The Truth Behind Common Beliefs About LSD

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Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), also commonly known as acid, is a hallucinogenic drug. Research indicates that LSD may have some therapeutic effects, such as when treating alcohol addiction. But it is also a drug that comes with a lot of misconceptions, many that stem from its recreational versus therapeutic use.

For example, some claim that LSD can make you a better person or that orange juice can help stop an acid trip. Here you can discover the truth behind five commonly held beliefs about LSD.

The Effect of LSD on Personality Is Complex

Widespread propaganda during the 1960s promoted the use of acid to supposedly make people more spiritually aware, loving, and of higher consciousness. Many still promote these ideas. In reality, it's not that simple.

There have been several small studies that found evidence of positive personality change in participants who took LSD in a controlled environment. One study reported "robust psychological effects" and changes in aspects of participants' personality, including increased optimism and trait openness after taking LSD.

Another study found that participants reported positive attitudes about life, positive mood changes, and positive behavioral changes after taking LSD that were attributed to their experience with the drug. While participants reported these long-lasting positive effects, researchers found no relevant changes in personality measures, meaning that the self-reported changes were subjective.

Research suggests that the relationship between LSD and personality is a two-way street: a person's personality can affect their experience with LSD and using LSD can affect their personality. Ultimately, more research is needed to understand this relationship and certainly, current study findings shouldn't be interpreted as support for the recreational use of LSD as a way to promote positive personality changes.

There Is No Foolproof Way to Prevent a Bad Acid Trip

Well-meaning proponents of LSD have promoted the idea that having a friend or "guide" with you while you are on LSD will prevent you from experiencing a bad trip. The idea behind this is that a grounded, intuitive, and open-minded person can say just the right thing or support you in just the way you need to ensure that you avoid some of the negative experiences that can come with LSD use.

While having a supportive friend may help you cope with a bad trip, even people who have experience with LSD and training in psychotherapy are sometimes unable to prevent others from having a negative reaction to the drug.

Researchers acknowledge that external factors such as environment (sometimes referred to as "setting") can have a significant effect on a person's experience with LSD. But controlling for these factors with the help of others doesn't guarantee a positive outcome. Having a bad trip is always a risk with LSD use.

The Only Thing That Ends a "Trip" Is Time

There are some interesting tales about methods for stopping an acid trip. Some believe, for instance, that a few gulps of orange juice or a boost of vitamin C are all it takes to stop the effects of LSD. But the truth is that by the time the LSD takes effect, your body has already metabolized the drug.

The high you experience is actually the after-effects on your brain, and any anecdotal reports of improvements felt after drinking orange juice are most certainly a placebo effect. The only thing that will eliminate LSD from your system and end its mental effects is time.

LSD Is Quickly Metabolized and Eliminated From the Body

You may have heard that once taken, LSD is permanently stored in the body and can be released at any time. If true, this would have the potential to put the person back into an uncontrollable trip.

Some stories go as far as to claim that the drug becomes stored in the spinal fluid, only to be released unexpectedly sometime in the future. In reality, the body metabolizes LSD into inactive compounds and eliminates it from the body rather quickly.

It's likely that this belief originated as a way for people to rationalize flashbacks, which can be intense and are a possible risk when taking LSD. But flashbacks, by definition, occur after the original drug effects have worn off and are not the result of the "re-release" of the drug from bodily stores.

LSD Is Not a Magic Key to the Unconscious Mind

It is a common belief among people who take LSD that the drug unlocks the awareness of their unconscious, giving them access to repressed memories from their past and revealing hidden truths about themselves and humanity. While many report the effects of LSD to be profound, even of spiritual significance, there is no evidence that an acid trip will uncover hidden truths.

Much about the impact of LSD on the brain remains unknown. Research has uncovered evidence that psychedelics like LSD have the potential to cause structural changes in areas of the brain that influence self-referential thought (self-focus and relating information to the self) and internal mentation (spontaneous mental thoughts), which could explain some of these anecdotal reports—but a causal relationship hasn't been proven.

There is promising evidence that supports the idea that drugs like LSD have the potential to elicit changes in cognition that are conducive to improvements in psychological well-being. Research in this area continues, but any possible therapeutic effects of LSD require significantly more data.

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.

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By Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD
Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD is a psychologist, professor, and Director of the Centre for Health Leadership and Research at Royal Roads University, Canada.