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LSD abuse has several short-term and long-term side effects. Among them, LSD can cause a variety of cognitive problems, including flashbacks, hallucinations and more.
Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) is an illegal Schedule I controlled substance that causes hallucinations. LSD abuse can lead to ongoing mental health challenges, including flashbacks that may recur for many years.
LSD, a semi-synthetic hallucinogenic that comes from ergot fungus, stimulates the production of serotonin in the brain through the activation of serotonin receptors. The additional serotonin flooding the brain changes how stimuli are processed, which causes a sense of overstimulation that can alter a person’s perceptions, emotions and thoughts.
Someone consuming LSD can experience hallucinations involving one or more of the senses. For example, a person on LSD may see different colors or hear sounds that don’t exist. There’s also a blending of senses that can occur, known as synesthesia. Someone experiencing synesthesia might hear colors or see sounds.
LSD isn’t physically addictive, but consuming LSD is still problematic. Psychological addiction can occur when someone uses LSD regularly.
When someone is psychologically addicted to LSD, they might be addicted to how LSD makes them feel. They could also become attached to certain experiences that occur when they use LSD. Additionally, one of the biggest risks of using LSD is the fact that it can induce a potentially long-term psychotic state.
Along with the potential for psychological addiction and severe psychological side effects, tolerance can also occur with prolonged LSD abuse. The human body quickly develops a tolerance to LSD. A person will likely need higher doses after using it only a few times consecutively, and taking a high dose can lead to dangerous outcomes. Although deaths are rare from LSD overdose, a person may be at a higher risk of deadly accidents, suicide or dangerous behaviors.
Another significant risk with LSD use, especially ongoing use, is flashbacks. LSD flashbacks lead to disturbances in perception and sensory experiences that can affect what you hear, feel, taste, smell and see.
LSD flashbacks can feel like they’re real, legitimate experiences. For some people, these flashbacks can make them feel like they’re on the drug again, even if it’s been weeks, months or years since they last used LSD. When someone experiences severe, distressing or uncontrollable flashbacks, they may be diagnosed with hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD).
Symptoms of HPPD include:
People experience LSD flashbacks for different durations. The length of time varies per person, potentially lasting for hours, weeks, months or years, and they may come and go in episodes. Sometimes, LSD flashbacks may subside on their own over time, which can signify a mental health problem that may require treatment.
LSD activates serotonin receptor sites, changing how someone sees, perceives and interprets what’s around them. Many LSD side effects occur because of stimuli processing in the brain. Typically, brains filter out unnecessary stimuli, but LSD use prevents that from happening.
Many people who use LSD experience hallucinations that feel and seem very real.
Specific LSD side effects may include:
For most people, LSD side effects begin within 20 to 90 minutes after taking it and can last up to 12 hours.
LSD is an unpredictable drug that affects people differently each time it’s used. For example, there is a term called “a bad trip,” which is used to describe extreme fear and panic experienced after consuming LSD.
Over the long term, people who take LSD may develop psychotic symptoms.
Symptoms can include:
LSD isn’t addictive in the same way many other substances are, but this doesn’t mean LSD abuse can’t occur. Many people become psychologically addicted to the way LSD makes them feel, causing them to continue using it.
Potential signs of LSD abuse include:
When someone has significant LSD flashbacks, they may be diagnosed with hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD).
Symptoms of HPPD can include:
When someone has LSD flashbacks, they usually only last a few minutes. The person often knows what’s happening and can tell the flashbacks aren’t real. In severe cases of HPPD, however, symptoms and flashbacks may last for weeks, months or years. The symptoms may not occur constantly, but they can happen suddenly without warning.
There are two forms of HPDD. Type 1 involves flashbacks that occur quickly and are brief and random. Type 2 involves continual changes to vision, although these changes might come and go. Some conditions may co-occur with HPDD, including depression, anxiety, panic attacks and depersonalization disorder. Depersonalization disorder causes a person to feel disconnected from their body, as if they are observing their life instead of living it.
Certain medications may help when someone is experiencing these symptoms. One is lamotrigine, which is a mood stabilizer, and the other is the tranquilizer clonazepam. Lifestyle changes can be beneficial as well. For example, avoiding LSD and other illicit or psychoactive drugs can help. Managing other conditions that may occur with HPDD, such as anxiety, can help as well.
If you or a loved one are struggling with LSD use or another substance use disorder, The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake is here to help. Our individualized treatment plans can help you address your addiction alongside any co-occurring mental health disorders, allowing you to begin a happier, healthier future. Contact us today to speak to a representative about professional recovery programs that can work well for your needs.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What are hallucinogens?” April 2019. Accessed June 6, 2021.
Drug Enforcement Administration. “Drugs of Abuse.” April 2020. Accessed June 6, 2021.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Hallucinogens and Dissociative Drugs.” February 2015. Accessed June 6, 2021.
Shroder, Tom. “‘Apparently Useless’: The Accidental Discovery of LSD.” The Atlantic, September 9, 2014. Accessed June 6, 2021.
Martinotti, Giovanni; Santacroce, Rita; Pettorruso, Mauro; et al. “Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disor[…]apeutic Perspectives.” Brain Sciences, March 2018. Accessed June 6, 2021.
The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.
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