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The acid culture, glorified in the ’60s, continues to draw new converts today. The powerful psychedelic drug can occasionally send people into fits of hysteria or make returning to reality difficult. Addiction to LSD, though rare, requires proper intervention and a potential stay in rehab.

  • Drug Name LSD
  • Addiction Liability Moderate
  • Scientific Name Lysergic acid diethylamide
  • Street Names Acid, Cid, Lucy, L, Doses, Tabs
  • How It's Used Swallowed
  • Side Effects Nausea, Dizziness, Fever, Tremors, Sleeplessness, Hallucinations
  • Psychological Dependence Moderate
  • Physical Dependence Low

What Is LSD?

LSD is a synthetic hallucinogen manufactured from lysergic acid and other chemical compounds. This clear, odorless drug is often sold in tablet, powder, crystal or gelatin form. It is also added to sugar cubes and absorbent paper covered with colorful designs or artwork.

Acid came to the forefront of the drug culture in the 1960s. Its mind-expanding potential was well-documented by college professors and scientists.

People continue to experiment with the drug to this day. You may encounter the substance around school, at teen parties or in live music events such as music festivals.

LSD users often talk about “tripping,” a word describing the psychedelic effects that can cause hallucinations, intense anxiety and a distorted sense of time.

LSD strips

Youth Trends in LSD Use

Research shows that substance abuse among young people in the United States is common. Two national studies affiliated with the National Institute on Drug Abuse detail the prevalence of LSD use among adolescents and young adults in recent years.

The annual Monitoring the Future survey examines drug, alcohol and cigarette use as well as related attitudes among middle and high school students. The most recent survey indicated that past-year and lifetime use of LSD among 10th- and 12th-graders increased year after year from 2013 to 2016. High school seniors had the highest rate of past-month LSD use at 1 percent.

According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 7.7 percent of adults aged 18 to 25 reported using LSD at least once. However, less than 1 percent of these individuals reported using the drug in the past month.

LSD and the Brain: The Science Behind Hallucinations

In 2016, scientists from the Beckley Foundation and Imperial College London analyzed the impact of LSD on the brain. They gave LSD or a placebo to 20 healthy volunteers who had previous experience with taking psychedelic substances. Researchers then used brain scanning tools to examine blood flow and electrical activity in the brain.

Under normal circumstances, information from the eyes is processed in the visual cortex, located at the back of the brain. But the report published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that many areas of the brain showed activity related to visual processing in those who took LSD.

Brain scans revealed that the entire organ lit up with activity in LSD-using participants, lead author Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris said in a statement. Volunteers visualized images despite their eyes being closed. This is consistent with having hallucinations.

Carhart-Harris also compared the LSD-influenced brain to that of an infant’s.

“In many ways, the brain in the LSD state resembles the state our brains were in when we were infants: free and unconstrained,” she said. “This also makes sense when we consider the hyperemotional and imaginative nature of an infant’s mind.”

The same research team conducted another study that indicated LSD paired with music caused the visual cortex to receive more information from the parahippocampus, a location in the brain that affects mental imagery and memory. The more the parahippocampus sent signals to the visual cortex, the more people reported having visions, the report found.

Researchers hope these studies can be used to treat mental health problems such as addiction or depression. David Nutt, senior researcher in the study, and Edmond J. Safra, chair in neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial, said that scientists have waited five decades to learn how LSD affects the brain.

“For the first time we can really see what’s happening in the brain during the psychedelic state and can better understand why LSD had such a profound impact on self-awareness in users and on music and art,” Nutt said in a statement.

Tremors, Paranoia and Other Effects of LSD

The unpredictable nature of acid makes it a force to be reckoned with. For every positive acid experience, there could be a distressing and traumatic one.

An acid trip can last up to 12 hours.

Though LSD lacks the addictive properties of many narcotics, it occasionally sends people into a downward spiral of drug abuse. LSD addiction develops in much the same way as marijuana or crack addiction. By abusing LSD, you risk psychosis and a loss of reality. You also can do permanent damage to your brain.

The effects of an acid trip vary based on the purity, the amount taken and the body chemistry of the person taking it. A trip on LSD takes between 30 and 90 minutes to kick in, and these effects can last up to 12 hours. Tolerance builds quickly, so an attempt to trip again immediately after the first dose requires an increased in the amount of the drug.

LSD users have reported various psychedelic effects associated with the drug, such as visual hallucinations, intensified sensory perceptions, and a feeling of heightened understanding. Many people claim to have a spiritual or religious experience while tripping.

A number of physical effects go along with a hit of acid. These include:

Though rare, LSD use could cause death. People with heart problems may suffer heart attack or stroke. The highest risk of injury or death comes from entering into dangerous situations while under the drug’s influence.

Changes in Behavior Could Be a Sign of LSD Use

People abusing acid will typically exhibit changes in their mood and behavior. Taking LSD can throw off your sense of self and your ability to manage emotions. Regular LSD users may show signs of depression, anxiety or problems in their personal lives. Violent behavior and noticeable fatigue are also commonly reported symptoms.

The drug generally causes people to take on new hobbies and prioritize places or people that facilitate their acid habit. It’s important to identify these changes and investigate the potential role that drugs may be playing in a loved one’s life.

Bad Trips

An LSD trip is not always a positive experience. Your judgment can be severely impaired if you experience a “bad trip.”

The intensity and volatility of a bad trip sends users into a state of mind that can cause them to endanger themselves and those around them. Bad trips on LSD have resulted in suicides and homicides, in addition to other extreme acts.

Characteristics of a bad trip can include:

It’s difficult to predict how LSD will affect an individual. Chances of a bad trip increase drastically if done in uncomfortable surroundings, in large crowds of people, or during times of anger or sadness. Someone experiencing a severe bad trip may be uncontrollable and intervention may be needed to prevent LSD users from hurting themselves or others.

Managing LSD Abuse

Hallucinogen intoxication generally is managed by placing the individual in a safe, quiet environment under direct supervision to ensure the intoxicated person does not become violent.

A low dose of a short- or intermediate-acting benzodiazepine may control anxiety and sedate the person. Antidepressant therapy may be needed for those who exhibit chronic depressive symptoms after using these drugs.

Individuals taking hallucinogens should undergo psychiatric and cognitive assessments before receiving a treatment referral.

A residential rehab facility can assist people with LSD addiction in overcoming their substance abuse problems. Here they can engage with people dealing with similar issues, interact with therapists or counselors, and receive the personalized attention that they may need.

Anyone battling a substance habit, or on the recovery path, can also seek community support. Self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous encourage individuals to stay active, network with people in similar situations and learn the tools needed to maintain sobriety.

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