Understanding the Acid Trip Experience

The technical term for getting high on acid (LSD) is LSD intoxication, but it is also known as an "acid trip" or "psychedelic experience."

During LSD intoxication, users may experience visual and other sensory distortions, changes to their thought processes, and intense emotions such as euphoria. Some users report experiencing surprising or new insights while under the influence of LSD.

An acid trip can last from 8 to 12 hours. An effect of LSD is distortions in time perception, which can make the experience feel even longer. Some users say they feel as though the trip could last forever.

When the moods of the user and those around them are buoyant or contented, the LSD experience can be highly enjoyable. However, a trip can also be extremely unsettling if moods are low and thoughts take a somber, or even macabre, turn.

what does it feel like on an acid trip?
Verywell / Jessica Olah

Why People Take Acid

LSD is more often used for recreational and social purposes as opposed to self-medication. Some people report that hallucinogens helped them gain insight into themselves, their lives, and the nature of the universe. Users sometimes attribute LSD use to greater spiritual awareness.

With LSD and hallucinogens, unpredictability is the name of the game. Chronic LSD users embrace exploring the unknown and the sense of excitement of not knowing what will happen next.

For people who dislike unpredictability or are uncomfortable in situations where it is unclear what will happen next, hallucinogen use may be extremely unpleasant.

The experience of tripping on acid can be scary (even if nothing overtly frightening happens) simply because of the profound distortions in perception and thought.

Good Trip vs. Bad Trip

The experience of being on acid is often described as dream-like, so one way of understanding the difference between a good trip and a bad trip is to equate it with the difference between a good dream and a nightmare.

Good Trip
  • The world can seem beautiful

  • Life can seem wonderful

  • Human interactions can seem deep and meaningful

Bad Trip
  • Can bring overwhelming feelings of fear

  • The world can seem harsh, cold, and ugly

  • Life can seem painful

  • People can seem superficial and cruel

The emotions that accompany an acid trip (whether good or bad) can be difficult to control, overwhelming, and might feel as though they will never go away.

While the experience of taking LSD can be pleasant if the trip is going well, a bad trip can be alarming for the person going through it and anyone who is around them. During a bad trip, a person may fear that they are going crazy or "losing their mind."

LSD can trigger mental health conditions and feelings of spiritual alienation.

These intense emotions can feel unbearable. A person on LSD may have temporary suicidal feelings, although death by suicide is rare in people who are high on acid.

It can be helpful to reassure someone who is experiencing a bad trip that you are there for them and that they are not going crazy—they are just experiencing the effects of acid.

People can also experience paranoia while tripping on acid. Make sure the person knows that they are safe and, if they are showing signs of paranoid thinking, that nobody is out to get them.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911. 

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

Visual Distortions and Hallucinations

A hallmark of the LSD experience is a distortion in how you see the people and things around you (perception).

Visual distortions take many forms: some appear as an overlay or outline of geometric and swirling patterns, while others are described as a change in the perceived size or shape of objects.

Visual distortions are by far the most commonly reported type of sensory distortion from LSD.

Visual changes in perception during an acid trip have also been described as static objects appearing to move—such as walls appearing to "breathe."

Sensory perceptions can also be mixed up, resulting in synesthesia. Synesthesia occurs when stimuli that are typically perceived through one sense are perceived through another, such as seeing sounds or hearing smells.

Hallucinations are sensory experiences that seem real when they are not. Some hallucinations come and go in an instant, while others may linger.

Hallucinations are common during an acid trip and can include:

  • Auditory hallucinations (hearing things that aren't there)
  • Tactile hallucinations (feeling things that are not there)
  • Olfactory hallucinations (smelling things that are not there)
  • Gustatory hallucinations (tasting things that are not there)

Being surrounded by several types of visual distortions at once can be confusing and disorienting. People on acid are generally aware that what they are seeing is part of the drug experience, but it can still be hard to differentiate between what is real and what is not real.

People on acid are usually able to "go with the flow" of the visual distortions, which tend to get more intense during the first couple hours of the trip, then become less intense for the remaining time.

However, sometimes people under the influence of LSD panic, become frightened by what they are seeing and hearing, or react inappropriately to their surroundings.

If someone under the influence of LSD begins to panic, make sure they do not go off on their own. People in this state are prone to accidents which may lead to injury or even death.

Changes in Thought Processes

LSD typically changes the way people feel about themselves, other people, and the world. These changes can be positive or negative. It's difficult, if not impossible, to predict what changes will occur in an individual when they take LSD.

No one takes LSD hoping or expecting to have a bad trip. While some accept the possibility as a risk worth taking, others do not believe it will happen to them until it does. Many acid users believe that if they have had good trips in the past, it means that they won't have a bad trip.

Some users pride themselves on being able to "handle" a drug's effects or believe that enjoying drugs like acid is an indicator of a "strong" personality. A bad trip can, therefore, be a blow to a person's self-esteem.

The changes that people experience in their feelings about themselves while on LSD is often described as a breakdown of their ego, or sense of self. Previously held beliefs about who you are and what matters to you can shift temporarily or permanently.

These changes are sometimes described in positive terms. People may feel more understanding of the plight of others, get in touch with their inner strengths, or feel more spiritually connected or enlightened.

However, the breakdown of the ego can also be negative. People may feel their life is meaningless, that the world is heartless, or that the human race is a ship of fools. These feelings can be profoundly alienating and depressing. Occasionally, negative thoughts during an acid trip can lead to suicidal or destructive impulses.

LSD can lead to serious errors in judgment. It is critical that a person who is high on acid is always kept in a safe, secure environment until the effects of the drug wear off.

Call 911 if someone who seems to be having a bad trip goes off on their own or is in a potentially dangerous environment (e.g., they are able to access heights, bridges, railroads, or heavy traffic).

Side Effects

The effects described above could be viewed as side effects of LSD intoxication if the intention of the person taking it was just a "party buzz."

There are also other documented negative effects of acid use which are thought to be a result of the stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system.

Common Side Effects
  • Increased heart rate

  • Raised blood pressure

  • Excessive sweating

Serious Side Effects
  • Hyperthermia (dangerously high body temperature that can lead to muscle and kidney damage)

  • Dehydration

  • Risks to personal safety

There are several potential medical risks associated with LSD use. Over the last 50 years, there have been a few document cases of two specific medical conditions associated with LSD use:

  • Hyperthermia—a dangerously high body temperature.
  • Rhabdomyolysis—a condition where muscle breaks down, which can lead to kidney damage.

Coming Down From a Trip

Taking acid tends to exhausting, yet it can also be difficult to eat or sleep—even during the latter stages of the trip. If the drug was taken in the evening, it is likely that the person will be awake all night, and well into the following day. If it is was taken in the morning, users may continue to feel alerted well into the night.

Hallucinations, delusions, and other effects of the drug will gradually wear off until a person's perception returns to normal. However, users need to stay physically and psychologically well for the duration of the experience, as a good trip can turn bad toward the end.

Food (when it can be tolerated) adequate fluid, and the company of calm, familiar, non-judgemental people can help ease the process of coming down from an acid trip.

LSD can cause excessive sweating, so users need to get adequate fluid. At the same time, users need to avoid drinking too much plain water which can cause water intoxication.

Users may also want to avoid caffeine, alcohol, and any other substances that affect mood and mental state when they take acid.

Relaxing and listening to soothing music can also help ease the transition back to reality. A good night's rest will be essential to recovering from a trip. Users should try to "wind down" and go to bed as soon as they feel able to sleep.

Acid Addiction

Most acid users only take the drug on occasion. Tolerance to LSD develops quickly, so users might not experience intoxication if they take the drug on successive days. Additionally, a person who has had a bad trip is less likely to use LSD again.

Rates of addiction among acid users are lower than users of other drugs. Fewer than 0.1% of the adult population meets the criteria for other hallucinogen use disorder.

The risk of developing an addiction to hallucinogens may be higher for people who start taking the drug during adolescence. There are also other long-term effects that can occur after taking acid, which indicates that it is not safe to use.

Unlike most recreational drugs, withdrawal has not been established with the use of LSD. However, the unpredictable nature of the drug (even with experienced users) partly explains why people do not continue to use the drug on a long-term basis.

However, LSD can become one of many drugs that "poly-drug users" (people who take many different drugs) use along with other intoxicating drugs.

A Word From Verywell

People who have a good experience with LSD may feel the drug has improved their understanding of themselves, other people, or life. They may describe the change in perspective as life-changing. However, people can also have "bad trips," in which they become paranoid, frightened, and even depressed or suicidal.

The effects of taking acid do not always go away immediately once the drug wears off, and it's possible that there are long-term consequences of using the drug.

Substance-induced mood disorder, substance-induced anxiety disorder, and flashbacks or hallucinogen persistent perception disorder can occur after taking acid.

If you experience symptoms of these conditions after taking LSD, talk to your doctor. These conditions are treatable. Furthermore, if you are concerned about your LSD use, there are also addiction recovery programs that can help.

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