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LSD, commonly called “acid,” is short for lysergic acid diethylamide, a substance derived from a hallucinogenic fungus.
This drug is taken orally and produces vivid hallucinations and other mind-altering effects. LSD is different from other common drugs of abuse in that it’s not considered to be physically addictive and therefore is not as heavily abused as substances like heroin or cocaine. It’s more common for it to be used on occasion for the experience of the hallucinogenic effects.
It’s also distinct from other hallucinogens in that it tends to produce images and sensations that are so vivid that they can seem completely real. It’s also used in some cultures for spiritual reasons. Though not as dangerous as some other illicit drugs, LSD overdose is absolutely possible and can produce some highly disturbing effects, primarily psychological distress.
LSD overdose symptoms include:
Most of the directly dangerous symptoms require a massive overdose to occur. A typical dose is around 50 micrograms to 150 micrograms, though it’s important to note that different individuals will respond differently to similar doses of any drug, but especially hallucinogens. It can also be difficult to tell just how pure and potent any drug is when obtained from an illegal source. Possible effects of a massive overdose include:
Overdose also increases the chance of having a negative hallucinogenic experience, commonly called a “bad trip.” These are characterized by hallucinations that are distressing or frightening in some way, possibly producing panic or a feeling like one is going to endure serious harm. It can also produce intense aggression to the point that the individual may lash out physically at others. Any of this can result in injury to the person who took the drug or those nearby.
Aside from potential permanent damage from injury, respiratory arrest, or hemorrhage, some of the most commonly reported long-term effects are flashbacks to bad trips. People who abused LSD years in the past can end up having vivid flashbacks to the disturbing things they saw and/or felt during these hallucinations. However, this experience is still quite rare. Around 60 percent of people who had used a hallucinogen self-reported a mild kind of flashback a few days after using the drug, only 4 percent found this distressing, and even fewer continue to experience distressing flashbacks for long periods of time.
Although LSD isn’t physically addictive, people can still become psychologically addicted to the substance. The more a person takes the drug, the greater the chance that an overdose or bad trip will occur. If addiction is suspected, contact a medical professional or addiction specialist as soon as possible to avoid potential injury or health problems.
There are few, if any, deaths from taking too much LSD; however, the experience can still be psychologically damaging. A person can experience terrifying hallucinations, paranoid delusions, and long-term changes to mood or mental health. The effects of a “normal” dose of LSD can last for hours, and taking more than that can put a person at risk of hospitalization due to serious psychological and behavioral issues, which may take days to clear up on their own.
LSD is a synthetic drug, meaning it is man-made. LSD stands for D-lysergic acid diethylamide, a chemical synthesized from ergot, a fungus that grows on some grains like rye. This fungus can cause hallucinations and delusions when too much of it is ingested. Albert Hofmann, a Swiss chemist, synthesized LSD from ergot in 1938 while attempting to find some therapeutic value in the chemicals. He discovered the hallucinogenic and psychedelic properties of the drug in 1943 when he accidentally took some himself.
While its pure form is a clear liquid, LSD is commonly taken by eating or licking blotter paper that has a small amount of the liquid saturated into it. It can also be consumed as tablets or capsules. It is rarely consumed in its pure liquid form.
Although symptoms of a “bad trip” can be part of an overdose on LSD, the two are not the same. A bad trip involves feeling anxious, paranoid, afraid, and seeing or hearing frightening things that are not real. A bad trip, however, ends in the same amount of time a good trip ends; it just leaves negative feelings behind, and it is more likely to occur in people who have a pre-existing mental health condition, like anxiety or depression.
An overdose, however, involves a dangerous level of toxins in the body. Taking too much LSD leads to longer trips, an increased risk of psychosis, and possible death. People who experience psychosis because of too much LSD may attempt to harm themselves or others. They may experience hyperthermia, or dangerously high body temperature, or tachycardia, heart problems, or irregular heartbeat. They may suffer rhabdomyolysis, which is the breakdown of skeletal muscles leading to physical weakness, toxins flooding the body, and eventual kidney failure. Generally, emergency medical attention, including respiratory support, is needed for those who experience overdose.
LSD can cause some serious changes to the body. Short-term side effects from taking LSD include:
If a person abuses LSD several times, or regularly at high doses, these short-term changes can cause long-term damage. Consistently high blood pressure and changes in heart rate increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, blood clots, pulmonary embolism, and other cardiovascular harm. An increase in body temperature can hurt many organ systems, including the kidneys. Elevated blood sugar can exacerbate diabetes in people who are at risk for developing this condition anyway.
People who take LSD and who have a predisposition to psychotic disorders increase their risk of developing psychosis. In some instances, people who have no predisposition toward this mental health concern can experience drug-induced psychosis, although symptoms may be temporary and can be treated with hospitalization.
Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD) is the clinical term for flashbacks, which can occur even after one dose of LSD. Episodes of HPPD are spontaneous and involve re-experiencing some of the psychedelic effects of the LSD trip. A flashback may include visual or auditory hallucinations that were experienced in the original trip too. The individual may also experience halos or shining visual trails attached to objects, or see motions in their peripheral vision that are not there.
There are many kinds of hallucinogenic and psychedelic drugs, both synthetic and natural. Some that induce similar experiences to LSD, including changes in sensory and time perception, hallucinations, out-of-body experiences, and more, include:
These drugs have a cross-tolerance with each other, meaning consistent abuse of one will most likely lead to physical tolerance to the others.