LSD Addiction: Abuse Signs, Effects & Treatment

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A Guide to LSD Addiction Treatment

Although LSD isn’t considered an addictive drug, users can become addicted to the sounds, visuals, and revelations experienced during a “trip.” As a result, people can develop psychological dependence and tolerance to LSD and other psychedelics, turning to higher doses to achieve the same effect. Likewise, there are known cases of prolonged LSD abuse leading to paranoia, psychosis, and similar adverse side effects.

LSD Addiction Treatment

About LSD

Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) is a psychedelic hallucinogen that alters a person’s sense of time, space, perception, and mood. A normal dose is 100 micrograms, but LSD becomes active at very small doses (20 micrograms). Most people take the drug orally in the form of blotter paper, droplets, or tablets, absorbing the chemical on the tongue and then swallowing the medium.

Because people usually take LSD on small pieces of paper, it’s challenging to independently determine how much a given dose is. Additionally, users react to LSD in different ways, compounding the problem. Finally, it’s essential to know that taking a high amount of LSD can lead to feelings of alienation and dissociation.

LSD is known for causing profound changes in perception and consciousness. During a “trip,” users experience several significant effects; these most often include visual and sensory distortions, intense emotions, changes to thought processes, and surprising life revelations and insights.

Under the Controlled Substances Act, LSD is considered a Schedule I drug. This criminalized classification means LSD is thought to have a “high potential for abuse” and “no currently accepted medical use.” However, LSD has been used successfully in many therapies treating anxiety and depression. Additionally, some evidence suggests LSD could potentially treat addiction and PTSD.

Though LSD has some positive side effects, it is a drug that impacts its users differently. In some cases, there can be severe psychological and physical side effects.

Is LSD Addictive?

LSD alone isn’t thought to be addictive or cause compulsive use. One reason is that it’s a long-lasting experience that can feel mentally and physically challenging, causing those who use LSD recreationally to limit how often they take it.

Another reason is that people quickly develop LSD tolerance, so users need higher doses to use the drug again after a few days. This rampant increase in quantity makes it difficult to achieve the same effect after continuously using. Finally, because psilocybin impacts the same brain receptors affected by LSD, if someone takes mushrooms one day, they’ll experience diminished effects taking LSD the next day.

Dangers of LSD Addiction

People who take LSD quickly develop a tolerance; if someone takes a consistent dose three days in a row, they won’t experience a reaction by the third day. People who regularly abuse the drug must take progressively higher amounts to get the same state of mind as they used to. Increasing dosage is especially dangerous; as the quantity consumed goes up, so do the chances of experiencing adverse psychological effects.

The effects experienced on LSD are known as a “trip,” and the disturbing psychological effects are a “bad trip.” In both cases, the user experiences the effects for a long time, with higher doses lasting 12 hours or more. It can take 24 hours to feel normal again.

It’s challenging to predict LSD’s physical effects from person to person. Usually, the initial feeling begins 45 to 90 minutes after taking it, peaking at two to four hours and tapering off around the 12-hour mark. By contrast, intravenous LSD usually activates within 10 minutes.

The effects of LSD include:

• Hallucinations
• Altered sounds
• Depression and anxiety
• Distorted visual perception of colors and shapes
• Flashbacks of the “trip” days or months later
• Dilated pupils
• Increased body temperature
• High blood pressure
• Rapid heart rate

Extreme mood changes may also occur in some users. In large enough doses, LSD causes delusions, and overdose can result in psychosis. Death usually occurs from direct injury while intoxicated; there is no known lethal dose.

Physical side effects can include loss of appetite, nausea, difficulty sleeping, tremors, dry mouth, increased blood sugar, and seizures.

Some users might also notice impaired depth and time perception, including a distorted sense of movement, sound, color, object size and shape, and their body image. Sensations may also appear to “cross,” giving a user the sense of seeing sounds or hearing flavors; these interactions can cause panic in those who aren’t prepared for them. Finally, some LSD users also experience terrifying thoughts, fear of death or insanity, and the inability to process common dangers, making them more vulnerable to personal injury.

Flashbacks

In addition to acute depression and anxiety, people can experience flashbacks after an LSD trip. Also known as hallucinogen persisting perception disorder, flashbacks are effects of LSD that can recur months after abstinence.

Flashbacks happen suddenly and usually without warning. Most users who experience them chronically use hallucinogens or otherwise often have a personality disorder. However, flashbacks can occur in healthy people who only partake on occasion.

Persistent warped perception is just one risk of LSD use; people can also manifest long-lasting psychoses, including severe depression and schizophrenia.

Signs of LSD Addiction

One of the greatest dangers of using LSD is the fact that even low doses of the drug can result in strong effects. No matter what form it takes, LSD results in powerful consequences that encourage its users to keep taking it frequently.

Unlike other illicit drugs, LSD doesn’t lead to physical withdrawal symptoms when someone quits the substance. There is also little evidence suggesting long-term physical effects caused by chronic LSD use.

Unfortunately, there are long-term psychiatric effects for some people who use a high quantity of LSD; some may continue to experience visual disturbances and hallucinations even if they stop using the substance. The exact cause of these flashbacks isn’t known, so there is no known treatment. Although there aren’t any official statistics, users report Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD) lasting as long as a year or more.

LSD Withdrawal

Most people who use LSD will not experience psychological withdrawal symptoms, but side effects can be nebulous and challenging to predict. When symptoms do occur, they include:

• Anxiety
• Depression
• Insomnia
• Hypersomnia
• General discomfort
• Restlessness

Convincing a Loved One to Get Help

Of course, it’s never easy to see someone you love in pain, but convincing your loved one to get treatment for LSD addiction requires compassionate commitment. Mental health conditions may lead to intense emotions and significant challenges that seem to alter someone’s personality, including:

• Depression
• Intense anger
• Apathy

You might have noticed a family member struggling to laugh off the small things in life, or your friend might be canceling plans more frequently. It’s natural to have concern for the well-being of your loved ones; it’s also normal not to know where to start when it comes to persuading them to agree to take steps toward treatment.

However, you can help your loved ones feel supported by approaching the conversation with careful language, compassion, and the support of an experienced professional trained in holding interventions.

Be Compassionate

Approaching your loved one from a place of compassion and care reduces the likelihood that they’ll react defensively. For example, asking questions rather than giving direct advice can go a long way.

Likewise, statements that focus on yourself instead of them, such as “I’m worried about you,” could help them feel less blamed. They may be more willing to listen if they don’t feel like you’re attacking them. In all cases, the core of your discussion should include concern for their well-being, not anger about how their behavior has impacted your life.

Normalize therapy

Many people who abuse LSD have an underlying mental health condition driving the behavior. Therapy is a judgment-free zone for anyone, including those without a disorder, to navigate life’s challenges. Reminding your loved one about this can help remove the stigma around the idea of getting help.

Expect resistance

Your loved one may not be ready to discuss the concept of getting professional help. Take the time to hear their objections and learn about what they’re feeling. They might get angry, aggressive, defensive, or withdraw and stop talking. However, being defensive and pushy won’t help you gain any favor.

LSD Addiction Treatment

Numerous treatment options are available for those who struggle with chronic LSD use. If the person uses multiple drugs, has underlying co-morbid psychiatric or medical conditions, or has used LSD for a long time, an inpatient program may be necessary. The best course of treatment depends on the severity of the addiction, the person’s history of outpatient treatment failures, and related factors.

Going through an inpatient program means living at the facility 24/7 for one to three months during treatment. Being part of this intensive atmosphere allows clients to focus all of their energy on getting better; they’ll also have access to a supportive network of staff, clinicians, and fellow patients going through recovery.

Not all LSD users need the intensive inpatient experience, and many choose to receive treatment for substance use disorder at an outpatient center. These programs vary in intensity and duration, but the average is three to six months. Some programs require clients to come in once a week, and others expect attendance every weekday. Outpatient sessions typically last between one and four hours.

Therapies used to tackle LSD overuse include:

• Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is a common form of therapy used to treat drug abuse. The purpose is to help people change the thinking patterns that drove them to abuse LSD. Through individual therapy sessions, clients learn to develop healthier coping methods to manage stress and other negative emotions without turning to drugs. CBT helps people cope with unavoidable triggers.

• Motivational interviewing (MI): Often, people who abuse LSD don’t want to change, attending treatment only to appease a loved one, comply with a court order, or avoid getting fired. Others might want to quit drugs but feel hesitant to make the significant lifestyle changes necessary. With MI, an expert thoroughly evaluates and gauges a person’s readiness to change to develop an individualized plan to approach personal barriers to change. The goal of MI is to help people move to their next stage of willingness to help them move away from resistance to change. Finally, MI helps encourage people to start taking action to enact change in their lives. This approach is often used for people who keep relapsing after treatment.

Regardless of what drugs a person uses, professional rehab facilities with individualized treatment programs can help them achieve sobriety and learn healthier coping strategies.

Recovery

It is possible to recover from drug abuse. With ongoing support and comprehensive treatment, your loved one can complete the journey from chronic LSD use to a healthy recovery.

Recovery doesn’t stop after rehab; it’s a lifelong process that starts with treatment. Ongoing aftercare and recovery-focused activities are essential to prevent relapse. Many inpatient centers include a step-down service for clients to enter outpatient programs to practice their newly learned skills.

Likewise, group therapy sessions and support groups help those in recovery keep in touch with counselors and peers. Many treatment facilities include a weekly group for program alumni, and 12-step programs like Narcotics Anonymous give others a place to keep receiving long-term peer support. It may seem overwhelming to undergo years of continuous therapy, but making the first phone call to learn about treatment options is an easy first step towards health and recovery.

Next Steps

Getting treatment for LSD dependency means identifying and understanding the underlying issues that led to abusing the drug. This treatment philosophy is based on the fact that LSD does not typically lead to physical addiction, but chronic LSD users often also meet the criteria for a psychiatric disorder.

When a mental health disorder occurs alongside addiction, it is necessary to seek a professional evaluation for specialized treatment. Failing to treat the underlying mental condition can cause addiction and drug therapy and treatment to be ineffective.

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Reviewed By:

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis completed medical school at The University of Mississippi Medical Center and residency in general psychiatry in 2003. He completed a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 2005. Following this, he served as Chief Medical Officer for 10 years of Brentwood Behavioral Healthcare a private health system including a 105-bed hospital, residential treatment, and intensive outpatient services.

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