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LSD

What Is LSD?

LSD is short for d-lysergic acid diethylamide. It's a powerful synthetic (manmade) chemical that's made from ergot, a fungus that grows on some grains. LSD can give people hallucinations, change the way they see reality, or alter their mood. Getting high on LSD is often called a "trip."

LSD is a liquid that has no color or smell. It usually comes on small squares of blotter paper that can be placed on the tongue. These "tabs" may be brightly colored or have images or cartoons printed on them.

LSD sometimes comes in capsules or is added to sugar cubes or squares of gelatin that people swallow.

Short-Term Effects

It's not known exactly how LSD affects the brain. Scientists believe it has to do with serotonin. Serotonin is a brain chemical that carries messages related to perception and behavior. LSD somehow disrupts that process, leading to a trip that can last for 12 hours or more.

A person starts feeling high about 30 to 90 minutes after taking LSD. How the drug actually affects a person depends on many things, including the amount of LSD taken, the person's surroundings, and his or her personality and mood. Some people will have a mild trip that might include heightened emotions or rapid mood swings. More powerful trips might cause visual or audio hallucinations and alter users' perceptions of time and reality, as well as give them other delusions.

With LSD, it can be nearly impossible to predict how long a trip will last or what effect the drug will have. Unfortunately it's common for users to have a "bad trip," a troubling experience that can cause terrifying feelings of panic, despair, confusion, losing control, going insane, or dying.

After people take LSD, there's nothing they can do to stop a trip. The experience will go on until the LSD is finished with them. This can cause mental problems that may go on long after the LSD is out of a person's system. Some people never completely recover from a bad trip.

LSD's effects on the body are mostly psychological. But using the drug can have physical effects, such as:

  • dilated pupils
  • higher body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure
  • heavy sweating
  • dry mouth
  • tremors
  • sleeplessness
  • loss of appetite

In rare cases, a large dose of LSD can cause serious health problems, including convulsions or coma.

Long-Term Effects

People who have taken LSD might have flashbacks where they relive some part of a drug trip. Flashbacks can happen without warning and may show up a few days or as much as a year after taking LSD. Flashbacks can happen even if the person never takes the drug again. When flashbacks cause people to have a hard time functioning in daily life, it's known as hallucinogen-induced persisting perceptual disorder (HPPD).

Experts don't consider LSD an addictive drug — they don't think people become physically dependent on it. But using LSD can lead people to take the drug more often to deal with stress or to feel good. LSD users also can build up a tolerance to the drug, meaning they have to take larger and larger doses to feel the same highs. Because LSD is so unpredictable, this can be dangerous.

People who use LSD a lot are also at risk of developing long-term mental issues like schizophrenia or severe depression.

Other Possible Problems

LSD alters people's perception and judgment so much that there have been many accounts of fatal accidents while under the influence of the drug. People have hurt themselves or others because they were confused and hallucinating or driving a car.

LSD is an illegal drug that's listed as a Schedule I substance in the United States. This means it has a high potential for abuse and serves no legitimate medical purpose. Possession or use of LSD is punishable by fines and jail time.

How Can Someone Quit?

Because it's such a powerful drug, most LSD users eventually decide to quit using it on their own. Some people try to quit but keep going back on the drug to cope with mental issues that may have arisen due to their LSD use. This can make kicking an LSD habit hard. Many people who need help quitting LSD have better results in treatment programs or through counseling and the help of support groups.

Avoiding LSD

LSD is an incredibly strong drug. Its effects on the mind are so powerful that it can cause people to never be themselves again. That's scary enough, but there's also the chance of a bad trip. You may know someone who's OK after an LSD trip — maybe that person's you. But the trouble with LSD is there's no guarantee every trip will be the same. The risks of a bad trip and mental health problems make LSD a drug that's best to avoid.

Date reviewed: February 2014

Note: All information on TeensHealth® is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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