One of the biggest perceived obstacles to stopping drug abuse is the fear that builds up around withdrawal symptoms. Those who have been taking LSD on a regular basis might be concerned with what will happen when they stop using the drugs, including potential emotional and physical discomfort.
However, once medical support for detox enters the equation, fears about what happens with withdrawal are largely assuaged. Getting experienced, effective support for this process can decrease the chances for some of the more disturbing or uncomfortable LSD withdrawal symptoms, making it easier to get through detox and find success in LSD abuse treatment and recovery.
LSD Behavior in the Body
A study published in Neuropsychopharmacology describes exactly how LSD acts in the body. This drug, known as a serotonergic hallucinogen, interacts with the body’s serotonin, dopamine, and adrenaline systems to result in the following sensations and responses:
- The perception of visual images in response to hearing sounds (audio visual synesthesia)
- Altered perception and mystical experiences
- Increased feelings of closeness to others, or empathy
As with many other drugs, the effects of regular LSD use on brain chemistry can make it challenging to stop use of the drug. Because LSD leaves the body relatively quickly, it is less likely to result in severe withdrawal symptoms. Still, there is potential for a person to have withdrawal symptoms as well as lingering side effects after stopping LSD abuse.
Does LSD Cause Physical Dependence
It is generally accepted that LSD does not cause physical dependence the way many drugs do. That means that the body does not become used to LSD in a way that requires its continued use for the person to function properly. However, this does not mean that LSD cannot cause dependence, tolerance, and addiction. People who use LSD may develop a psychological or emotional need to keep using LSD as the drug increases feelings of closeness and connection to others. When these feelings subside, the person may begin to feel more anxious, depressed, and isolated. This in turn may lead to seeking out further drug use to get those feelings back.
In fact, as reported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, tolerance to hallucinogens can build up very quickly, causing the person to feel a need to increase dosage at each use to experience the same effects. This can lead to abuse of the drug, and in some cases, psychological dependence, tolerance, and addiction can indeed occur. For people who have become tolerant to a drug like LSD, the brain can trick them into believing the drug is necessary to be able to function normally even if this is not physically the case.
Coming off LSD
Withdrawal from LSD is sometimes referred to as “coming down” from the drug. There are symptoms that occur with every use, and there are also some symptoms that can occur if a person has become dependent on the drug over the long-term.
Coming down includes symptoms like:
These symptoms and others can range from mild to uncomfortable, depending on the circumstances. If LSD is mixed with other substances, such as alcohol, the comedown may be more severe and could include other symptoms.
Symptoms of LSD Withdrawals
Again, most people will not experience withdrawal symptoms after using LSD even if there is frequent use. On the other hand, some people can experience a range of symptoms, depending on the extent and frequency of abuse. Mental Health Daily explains that symptoms of withdrawal after long-term use can include:
- Anxiety: This can include generalized anxiety as well as specific fears of developing schizophrenia or “going crazy.”
- Depersonalization: When the drug is used often, it can become difficult to distinguish the difference between reality and the hallucinations experienced during LSD use.
- Confusion: This may also include an inability to concentrate.
- Flashbacks: With frequent abuse, LSD can result in the person having flashbacks to LSD trip experiences even when not using the drug.
- HPPD: Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder is a condition where the person has lingering flashbacks or visual disturbances for months or even years after the experiences.
- Moodiness: LSD withdrawal can result in depression; the person may have wild swings between moods after abusing the drug on a long-term basis.
- Psychosis and suicidal thoughts: These are possible during LSD withdrawal in rare cases.
Difficulty Stopping Use
Addiction is a mental health disorder that, at its most simple definition, means a person feels unable to control use of a substance. It is possible for a person who uses LSD on a regular basis to feel unable to function mentally without the drug. LSD can foster a sense of oneness with the universe, and especially for those who are struggling with challenges in life, this can be a comforting feeling that the person may want to return to again and again.
This is not just the imagination of the individual dealing with these issues. LSD has real, physical effects on brain chemistry, which is where the psychological effects and, sometimes, dependence come from. As described in an article from Psychopharmacology, the action of LSD in the body increases blood concentrations of oxytocin (a chemical related to feelings of love, affection, and empathy) as well as cortisol (a stress-relieving hormone). The increased stress and feelings of loneliness or disconnection that can result from stopping LSD use are real and can make it more and more attractive to keep using the drug, making it harder for the person to abstain.
Timeline of Withdrawal
The timeline for LSD withdrawal is generally not very long. The half-life of LSD, or the time it takes half of the drug to be eliminated from the body, is only about a half-hour. However, there are multiple circumstances that can affect this:
- The fact that some of the drug becomes “stuck” in the brain and continues to affect the person
- High doses and/or frequent use of the drug, which can increase the risk of psychological dependence
- The person’s individual constitution or physical attributes
- A long-term, regular habit of taking the drug
The first item, as reported by Popular Science, has a great deal to do with the fact that the person may experience continuing hallucinations, HPPD, and depersonalization for days or longer after stopping the drug. For this reason, the timeline can vary widely for individuals. Still, a general outline of the process is:
- Day 1 of stopping use: The drug is eliminated from the body and hallucinations stop; symptoms of anxiety and panic may arise.
- Days 2-3: Anxiety, depression, fatigue, and other mental effects of coming down and stopping LSD peak.
- Day 7: Most symptoms are cleared except potential HPPD, flashbacks, and psychosis from long-term or heavy use.
Why Medical Detox Helps
When stopping any drug, including LSD, it is helpful to have support from a medical professional who is experienced in supporting the detox process. These individuals understand what symptoms to expect based on previous experience supporting the process. They can provide tools, information, and even medication, if needed, to help the person feel more comfortable during the withdrawal process.
Because LSD eliminates from the body so quickly and doesn’t have many withdrawal symptoms, a tapered approach isn’t usually necessary. However, in the case of an individual who is using the drug regularly and at high doses, a professional can provide advice and support in slowing use of the drug, if necessary, to decrease the severity of symptoms. In addition, the treatment professional can help the person begin the process of treatment, enabling the person to recover from chronic LSD abuse or addiction.