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What Does LSD do to Your Brain?

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  • What is LSD?
  • Long-Term Effects on the Brain
  • Treatment Options
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Michael Kaliszewski, PhD
Dr. Michael Kaliszewski is a freelance science writer with over 15 years of experience as a research scientist in both academia and industry.
Jump to Section
  • What is LSD?
  • Long-Term Effects on the Brain
  • Treatment Options

What is LSD?

Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) is a popular psychedelic drug that alters the state of your mind in significant ways. This potent drug binds to specific brain cell receptors and alters how the brain responds to serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates emotions, moods, and perceptions.1 By binding to these receptors LSD modifies neural pathways, producing visual hallucinations and altering the perception of things such sound and time.2-3

In addition to the mind-altering effects experienced during an “acid trip” that could last for up to 12 hours, there is substantial evidence showing more detrimental, long-term effects associated with the use of LSD.

Long-Term Effects on the Brain

After the initial effects of LSD begin to subside, the user may suffer from acute anxiety or depression.4 Many users also experience flashbacks, the recurrences of effects associated with LSD many days or months after taking the last dose. Flashbacks typically follow a short-term, reversible, and benign course. The reemergence of visual images is typically accompanied by pleasant feelings, and there is usually not significant concern, distress, or impairment in the individual experiencing a flashback.5

Unlike flashbacks, a condition called hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD) has as a much more sinister effect on LSD users. Although similar to flashbacks in that it occurs well after the cessation of LSD use, HPPD is a dangerous and frightening disorder that follows a long-term and irreversible course.6 The impairment associated with HPPD can be so severe that many individuals are unable to adapt to living with these long-lasting recurrent “trips,” and many need constant treatment to overcome the pervasive symptoms associated with this condition, the more research is needed to determine how likely this case is.7

Flashbacks and HPPD are only some of the risks associated with LSD. Users are also at risk of developing long-lasting drug-induced psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia. When LSD binds to the 5-HT2A serotonin receptors it produces symptoms that are similar to the hallucinations experienced by people diagnosed with schizophrenia.1 And the fact that drugs used to treat schizophrenia are able to block the hallucinogenic effects of LSD further supports a connection between LSD and schizophrenia.5

Treatment Options

If you have used LSD in the past and are now experiencing flashbacks or suffering from HPPD, there may be pharmacologic treatments that can help you deal with the visual disturbances associated with these conditions. Some of the medications that have shown previous success in treating flashbacks and HPPD include:5

  • Benzodiazepines
  • Antiepileptic drugs
  • Dopamine receptor antagonists
  • Serotonin selective reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • Long-acting opioid receptor antagonists
  • Calcium channel blockers
  • Beta blockers
  • Catechol-O-methyl transferase (COMT) inhibitors

If you currently abuse LSD and suffer from psychological addiction, please know that help is available. Please contact an addiction specialist today to learn about effective LSD addiction treatment programs that are currently available. You may have a choice between inpatient or outpatient treatment, with most programs consisting of key components such as behavioral therapy, individual counseling, and group therapy.

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Sources

  1. Preller, K.H., Herdener, M., Pokorny, T., Planzer, A., Kraehenmann, R., Stämpfli, P., …& Vollenweider, F.X. (2017). The Fabric of Meaning and Subjective Effects in LSD-Induced States Depend on Serotonin 2A Receptor Activation. Current Biology, 27(3), 451-457.
  2. Barrett, F.S., Preller, K.H., Herdener, M., Janata, P., & Vollenweider, F.X. (2018) Serotonin 2A Receptor Signaling Underlies LSD-induced Alteration of the Neural Response to Dynamic Changes in Music. Cerebral Cortex, 28(11), 3939-3950.
  3. Yanakieva, S., Polychroni, N., Family, N., Williams, L.T., Luke, D.P., & Terhune, D.B. (2019). The effects of microdose LSD on time perception: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Psychopharmacology, 236(4), 1159-1170.
  4. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2018). D-Lysergic Acid Diethylamide.
  5. Lerner, A.G., Rudinski, D., Bor, O., & Goodman, C. (2014). Flashbacks and HPPD: A clinical-oriented concise review. Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences, 51(4), 296–301.
  6. Martinotti, G., Santacroce, R., Pettorruso, M., Montemitro, C., Spano, M.C., Lorusso, M., …& Lerner, A.G. (2018). Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder: Etiology, Clinical Features, and Therapeutic Perspectives. Brain Sciences, 8(3), 47.
  7. Hermie, L., Simon, M., Ruchsow, M., Geppert, M. (2012). Hallucinogen-persisting perception disorder. Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology, 2(5), 199-205.
Last Updated on July 21, 2021
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Michael Kaliszewski, PhD
Dr. Michael Kaliszewski is a freelance science writer with over 15 years of experience as a research scientist in both academia and industry.
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