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Considering taking LSD

Dear Alice,

I have become interested in trying LSD. But I am worried about what the side effects are and the consequences later in life. I only want to try and have no real need to continue, or desire to, for that matter. I am just really curious. What could happen to me? And do you know where one might find such drugs?

Signed, Mr. LSD

Dear Mr. LSD,

LSD (d-lysergic acid diethylamide), also called acid, is a strong psychoactive drug that stimulates the nervous system. When LSD is taken, the effects are often felt about 30 minutes later. Typically, they peak within two to four hours, but last for about twelve in total. LSD can produce physical reactions, such as an increased pulse rate and blood pressure, sweating, palpitations, nausea, and even uterine contractions (which could cause miscarriage or premature labor in pregnant people). Psychologically, LSD can cause illusions or pseudo-hallucinations (experiences that can't be classified as real hallucinations), by acting on the brainstem, the mind's sensory switchboard. LSD can also cause distortion of senses (for example, the shape and sizes of objects may be shifted), which can lead to poor judgement. Acid can even cause sensory crossover — for example, seeing scents or smelling colors.

Reactions to LSD vary, depending on the amount ingested, the surroundings, and the person's expectations, mood, company, and safety. Most take LSD in to experience a "good trip". Good trips are known to disconnect users from reality and give them feelings of euphoria, confidence, and a clear mind. Unfortunately, people can also experience "bad trips," with feelings of confusion, terror, anxiety, depression, and paranoia lasting up to several hours. In rare cases, this agitation has led to accidental death or suicide as people panic and attempt to flee from their hallucinations. Experienced people who take LSD accept these bad trips as possible side effects of their "mind altering" experience. Research suggests that the likelihood of experiencing a bad trip can be reduced if the person is in a controlled and safe environment for the duration of the drug's effects.

Although pure, laboratory quality LSD has a wide margin of safety, street LSD may be laced with phencyclidine (PCP), commonly known as "angel dust," "killer weed," and "rocket fuel." PCP is a much higher risk hallucinogen. As a result, tainted samples make street-sold LSD (as well as other drugs) especially unpredictable.

Acid's long-term effects include "flashbacks," the re-experiencing of LSD's subjective effects long after it has left the body. While some researchers attribute flashbacks to LSD's effects on brain and eye functioning, others conceptualize them as re-activations of unconscious thoughts that were first brought up during the trip. The idea that LSD stays in the spinal cord forever is a myth — LSD is excreted through urine within a day of use. Similarly, the link between one time LSD use and chronic psychosis is relatively weak. However, research does suggest that LSD can trigger psychotic episodes in people who are already predisposed to psychotic illness.

LSD became popular for recreational use in the 1960s, largely due to Harvard psychologist, Timothy Leary, PhD. Leary researched the drug's mind-altering effects and advocated its use for "spiritual growth." His experiments influenced the counterculture movement, making LSD the drug of choice for hippies who were on a path to experiencing enlightenment. LSD has been the subject of a few research studies since its original popularity in the '60s. Many have focused on the potential to use LSD in clinical settings to treat a variety of illnesses, including alcohol and opioid addiction, and mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. While the initial results of these studies are quite promising, more research is needed to confirm medicinal uses of the drug, which may take some time due to strict limits on studying LSD. 

Despite the general safety of pure LSD, and the potential for medicinal uses shown by recent studies, it's still illegal in the United States and classified as a Schedule I drug. If you do decide to experiment with acid, it's wise to take caution, surround yourself with trustworthy people, and situate yourself in a safe space. 

Hope this helps, 

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Last updated Nov 19, 2021
Originally published Oct 01, 1993

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