What to Know About LSD Use

Common Side effects of LSD

 Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin 

What Is LSD?

LSD, or lysergic acid diethylamide, is a long-lasting psychoactive drug that distorts and alters perceptions and sensations. In uncontrolled situations, LSD is one of the most potent mood-altering drugs available. It causes profound distortions in the person's perception of reality that can last up to 12 hours.

Although the use of LSD reached its peak in the 1960s and 1970s, the drug has been around since it was synthesized in 1938. It was synthesized from ergot, a fungus that grows on grains, such as rye.

LSD is illegal in the U.S. where it is classified as a Schedule I drug. This suggests that the drug has a high potential for misuse.

Also Known As: Common slang terms for LSD include Acid, California Sunshine, Hippie, Lucy in the sky with diamonds, Yellow Sunshine, and Zen. 

Drug Class: LSD is a hallucinogenic drug, which means that it causes subjective changes to consciousness, emotions, and thoughts. 

How to Recognize LSD

LSD is usually sold in tablets or capsules, but sometimes in liquid form. The liquid is sometimes applied to absorbent paper, called "window pane" or "blotter" acid, which is cut up into individual doses.

How Does LSD Work?

Scientists believe that LSD works by influencing the receptors involved in the regulation of serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain. Serotonin is involved in the control of behavioral, perceptual, and regulatory systems including mood, motor control, sensory perception, hunger, body temperature, and sexual behavior.

When this system is disrupted by taking LSD, it can cause profound distortions in the person's perception of reality, or in other words, hallucinations. People who use LSD see images, hear sounds, and feel sensations that seem real even though they are not.

These sensory hallucinations can be accompanied by rapid and intense emotional swings. Consequently, an LSD "trip" can go from being a pleasant experience to a very unpleasant one very quickly, making the effect of the drug extremely unpredictable.

What the Experts Say

Despite the fact LSD has been around for more than 70 years, there are few, if any, properly controlled research studies about the specific effects LSD has on the brains of those who use it. The research that does exist is comprised of smaller studies and case reports.

One review of the research on LSD that has been conducted over the last 25 years found that LSD:

  • Enhances emotional empathy but impairs the ability to recognize fear
  • Has therapeutic potential, but more research is needed
  • Increases feelings of closeness and trust in others
  • Increases interconnectivity in some brain networks
  • Makes people more open to suggestion


LSD affects the neurotransmitters in the brain and produces a range of effects that are not entirely well-understood. In addition to altered perception, people often experience emotional changes such as increased empathy and feelings of closeness to others.

Uses of LSD

There are a number of reasons why people use LSD despite the potential dangers. The hallucinogenic effects can seem pleasant. Because of the distorted perceptions and hallucinations that the drug can create, people often feel a sense of specialness or creativity, as if they are achieving an understanding that they could not normally reach without the drug.

The problem for people who use LSD is that all of these effects, pleasant or unpleasant, are so difficult to predict. The same dose of the same batch of LSD can affect one person in a completely different manner from another person. Moreover, a person can be affected differently from one trip to the next taking the same amount and same kind of LSD.

Off-Label Uses

While LSD cannot be legally prescribed, research on the therapeutic potential of LSD is ongoing and some promising findings have emerged. Studies suggest that the drug may promote neuron growth and may be beneficial in the treatment of drug dependency, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

A 2014 study looked at the use of LSD-assisted psychotherapy in a small group of patients with anxiety. Results suggested that when used in such a controlled setting, LSD could be effective at reducing anxiety, although further research is needed.

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Common Side Effects of LSD

Some of the most dramatic effects of LSD reported by researchers in smaller or case studies include:

  • Altered sense of self
  • Altered sense of time
  • Crossover senses, synesthesia (such as hearing colors, seeing sound)
  • Dramatic changes in sensations and feelings
  • Feeling several different emotions at once
  • Swinging rapidly from one emotion to another

These altered perceptions and sensations can cause panic. Some experience terrifying thoughts, feelings of despair, fear of losing control, fear of insanity, and fear of death. These experiences are what is known as having a "bad trip."

Scientists have also not been able to explain why some people who use LSD experience flashbacks—a sudden recurrence of aspects of an LSD trip without warning. These flashbacks can happen within a few days of the original use of the drug or sometimes more than a year later.

The physical side effects of using LSD include loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, tremors, dry mouth, seizures, and nausea.

Signs of LSD Use

Signs of LSD use can be distinctive, so you may be able to recognize that someone is using this substance.

Some of the common signs of LSD use include:

  • Anxiety or paranoia
  • Bizarre comments
  • Convulsions
  • Dilated pupils
  • Disorientation
  • Flushed skin
  • Hallucinations
  • Increased body temperature
  • Paraphernalia (tablets, blotter paper, sugar cubes, or gelatin)
  • Poor appetite
  • Rambling, incoherent speech

Symptoms of an LSD overdose can include panic attacks, psychosis, seizures, and delusions. If you suspect that someone has overdosed on LSD, contact emergency services immediately and try to keep the individual calm until help arrives.

Tolerance, Dependence, and Withdrawal

LSD is not considered a physically addictive drug, but continued use will lead to tolerance. When people become tolerant of a drug, they need to take more in order to achieve the same effects. This can be particularly dangerous in the case of LSD because tolerance tends to build quickly and the effects of the drug can be so unpredictable.

Even more troubling is the fact that LSD tolerance fades quickly, usually within 72 hours. This can result in people inadvertently using a potentially dangerous or deadly amount of the substance.


Fortunately, LSD is not addictive and most people eventually get tired of it and simply quit voluntarily, or decrease their use over time.

While people do not become physically dependent or addicted to LSD, it is possible to develop a psychological dependence on the drug. People will often seek the drug as a way of reducing or eliminating the unpleasant symptoms associated with psychological withdrawal.


Unlike many other substances, withdrawal from LSD is not usually accompanied by a host of negative physical symptoms. People are often able to stop using LSD on their own without experiencing unpleasant symptoms of physical withdrawal.

Psychological symptoms, however, can be quite common and may include: 

  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Hallucinations
  • Mood swings
  • Psychosis
  • Suicidal thoughts


LSD is not addictive, but continued use can lead to tolerance, meaning that people need to take more and more of the substance in order to experience the same effects.

How to Get Help

LSD misuse can have a serious impact on both the person using LSD and their loved ones. Treatment approaches can include outpatient or residential approaches that may incorporate cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), individual counseling, family therapy, and group therapy.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area. 

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

While there are no medications available to treat LSD use, other medications may be used to treat symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other psychiatric conditions.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does LSD stay in your system?

    People begin to feel the effects of LSD approximately 20 to 90 minutes after taking it. These effects can last up to 12 hours, although it may take up to 24 hours for the individual to return to their normal state.

    LSD use, however, can be detected by urine tests for up to five days and by hair follicle tests for up to 90 days.

  • Does taking LSD increase self-awareness?

    One of the most common misconceptions about LSD is that it is a key to unlocking the inner mind. While people might feel that they are unlocking the secrets to inner awareness during an acid trip, such insights tend to be subjective. The perceptual and thought changes that take place when using the drug are not necessarily a way of understanding the self.

  • Does taking LSD cause mental health problems?

    Some may wonder whether LSD use leads to mental health problems. Although LSD can produce some extreme, short-term psychological effects, the use of psychedelic drugs (including LSD, psilocybin, and mescaline) has not been linked to the development of mental health problems. In fact, researchers concluded there was no evidence that psychedelic use is an independent risk factor for mental health problems including anxiety and depression. LSD use, however, may carry some risk of hallucinogen-persisting perception disorder (HPPD).

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. United States Drug Enforcement Agency. Drug Scheduling.

  3. Liechti ME. Modern clinical research on LSD. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2017;42:2114–2127. doi:10.1038/npp.2017.86

  4. Gasser P, Holstein D, Michel Y, et al. Safety and efficacy of lysergic acid diethylamide-assisted psychotherapy for anxiety associated with life-threatening diseases. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. 2014;202(7):513-520. doi:10.1097/NMD.0000000000000113

  5. Johansen P-Ø, Krebs TS. Psychedelics not linked to mental health problems or suicidal behavior: A population study. Journal of Psychopharmacology. 2015;29(3):270-279. doi:10.1177/0269881114568039

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Additional Reading

By Buddy T
Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism.