LSD, which is a strong and illegal hallucinogen, is short for lysergic acid diethylamide. The substance – otherwise known as acid – has been a common drug of abuse since the 1960s. Beginning in the 1990s, the drug became associated with raves and all-night parties. The substance is relatively cheap to obtain, even though the supply of LSD has diminished greatly over the last 15 years. Still, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, almost 11% of people 25 and older report having used LSD in their lifetime 4.
LSD is available in a number of variations including:
Small squares of paper called blotters.
Since LSD is odorless, colorless, and without taste, the substance can be added to sugar cubes, candies, and other items to deliver the effects. Over the years, it has been given many street names, including Acid, Dots, and Mellow Yellow.3 Historically, there has been some association with LSD use and the development of severe depression and persistent psychoses, though the phenomenon hasn’t been exhaustively documented.6 People who use LSD have a higher rate of using other hallucinogens. They also have higher rates of alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana use disorders.7
Immediate Effects of LSD
People use LSD for its desirable effects, such as hallucinations, euphoria, lowered inhibitions, and distorted senses.4 While many people have positive experiences following LSD ingestion, there are many harmful side effects of LSD use as well, such as:7
Further, LSD intoxication is unpredictable and often leads to a bad trip, which might consist of unpleasant or scary thoughts, as well as:7,8
Feeling as though one is about to die.
Feeling out of control.
Terrifying thoughts, such as thoughts about harming oneself or others.
These negative effects can culminate in extreme paranoia and anxiety and people may experience fatal accidents while under the influence of LSD.6,7
Consequences of Chronic Use
In addition to the immediate effects of LSD use, there are also long-term dangers. The risk of experiencing detrimental consequences increases the longer you use LSD and can include:3,7,8
Loss of appetite/weight loss.
Tolerance, meaning that the user requires higher doses of LSD to experience the desired effects.
Persistent psychosis, which is characterized by paranoia, severe mood changes, disorganized thought patterns, and visual disturbances.
In addition to the above risks, a long-term user can also develop a condition known as hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD). People with HPPD can re-experience the effects of LSD intoxication even when they are sober. They often experience hallucinations, flashes of color, intensified colors, false perceptions of movement, trails of images of moving objects, or halos around objects. These visual effects may be continuous or occur for random intervals. In some cases, these episodes cause significant impairment in a user’s life and make it difficult for the person to function normally at work, school, or at home. HPDD can last for weeks, months, or even years, depending on the individual and level of LSD use.7
Effects and Symptoms of Withdrawal
After LSD is ingested, effects begin within an hour and typically last for less than 12 hours. Under normal circumstances, there are no established symptoms of LSD withdrawal. The effects will gradually wear off with time until they are completely eliminated.
In the case of a “bad trip,” where the user has a bad reaction to the drug, negative effects will occur that resemble symptoms of LSD withdrawal 1. During this time, the individual may experience:
A significant increase in anxiety.
Extreme confusion and mistrust of others.
Physical aggression and violence towards self or others.
Even though there is no set withdrawal syndrome for LSD, the user may experience lingering effects after cessation of use, such as 5:
Persistently elevated anxiety levels.
Psychotic symptoms that continue past last use.
Delayed perceptual illusions.
Impairments in cognitive functioning.
The severity of these symptoms will be related to the levels of LSD ingested and the duration of use.
LSD Detox Timeline and Protocol
The average LSD user takes between 20 and 80 micrograms in one sitting. At this level, the drug will be processed and eliminated from the system in 10 to 12 hours. When higher levels are consumed, the withdrawal duration may be exaggerated—lasting for a period upwards of 24 hours 1.
LSD detox and treatment will manage any troublesome residual symptoms to provide a comfortable environment and promote sustained abstinence. If the patient is currently intoxicated and experiencing adverse symptoms like those that present during a “bad trip,” treatment providers will work to ensure their own safety and then the safety of the individual. At times, the individual may become confrontational or combative with the staff. If the patient is not a threat to himself or others, the staff will provide supportive care in a quiet, monitored environment where they can “talk down” the patient as the drug leaves his system.
In more severe cases, use of short-acting benzodiazepines can reduce the symptoms of acute intoxication. The patient will also be monitored for thoughts of suicide, which sometimes emerge during use 5.
Following the stabilization of physical health following detox, the staff at a supervised detox can accurately assess the needs of the person, schedule a consultation from a mental health professional, and make appropriate referrals. Appropriate forms of treatment include:
Substance use treatment programs.
Programs that specialize in dual-diagnosis treatment, should concurrent mental health concerns be present.
What If I’m Using Other Drugs Too?
Someone abusing LSD may also be regularly using other substances, like alcohol. Unlike LSD, which has no proven symptoms of withdrawal, symptoms associated with some other substances can be very severe, if not fatal. Individuals abusing LSD in addition to alcohol and/or benzodiazepines like Xanax should be aware of these concerns, and make arrangements for the appropriate level of supervised detox care.
If you are struggling with addiction to LSD and other drugs, it is best to look into a structured detox program where you can be observed throughout the withdrawal process and have any complications managed safely, comfortably, and immediately.
How Does Supervised Detox Help?
Supervised detoxification programs can provide a hugely integral component of treatment: safety. Someone experiencing persistent negative and unwanted effects from LSD use may be at great risk due to perceptual disturbances, psychotic symptoms, and violent behavior. Others who enter detox may also be in a fragile state of mind following a rough, potentially embarrassing evening in the ER after experiencing a bad trip, and would greatly benefit from a comfortable, secure environment such as that found in a professional detox center.
Supervised detoxification programs can provide a hugely integral component of treatment: safety. Others who enter detox may also be in a fragile state of mind following a rough, potentially embarrassing evening in the ER after experiencing a bad trip, and would greatly benefit from a comfortable, secure environment such as that found in a professional detox center. Suicide risk is also elevated for some users, further underscoring the importance of supervision during this delicate time period.
Treatment providers not only have the needed training to “talk down” someone experiencing a “bad trip,” they also have the needed facilities to give the person the best chance for a swift return to their normal state. When safety is established, supervised detox caregivers can address the comfort of the individual by administering medication as needed.
Structured programs also help those patients who are experiencing residual psychotic symptoms from use or suffering from an altogether mental health disorder. Without appropriate care for all ongoing issues, the patient may be at higher risk of relapse.
Do I Need LSD Addiction Treatment?
While there is no evidence to prove that LSD is addictive, users may frequently return to the drug for the pleasurable effects or as a means to escape reality. For example, if someone experiences episodes of depression or anxiety, they may use LSD to avoid symptoms.
LSD is a hallucinogen so it distorts reality and the perceptions of the user and produces effects like 1, 3:
Increased awareness of sounds, sights, tastes, smells, and touches.
Sensation of having a spiritual experience.
Feelings of detachment from oneself or from the environment.
Distorted perception of time.
When you find yourself unable or unwilling to stop using because of the effects the drug provides, you may need to seek help.
Risks of Continued Use
With continued use and/or high amounts, you risk facing the unwanted effects of LSD, which may include 3, 5:
Decreased concentration and memory.
Significant emotional changes.
Development of tolerance (needing more and more to get the same results).
Depression and thoughts of suicide.
Higher levels of anxiety.
Persistent symptoms of psychosis.
Detox and rehab programs can provide the treatment and support you need to re-establish your physical and mental health and stay abstinent from substance use in the long-term.
Finding an LSD Treatment Program
Many initial treatment efforts to address LSD use will be separated into two categories: supervised detox and residential rehab. Supervised detox may be helpful for those that are currently under (or recently under) the influence of LSD, in the midst of a “bad trip” or suffering some of the more troublesome and persistent mental effects seen in those attempting to recover from substance abuse (e.g., depression). These programs will aid in the process of eliminating the drug from the user’s system in a safe, controlled environment. Because LSD is processed quickly in the body, detox only needs to last for a day or two to ensure elimination of symptoms.
With LSD, like other hallucinogens, new symptoms can arise days after the last use in the form of enduring symptoms like anxiety and flashbacks. A residential treatment program can provide the intensity of services necessary to manage these symptoms. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), recovering users may benefit from antidepressant or antipsychotic medications to treat the effects of LSD use 2.
Ongoing treatment can continue following rehab in a number of outpatient and community settings based on the needs of the individual.
Some cases of LSD abuse, while impairing enough to seek treatment, might not require the individual to be fully immersed in the structure of a residential or inpatient program. For these people, or for those unwilling or unable to leave their home or work environment throughout the duration required for inpatient treatment, an outpatient substance abuse treatment program can be highly beneficial.
Drug Enforcement Administration. (2013). D-LYSERGIC ACID DIETHYLAMIDE.
Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 45. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 15-4131. Rockville, MD: Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, 2006.
National Institute on Drug Abuse.(2016). Hallucinogens.
Miller, N. S., Kipnis, S. S., & Wesson, D. R. (2006). Detoxification and substance abuse treatment: A treatment improvement protocol (Ser. 45). Rockville, MD: U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Retrieved February 9, 2016, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64116/
National Drug Intelligence Center. (2017). LSD Fast Facts.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.