LSD Abuse & Addiction

Written by Jonathan Strum

& Medically Reviewed by Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD

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Last Updated - 07/16/2022

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Updated 07/16/2022

Key Takeaways

  • Co-occurring disorders can occur across a range of mental disorders, such as mood or psychotic disorders, and can involve drug or alcohol misuse
  • The causes of mental illness and related substance use are diverse and can interact with one another. Genetic, individual, social and environmental factors can all contribute to co-occurring disorders.
  • People with mental illness are at increased risk of substance use disorders.
  • Compared to the general population, the risk of mortality is greater among those with a dual diagnosis.
  • Treatment for co-occurring disorders must consider the needs of the individual, be well-integrated and be provided at the same time.

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.

What Is LSD?

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.

Is LSD Addictive?

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.

Understanding LSD Abuse

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.

What Are LSD Flashbacks?

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:

  • Hallucinations
  • False perceptions of movement in the peripheral vision
  • Inanimate objects appearing alive
  • Flashes of color
  • Halos appearing around objects
  • Objects appearing bigger or smaller than they are

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.

Side Effects of LSD

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:

  • Blurred vision
  • Distortions in the shapes and colors of people and objects
  • Brighter or more vivid colors
  • Shaking
  • Lightheadedness
  • Changes in mood, ranging from euphoria to confusion or anxiety
  • Distortions in the perception of time
  • Rapid thoughts
  • A sense of fear or terror
  • Feeling new insights

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.

Long-Term Side Effects of LSD Use

Over the long term, people who take LSD may develop psychotic symptoms.

Symptoms can include: 

  • Visual hallucinations
  • Disorganized thought patterns
  • Paranoia
  • Mood changes
  • Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder

Signs of LSD Abuse

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:

  • Acting impulsively
  • Continuing to use LSD in spite of negative effects or consequences
  • Rapid changes in mood or emotions
  • Disorientation
  • High blood pressure
  • Sweating
  • Dizziness
  • Insomnia
  • Decreased appetite
  • Tremors
  • Anxiety
  • Delusions
  • Paranoia or panic
  • Seizures

Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD) Treatment

When someone has significant LSD flashbacks, they may be diagnosed with hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD).

Symptoms of HPPD can include:

  • Hallucinations, such as geometric shapes
  • False perception of movement occurring in the peripheral vision
  • Inanimate objects appearing to come alive, such as trees appearing to breathe
  • Color flashes or more intense perception of color
  • Halos appear around objects
  • The perception that objects are larger or smaller than they really are

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.

LSD Rehab

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.


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