According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), more than 1 million Americans reported using a hallucinogenic drug in the month before the 2014 national survey. LSD, or d-lysergic acid diethylamide, is a potent hallucinogen drug that is made in illicit laboratories and considered illegal in the United States by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). It has no accepted medicinal uses, a high potential for abuse, and potentially dangerous consequences when used.
Called acid, mellow yellow, sunshine, window pane, dots, blotter, microdot, boomers, and Lucy in the sky with diamonds, LSD distorts views of reality and may cause vivid hallucinations and mood swings when taken. LSD is considered a long-acting drug as its effects may last up to 12 hours, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports. It is usually ingested orally. It comes as a tablet or capsule, is absorbed onto blotter paper squares, or may be found in liquid form. NIDA published that in 2014, almost 10 percent of the American population aged 12 and older reported abusing LSD at some time in their lives.
Signs and Health Risks of LSD Abuse
LSD is often thought of as a “club drug,” as it is frequently abused at all-night raves, clubs, or parties. When people are under the influence of LSD, they are said to be tripping or on a trip. The following signs may be recognizable:
- Distorted sense of time
- Reports “seeing” sounds and “hearing” colors
- Impaired depth perception
- Visual and auditory hallucinations
- Impaired judgment
- Distortion of self and self-image
- Inability to communicate coherently
- Dilated pupils
- Lack of an appetite
- Heightened body temperature
- Raised blood pressure and heart rate
- Falling down or running into things
- Dry mouth
- Rapid mood swings
- Feeling multiple emotions at the same time
- Fear of losing control
- Despair and/or anxiety
- Paranoia over perceived impending death
Not all trips are pleasant, and different people may experience the effects of LSD in different ways. Research is as of yet unclear on exactly how LSD affects the brain, only that it impairs a person’s sense of reality and distorts the world around the person.
An LSD overdose may occur when the drug overwhelms a person’s system, resulting in an intense trip, psychosis, and even potentially death. Another potential negative side effect of LSD abuse is that it may cause “flashbacks” at any time, randomly and without warning –days, months, or even years after taking the drug. These flashbacks force individuals to relive parts of the trip that was experienced while taking the drug. The journal Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology reports that 5-50 percent of all people who have abused a hallucinogenic drug like LSD may experience at least one flashback.
When these flashbacks continue to reoccur, hallucinogen-persisting perception disorder (HPPD) may be diagnosed. HPPD can interfere with a person’s daily life and make it difficult to complete everyday tasks. Mood swings, disorganized thinking, paranoia, visual disturbances, and vivid flashbacks may be long-term side effects of LSD abuse, according to NIDA.
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Getting Help for LSD Abuse
Mood swings and a shift in personality may occur as the result of regular LSD abuse. Family members or loved ones may notice significant weight loss or drastic changes in sleep patterns. Individuals abusing drugs may stop performing well at school or work, and they may not consistently fulfill their daily obligations.
Unlike other drugs, however, LSD does not usually lead to compulsive drug usage, and NIDA reports that it is not generally thought of as an addictive substance. Regular abuse of LSD may lead to tolerance to the drug though, requiring an individual to take more of it each time in order to keep feeling the desired effects. This is potentially dangerous and increase the chances for a life-threatening overdose.
LSD is made in clandestine labs, and individuals generally do not know exactly what is in the dose they are taking, which also increase potential risks. Not traditionally considered an addictive drug, LSD can nonetheless have lasting effects on a person.
While people are on an LSD trip, they may benefit from a quiet, non-stimulating, and safe environment. People on a bad trip may inadvertently, or intentionally, hurt themselves or others. A secure location with 24-hour supervision may help to ensure their safety and the safety of those around them.
Medications may be used to help with specific side effects and potential co-occurring disorders that may accompany LSD abuse.
Depression and anxiety may be treated with antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications, for instance. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that about half of all drug abusers also suffer from mental illness. When both mental illness and a drug use disorder co-occur, a simultaneous and integrated treatment plan can improve both disorders and enhance recovery. LSD abuse may be a form of self-medication for underlying mental health concerns, and treating the mental illness in tandem with the substance abuse concerns can reduce symptoms and side effects of both issues.
Group, individual, and family therapy and counseling sessions often help individuals and loved ones learn new ways to cope with stress and future triggering events, as well as manage the potential long-term psychological effects of LSD abuse. Other pleasurable activities or hobbies can replace the time previously spent abusing drugs like LSD and may enhance recovery as well. Support groups also enhance recovery by encouraging the formation of a healthy network of peers who can support each other in sobriety.