Is LSD (“Acid”) Harmful?
D-lysergic acid diethylamide, better known as LSD or “acid,” is a hallucinogenic drug made from lysergic acid, a natural chemical found in a fungus that grows on rye called Claviceps purpurea. LSD was first created in 1938 by a Swiss chemist named Albert Hoffmann who was searching for new drugs to stimulate patients’ circulation and breathing.
Dr. Hoffmann discovered LSD’s striking mental effects in 1943, and the drug was marketed under the brand name Delysid from 1947 to 1966. It was used to enhance the effectiveness of psychotherapy and to treat psychiatric illnesses such as depression and alcohol addiction. Starting in the 1950s, the United States Central Intelligence Agency and the Army conducted experiments to find out if LSD could be a useful tool for exerting “mind control” on enemies.
Recreational use of LSD began in the 1960s and spread rapidly until the drug was banned in 1970 by categorizing it as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act. As a schedule I drug, LSD has no recognized medical use and those caught in possession of it face serious legal penalties.
LSD is generally considered to be less harmful than other drugs like alcohol, heroin, and cocaine, and overdoses are rare. LSD can also cause persistent psychological problems that cause significant distress in the user.
LSD’s Short-Term Effects
People generally use acid and other classic hallucinogens such as psilocybin (magic mushrooms) and peyote (mescaline) for recreational and spiritual reasons.
These drugs are also known as “psychedelics” and produce temporary symptoms similar to psychosis that typically last between 6 and 10 hours. These altered perceptions and sense of unreality are commonly called a “trip” and may result in:
- Visual hallucinations.
- Amplification of sensations like sounds and smells.
- Distorted sense of time.
- Blending of senses, such as “seeing” sounds or “hearing” colors.
- Sensation of the mind leaving the body.
- Impulsive behavior.
- Quickly shifting emotions.
- Mystical or religious sensations.
LSD Side Effects
The side effects of acid are similar to other hallucinogens. LSD is active mainly at certain serotonin receptor sub-types in the brain and body. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter involved with activation of the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for your body’s “fight or flight” reaction 3.
By interfering with normal serotonin signaling, LSD produces both the short-term effects mentioned above as well as the following negative side effects 4; 5:
Increased blood pressure and heart rate.
Elevated body temperature.
Loss of appetite.
In addition to presenting physical risks, LSD has powerful effects on users’ mental states and can produce traumatic emotional reactions in some individuals, also called a “bad trip”. Symptoms of a bad trip can feel overwhelming to the user and may include the following
- Severe anxiety.
- Panic attacks.
- Rapidly changing emotions.
- Feeling of detachment from one’s own mind and body.
- Losing a grip on reality.
- Fear of dying.
- Aggressive or violent behaviors.
- Suicidal thoughts.
Taking acid in an uncontrolled setting or taking a larger dose than expected increases the danger of having a bad trip. LSD abusers with a personal or family history of psychosis or other severe psychiatric disorders are also thought to be at greater risk of having a bad trip or developing other psychological problems . Abusers having a bad trip can behave in unpredictable ways that present a danger to themselves and others.