pieces while high on the substance. There are reports of some artists such as Andy Warhol taking the drug while doing their work, but it’s different with musicians since they can create music while high that can be listened to while high as well. There are some nods to art in many of the album covers of the time as well.
Infinite spaces combined with psychedelic colors and swirling imagery invoke the feeling of being “out of space” while on the drug. Many of the famous album cover designers of the time may well have been on the medication while they put out those covers.
LSD has seen a resurgence in use among modern professionals in more recent years. There are records of some Silicon Valley professionals discussing “micro-dosing” the drug-taking even less than the tiny amount necessary to create vivid hallucinations. Even Steve Jobs spoke about his own experiences during his youth regarding the substance.
Medical science is also noticing the drug’s usefulness, with new research underway to locate potential medical applications. The drug was scary and hated in the past, but today it’s had a significant image change. Even so, it can still create deep psychological dependence on people who take it.
Effects Of LSD
LSD interacts with the neurotransmitters that regular serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is related to controlling behavioral, perceptual, and regulatory systems within the human body. As a person takes LSD, it interrupts this system’s natural functioning, leading to distortions in the person’s perception of reality. In approximately 4 to 4.5% of users of hallucinogenic drugs, most prominently LSD, a condition known as HPPD or Hallucinogenic Persisting Perceptive Disorder, can develop that causes symptoms of a trip to recur until treated.
Popular culture has romanticized the vision of getting high on LSD in film and lots of media, but the natural feeling of being disassociated from one’s body is very disconcerting. Individuals who consume the drug see strange colors and sights and hear sounds that aren’t really there.
The real danger to how LSD interacts with a person’s body and brain is the unpredictable mood swings that typically come with use. All it takes is a few minutes for a reasonably good experience to change into a nightmarish one. Many group consumption exercises usually keep one person as the “responsible” one in the group if someone else is having a bad episode. These bad trips can lead a person to do unpredictable things such as harm themselves or someone else.
Physically, taking LSD will lead to a person’s pupils dilating and an increase in blood pressure. For individuals who have problems with circulation, this could end in embolisms or worse. Other short-term effects of taking the drug include dizziness, sweating, reduced appetite, dry mouth, weakness, tremors, and numbness in one or more body parts.
These symptoms don’t show up very often, and most of the fallout from these drugs comes as a visual response to the shift in their perception of reality. Severe life-threatening effects may occur at extremely high doses of the substance, so being careful not to consume too much is critical in not having a bad trip.
Hallucinogens In Clinical Usage
Scientific research has found that LSD can increase a person’s emotional empathy but can hurt that person’s ability to comprehend fear. It also tends to enhance a feeling of closeness and fraternity in others. This property is why it was used as an aid to interrogation in some CIA experiments.
Some research suggests that LSD can even increase interconnectivity between brain networks. Scientists have recently been looking into this property as they explore whether the drug can be helpful as a long-term treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. Additional research has shown that LSD can promote neuron growth which might play an integral part in finding a cure for depression and PTSD.
In 2014, a study examined the drug’s use in a small group of patients with anxiety. The patients were given small doses of LSD, and their response to the drugs was recorded. In a controlled setting like this, the drug seemed to do an excellent job at controlling participants’ anxiety. However, a single study with such a small sample size would need to be investigated with a larger sample size of participants. Still, the drug shows some promise to control anxiety in individuals who suffer from the condition.
Dangers Of Dependence On LSD
LSD doesn’t fall under the category of physically addictive drugs. Part of that stems from the body’s ability to build rapid tolerance to the drug. However, as fast as this tolerance builds, it is lost. In some cases, individuals that have taken LSD can’t get high again for up to three days on the drug. However, after this “recovery period,” the person can consume the substance and access the same feelings of euphoria as they did initially. Most people who take LSD regularly will build and lose this tolerance rapidly. However, unlike other drugs, this tolerance isn’t a basis for addiction.
People who become addicted to LSD don’t have a physical addiction but rather a psychological attachment to the drug. Psychological dependence on LSD leads individuals to seek out the drug and try to consume it even when they know it’s bad for them. Unlike typical addiction, where the brain’s chemistry changes to accept the presence of a substance, LSD’s addiction all stems from a person’s fixation on how the drug stimulates them mentally.
Similarly, withdrawal from LSD doesn’t bring with it a plethora of physical withdrawal symptoms that other drugs are known for. However, psychological withdrawal symptoms that are present may include:
- Mood swings
- Short attention span
- Suicidal thoughts
These symptoms may vary in intensity, depending on how addicted a person may be to the substance.
HPPD – Can A Bad Trip Be Permanent?
Hallucinogen-persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD) is a condition that may result from continued LSD consumption. The situation differs from individual to individual but is characterized by flashback images and strange, ghostly movement from figures that seem to reside right outside a person’s field of vision.
Typically, these symptoms occur after a person consumes LSD over a long period and stops using the drug. The break-in consumption can lead to unpredictable outcomes. One of these is continued HPPD. The problem with HPPD is that there are no ways to determine when a person will fall victim to the condition. However, the more often a person abuses LSD, the more likely they will fall victim to it.
There are a lot of myths surrounding HPPD. One of them is that the condition comes from a person consuming too much of a particular illicit drug. Another one is that HPPD is a disease. Neither of these statements is true and makes HPPD scarier than it is. The truth is that HPPD may be triggered through using psychedelic drugs recreationally, but there’s no definite trigger for this to happen. HPPD may also be accompanied by several other symptoms, including:
- Panic attacks
- Depression and Anxiety
- Depersonalization disorder
Depersonalization disorder is a mental health condition that may occur due to HPPD. This condition feels like an out-of-body experience. Someone suffering from it might feel like they are observing life rather than participating in it. The world around them may seem distant or foggy. They may feel as though they are disconnected from their body. All of these stem from the impact that LSD may have on a person’s perception of reality. DMT and other powerful hallucinogens can also cause these same effects, whether used individually or in conjunction with LSD.
Many individuals who have had HPPD compare it to having a perpetual bad trip. As mentioned before, bad trips typically occur when a person takes LSD and has a response that leaves them feeling unsettled. In some extreme cases, a bad trip might lead to a person having a psychotic break with reality and causing harm to themselves or those around them.
The trigger for this behavior stems from things that a person may not be able to see but that they feel are present. The heightened sensitivity creates hallucinations that HPPD explores as a flashback. While a single bad trip will eventually end, being on HPPD makes an individual feel as though they are trapped in a perpetual bad trip. There are ways to deal with LSD abuse and addiction, allowing individuals to avoid outcomes like HPPD.
Rehab And Long Term LSD Abuse
If a person has been using LSD over a long period, the chances of them getting HPPD rise significantly. However, there are ways that individuals can deal with LSD use over the long term. Rehab facilities dealing with LSD have trained mental health staff to help individuals deal with their psychological dependence. Individuals may have other co-occurring disorders such as anxiety or depression that drive them to keep using the substance in a few cases. These mental health professionals can aid recovering individuals by helping them cope with their existing mental disorders.
Since LSD addiction doesn’t come with physical withdrawal symptoms, the entire dependence cycle rests with a person’s mental state. Part of the therapy used in these rehab centers involves helping a person cope with the psychological effects of LSD dependence. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has shown a lot of promise in assisting recovering individuals to come to terms with their psychological dependence. CBT teaches a person to spot the negative thoughts that manifest into actions that might lead a person into relapse. If a person can spot these thoughts and avoid them, they create a much easier situation to manage.
Additionally, inpatient facilities can help a person recovering from LSD abuse by allowing a controlled environment to get their thoughts together. These facilities create a conducive environment for dealing with personal recovery. Inpatient treatments can range from one to several months, and the facilities are fully equipped to deal with individuals who need that separation time to get perspective about their drug use. These inpatient facilities control all the substances allowed into the location, ensuring that a person can focus on their recovery without the temptation of the drug close by. In many cases, it’s a powerful motivator to stick with recovery treatment until it’s completed.
Recovery Resources for LSD Users
If you’re trying to break your psychological dependence on LSD, or you know someone that does, the best help they can get are rehab centers. Setting up an appointment is the first step in leaving the dependence on the drug behind, but it must be a personal decision. Forcing someone to rehab won’t work because they aren’t committed to overcoming their struggle. If you’d like to experience world-class LSD abuse recovery today, give us a call. We’re more than happy to set up an appointment for you to discuss potential treatment and how we can guide you to recovery. Let us know today, and we’ll have a spot here waiting for you.
Edward lives and works in South Florida and has been a part of its recovery community for many years. With a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Massachusetts, he works to help Find Addiction Rehabs as both a writer and marketer. Edward loves to share his passion for the field through writing about addiction topics, effective treatment for addiction, and behavioral health as a whole. Alongside personal experience, Edward has deep connections to the mental health treatment industry, having worked as a medical office manager for a psychiatric consortium for many years.