LSD, short for lysergic acid diethylamide, is a psychoactive drug with powerful psychedelic effects. LSD was originally produced in 1938 by Swiss chemist Albert Hoffmann from a fungus called ergot. The drug’s potent psychedelic properties weren’t discovered until 1943 when Hoffmann took LSD himself.
In the 1950s, the drug piqued the interest of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, who tested it as a potential mind control method. This fascination with LSD led to years of experimentation. Some experiments were unethical and kept secret for years like MKUltra.
Today, LSD is produced in illegal labs to be bought and sold as an illicit drug. It was once a popular party drug, but today, intrepid psychonauts use it, as they are looking for a unique psychedelic experience, marked by altered consciousness. LSD is sold as tablets, sublingual tabs, and capsules under street names like Acid, Blotter, and Dots. The drug causes changes in mood, sweating, appetite loss, and psychedelic effects. Psychedelic effects can include audio and visual hallucinations, changes in perception of time, color enhancement, brightening of lights (with dilated pupils), and even closed-eye visual hallucinations.
A lot of scientists and researchers still don’t know about psychedelic drugs, particularly concerning how they work to produce hallucinations and other psychoactive effects. However, psychedelic drugs all tend to affect serotonin levels. Serotonin is an important chemical messenger in the brain. It’s closely tied to reward, positive mood, learning, and memory.
LSD works by binding to specific serotonin receptors and activating them. However, unlike other psychedelic drugs, LSD also interacts with dopamine, another chemical that’s linked to reward and feelings of pleasure. These may contribute to the drug’s psychoactive effects.
LSD doesn’t cause chemical dependence to the same degree that other illicit substances like cocaine and heroin might. Drugs that cause chemical dependence typically cause a high degree of adaptation in your brain. For instance, alcohol affects a chemical called GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid), which is designed to manage excitability in the nervous system.
As a depressant, alcohol slows down excitability. Your brain adapts by changing your brain chemistry to balance around the frequent use of alcohol. When you stop drinking, you start to experience uncomfortable withdrawal because of chemical imbalance.
It does cause tolerance to build after using it, but it usually subsides after a few days with no cravings or discomfort. A 2016 review of LSD’s effects and its potential as a therapy drug in the journal Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology said, “LSD use does not lead to physical dependence. However, tolerance, as mentioned, disappears after a few days of abstinence without producing craving. So, LSD dependence is typically psychological and not physical.”
Psychological withdrawal symptoms can be nebulous and challenging to predict, but they aren’t likely to happen to most people that use LSD. However, they can cause the following symptoms:
LSD can cause other long-term effects that come after you use the drug and may linger long after you stop using. The drug can cause unpleasant highs and hallucinations that are referred to as a “bad trip.” These trips can lead to post-traumatic stress and anxiety. LSD can also be dangerous for people who have a personal or family history of schizophrenia or other psychosis. Psychedelic drugs can trigger or worsen psychotic symptoms, even if you’ve never experienced them before.
Since LSD withdrawal is psychological, the timeline on which you experience symptoms will be largely subjective. It may depend on a few personal factors such as how long you used LSD consistently, the size of the dose you used, and the existence of any mental health problems.
If you stop using LSD after developing a psychological dependence, you might experience some discomfort over the next few days. Symptoms like insomnia and anxiety may appear and disappear during that time. Symptoms may also linger if they triggered underlying mental health issues like depression or anxiety. Drug use, in general, can be more dangerous for people with mental health conditions. Long-lasting symptoms may not subside on their own without medical treatment.
Medical detox is the highest level of care in addiction treatment, and it’s reserved for people who are likely to experience severe withdrawal symptoms. Detox can also help people who are going through withdrawal and have another health condition or complication.
On its own, LSD use is not likely to require a medical detox to get over. However, if LSD use is combined with other serious medical issues or the use of other drugs, medical detox may be necessary. When you go through the intake process in addiction treatment, your level of care will be determined with the help of professionals.
Detox is an important part of addiction treatment for many, but it may not be the only level of care you need. If you don’t require detox, or if you complete detox, you may move on to the next level of care in addiction treatment. You may go through an inpatient or residential program if you have high-level physical or psychological needs. If you can live at home without a significant threat of relapse or other complications, you may go through intensive outpatient treatment or outpatient treatment.
Clark, J. (2019, June 5). Project MKUltra: When the CIA Tested LSD on Unsuspecting Americans. from https://history.howstuffworks.com/history-vs-myth/cia-lsd.htm
Das, S., Barnwal, P., Ramasamy, A., Sen, S., & Mondal, S. (2016, June). Lysergic acid diethylamide: a drug of 'use'? from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4910402/
Hwang, K. A. J., & Saadabadi, A. (2019, March 25). Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD). from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482407/
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019, April). Hallucinogens. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/hallucinogens
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016, February). 8: Medical detoxification. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction/section-iii/7-medical-detoxification