Is LSD Addictive?


LSD, or lysergic acid diethylamide, is a potent synthetic hallucinogen drug that’s illegal in the United States. The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) lists it as Schedule 1 drug, which means it has no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Common street names for LSD are acid, dots, mellow yellow and window pane.1

LSD distorts one’s view of reality with visual distortions and illusions, altered perception of time (speeding up or slowing down) and may cause vivid hallucinations and mood swings. The drug is taken orally in the form of a gel cap, small tablet, liquid solution, saturated blotting paper, sugar cubes or gummy candies.1 Effects typically begin 20 to 90 minutes after administration, peak within 2-4 hours and may last up to 10 or 12 hours.2,3

Effects and Health Risks

When people are under the influence of LSD, they are said to be tripping or on a trip. An LSD trip is made up of perceptual distortions, intensified emotion, and attention and motivation impairments.4

Accompanying physiological signs may include:2,4

  • Dilated pupils.
  • Increased blood pressure.
  • Increased heart rate.
  • Increase in core body temperature.
  • Increased sweat and saliva production.
  • Sleeplessness.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Tremor

Not all trips are pleasant, and different people may experience the effects of LSD in different ways. A common adverse reaction to LSD use is experiencing anxiety or panic while using the drug. This is often referred to as a “bad trip.” It may lead to injuries to oneself or others.5 It is also possible to overdose on LSD, which can lead to hyperthermia, seizures, coma, and cardiac arrest.6

Another potential negative side effect of LSD abuse is that it may cause a recurrence of hallucinations or other visual disturbances experienced when taking the drug.3 These “flashbacks” may occur randomly at any time without warning–days, months, or even years after taking the drug.3

When these flashbacks continue to reoccur, hallucinogen-persisting perception disorder (HPPD) may be diagnosed. There are two types of HPPD.7 Type 1 consists of experiencing benign, brief flashbacks without causing distress or social impairment.7 Type 2 HPPD is longer lasting, with symptoms persisting for months or years, and can interfere with a person’s daily life and make it difficult to complete everyday tasks.7

Getting Help for LSD Abuse

Use of LSD may lead to tolerance after only a few moderate daily doses, requiring an individual to take more of it each time in order to keep feeling the desired effects.2 The body’s tendency to quickly develop a tolerance to the drug quickly limits its positive reinforcing effect. LSD also does not have marked withdrawal symptoms after somebody stops taking the drug, which limits is negative reinforcement effect.2 This combination of characteristics limits the addiction liability of LSD because it does not cause uncontrollable drug-seeking behavior.3

Despite this, it is possible for a person to develop an addiction to LSD and/or other hallucinogens. Hallucinogen use disorder is diagnosed when a person is unable to stop using hallucinogens despite experiencing significant impairments and adverse consequences in various life domains such as family, social, occupation, etc.8

Treatment for LSD addiction consists mainly of therapy designed to modify drug-taking behavior and learning new ways to cope with stress and future triggering events. Other pleasurable activities or hobbies can replace the time previously spent abusing drugs like LSD and may enhance recovery. Mutual help groups also enhance recovery by encouraging the formation of a healthy network of peers who can support each other in sobriety.

References

  1. U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2020). Drugs of Abuse.
  2. Miller, S. C., Fiellin, D. A., Rosenthal, R. N., & Saitz, R. (2019). The ASAM Principles of Addiction Medicine, Sixth Edition. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Drug Facts: Hallucinogens: What are hallucinogens?
  4. S. Drug Enforcement Administration Diversion Control Division. (2019). D-Lysergic Acid Diethylamide.
  5. Baquiran, M., & Al Khalili, Y. (2020). StatPearls: Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD, Entactogen) Toxicity.
  6. Leonard, J. B., Anderson, B., & Klein-Schwartz, W. (2018). Does getting high hurt? Characterization of cases of LSD and psilocybin-containing mushroom exposures to national poison centers between 2000 and 2016. Journal of Psychopharmacology (Oxford, England), 32(12), 1286–1294.
  7. G Lerner, A., Rudinski, D., Bor, O., & Goodman, C. (2014). Flashbacks and HPPD: A Clinical-oriented Concise Review. The Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences, 51(4), 296–301.
  8. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. (5th ed.). (2013). Washington D.C.: American Psychiatric Association.


About The Contributor

Ryan Kelley, NREMT
Ryan Kelley, NREMT

Medical Editor, American Addiction Centers

Ryan Kelley is a nationally registered Emergency Medical Technician and the former managing editor of the Journal of Emergency Medical Services (JEMS). During his time at JEMS, Ryan developed Mobile Integrated Healthcare in Action, a series... Read More


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