LSD: An Overview

Motivated by very different goals for many decades, scientists and recreational drug users alike have been interested in the psychological effects of substances that disrupt the brain’s neurotransmission, or pain-pleasure system. Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) contains a uniquely potent ability to expand sensation and awareness, while also producing hallucinations that range from entertaining to downright terrifying.

Originally engineered in 1938 by Swiss scientist Albert Hofmann, mixtures of the drug underwent testing during the 1940’s and 50’s, with Hofmann himself experiencing the first profound mind-altering effects by accident in 1943. LSD use and experimentation continued during the 1950’s and 60’s by researchers and even psychology students who wanted a first-hand account of schizophrenia as a means of better treating their own subjects. Through its brief availability as a medication for research purposes and short-lived legal status, LSD found its way into the 1960’s counterculture movement and became popular among mostly young people wanting a mind-expanding experience. LSD’s lack of criminal status during the majority of the 60’s ensured a much wider acceptance and availability than what we currently consider an illicit drug.

Usage and Effects

LSD is typically administered in capsule, tablet, or most commonly on blotter paper, with doses as small as 100 micrograms and producing sensations lasting up to 12 hours. The general effects involve altered perceptions from moderate to extreme and for some, the belief that mental transformations such as inner renewal or religious awakening have taken place. The immediate effects of LSD use also include the following:

  • Pupil dilation
  • Dry mouth
  • Increased heart rate
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred Vision
  • Chills and/or sweating

The most relevant consequence in LSD use are hallucinations, which can affect any of the senses as misrepresentations of reality in either mild or severe form. While some users have claimed to have gained powerful and lasting insight, others have defined the outcome as absolutely traumatic, with very disturbing sounds and images during the course of the event. Additional side-effects include the following:

  • Tremors
  • Paranoia
  • Schizophrenia
  • Severe Mood swings
  • Violent behavior

Long-Term Effects and Management

Though scientists and experts generally believe LSD’s addictive potential is limited or non-existent, the larger concern with long term effects of LSD is associated with flashbacks and the difficulties with these lingering episodes. Early in life experimentation with LSD can also lead to an increased risk of multiple drug abuse, with additional long-term effects including the following:
Delusional behavior
Inability to participate socially

The leading concern related to long-term LSD use is hallucinogen persisting perception disorder, or flashbacks. HPPD episodes involve re-experiencing the drug’s effects and can occur without warning months or even years after LSD was taken. Though flashbacks may be positive or negative in nature, their effect is usually sudden and distracting and can lead to severe anxiety particularly when they are associated with the trauma of a bad trip.

HPPD is also worsened when other psychological factors are present, such as depression or PTSD. HPPD episodes can be relatively minor, such as seeing halos around light sources or trails left by moving objects. Flashbacks can involve an added emotional sensation to a current experience, or in other cases an added visual sensation that is not entirely related to a present event. HPPD episodes or flashbacks may be harmless, but their unpredictability but can lead to more serious problems among individuals already suffering from another mental condition such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Experts have also concluded that a family history of mental health can play a significant role in LSD use, even years later.

Medical professionals are concerned about how individuals are affected who continue using LSD over an extended period. As with most recreational drugs, a demonstrable tolerance phenomenon occurs when greater amounts of the drug are required to achieve a baseline result. This may have a profoundly dangerous result as large amounts of LSD intake are related to life-threatening toxicity, which can manifest itself as bodily overheating, heart failure, or injury or death related to severely impaired judgement.

Another critical long term effect of LSD use is known as serotonin syndrome. This can be an issue among individuals who have been prescribed certain antidepressants for issues later in life as the proper balance of the brain’s neurotransmitters are altered. Neurotransmission is the key element within an individual’s perception, including moods and emotions, and are disrupted during periods of LSD use. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is directly related to a person’s sense of pleasure, and as a result of long-term use, can cause damage to the mind’s ability to perceive pleasure without drug use. In severe cases, this leads to mood swings and depression and may require professional therapy or drug intervention.

Additional long-term usage factors are related to potential brain damage if seizures or high fever occurs even years following LSD use. Medical practitioners are also concerned about memory loss and learning disabilities as a result of earlier usage of LSD. Again, this is a more significant concern if any underlying condition presently exists that may act as a potential aggravator.
An even more pressing concern is with cardiovascular and respiratory issues as these can present themselves as a potential risk for individuals who may have experimented with LSD earlier in life.

Treatment and Recovery

Currently, there are very effective treatment options for individuals who either used LSD many years ago or those who are struggling with ongoing use. Many people experiencing long term effects of LSD use may feel resistant to any type of treatment since they are not experiencing physical dependency or more common withdrawal symptoms. However, the psychological craving is nearly as serious, with clients and their families seeking a pathway back to a healthy existence following long-term use. In an effective treatment facility, intervention strategies prompt clients to fully address the issues that motivated their original need to escape.

Today we know more about substance abuse disorders, and counselors are focusing on the underlying issues that have motivated LSD use while working toward alternatives to replace what was once considered pleasurable. St John’s Recovery Place offers a unique healing setting removed from the distractions of an urban environment, with individual treatment involving personalized yet non-intrusive programs that isolate and replace patterns that lead to earlier dependent behaviors. We invite you to call and learn more about how we can assist with your long-term success.

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