Content Reviewed by Jennifer Wheeler, Clinical & Community Outreach for New Life

The counterculture of the 1960s — the antiwar movement — was characterized by peace, love and drugs, more specifically, hallucinogenic drugs. Though this class of drugs is diverse, all hallucinogens share one thing in common: they create widely-subjective hallucinations. There are many different types of hallucinogenic drugs with varying effects known to induce an altered state of reality.

One of the most popular hallucinogenic drugs from the 1960s was lysergic acid diethylamide, more commonly known as LSD. Today, this substance is identified as an illegal street drug with a high potential for severe psychological dependence. Despite new research surfacing about the potential benefits of hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD to aid in psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, the recreational use of this drug comes with a myriad of consequences.

The use of chemical substances, even in moderation, can cause lasting damage to one’s physical and mental health. Hallucinogenic drugs can interfere with the way that an individual views themselves as well as the world around them. This is why it is essential to recognize the risks associated with using hallucinogenic substances and know that treatment is available and recovery is possible for those who struggle with this particular type of drug use.

LSD and Substance Use

LSD, also known as acid, is considered a classic hallucinogenic drug. It was originally accidentally synthesized by a research chemist named Albert Hoffman in 1938. At the time, Hoffman was attempting to develop a stimulant medication for those experiencing circulatory and respiratory issues.

Its hallucinogenic effects were also discovered by accident, as the chemical made contact with and was absorbed by Hoffman’s skin in the laboratory one day. Decades later, the substance is still being researched for its varying mental, physical and emotional effects.

LSD is classified as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substance Act (CSA) in the United States, which means the drug has a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use. It is illegal to manufacture, administer, purchase, possess, consume and/or distribute LSD.

The Effects of LSD on the Brain and Body

LSD is an odorless and colorless substance. It is most commonly taken orally on blotter paper or in liquid form. On average, the effects of LSD last between eight to 14 hours, making it one of the most powerful mind-altering chemicals. Something seemingly interesting about hallucinogens like LSD, compared to other drug classes, is that the effects of LSD are remarkably unpredictable. This is thought to be because the chemical interferes with the normal interaction between brain cells and serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for regulating mood.

Still, there are some common physical and mental effects reported by those who have used LSD. Mental effects may include:

  • Visual hallucinations, meaning seeing things that are not there or more vibrant colors
  • Auditory hallucinations, such as hearing things that are not there or distorted sounds
  • Delusions
  • Distorted sense of time
  • Distorted sense of identity (loss of self)
  • Synthisthesia (blurring of the senses)
  • Intrusive thoughts and feelings
  • Existential distress
  • Increased fear, anxiety and panic
  • Spiritual and/or religious experiences
  • Paranoia
  • Flashbacks

Physical effects may include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Sleeplessness
  • Dry mouth
  • Dysregulated body temperature
  • Dilated pupils

LSD in the Brain

The way that LSD affects the brain is complicated and can vary. As mentioned previously, LSD acts on various neural circuits in the brain, specifically the ones that utilize the neurotransmitter serotonin. The drug binds to specific brain cell receptors and changes the way that the brain responds to serotonin, thereby affecting an individual’s mood, emotions and perceptions.

Another interesting fact that research has found is that LSD does not only binds to serotonin receptors but also causes those receptors to close a “lid” over the LSD molecule. This prevents the molecule from quickly detaching and facilitates the drug’s long-lasting effects.

Is LSD Dangerous?

The use of any chemical substance increases the risk of various health complications and consequences. LSD, like all other hallucinogens, is a dangerous substance for several reasons:

  • LSD can cause individuals to lose touch with reality. It is not guaranteed that someone will regain touch with reality after the effects of the drug wear off. Many individuals report lasting feelings of panic, fear, existential distress and a lost sense of self.
  • The use of any drug, even once, can be a gateway to future drug use. Being exposed to the mental effects of drug use can cause your brain to seek out repeated substance use in the future. It is often only a matter of time before moderate or occasional drug use spirals into an addiction.

Despite some hallucinogenic drugs not being classified as addictive, these substances can cause lingering harm to an individual’s brain, body and behavior. If you or a loved one is struggling to regain a sense of normalcy following a hallucinogenic experience or struggles with the chronic use of hallucinogens, know that recovery is possible. Treatment may consist of behavioral therapy, holistic therapy and support group resources to help you find peace and grounding during your healing process.

New Life Addiction Counseling and Mental Health Services is knowledgeable about the mental and emotional health consequences that can result from the use of hallucinogenic drugs. We offer a wide range of treatment programs and services for those looking to heal from the effects of these and other addictive substances. We offer various therapeutic modalities, including psychiatry, 12-Step programs, additional support groups and more. If you or a loved one is seeking recovery, we can help. Call us today to learn more at (877) 929-2571.