LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), commonly referred to as “acid,” is a powerful, mind-altering substance that can produce hallucinations and mood alterations.1,2 It is encountered on the street as tablets or capsules, as a liquid in alcohol or water, in gelatin squares, or dissolved on a piece of paper known as a “blotter,” which is the most popular form.1,2
LSD is made from a fungus called ergot, which grows on rye and other grains.3 Originally created in 1938 by Albert Hofmann, a Swiss chemist, LSD’s hallucinogenic properties were discovered when he accidentally absorbed the drug through his fingertips.3
Those who use LSD typically experience euphoria and visual hallucinations. However, unpleasant or frightening experiences, called “bad trips,” can occur. “Bad trips” may result in severe panic attacks and depression.2,3 LSD is used for a variety of reasons, such as to reach an enlightened state, manage stress, or have fun in a social setting.4
Repeated LSD use can result in tolerance to the drug, which means that the individual must take larger amounts to achieve desired effects.
LSD is classified by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) as a Schedule I controlled substance, which means that it has a high potential for abuse and no accepted medicinal uses.5 Unlike many other drugs of abuse, LSD doesn’t appear to cause physical dependence and users don’t tend to experience withdrawal symptoms with cessation of use. That being said, repeated LSD use can result in tolerance to the drug, which means that the individual must take larger amounts to achieve desired effects. LSD can also result in the development of cross-tolerance with other similar hallucinogens, such as psilocybin or “magic mushrooms.”6
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Addiction is characterized by compulsive, drug-seeking behaviors that cause significant impairment and distress in a user’s life. Individuals suffering from an addiction continue to use the substance despite negative consequences. While LSD isn’t considered to be classically addictive, with the development of dependence and occurrence of withdrawal symptoms, an individual can develop a problematic pattern of use—potentially meeting criteria as having an “Other Hallucinogen Use Disorder” in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5).7
While the prevalence of LSD addiction is unknown, about 0.5% of adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 suffer from Other Hallucinogen Use Disorder, while about 0.1% of adults aged 18 and older have the condition.7 In 2014, about 287,000 people aged 12 or older reported past-month LSD use.8 Additionally, an estimated 65,000 of adolescents between 12 and 17 years old used LSD, while 118,000 adults aged 18 to 25 years old used it.8
A drug overdose typically occurs when an individual ingests or takes far more of a substance than recommended or generally used. Overdoses can often result in death if untreated. Although many people don’t consider LSD to have toxicity potential, users can in fact overdose on LSD, so it’s important to be educated on the signs and symptoms of LSD abuse and overdose.
Common Signs of Use and Abuse
LSD intoxication is often referred to as a “trip,” and is characterized by distorted perception and thought, pleasurable experiences, and a subjective increase in “understanding.”9 Negative experiences on LSD are called “bad trips,” and they often consist of frightening or terrifying thoughts and fears of dying, losing control, or losing one’s mind.9 Some common signs of LSD abuse include:2,9
- Increased body temperature.
- Dry mouth.
- Dilated pupils.
- Loss of appetite.
- Increased blood pressure and heart rate.
- Mood swings.
- Distorted thinking.
- Impaired judgment.
- Flashbacks, lasting long after intoxication has ended.
LSD abuse shouldn’t be confused with addiction. Repeated or chronic LSD abuse can often lead to addiction, but clinically, they have a clear distinction. Substance abuse refers to using illegal drugs or taking medications in any way other than prescribed, so LSD abuse is simply the act of taking LSD. Not everyone who abuses LSD will develop an addiction, which embodies a set of drug-seeking behaviors, an inability to cut down or quit using, and negative consequences resulting from use.
Typical Overdose Symptoms
Many individuals may take LSD and be unaware that it takes between 20 and 90 minutes to elicit its effects.9 As a result, inexperienced users may take repeated doses in a short period of time in an attempt to initiate a trip. This could lead to an accidental overdose because the multiple doses are compounded. Another factor to consider is that doses aren’t consistent on the street. A user may think he or she is using 25 to 50 micrograms when a single dose may consist of 125 to 150 micrograms of LSD. The unpredictability of doses can easily lead to an overdose in LSD users.
It’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of an LSD overdose so you can seek help immediately. Some possible LSD overdose symptoms include:10
- Markedly dilated pupils.
- Dangerously elevated blood pressure.
- Tachycardia (rapid heart rate).
- Muscle shakes or tremors.
- Extreme drowsiness.
- Excessive sweating.
- Tingling or prickling sensations.
- Goose bumps.
Signs of a severe LSD overdose may include:10
- Irregular heartbeat.
- Bleeding inside the skull.
- Stopping breathing.
- Dangerously high body temperature.
- Blood clotting malfunctions.
- Breakdown of muscle tissue, which may lead to kidney failure.
- Coma, although rare.
Programs and Treatment for Overdose
If you suspect you or someone else has overdosed on LSD, don’t hesitate. Call 911 immediately and wait for medical attention to arrive. Do not attempt to treat the person yourself. Instead, provide him or her with a calm and reassuring environment.10 Remind the person that he or she will be okay and that help is coming. Keep the individual away from potentially dangerous environments, such as large crowds or a busy street.
Once medical assistance arrives, benzodiazepines, which are sedatives, may be administered to treat agitation, and anti-seizure medications can be given, if necessary.10 Consumption of large doses of LSD can be treated with supportive care, such as intubation or breathing support. Other symptoms, such as changes in blood pressure, rapid heart rate, and increased body temperature are treated as they occur.
Things to Look for In a Treatment Program
In 2016, Recovery Brands sent out a survey asking patients who were leaving a rehab program what clinic facets they saw as high-priority aspects to consider when deciding on treatment. The highest-rated consideration was the program’s financial practices—for example, financial support, payment options, and insurance accepted. They also reported valuing the program’s offerings (extra activities, recreation, food) a lot more after graduating from treatment. If you are considering programs, you may want to examine a facility’s monetary policies, as well as its offerings, to help with your final choice.
While all states require parental consent for most medical care of minors, a minor is able to consent to treatment for complications related to substance abuse. If a teen or adolescent under the age of 18 overdoses on LSD, their parent doesn’t need to be present for the person to consent to medical care.
Once someone who has overdosed on LSD is medically stable, there are a few follow-up options they can choose from to ensure safety and recovery, including:
- Detox programs: Detox centers have short-term programs that help you to safely withdraw from LSD while receiving around-the-clock medical and psychiatric care. Most patients transition into a longer treatment program to continue receiving therapy and counseling once detox has been completed.
- Inpatient programs: Inpatient programs require that you live at the facility throughout the duration of the program, which can be anywhere from 30 to 90 days—and sometimes longer when necessary. After an intake assessment, treatment teams create individualized treatment programs for patients based on their unique needs and circumstances. As part of ongoing substance abuse treatment, patients will participate in individual therapy, group counseling, medical care, and aftercare planning.
- Outpatient programs: Outpatient programs give you the flexibility to live at home while receiving addiction recovery care. For a few hours per day, patients receive therapy and counseling at an outpatient center on a personalized schedule, ranging from 1 to 5 days per week.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2015). Common Hallucinogens and Dissociative Drugs.
- United States Drug Enforcement Agency. (N. D.). Drug fact sheet: LSD.
- Lee, M. A. & Shlain, B. (1992). Acid dreams: The complete social history of LSD: The CIA, the sixties, and beyond. New York: Grove Press.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2015). Why Do People Take Hallucinogenic or Dissociative Drugs?
- United States Drug Enforcement Agency. (N. D.). Drug scheduling.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). DrugFacts: Hallucinogens.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA:American Psychiatric Publishing.
- Substance Abuse and Health Care Services Administration. (2015). Behavioral trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 national survey on drug use and health.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2015). How Do Hallucinogens (LSD, Psilocybin, Peyote, DMT, and Ayahuasca) Affect the Brain and Body?
- Medscape. (2015). LSD Toxicity.