Long-Term Effects of LSD
LSD, or d-lysergic acid diethylamide, belongs to a class of drugs called hallucinogens. This synthetic drug was first produced in 1938 by Swiss scientist who was investigating the medical uses of a fungus that grows on various types of grass. After accidentally swallowing a small amount of the drug, the scientist experienced an intense and terrifying distortion of his sensory perceptions, which he compared to being possessed by a demon. If you’ve ever experienced the long-term psychological effects of LSD, you might well agree with this comparison.
In general, the long-term effects of LSD involve the brain and psyche rather than the body. Frequent users may experience episodes of psychosis, or severely altered perceptions, for years after they’ve stopped taking the drug. References to LSD “flashbacks” are common in popular culture. But the clinical term for repeated, drug-induced psychotic episodes — hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD) — is less well known. The psychotic disturbances associated with HPPD may last for months or years, and you may not be able to reverse the effects of HPPD by quitting this drug.
LSD’s Effects on the Brain
LSD, also known as acid, can be taken orally in tablets, capsules, as a liquid or on paper that’s been saturated with the drug. An LSD episode, or trip, may last up to 12 hours or more. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the exact effect of LSD on the brain remains unknown, but the drug may affect your brain’s response to serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects your emotions, moods and perceptions. If you’ve been using LSD for any length of time, you may have experienced some of the signs and symptoms of hallucinogen abuse:
- Intense mood swings and emotional disturbances
- Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there)
- Recurrence of hallucinations after you’ve stopped taking the drug (“flashbacks”)
- Changes in the way you perceive time and space
- Changes in the way you perceive yourself
- Hallucinations that merge and distort the senses (you may see colors, or feel sounds)
- Overwhelming fear or depression
- Severe paranoia
Some users report having mind-expanding, mystical experiences while they’re under the influence of LSD. However, because it’s impossible to control the type of experiences you’ll have, the length of your experience or your reactions to the drug, you’re just as likely to have a terrifying hallucination as a spectacular or enlightening one. Even worse, these episodes may continue after you’ve stopped using LSD, interfering with your social and professional life and putting you at risk of anxiety, depression and suicide.
Risk of Tolerance
LSD isn’t considered to be an addictive drug because frequent users aren’t driven to seek it out or use it compulsively. In general, you won’t experience physical withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking LSD. However, it’s easy to develop a tolerance to LSD, which means that you’ll need to take larger doses of the drug to achieve the same hallucinogenic effects. By taking LSD, you may also build up a tolerance to other hallucinogenic drugs, like mescaline. Tolerance usually decreases within a few days after you stop taking LSD.
Although LSD may not produce physical withdrawal symptoms, you may become psychologically dependent on hallucinogenic drugs if you take them on a regular basis. Some long-term users experience anxiety, depression or irritability if they don’t have access to LSD or other hallucinogens. The long-term physical side effects of LSD use are still being investigated.
*How Prevalent Is LSD Use?
If you associate LSD use with the psychedelic ’60s, you may be surprised to learn that the drug is alive and well today, especially among the younger generation. According to data reported by the National Drug Intelligence Center:
- Over 20 million Americans over the age of 12 have used LSD at least once in their lives.
- Almost 750,000 Americans ages 12 to17 have used LSD at least once.
- More than 4 million Americans between the ages of 18 and 25 have used LSD at least once.
- Over 8 percent of 12th graders in American high schools have used LSD at least once.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine defines “psychosis” as a dissociation from the real world. Psychosis is characterized by hallucinations, or perceiving things that aren’t actually there, and by delusions, or false beliefs. People who suffer from schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, borderline personality disorder and other serious mental illnesses or personality disorders may experience psychotic episodes. Persistent psychosis may also occur as a long-term side effect of abusing drugs, including hallucinogenic drugs like LSD.
Drug-induced psychosis can cause radically disorganized thought patterns, distortions of perceived reality and dramatic mood swings long after you stop using LSD. Not everyone who uses hallucinogenic drugs experiences persistent psychosis, but many people do. Whether these episodes occur regularly or happen only occasionally, they can be terrifying and profoundly disturbing. Persistent psychosis can make it difficult to hold down a job, maintain a normal social life and form lasting personal relationships. During a psychotic episode, you may suffer a serious or fatal injury if your delusional experiences drive you to take life-threatening risks.
Flashbacks vs. HPPD
LSD flashbacks are often the subject of jokes in the media. Psychedelic drugs were widely used in the 1960s to achieve an expanded state of consciousness, and some psychiatrists even prescribed LSD to their patients on a therapeutic or experimental basis. Today’s references to flashbacks frequently poke fun at these visionary explorations. But while some flashbacks may be amusing, colorful and even pleasant, hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD) can be a dangerous and frightening condition, notes the Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences. While flashbacks are usually infrequent, reversible and harmless, episodes of HPPD:
- Are a long-term, chronic side effect of LSD use
- Can be extremely disturbing
- Occur over and over again
- Are accompanied by dysphoria, or a sense of depression and malaise
- May not be reversed by avoiding hallucinogenic drugs
There is no known cure for HPPD, but the symptoms of drug-induced psychosis may be treated with medications like clonidine, a drug used to slow heart rate and lower blood pressure, and clonazepam, a medication prescribed for relieving anxiety and promoting relaxation. Individual counseling and group therapy may also help you learn how to deal with HPPD episodes and lead a healthier, happier life.
Recreational LSD Use: Why Should You Be Concerned?
Experimenting with LSD and other drugs is often considered to be a rite of passage among teenagers and young adults. Older adults may use LSD occasionally to experience its hallucinatory effects, to enhance their sexual encounters or to achieve a quasi-religious state of exaltation. But the unpredictable effects of LSD make the drug dangerous to anyone who takes it, even on a recreational basis. The long-term effects of LSD use on the brain, body and psyche are still not completely known.
With so many aspects of LSD use shrouded in mystery, is it really safe to take chances with this powerful hallucinogenic use? If you’re concerned about the effects of hallucinogenic drugs, call our toll-free number for answers to your questions. While LSD may not be as addictive as heroin, alcohol or cocaine, using the drug may have devastating effects on your mental and physical health. Help is available if you want to stop using drugs or you need treatment for the side effects of LSD use. Reach out to an addiction specialist to get the support you need to start a new, drug-free life.