The material below is not intended to provide medical advice and we don’t encourage the illegal use of any substances. LSD is a potentially illegal substance, and we do not encourage the use of this substance where it is against the law. Due to the high demand for the subject, we created this article for educational purposes. The intent of the content is to help you start learning about the subject
What is LSD
LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) is a hallucinogen and psychedelic. It is also known as acid, a blotter and a microdot. The high of LSD is called a trip, which consists of the active effects, the comedown, and an afterglow for many people.
LSD alters the senses, perception, and increases self-reflection. Notable uses included treatment for mental illnesses and use in healthy people as a way to “expand” their minds. It became part of counterculture and was thought to bring upon “mystical experiences,” which have later been shown in research to be key in making lasting changes for people with mental illnesses and addictions.
Benefits are most likely during psychedelic-assisted therapy, where supervision, a supportive environment and debriefing can occur to help make sense of the experience. Common benefits tend to be around elevated mood, assistance in breaking harmful habits like addiction, a different perspective, and increased self-awareness.
Though LSD is typically quite safe, and has been used without negative long-term effects when under medical supervision, there are a few risks associated with it. There is the possibility for a person to have a “bad trip,” where they are experiencing flashbacks, and terrifying emotions, and have a hard time with the experience even after it is over. Physical effects might also be worrying, like numbness, rapid heartbeat, nausea and chills.
Though LSD is illegal worldwide and only decriminalized in a few parts of the world, the recent resurgence of new research since the 1970s shows promising results for those struggling with mental health and those who are looking for a meaningful experience by changing their internal world. LSD was made illegal in 1968 after sensationalized reports of dangerous behaviour during trips. These studies were debunked even at the time, and have been further dispelled, but the damage had already been done and LSD remains hard to get a hold of. Like most psychedelics, it is still firmly a part of counterculture though.
Effects on the Brain
LSD acts on the body’s central nervous system, including your brain and spinal cord that essentially process your experience or your internal and external worlds. The central nervous system uses neurotransmitters, chemicals to relay information around your body and regulate behaviour. One such neurotransmitter is serotonin, and it is processed by binding to receptors in your brain. LSD, like other psychedelics, binds tightly to serotonin receptors, in particular the 2A-5HTP receptor.
Psychological and Physiological Effects
The effects of LSD can vary from person to person, as body chemistry, metabolism, dose, method of use, and prior experience with it.
LSD is typically taken orally with tabs, or pieces of blotter paper where LSD has been laid, and can have effects within 30-45 minutes of ingestion. The peak tends to come around 2-4 hours, but the entire trip can last 12 hours or longer. However, most will not experience a trip that long. Intravenous administration has an earlier onset of about 10 minutes after injection.
Psychological effects can include hallucinations, distorted perception of shapes and colours, altered sounds, anxiety and panic, feeling an out-of-body experience, synethesias (blending of perceptions like hearing colours), distortions in time, feelings of euphoria, feelings of connection to others, rapid mood changes including swings from intense pleasure to intense fear or paranoia.
Physiological effects can include dilated pupils, rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, increased body temperature, sweating, tremors, tingling in extremities, dry mouth, dizziness, loss of appetite, blurred vision, and nausea
The comedown of LSD occurs after the peak, but before the drug has worn off entirely. It can last around 24 hours, and though hallucinations are gone and mood might be more stable, a person is still not quite back to baseline. It’s recommended during this time to rest and recover as people are usually dehydrated and physically exhausted.
After the comedown is typically an afterglow effect, though not always. The afterglow experience depends highly on your trip experience, and it can result in feeling energized and content or anxious and wary. Usually, if there is an afterglow, it can stay for around 6 hours, but it may be longer or shorter depending on your dose with higher doses sometimes lasting days or weeks.
Tolerance to LSD develops quite quickly, beginning 24 hours after the first dose and reaching a maximum tolerance by the fourth day of use, where even a dose 4 times higher than the initial dose cannot produce a trip. However, tolerance also decreases quickly, as five consecutive days of nonuse eliminates tolerance completely.
Benefits and Risks
The benefits of LSD can vary depending on the dose. Some people who microdose report having more creativity, productivity and better emotional and psychological well-being. Other benefits might include feeling more in touch with your senses, like taste and smell, as well as being more able to reduce distractions during work.
For those with mental health issues, there are reports of better mood and health habits, improved sleep and work performance, and even less use of addictive substances like alcohol, cannabis and coffee.
Older studies, from around when LSD was discovered, were conducted and found that LSD was used to treat anxiety, depression, addiction, and other mental afflictions. However, these studies do not follow modern scientific guidelines, and much of it has been considered suspect. With renewed interest in LSD research, though, studies are finding that there are positive results. LSD has the potential to treat alcoholism, and possibly other addictions and psychiatric symptoms.
In a 2015 study of long-term non-problematic LSD users, results were favourable, with individuals reporting that increased self-awareness and different perspectives were at the core of their belief system for LSD use. Newcomers were instructed by elders whose advice was valuable in their use, which is possibly a way to reduce risks and increase benefits.
LSD might have physical effects depending on your body, dose and situation. Numbness, rapid heartbeat, reduced coordination, chills, nausea, weakness, tremors and dilated pupils are all common side effects.
Psychological effects can include terror (during a bad trip) and anxiety or depression after a bad trip. There is the possibility for psychosis to develop, but it is perhaps due to underlying mental health conditions.
Research with LSD started in the 1950s and lasted until the 1970s, when it was later reclassed as a Schedule I drug, listed as a drug that had no medical use and a high possibility for abuse. However, researchers at the time were hopeful that LSD would revolutionize the field of psychotherapy and psychiatry, and many studies (that are now considered biased) were conducted during this time span.
At this point in time, LSD was considered a novel treatment for anxiety, depression, psychosomatic diseases and addiction. It was involved in the remission of psychiatric symptoms. However, it has taken decades for LSD research to re-emerge, and once again be considered as a treatment for mental health issues. Studies are still in their infancy, and more will be required to fully understand the potential and mechanisms of LSD, but current research so far shows promise.
A 2015 study reported that LSD-assisted psychotherapy, with the support and guidance of a trained clinician, had significant benefits. Individuals reported that they had insightful and cathartic experiences, and scored lower on scales of anxiety and showed an increase in quality of life. The apparent mechanism seems to be that LSD-assisted psychotherapy provides access to emotions of prior unknown worries or experiences, and lends the opportunity to restructure this understanding and worldview.
Another 2014 study investigating the effect of LSD on people with anxiety revealed that LSD in complement with psychotherapy was safe and effective. Two months later when researchers followed up with individuals who had two LSD-assisted psychotherapy sessions, they found that individuals had reductions in anxiety and no short- or long-term negative effects after Day 1 of treatment. The reduction in anxiety lasted for at least 12 months. The key factor in safety for LSD in treating mental health issues is to have LSD with the supervision of a trained psychotherapist.
History and Stats
Albert Hofmann’s LSD Discovery and Research
Albert Hofmann synthesized LSD in 1938 from the fungus ergot, but it wasn’t until 1943 that he discovered the psychedelic nature of it by accident. He had gotten some on his fingers and it absorbed into his body. Hofmann reports that it was “a not unpleasant intoxicated-like condition” where he felt his imagination become very active and felt dreamlike.
He noted that LSD could be a tool for psychiatry, as it had an intense effect on his introspection, breaking down the ego and providing an opportunity to work through forgotten memories and traumas.
LSD Use in the 1950s
In 1950, Sandoz, the pharmaceutical company that Hofmann was working for, began giving out LSD under the label Delysid for psychiatrists to conduct research with. Doctors that prescribed it to patients found that it helped to change people’s negative thinking patterns and even help them break out of addictions.
However, it didn’t stay limited to the medical field, and psychologists as well got in on the drug. One psychologist in particular, Timothy Leary, began suggesting that everyone needed to try LSD, and unsettled the public by encouraging youth to “turn on, tune in, drop out.” He was later fired by Harvard for, among other reasons, allegedly pressuring students to use LSD. By now, LSD was firmly a part of counterculture and being seen more as a threat to society than as a valid psychiatric treatment.
CIA Research and How it Became Illegal
The CIA had a project by the name of MK-Ultra, which began in the 1950s and whose aim was to figure out “mind control.” They hoped LSD could be a psychological weapon in the Cold War, and tested LSD on volunteers and uninformed people. The rationale was that LSD made people more suggestible and could be used in interrogations to produce confessions. MK-Ultra was an illegal project that later had former subjects suing, especially as it was being conducted at more than 80 institutions outside of the military.
Reports of LSD being dangerous, including accidents, mental breakdowns, criminal acts, murders and suicides began to be more prevalent. The general public was already convinced that LSD caused more harm than good, even in psychiatric settings, and the government declared LSD illegal in 1968.
LSD is currently used illegally as a recreational drug, often by people seeking spiritual experiences, better functioning, and relieving symptoms of mental health issues.
Legally, it is being used in scientific research in limited studies that support its therapeutic use but urge that more studies need to be done to be certain of its effects and usage.
Psychedelics and mindfulness are complementary but not the same. Research shows that psychedelics can help initiate, motivate and guide mindfulness practice, and that mindfulness practice itself helps to integrate, deepen and generalize the perspectives gained through psychedelics. Psychedelics can provide a real experience that resembles deep meditation, and in this, achieve a sense of efficacy, motivation and clarity that mindfulness meditation may not offer on its own.
LSD can elevate mood, increase optimism and openness. It’s also associated with psychosis-like symptoms that can increase well-being in the longer term. It increases cognitive flexibility and emotional lability, so mood can swing quickly in any direction. Psychedelic-assisted therapy can be helpful in making useful changes by attributing meaning to the experience.
With brain scans, researchers have been able to see that LSD increases interactions between the thalamus and other cortical areas, and believe that this mechanism reduces harmful thinking patterns, which is a hallmark of PTSD.
In another study, MDMA was used in psychedelic-assisted therapy to initially enhance motivation and strengthen therapeutic bonds (which are a big determinant for success in therapy) while LSD was used later to intensify and deepen the experience of therapy.
From the 1950s and 1960s when research studies were being conducted, they were already showing strong evidence of LSD being a positive treatment for alcoholism.
Today, as LSD research resurges, studies are still relatively limited to looking at addiction to alcohol in particular. Reports of subjects taking a high dose of LSD show that the treatment is effective immediately and holds for at least 6 months in terms of people using alcohol less or not at all. LSD is non-addictive, and safe when taken with supervision, and it can effect self-reflection and a spiritual experience which have effects that are longer lasting than most medications where effects are only present while the medication is being taken.
Given the fatality of suicidal thoughts and suicide, research with psychedelics and their effects on mental health have been useful. There is scant research on LSD and suicidal ideation, however. The few studies done on the effect that LSD has on a person’s suicidal thoughts suggest that LSD is correlated with higher suicidal ideation. Given the nature of this study though, researchers can’t speak to directionality–they don’t know if LSD causes an increase in depressive symptoms like suicidal ideation, or if people with depression are more likely to use LSD in an attempt to self-medicate.
One study that looked at the associations between a variety of psychedelics and suicidal thoughts showed that psilocybin use was associated with decreased suicidality, while LSD was associated with higher odds of suicidality, and MDMA and mescaline didn’t seem to affect suicidality in any direction.
Risks and Side Effects
The effects of LSD vary from person to person, as everyone’s physiology and metabolism operate differently. However, aside from the typical physical and mental effects, there can be some risks that you may want to consider before your trip.
If you have schizophrenia, there are higher chances of experiencing psychotic symptoms. This can also be the case regardless of mental health conditions if you take a big dose.
Some psychedelics and hallucinogens, LSD included, can cause Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD). HPPD can cause recurring flashbacks of the hallucinations, for a long time, sometimes weeks or years.
Though overdose is very unlikely, it is possible and you can recognize it through shallow/irregular breathing, high body temperature, aggression, irregular heartbeat, chest pain, delusions, seizures and loss of consciousness. Overdose can be a catalyst in severe psychosis, but there is no lethal dose of LSD, so risk of death is absent.
Those struggling with mood issues should be aware that extreme changes can happen. This doesn’t necessarily mean mood issues will worsen, but it is a possibility. Anxiety or depression can result from using LSD, during or after a “trip,” particularly a bad one.
As with other hallucinogens, there is potential for a “bad trip,” which can be panic-inducing with terrifying thoughts and feelings, and can last the entire duration of the trip, which at higher doses can last from 6 to 12 hours.
LSD is not a physically addictive drug, however tolerance to it typically builds quickly and someone who has developed a tolerance will need to use a larger dose to achieve the same trip. Larger doses can create more or stronger side effects, so caution is to be advised here. By the same token, tolerance to LSD goes away quickly, often in 72 hours, so being aware of your dosage is critical. The biggest risk is in realizing that tolerance has developed, but not realizing that it waned, which it does quite quickly, and taking a dose big enough to surpass the initial tolerance.
LSD went from its initial discovery by Albert Hofmann in 1943, having ingested it without realizing, to being produced and sold by a pharmaceutical company under the name of Delysid in 1947. In the 1950s and early 1960s, it became a promising drug for psychotherapy and in particular, alcohol use disorder.
Soon after, it became widespread, as psychiatrists and other research professionals began to give LSD to artists and creatives, and then further into more recreational use. By the 1960s, it was firmly part of counterculture, and quickly became illegal in the United States and other parts of the world as misuse was rampant and publications appeared, sensationalizing dangers that have since been disproved. It has been a Schedule I drug since 1968.
A few countries have decriminalized drugs, including psychedelics, but not many have specific laws allowing LSD. Portugal, however, has decriminalized all drugs, including LSD, which is available.
Mexico has followed a similar route in decriminalization, allowing a person to possess no more than 15 micrograms. In Ecuador, the amount someone can carry is a bit higher, 20 micrograms of LSD. The Czech Republic has also decriminalized LSD. However, it is important to remember that decriminalization doesn’t mean legalization, so while you’re not going to be punished or incarcerated for carrying a small amount in these countries, producing, dealing and selling LSD is still an illegal act.
LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) acts upon the central nervous system, in particular affecting receptors for the neurotransmitters of dopamine (reward-seeking behaviour) and serotonin (regulating mood, sleep, and appetite). The LSD molecule has a strong affinity for the 5-HT2A serotonin receptor, binding to it even more strongly than serotonin itself.
LSD is incredibly potent, with doses that produce effects being measured in micrograms, where as many other psychedelics are metered out in grams or milligrams. The hypothesized interaction suggests that when it binds to the receptor, it begins to interrupt inhibitory systems that create the perceptual effects of visual and sensory hallucinations.
Other drugs can have effects on LSD and the experience that you’ll have on a “trip.” Those on antidepressants should take particular caution, as it can affect your trip in a way that you may not desire.
Tricyclic antidepressants, benzodiazepines and lithium can create a stronger response to LSD, with increases in physical, hallucinatory and psychological effects. Those taking MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors) and SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) might expect a dampened trip with more muted effects from LSD.
Other drugs, like acetylsalicyclic acid (Aspirin) and ibuprofen (Advil) can make the risk of hypertension higher when combined with LSD.
LSD on its own is not toxic. Even at high doses, there are no known deaths from LSD. However, high doses (over 200 micrograms) can result in unpredictable trips, bad trips, or end up impacting decision-making skills. People who have taken high doses, often by accident, report digestion problems like frequent vomiting. The few deaths that have occurred with LSD in the body have had other factors at work, like injury, asphyxiation in police custody, or other substances like fentanyl or 25i-NBOMe.
Using LSD with other psychedelics can cause an unpredictable trip. There are chances of having a bad trip, more intense trip, strengthening the negative effects of the drug as well as the positive. A common mix is LSD and MDMA, with MDMA being taken four hours later than LSD.
How Much Does LSD Cost?
One dose of LSD (around 100 micrograms) ranges from $5 to $25, depending on who is selling it and in what form. Gel tabs and pills sell at a higher price than blotter sheets or vials. Price per dose can go down significantly if you’re buying a large quantity, around $200 to $500 for a sheet of 100 hits or doses, reducing the price to $2-$5 per dose.
How Often Can I Take LSD?
People develop tolerance to LSD pretty quickly. Tolerance can be high after using LSD a few days in a row, and the effects by the fourth or fifth consecutive day will no longer be the same. However, as quickly as tolerance develops, it goes away. By taking a break and not using LSD for three or four days, you can experience a similar high before tolerance was developed.
How Long Does LSD Stay in Your System?
A typical trip can last from 6 to 15 hours, while the actual compound is only present in the brain for about 20 minutes, it continues to stay in the blood for longer. Some may feel an “afterglow” effect for up to 6 more hours. When counting from the moment of ingestion to the end of the comedown, it could be around 24 hours until the body returns back to its baseline.
Does LSD Show up on Drug Tests?
The liver breaks down LSD quickly, so there is usually only about 1% of active LSD present, which is too small an amount for urine tests to pick up.
A 2017 study showed that in blood tests, LSD was able to be detected 16 hours later in the body when the dose was 200 micrograms. Taking less of it reduced how long it was detectable in the body.
While there isn’t much data on detecting LSD from hair samples, it is possible that LSD can be present up to 90 days. However, because LSD requires such a low dose to be active, it is likely that it wouldn’t be stable enough to be detected.
How Do You Get LSD in the United States?
Right now, as LSD is illegal in most parts of the world, the legal way to ingest LSD is to participate in clinical trials. However, these are fairly exclusive and not readily available for most people to sign up for.
Most people obtaining LSD are doing so from the black market, either online or offline. One way to get more information is to meet other people who use psychedelics and become part of their community, getting experience-based practical advice from others.
Can I Test My LSD?
Testing LSD is important, as it may be misrepresented at the time of purchasing, as fentanyl, 25i-NBOMe, or something else.
There are LSD test strips that can be used to detect the compound. LSD often comes on blotter paper and can be tested by cutting a corner of the paper (about ⅛ of the tab), and placing it in a small cup of 2-5mL of water. Let it sit for 2 minutes so the LSD absorbs into the water. Hold the test strip in the water, keeping the blue line above the water. The water will flow up the strip, and when it does, lay the strip down on a flat surface. A positive result (meaning it is LSD) is 1 line, and a negative result (meaning it is something else) will show 2 lines. With this same water sample, you can use strip tests to check for fentanyl or 25i-NBOMe.
How Long Does the LSD Trip Last?
Based on your dose, experience with LSD, body weight, metabolism and body chemistry, the LSD trip can last anywhere from 6 to 15 hours, with the onset being 20 to 90 minutes after ingestion. Most trips are not longer than 12 hours.
LSD’s chemical structure is very similar to serotonin, a naturally-occurring chemical in the brain. Serotonin fits well into the brain’s chemical receptors, and LSD fits even better into these structures. Because of this fit, it can take a while for the LSD molecules to come loose from the serotonin receptors, and when they do, the effects will start to fade.
Can I Mix LSD with Other Drugs?
It is not recommended to mix LSD with alcohol, especially at higher doses of either. It is not typically life-threatening, but they do dampen the effects of both when taken together and can create an unpredictable experience.
As there is not much research about LSD, there is less information on the effects of mixing LSD with other drugs. Taking LSD with DMT, DXM, ketamine, MDMA or psilocybin can increase the effects of both, which can result in a strong trip that may be difficult or unpredictable. Mixing LSD with cannabis or cocaine may cause overstimulation and discomfort.
There are also prescription medications that you shouldn’t be on while taking LSD and these include monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and benzodiazepines, as these can also act on the serotonin system and cause serotonin syndrome.
✍🏼 About the author
Kristin Bissessar is a writer who has produced a variety of content from small business copy, to medical ads, to blogs for a range of brands. She is passionate about advocating for better mental health solutions, both as someone with lived mental health issues and experience as a crisis mental health worker.