LSD Addiction Fast Facts

LSD is in a category of drugs known as classic hallucinogens. This category also includes psilocybin, mescaline, and DMT.

An estimated 20.2 million Americans have used LSD at some point in their lifetime.

Approximately 740,000 young people between the ages of 12 and 17 have used LSD. About 4.5 million people between the ages of 18 and 25 have used the drug.

A 2014 survey found that 3.7% of American 12th graders, 2.6% of 10th graders, and 1.1% of 8th graders had used LSD at least once.

LSD is not considered addictive, but it is possible to develop a tolerance for the drug. It is also possible to develop an unhealthy pattern of use that is clinically diagnosable.

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LSD is in a category of drugs known as classic hallucinogens. This category also includes psilocybin, mescaline, and DMT.

What is LSD Addiction?

LSD is the common name for a synthetic chemical called D-lysergic acid diethylamide. It is derived from a fungus that grows on grains. LSD is usually sold in the form of a colorless liquid. Drops of the liquid are commonly applied to blotter paper placed on the tongue, where the LSD liquid can be absorbed and swallowed.

Effects of LSD Use

LSD is categorized as a hallucinogenic drug, and it is also called a psychedelic drug. This class of drugs generally alters the sensory and mental perceptions of the user. However, a particular drug’s effects vary widely from individual to individual and from use to use.

Common short-term effects of LSD include:

  • Changes in sensory perception, and sometimes sensory enhancement
  • Changes in the perception of time
  • Synesthesia (a condition in which stimuli are perceived by more than one sense, e.g., “hearing” colors)
  • Hallucinations (seeing imagined objects or seeing real things behaving in imagined ways)
  • Excited or euphoric mood
  • Feelings of deep insight or understanding

The mind-altering effects of LSD have been studied for possible therapeutic uses, but the drug has been made illegal by the United States Controlled Substances Act. No legitimate medical use of LSD is officially recognized.

What Causes LSD Addiction?

LSD is not considered to be an addictive drug. Users do not develop a physical dependency on LSD the same way they do on stimulants such as cocaine or opioids such as heroin. Abstinence from LSD does not seem to cause withdrawal symptoms, even after prolonged use.

However, regular users of LSD are likely to develop a tolerance for the drug. In time, sensitivity to the drug decreases, and users need higher and higher doses to produce the expected psychedelic effects. Tolerance can lead to abusive behavior.

Is LSD Addiction Hereditary?

The use of LSD, as is the case with most drugs, is generally more a product of environmental factors than it is the consequence of inherited tendencies. However, researchers have identified a link between an individual’s genes and the risk of addiction and substance abuse. Individuals with a family history of addiction are more likely to develop a substance addiction themselves.

LSD seems to be among those drugs with the least risk of inherited abusive behavior. Hallucinogen abuse appears to have a heritability rate of only about half that of the riskiest drugs, including opioids and cocaine.

How Is LSD Addiction Detected?

Along with the mind-altering effects experienced by the user, LSD also produces physical effects, some of which can be observed externally. These signs of LSD use can include:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Nausea
  • Muscle weakness
  • Tingling in the fingers or toes
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Blurry vision
  • Excessive sweating or chills
  • Anxiety or paranoia
  • Dizziness
  • Lack of mental focus or physical coordination

The effects of LSD can last for as long as 12 hours, and during that time, the user may be uninterested in eating, sleeping, or performing ordinary tasks. Thanks to the experience’s mind-altering character, the user may be unconcerned with hiding the drug’s effect, making their LSD use easy to spot.

How Is LSD Addiction Diagnosed?

LSD rarely, if ever, produces the symptoms of dependence, withdrawal, and abuse that, in the case of other drugs, can lead to a diagnosis of addiction. However, abusive patterns of behavior are possible even with LSD. When those patterns are present, a clinical mental-health disorder called “hallucinogen use disorder” can be diagnosed.

To qualify for a diagnosis, LSD use must cause significant impairment or distress, and at least two of the following symptoms must be present over a 12-month period:

  • LSD use is greater than the user intends, either in dosage or frequency.
  • The user has a desire to quit or has unsuccessfully tried to stop using LSD.
  • The user spends significant time acquiring, using, or recovering from the effects of LSD use.
  • The user has an intense craving for LSD.
  • LSD use is interfering with the user’s obligations or responsibilities.
  • LSD use continues despite the harm it does to the user, physically or otherwise.
  • LSD use interferes with the user’s everyday activities and routines.
  • LSD is used in dangerous situations.
  • Tolerance for the drug develops, creating the need for higher doses or more frequent use to achieve the same effect.
  • Abstinence from the drug causes withdrawal symptoms.

How Is LSD Addiction Treated?

In cases where LSD use crosses the boundary to diagnosable substance abuse–or when the LSD use occurs in conjunction with the abuse of other substances–the patient may be referred to a treatment program, either on an inpatient or outpatient basis.

There are no medication-based treatments for LSD abuse, but medications may be prescribed for any underlying mental or physical health issues identified during treatment.

Psychotherapy, group therapy, and support group meetings are typically used to treat substance abuse.

  • Detoxification. Treatment centers will often require that users undergo a detox period to remove any lingering remnants of the drug from their bodies. This is especially true if the patient is admitted to a treatment center on an emergency basis during active drug use.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This type of psychotherapy helps drug users to recognize the triggers that prompt their drug use. The therapy also focuses on developing strategies and techniques for dealing with those triggers when they occur. CBT can be effective at preventing relapses once the patient has begun to abstain from drug use.

How Does LSD Addiction Progress?

Education is the best way to prevent the abuse of LSD and other drugs. Drug abuse prevention programs should be targeted to at-risk groups and clearly lay out the dangers of LSD abuse, including:

  • The potential for risky behavior while under the influence of LSD
  • The unpredictable nature of LSD’s effects
  • The potential for abuse driven by a developed tolerance for the drug
  • The possibility of harm (or death) from tainted drugs

How Is LSD Addiction Prevented?

Education is the best way to prevent the abuse of LSD and other drugs. Drug abuse prevention programs should be targeted at at-risk groups and clearly lay out the dangers of LSD abuse, including:

  • The potential for risky behavior while under the influence of LSD
  • The unpredictable nature of LSD’s effects
  • The potential for abuse driven by developing a tolerance for the drug
  • The possibility of harm (or death) from tainted drugs

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

LSD Addiction Caregiver Tips

  • Educate your children. Because LSD is not addictive like other drugs and doesn’t present the same dangers of overdose and withdrawal, young people often think that it poses little risk of harm. However, even a positive LSD experience can profoundly affect the user, a situation that children are ill-equipped to handle. Using LSD in the wrong way, in the wrong place, at the wrong time can be dangerous, and young people should be made well aware of the risks.
  • Don’t focus only on the LSD. Substance abuse is often a sign of underlying problems in relationships, life circumstances, or mental health. If your loved one is abusing LSD or any other substance, encourage them to seek help for the problems driving them to escape via their drug use.

LSD Addiction Brain Science

The biochemical process through which LSD changes brain function is not yet fully understood. However, research has begun to offer clues to what’s going on in the brains of LSD users. In a recent study, researchers used imaging technology to look at brain activity in subjects under the drug’s influence. The results suggested areas that are ripe for further research.

Scientists had previously suspected that a brain chemical called serotonin, which helps brain nerve cells communicate with one another, was involved in the LSD experience. The imaging study had some subjects take only LSD, while other participants took both LSD and a drug that blocks serotonin’s effects. Those who took the serotonin-blocking drug did not experience the same effects as those who took LSD alone, a result that seems to confirm the hypothesis that serotonin is key to the LSD experience.

In the brains of subjects who took only LSD, the drug seemed to disrupt the function of the thalamus, a part of the brain that controls information flow to other regions. This disruption allowed more information to flow to the area of the brain that controlled sensory perception and limited the flow of information to the part that controls cognitive thought processes. This unusual brain activity pattern may explain the strange effects that LSD has on the user’s perception.

LSD Addiction Research

Title: Psychedelics and Wellness Study (PAWS)

Stage: Recruiting 

Contact: Saundra Jain, PsyD, LPC

WILD 5 Wellness

Austin, TX

The Psychedelics and Wellness Study (PAWS) is an anonymous online survey investigating the interrelationship between psychedelics and wellness. The study population is adults ages 18 and older that have taken a psychedelic at least once. The maximum sample size is 5,000 survey respondents. It is expected that this anonymous online survey will support the hypothesis that there is a strong interrelationship between past psychedelic use and its impact on wellness.

Title: Micro-Dose, Macro-Impact: Leveraging Psychedelics in Frontline Healthcare Workers During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Stage: Active, Not Recruiting 

Contact: Andre Atoian, MD

Limbic Medical

Toluca Lake, CA

An investigation of a novel, off-label use of an FDA-approved drug (ketamine) in a low(micro) dose sublingual formulation of ketamine provided to front-line healthcare workers identified as suffering from acute stress disorder.

The study was conducted virtually via real-time telemedicine for physician visits and via asynchronous interaction for data collection outcomes.

Patients self-referred to the study via email outreach, and the diagnosis was confirmed by medically validated screening assessments and study physician confirmation.

Once treatment was initiated, patients were seen via live telemedicine every 40 days, while treatment response/outcomes data were collected weekly and monthly.

Patients were treated for up to 120 days.

 Title: Exploring the Safety, Tolerability, and Preliminary Efficacy of Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy for Anorexia

Stage: Active, Not Recruiting 

Contact: Stephanie Knatz Peck, PhD

University of California, San Diego

San Diego, CA

This study’s primary aim is to assess the safety and tolerability of one 25 mg dose of psilocybin in participants with anorexia nervosa based on adverse events (AEs), changes in vital signs, electrocardiograms (ECGs), and clinical laboratory tests. The secondary objectives are to explore the efficacy of a single 25 mg dose of psilocybin on eating disorder symptoms and behaviors, body image, anxiety, food-related obsessions and rituals, and body weight.

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