LSD and the Dangers of Microdosing

An illegal drug with no accepted medical uses in the United States, D-lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD, is a hallucinogenic drug that alters perceptions and the senses.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) classifies it as one of the most powerful psychedelic, or mood-altering, chemicals that is abused.

LSD is a synthetic compound  manufactured in clandestine laboratories and sold in tablets, capsules, liquid form, or dissolved onto blotter or other absorbent paper and cut into squares. Called acid, blotter, window pane, dots, mellow yellow, boomers, and yellow sunshines, LSD was abused by 287,000 people over age 11 in the month prior to the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).
Since the Drug Enforcement Administration, or the DEA, classified LSD as a Schedule I controlled substance with no approved medicinal value, any use of LSD is considered to be abuse. LSD is taken by mouth and often used to cause a mind-altering experience. The drug increases a person’s heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature; distorts the perception of time; heightens and changes the senses, potentially making the person “see” sounds and “hear” colors; and creates a detachment from reality by altering the way the brain perceives certain things.

With repeated use, a person can become tolerant to amounts of LSD, requiring higher doses to get the same effects. While tolerance to LSD can occur, NIDA reports that LSD is not considered to necessarily be addictive as it does not generally create a physical dependence or cause a person to engage in compulsive and out-of-control drug-seeking behaviors. That being said, LSD may have many long-term psychological effects, and someone who abuses LSD regularly can benefit from a comprehensive drug abuse treatment program to discontinue its use. Behavioral therapies teach a person new life skills and stress management techniques that may be useful in learning how to handle everyday life without feeling the need to escape with mind-altering drugs.

LSD as a Club Drug and Creativity Enhancer

Almost half of the people who abuse LSD in the United States, according to the 2014 NSDUH, are between the ages of 18 and 25. LSD is considered a “club drug” by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), as it is commonly distributed at raves, all-night dance parties, and on the club scene. NIDA estimates that as of 2014, around 11 percent of Americans aged 12 and older had tried LSD in their lifetimes.

LSD is not only abused by young adults seeking a pleasant “trip” or “out-of-body” type experience, however. It has also gained popularity in the business world. Young businesspeople may be experimenting with lower doses of LSD in a use pattern called microdosing. A microdose of LSD is typically about one-tenth of the normal dosage, and young businesspeople, particularly those in their 20s, may be microdosing LSD to increase energy levels, enhance moods, or in an attempt to help them get ahead in the workplace, Forbes reports. Tech professionals in the Silicon Valley may be microdosing LSD for a boost in productivity without the typical “trip” that a full dose of LSD may cause, Telegraph publishes.
According to information published by Rolling Stone magazine, LSD microdosing may be done by some to alleviate symptoms of depression, chronic fatigue, and migraines. Microdosing gained notoriety in 2011 after a book was published by the psychologist James Fadiman, titled The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide, about the potential for positive perceptual changes due to taking regular and small amounts of LSD. This practice has not been studied extensively. As a result, not much research into the potential harms of this practice has been conducted. We do know that abusing LSD in any amount may carry a multitude of negative side effects, ranging from a short-term bad trip to flashbacks that occur on a long-term basis.

A Bad LSD Trip 

LSD can be highly unpredictable and affect different people differently. The fact that it is made in illicit laboratories means that a person may never be sure exactly what else may be contained in the version of the drug taken. While some people may experience distorted perceptions of their body image, altered perception of the size and shape of surrounding objects, modifications in their depth perception and other senses, and increased euphoria, others may become paranoid, experience a panic attack, have an intense fear of death, and suffer from psychosis when taking LSD. These negative symptoms are commonly referred to as a bad trip. The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) published that in 2011, there were around 5,000 visits to emergency departments (EDs) in the United States related to an adverse reaction to LSD.


When under the influence of LSD, individuals may not able to make good decisions, have trouble with motor functions, suffer from poor judgment and impulse control, or engage in behaviors that are out of character. An LSD overdose is likely to be more psychological than physical and is not generally life-threatening, although individuals may be a danger to themselves or others while overdosing. An overdose is when amounts of a drug overwhelm the body systems and cannot be metabolized safely.

Signs of an LSD overdose include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Extreme fear of losing control and/or death
  • Panic
  • Despair
  • Terrified thoughts
  • Psychosis

Mixing LSD with alcohol or other drugs can amplify the side effects of both substances and increase the likelihood for an overdose. If someone takes a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) for depression and also takes LSD, for instance, a potentially life-threatening reaction called serotonin syndrome can occur wherein the levels of serotonin reach toxic levels and can cause death, the U.S. National Library of Medicine reports.

If an overdose on LSD, or any other substance, is suspected, call 911 immediately.

Long-term Effects of LSD Abuse and Microdosing

One of the potential dangers of abusing LSD in any amount, including microdosing, may be the potential for experiencing “flashbacks” days, months, or even years after stopping use of the drug. A flashback is a re-experiencing of the drug’s effects that may come on suddenly and without warning. These flashbacks may contain both positive and negative experiences and be quite disruptive.

LSD use can also cause the onset of hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD), which may cause visual disturbances at such a rate that everyday life and the ability to function normally is impaired, the journal Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology publishes. For those suffering from HPPD, moving objects may appear to have attached trails.

Since LSD affects levels of serotonin in the brain, which is one of the chemical messengers responsible for signaling pleasure, it may be possible to disrupt the natural way the brain processes rewards and therefore feels pleasure. Other drugs that affect the reward pathways in the brain are highly addictive and can cause the brain’s circuitry to be rewired, thus making it more difficult for individuals to feel good without the drug’s interference. As a result, depression is a common side effect of drug addiction and withdrawal. Microdosing and its potential long-term side effects have not been properly studied at this point, so it’s difficult to fully assess the effects of the practice. Live Science warns that using LSD regularly, even in small amounts, may have unintended and far-reaching side effects that are as of yet unknown.

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