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All about Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD)

Statistics from the Home Office in 2019 revealed that 0.4% of those aged under 60 had used Lysergic Acid Diethylamide in the last year. More commonly known as LSD, 1.3% of young adults aged between 16 and 24 reportedly used it in 2019. Internationally, up to 4.2% of this age group has taken LSD at least once.

LSD use in the UK is illegal, and the possession and supply of the drug can result in criminal charges and potential imprisonment. Aside from this, using LSD brings potential health risks and negative effects on the user’s mental health.

What is lysergic acid diethylamide?

Most people are more familiar with lysergic acid diethylamide’s abbreviation of LSD than its full name. It is a powerful drug with hallucinogenic properties that was originally derived from a fungus called ergo that grows in the wild on grasses and rye. Tiny amounts of LSD are needed to give rise to its effects, usually less than 70 micrograms.

The history of LSD

LSD is a powerful hallucinogenic drug that was first synthesised by Swiss Chemist Albert Hoffman in 1938 who was trying to create new medicines. He was the first person to experience an LSD trip by mistake when experimenting in his lab.

During the 1950s and 1960s, doctors tried to use LSD to help some patients with significant mental illnesses. They tried to use it to help them recall their repressed feelings and thoughts. The US military also tried using it as a “truth drug” during enemy interrogation, but this was unsuccessful. From the 1960s onwards, people began experimenting with the drug for pleasure.

Among hippy and fringe groups, LSD’s effects were seen to be similar to religious experiences, so people believed that it was a way of getting more in tune with themselves, others and nature too. In 1966, the UK made LSD use illegal and its medical use also stopped when the Misuse of Drugs Act was enforced in 1973. LSD use dropped in the 1970s and in the early 1980s. However, there was a resurgence in its popularity in the late 1980s among young people.

Use of LSD today

It is known for its ability to produce profound changes in perception, thought and mood. It is classified as a serotonergic psychedelic, which means it affects the serotonin receptors in the brain.

LSD is typically consumed orally either in the form of a small paper square soaked in LSD solution or as a liquid dropped on the tongue. The effects of LSD can last anywhere between six and 12 hours and can include changes in visual perception, auditory hallucinations, an altered sense of time, and changes in mood and thought processing. LSD can also produce deep mystical or spiritual experiences and/or create a heightened sense of anxiety and paranoia.

LSD that is dropped on tongue

What is lysergic acid diethylamide also known as?

As mentioned, lysergic acid diethylamide is more commonly known as LSD. In fact, most people who use the drug wouldn’t necessarily be familiar with its long name.

Aside from LSD, lysergic acid diethylamide is also known by many different street names, including:

  • Acid.
  • Blotter.
  • Tabs.
  • Doses.
  • Hits.
  • Trips.
  • Lucy.
  • Dots.
  • Cheer.
  • L.
  • Flash.
  • Hawk.
  • Liquid Acid.
  • Micro dot.
  • Rainbows.
  • Smileys.
  • Paper mushrooms.
  • Sugar.
  • Stars.
  • Tab.
  • Window.
  • And many other names which describe the picture on the squares, such as “strawberries”.

The types of LSD

The chemical compound of lysergic acid diethylamide is always the same so, essentially, there are no different “types” of LSD. However, how it is produced, distributed and consumed can vary.

For example, LSD can be synthesised in different ways which results in different potencies and purity levels. Also, the dosage and form of LSD can differ such as being consumed as blotter paper or as a liquid solution dropped onto the tongue. The potency can vary, with some tabs or doses containing much higher amounts of the substance than others.

Blotter paper is the most common form and is made by soaking small squares of paper in LSD solution. The small squares are called “tabs” and are usually decorated with colourful designs and are easily divided into smaller doses.  Liquid LSD is typically sold in dropper bottles or small vials. It can be ingested as it is straight onto the tongue or placed on food or sweets.

There are some other less common forms of LSD such as tablets, gelatine squares and tiny pills called microdots. These forms are less popular as they are harder to make and distribute.

Is LSD addictive?

LSD is powerful and produces profound changes to a person’s perception, thoughts and mood. It is not considered to be addictive in the way that stimulants and opioid drugs are.

LSD does not produce a physical dependence or withdrawal symptoms that are commonly associated with some illegal drugs. Also, normally, LSD users do not develop a tolerance to it, meaning they do not require increasing doses of the drug for it to continue to have the same effects.

Having said that, LSD can produce powerful psychological effects that some people find compelling or even addictive in the sense that they feel a strong desire to experience the feelings again. However, LSD can be unpredictable and cause significant distress in the user, even provoking psychosis or mental health problems in some people. So, although it is not addictive as such, its use still has far-reaching consequences.

For these reasons, LSD is a controlled Class A drug in the UK under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1973. It is illegal to both possess it and supply it and is not available for medicinal use. The maximum penalty for possession is 7 years’ imprisonment and a fine, and for supply and production it is life imprisonment and a fine. In practice, however, the maximum sentences are rarely implemented.

How is lysergic acid diethylamide abused?

Lysergic acid diethylamide is a potent hallucinogenic drug. It is usually taken by mouth in the form of a small paper-like “tab” that has been soaked in LSD liquid. As mentioned, it can also be taken in other ways such as drops on the tongue, microdot pills or on sugar cubes.

LSD abuse typically involves taking large doses of the drug, often referred to as “tripping”. This can lead to intense, altered states of consciousness and vivid hallucinations. The effects of LSD can last up to 12 hours and during this time, users may experience a range of psychological and physical sensations.

Some users may also engage in “stacking” or taking multiple doses of LSD over a short period of time in an attempt to intensify the effects of the drug. This is dangerous and increases the risk of adverse reactions or overdose.

LSD abuse can have several negative consequences, including:

  • Flashbacks. Even after the effects of LSD have worn off, users may experience recurring hallucinations or other sensory disturbances, sometimes called “flashbacks”. They can occur unexpectedly and may last for years after the drug was last used.
  • Anxiety and panic. LSD use can cause intense anxiety or panic attacks particularly if the user becomes overwhelmed by the intense sensory experience.
  • Risky behaviour. Some users may engage in risky or dangerous behaviour while under the influence of LSD, such as driving or operating heavy machinery. Some people may believe they are invincible or have superpowers like being able to fly.
  • Psychotic episodes. In rare cases, LSD use can trigger psychotic episodes or exacerbate pre-existing mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia.
Having a panic attack

Short- and long-term effects of LSD

LSD users often talk about having a “good trip” or a “bad trip”. What they are referring to here is the short-term effects of LSD use that happen within about 30 minutes to hours after initially taking the drug.

Typical short-term effects

The short-term effects of LSD can be intense.

They include:

  • Alterations in perception, including visual and auditory hallucinations, distorted sense of time and space, and synaesthesia – a blending of sensory experiences.
  • Intense emotions such as feelings of euphoria, empathy or anxiety.
  • Physical effects such as an increased heart rate, high blood pressure, dilated pupils and nausea.
  • Altered thoughts, including a distorted sense of reality, irrational thoughts and difficulty concentrating.

A “bad trip”

A “bad trip” is a colloquial term used to describe a negative or frightening experience that can occur when taking LSD. A bad trip can be described by intense delusions, paranoia, anxiety and/or hallucinations that can make a person feel as though they are losing control or going insane.

During a bad trip, a person may experience some disturbing physical symptoms such as intense sweating, nausea, rapid heartbeat, confusion and panic attacks. They may also have intense visual and auditory hallucinations that can be overwhelming and frightening.

Some factors that contribute to a bad tip include:

  • Taking a high dose of LSD.
  • Using LSD in an unsafe or unfamiliar environment.
  • Being in a stressed or negative emotional state before taking LSD.
  • Having a pre-existing mental health condition such as anxiety or schizophrenia.

If someone experiences a bad trip whilst on LSD, it’s important to seek medical attention if necessary and provide a safe and supportive environment for the person. This may involve calming them down, reassuring them that they will be okay and helping them to ride out the effects of the drug.

In some cases, medication may be necessary to manage the symptoms of a bad trip. Once a person has taken LSD, there’s no going back until it wears off. Waiting it out can take a while and this is particularly disturbing if they are having a bad trip.

A ”good trip”

Not everyone who takes LSD will have a bad trip. Many people have what they call a “good trip” and have positive experiences with the drug, even describing it as a life-changing experience that enhances their spirituality, creativity or sense of connectedness with other people.

A “good trip” is a colloquial term used to describe this positive or enjoyable experience that people covet when taking LSD. During a good trip, a person may experience a heightened sense of perception; colours and textures may seem more vivid and sounds may seem more intense and beautiful. They may feel a sense of unity with their surroundings and feel more empathetic towards others.

Some say that a good trip can be characterised by a sense of personal growth and insight. Many people describe feeling like they have gained a new perspective on their life or the world around them. They may feel more introspective and reflective and may be able to confront personal issues or challenges more positively and constructively.  Pleasurable experiences are much more likely when the person is feeling calm and is in a safe environment.

However, as we’ve made aware, not everyone who takes LSD will have a good trip. The effects of LSD can be unpredictable and factors such as dose and setting, and personal emotional state, can all influence the experience. Indeed, a person may experience “good” and “bad” during the same trip.

Long-term effects

Whether or not a person has a good trip or a bad trip when taking LSD, there are some important long-term effects that users of the drug should be aware of.

The long-term effects of LSD are not yet fully understood but research so far has suggested that prolonged use of the drug may increase the risk of:

1. Persisting perceptual changes
Some users may continue to experience visual and other sensory disturbances such as flashbacks long after the effects of the drug have worn off.

2. Psychiatric disorders
LSD use may increase the risk of developing psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety or psychosis, particularly in individuals who have a history of mental illness.

3. Impaired cognitive function
Some studies have suggested that long-term LSD use may have negative effects on cognitive function such as attention, memory and problem-solving.

Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD) is a rare condition in which users continue to experience visual disturbances long after they have stopped using the drug.

It is important to note that the long-term effects of LSD are not well understood. More research is needed to understand the potential risks of prolonged use. Additionally, whilst LSD isn’t considered physically addictive, it can be psychologically addictive.

Risks of LSD use

We’ve already discussed the risks of experiencing a “bad trip” and other potential long-term effects of LSD use, but there are also some other serious risks that should be considered.

Aside from the physical side effects associated with LSD use, overdose is a very real and dangerous possibility. An overdose of LSD can cause a range of symptoms and can be dangerous and even fatal in extreme cases. The exact effects of an overdose can vary depending on the individual, the amount of LSD they have taken as well as other factors.

  • Severe hallucinations and delusions.
  • Extreme panic and anxiety.
  • Paranoia and fear.
  • Rapid heart rate and increased blood pressure.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Sweating and chills.
  • Confusion and disorientation.
  • Seizures and convulsions.
  • Coma or unconsciousness.

The ultimate risk of LSD use is death. This is not only due to the physical effects that LSD has on the body but also as a result of hallucinations and disorientation. LSD overdose increases the person’s risk of accidents and injuries. They may be unable to make sensible and rational decisions. According to the Office for National Statistics, two deaths in 2020 were recorded with LSD mentioned on the death certificate.

However, there is no defined “lethal dose” of LSD and it is unlikely to cause death by itself. That said, an LSD overdose is still very dangerous and can cause long-lasting psychological effects.

Suffering hallucinations from LSD use

Treatments for LSD addiction

LSD is not considered to be an addictive substance in the same way as other Class A drugs such as heroin. This is because it does not lead to physical dependence or withdrawal symptoms. However, it is possible to become psychologically addicted to the drug and a user may experience cravings for the positive experiences they have when taking it.

Treatments for LSD addiction or dependence typically involve therapy and counselling to address the underlying psychological factors that may be contributing to drug use.

Some treatment options for LSD addiction may include:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
    CBT is a type of therapy that helps individuals identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviours that may be contributing to drug use. You can find out if CBT may benefit you or your loved one here.
  • Motivational interviewing
    This approach focuses on helping individuals explore their motivations for using drugs and helping them develop strategies to overcome barriers to recovery.
  • Contingency management
    This involves providing rewards or incentives for positive behaviour such as attending therapy sessions or remaining drug-free.
  • Group therapy
    Group therapy can provide a supportive environment for those in recovery, allowing them to connect with others who are going through similar experiences.
  • Family therapy
    Family therapy can help individuals in recovery repair and strengthen their relationships with loved ones, who can provide crucial support during the recovery process.
  • Medication-assisted treatment (MAT)
    In some cases, medication-assisted treatment may also be used to help manage symptoms associated with stopping using LSD or other psychological issues that may be contributing to drug use.

When it comes to treating addiction, the approach to it must be individualised. Each person’s needs will vary. It is important to work with a qualified health professional to develop a personalised treatment plan that addresses all of the individual’s needs.

What help is available?

In the UK, there are many resources available for those who are struggling with drug addiction, including LSD addiction.

If you’re looking for support and help, here are a few places you can try:

  • NHS Addiction Services include counselling, medication-assisted treatment and group therapy.
  • Talk to Frank which provides services and support for those suffering from drug addiction and even peer pressure.
  • If you live in Wales, DAN 24/7 offers help and support with drug addiction.
  • If you live in Scotland, Know The Score is there to provide information and support regarding drug use, the law, and addiction.

Supporting a loved one with an addiction can be challenging. Family members may also need support for their own mental health and well-being too. Adfam offers services for families of those struggling with addiction.

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About the author

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Laura Allan

Laura is a former Modern Foreign Languages teacher who now works as a writer and translator. She is also acting Chair of Governors at her children’s primary school. Outside of work, Laura enjoys running and performing in amateur productions.

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