The Long-Term Effects of LSD on the Brain

LSD is one of the most common hallucinogens available. Also known as Acid, it can affect the way you feel, think or view life and the things in it. Typically coming in power form, LSD is manufactured from a fungus called ergot that can be found on rye and other grains. It is often sold on blotter papers that are placed on the tongue and allowed to dissolve. The effects of LSD can be very overwhelming and sometimes even frightening.

History of LSD

Albert Hofmann, a chemist working for Sandoz Pharmaceutical, synthesized LSD for the first time in 1938 while looking for a blood stimulant. Its hallucinogenic effects were not known until 1943 when Hofmann accidentally consumed LSD. It was later found that a dose of just 25 micrograms, ten times less than what Hofmann consumed, is capable of producing vivid hallucinations.

Because of its similarity to a chemical present in the brain and its similarity in effects to certain aspects of psychosis, LSD was used in experiments by psychiatrists from the 1940s through the 1960s. While the researchers failed to discover any medical use for the drug, the free samples supplied by Sandoz Pharmaceuticals for the experiments were distributed broadly, leading to the extensive use of this substance.

LSD was popularized in the 1960s by individuals such as psychologist Timothy Leary, who encouraged American students to drop out. This popularity created an entire counterculture of drug abuse that helped the spread of LSD from America to the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe.

While the ‘60s counterculture used the drug to escape the problems of society, the Western intelligence community and the military saw it as a potential chemical weapon. In 1951, these organizations began a series of experiments. US researchers noted that LSD “is capable of rendering whole groups of people, including military forces, indifferent to their surroundings and situations, interfering with planning and judgment, and even creating apprehension, uncontrollable confusion and terror.” Experiments in the possible use of LSD to change the personalities of intelligence targets, and to control whole populations, continued until the United States officially banned the drug in 1967.

Side Effects of LSD

The side effects of LSD are similar to other hallucinogens. LSD is active in specific serotonin receptors in the brain and body. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that activates the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for your body’s “fight or flight” reaction.

By interfering with normal serotonin signaling, LSD produces a number of physical side effects including:

  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Insomnia
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dry mouth
  • Excessive sweating
  • Tremors

In addition to the physical risks, there are potent effects of LSD on a person’s mental state, and it can produce traumatic emotional reactions in some individuals, sometimes referred to as a bad trip. Symptoms of a bad trip can feel overwhelming to the user and may include:

  • Feeling of detachment from one’s mind and body
  • Aggressive or violent behaviors
  • Rapidly changing emotions
  • Losing grip on reality
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Severe anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Paranoia

Taking LSD in an uncontrolled setting or taking a larger dose than expected increases the danger of having a bad trip. LSD abusers with a personal or family history of psychosis or other severe psychiatric disorders are also thought to be at higher risk of having a bad trip. Abusers having a bad trip can behave in unpredictable ways that present a danger to themselves and others.

Overdosing on LSD

Because LSD is an extremely potent drug, even small doses of the drug can produce noticeable effects. A typical dose of LSD ranges from 75 to 150 micrograms – about 3,000 times less than the amount of aspirin in a regular-strength tablet. The most significant danger of taking too much LSD is that it will trigger a bad trip.

Despite the psychological danger posed by LSD overdose, it has a low toxicity. In the few cases where people have accidentally ingested massive doses of LSD, the symptoms have included:

  • Dangerously elevated body temperature
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Gastric bleeding
  • Vomiting

Short-Term Effects of LSD

The first couple hours after ingesting a hallucinogen can result in the user hearing sounds or seeing images that may feel real but are only products of the drug. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), this can affect not only their perception of reality but also their mood and personality.

Some users may experience distortions that are described as pleasurable or enjoyable, which will keep them returning to the drug, but others may also experience anxious thoughts and nightmarish images. Specifically, with the intake of LSD, the body will react with high blood pressure, dizziness, impulsiveness, and a vast range of other short-term effects.

Continued Use of LSD

LSD users can develop a tolerance very quickly. To achieve results, such as the potentially enjoyable distortions, they will have to increase their intake of the drug because their body has adjusted to the effects. As they continue to abuse the drug, their tolerance will build, and the increased amounts can lead to further adverse health effects that can last a much longer time than the short-term effects.

Long-Term Effects of LSD

According to NIDA, long-term effects of hallucinogens remain uncertain, but there are occasional resulting cases of persistent psychosis and hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD). Treatment methods are limited for either of these conditions, so the danger of developing long-term conditions from abuse of LSD is that recovery from such a state could be difficult or even impossible.

With persistent psychosis, the individual will continue to experience distortions and visual disturbances, altering their perception of reality. This condition can also lead to constant paranoia and a drastic change in mood. The symptoms of HPPD are primarily hallucinations and other visual disturbances, some of which may be mistaken for different neurological disorders.

Such complications are rare but can happen after using LSD just one time. Individuals who abuse LSD over an extended period or have a history of abusing multiple drugs may also be at higher risk of developing these conditions.

LSD Dependence

The scientific evidence indicates that LSD does not produce dependence and is not addictive. However, tolerance to the effects of LSD develops very quickly, meaning that frequent use of the drug will result in diminished effects over time. Necessarily, the same dose won’t create the same “high.”

Some users may increase the dose of LSD they take to overcome this tolerance, which can increase the risk of experiencing the harmful effects of a bad trip.

Compulsive LSD users may also develop a pattern of problematic use defined as a hallucinogen use disorder. Signs include:

  • Continuing to use even when doing so is creating interpersonal issues and health issues
  • Using LSD instead of fulfilling significant personal or professional obligations
  • Spending excessive amounts of time trying to obtain and use LSD
  • Craving LSD
  • Giving up hobbies in favor of using LSD
  • Trying unsuccessfully to stop using LSD

Treatment for LSD Abuse

There are usually no withdrawal symptoms when users stop taking LSD – even in individuals who have used LSD for a prolonged period. However, the strong effects LSD has on perceptions, moods, and thoughts may cause ongoing psychological distress that could lead to impaired functioning in daily life. A treatment program with a holistic focus may be beneficial in restoring the mind-body-spirit connection and helping the abuser overcome the long-term effects.

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