3 Dangerous Complications of LSD Abuse

3 Dangerous Complications of LSD Abuse

Anxiety and paranoia are complications of LSD abuse

Dropping a hit of acid may seem exciting, or at least harmless, but the lasting consequences of LSD use may last years. The powerful chemicals that bring on the hallucinations and mood shifts characterized by LSD also alter the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain. Changes to these neurotransmitters affect a person psychologically, possibly altering the way he experiences reality long after drugs leave his system.

How LSD Affects the Brain

LSD is a semisynthetic psychedelic drug; one of the most potent mood-changing chemicals available. Sold illicitly on the streets in tablet, capsule and liquid form, LSD, in some cases, may be laced with other dangerous chemicals. Recreational use is referred to as “tripping” and generally leads to highs lasting up to 12 hours. When LSD (also called “acid”) enters the brain, it disrupts the interaction of brain cells and serotonin. This disruption triggers hallucinations and creates profound distortions of reality. People under the influence of LSD may see, hear and feel things that do not exist. Other side effects include the following[1]:

  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Terrifying thoughts
  • Feelings of despair
  • Intense fear of losing control
  • Fear of insanity

In addition to powerful psychological symptoms, the drug also brings changes to a person’s body. Physical effects include the following:

  • Elevated body temperature
  • Raised heart rate
  • Hypertension
  • Insomnia
  • Decreased appetite

In the majority of cases, the symptoms of LSD use wear off once the drug leaves a person’s system. Someone who uses LSD chronically may experience longer-term psychological symptoms. The following three complications are possible when a person abuses LSD:

  1. Flashbacks and Lasting Mental Health Disorders

The most problematic complication of LSD abuse is the risk of incurring brain changes.  People who use LSD sometimes suffer recurrences of the drug experience, called “flashbacks.” These events occur without warning long after the chemical leaves their bodies. Aside from flashbacks, a person may develop an even more serious condition that lasts for an indeterminate period of time. Hallucinogen-induced persisting perceptual disorder (HPPD) results when flashbacks persist and cause social and occupational impairment.1

Researchers don’t fully understand “acid flashbacks,”but members within the scientific community have the following three theories:

  • Damage induced by LSD exposure may cause the brain to misfire and send incorrect signals
  • LSD may change the way the brain functions and perceives information, making it more sensitive to light and creating visual halos and trails that can occur at any time
  • Some portion of the LSD usually gets stored in the body or brain and released later[2]

While it is rare for a person to experience lifelong complications after a single dose of LSD, there are examples of people developing HPPD or persistent psychosis after using the drug one time.

  1. Complications when Combined with Other Substances

Another hazardous complication that occurs from LSD use is the experience of dangerous side effects after combining the drug with other substances. The following are possible combinations and the physical reactions they may trigger:

  • Amphetamines and LSD: Amphetamines are central nervous system stimulants; when mixed with psychedelic drugs such as LSD, the result is an energized person who experiences hallucinations; this is dangerous because the user may begin to act strangely and injure herself and others
  • Cocaine and LSD: Cocaine is a powerful stimulant; taken in combination with LSD, it may trigger hallucinations, paranoia and delusional thinking
  • Alcohol and LSD: Alcohol tends to dull the effects of LSD
  • Antidepressants and LSD: Mixing lithium or tricyclic antidepressants with LSD can be lethal[3],[4]
  1. Psychological Dependence

Unlike substances that create dependence by altering brain chemistry, LSD does not trigger physiological needs. Users do not experience withdrawal symptoms or cravings after using the drug. Nevertheless LSD’s powerful hallucinatory effects often cause psychological addiction, which is another negative consequence of LSD abuse. Users who struggle to cope with normal life may compulsively use it to escape reality. At professional treatment centers, they learn to live a healthier, fulfilling life and develop healthy coping skills.1


[1] National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). What are hallucinogens? Drug Facts. Retrieved Oct. 3, 2016 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/hallucinogens.

[2] Ebbitt, Alicia. (2008). The Effects of Hallucinogenic Drugs on The Brain. Serendip Studio. Retrieved Oct. 3, 2016 from http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/exchange/serendipupdate/effects-hallucinogenic-drugs-brain.

[3] Drug Enforcement Administration. (2015). Drugs of Abuse. Retrieved Oct. 3, 2016 from https://www.dea.gov/pr/multimedia-library/publications/drug_of_abuse.pdf.

[4] Raga, Paul. (2015). LSD Toxicity. MedScape. Retrieved Oct. 3, 2016 from http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1011615-overview#a1.