LSD Abuse and Addiction

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Updated 10/25/2022

Article Overview

  • LSD is a popular hallucinogenic drug that changes the perception and the experience of reality
  • LSD works by changing the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, which are chemical signals sent between brain cells
  • An LSD trip usually lasts about twelve hours, sometimes causing an emotional and physical drain on the person
  • While LSD is not generally considered addictive, it is federally illegal and a Schedule I substance
  • LSD stays in the body for 36 hours or longer and can cause flashbacks that occur months or years later

Understanding LSD

LSD (commonly known as acid) is an illegal substance that first became popular in the 1960s and 1970s in the United States.

LSD originally became popular among artists and similar types of people for its ability to enhance creativity. Since LSD causes hallucinations, it makes the brain see, hear and experience things that one would never usually experience.

The drug was first created in 1938 by chemist Albert Hofmann, who discovered the hallucinogenic properties when he was exposed by mistake while working with the chemical.

The drug found use in the 1960s as an anesthetic agent and some psychologists used it as an aid in psychoanalysis.

LSD’s surge of popularity in the sixties encouraged the United States to pass federal laws banning the substance in 1966.

LSD is generally thought of as a non-addictive substance. It does not usually produce withdrawal symptoms in people who use it and it does not create dependence. However, it may produce psychological dependence, meaning a person’s mood is negatively impacted if they stop using it.

What is LSD?

Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD, acid) is a hallucinogenic substance that alters sensory perception, mood and patterns of thought in people who use it.

LSD is associated with the term “trip,” which describes the effects experienced during acute intoxication. Trips can range from pleasant euphoria to bad, where a person has terrifying thoughts, distorted senses and a feeling of being out of control.

LSD works by affecting the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine and glutamine. Neurotransmitters are chemical signals that brain cells send to each other to relay messages. LSD changes the levels of neurotransmitters, increasing or decreasing the amount present in brain cells.


LSD is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). This type of medication has no currently accepted medical use in the United States. LSD also has a high potential for abuse.

What Does LSD Do?

The effects of LSD include the following:

  • Changes in the perception of time
  • Intensified sensory perceptions, like light and sound
  • Mixed up sensory perception (for example, seeing sounds)
  • Seeing or hearing things that are not there
  • Touching, smelling, hearing or seeing things in a distorted way

LSD is often used for its ability to produce “spiritual” or “mystic” experiences. It can cause out-of-body experiences and may cause feelings of expansiveness or being “one with the universe.”

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Dosage and Administration

Recreational doses typically range from 25 to 80 micrograms (mcgs). High doses can range up to 250 mcgs.

The effects of LSD last about 6 to 12 hours.

LSD Abuse

LSD comes in capsule, tablet or liquid form. As a liquid, it is usually added to small pieces of blotter paper. The paper may come in color shapes and sizes, which each blotter representing one dose.

It is less commonly snorted into the nose or injected into a vein (shooting up).

What Does LSD Look Like?

Solid LSD is a white, crystalline powder. It can be formed into tablets or placed into capsules to be taken by mouth. It can also be snorted or injected.

The liquid is clear and colorless and is often placed on food or paper.

The most common way to take the drug is to purchase a blotter paper, which is a small and colorful piece of paper with a dose of LSD applied to it. The paper is placed on the tongue for administration.

A drop of LSD may also be placed on gelatin squares or added to sugar cubes.

Other Names and Street Names for LSD

LSD street names usually have something to do with their administration method or songs that were popular when LSD use was at its peak.

Common street names include:

  • Acid
  • Blotter acid
  • Dots
  • Lucy in the sky with diamonds
  • Mellow yellow
  • Purple haze
  • Windowpane

Side Effects of LSD Use

Good and bad trips share the same effects on mood and sensory perception, but the tone is shifted to be more positive or more negative.

Besides the emotional and sensory aspects of a bad trip, uncomfortable side effects can be physical. Some examples of LSD side effects include:

  • Depression
  • Fast breathing
  • High blood pressure
  • High body temperature
  • Increased heart rate
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sweating
  • Unable to control thoughts

LSD is usually not life-threatening unless taken in very high doses of 400 mcg or more. More commonly, when someone injures themselves on LSD it is because of poor judgment.

How Long Does LSD Stay in Your System?

An LSD trip lasts about 12 hours, but the drug stays in the system for far longer.

LSD takes at least 36 hours to metabolize from the body completely. It is removed from the body in a complex way, so the speed of metabolism changes as it is being eliminated.

LSD may also produce a “flashback” hours or days later, likely due to how slowly the drug is metabolized. Flashbacks are usually pleasant and not distressing.

People reported flashbacks months or even years after last using LSD.

LSD Half-Life

The half-life of LSD changes as the drug is metabolized. The half-life is about four hours until 90% of the drug is eliminated from the body and then the half-life extends to nine hours.

Is LSD Addictive?

LSD is generally not considered addictive because it does not cause compulsive use. Compulsive use is when the presence of a drug in someone’s body encourages them to keep using the drug or to use more of it.

LSD use tends to be self-limited and non-addictive because the experience can be intense, long-lasting and emotionally draining.

View Sources

Das, Saibal; et al. “Lysergic Acid Diethylamide: A Drug of ‘Use’?” Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology, 2016. Accessed Aug 31, 2019.

Department of Justice. “D-Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (Street […]id, Window Pane).” 2018. Accessed Aug 31, 2019.

Dolder, Patrick C.; et al. “Pharmacokinetics and Concentration-Ef[…]al LSD in Humans.” International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, 2015. Accessed Aug 31, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Hallucinogens.” 2019. Accessed Aug 31, 2019.

MedlinePlus. “Substance Use – LSD: MedlinePlus Me[…]cal Encyclopedia.” 2016. Accessed Aug 31, 2019.

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