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    Popular in the 1960’s mostly with hippies, LSD, also known as “acid,” was later seen as a threat to society and declared a Schedule I substance in 1970. This means that it is illegal for recreational, medical and research use in the United States.

    At present, there is interest in finding out if psychedelics like LSD can treat mental health issues, like anxiety and depression, and substance use disorders. This interest has grown after psilocybin, the active compound found in magic mushrooms, has shown promising results in treating addiction and depression, anxiety and Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If you want to learn about psilocybin as a treatment, read this article.

    What is LSD exactly?

    LSD is a powerful psychedelic, which are substances that can alter the way people experience the world. It can impact one’s mood, senses and attention. LSD can be created in a lab but also grows naturally in ergot, a fungus that infects rye.

    LSD is considered a classic hallucinogen, along with psilocybin, ayahuasca and mescaline. These psychoactive or mind-altering substances are believed to work mostly by affecting the way serotonin in the brain functions. Serotonin is a chemical in the brain directly linked to our feelings of satisfaction, happiness and optimism. Many modern medications to treat depression act by increasing the amount of serotonin available to brain cells.

    How does LSD affect people?

    LSD can make:

        • slow down or speed up one’s sense of time
        • change the way people think of their identity
        • see colors and objects that aren’t real or changes in the size and shapes of objects
        • experience changes in sounds or movement
        • make people feel happiness
        • have delusions, which means believing things that aren’t true[1]

    What does LSD look like?

    In its pure state, LSD is a white, odorless liquid with a slightly bitter taste, although it is rarely sold in this form. It’s more common that drops of LSD are dried on blotting paper. The blotting paper is divided into small squares and decorated with designs such as a smiley face. It can also be sold in tablets or capsules.[2] LSD may also be dissolved into liquid sold as small breath-freshener droppers or applied to various products including gum, candy, cookies and sugar cubes.

    On the streets and in popular culture, LSD is known as acid but also as tabs, microdots, dots, window panes or mellow yellow.[3]

    Why is there growing interest in LSD?

    Recently, there has been a lot of focus on studying LSD as a treatment for mental health disorders and addiction. Studies have shown that LSD can increase the connections between different parts of the brain that are usually not well connected. This effect can last for a few days and has been linked to greater creativity, imagination, and insights.[4]

    In one study involving patients with anxiety associated with a life-threatening disease, anxiety was reduced for two months after two doses of LSD. In a follow-up study after one year, people in the clinical trial consistently reported feeling freer, less anxious and an increased sense of well-being.[5]

    People who have been in clinical trials have reported:[6][7]

    • Easier access to emotions
    • Better ability to confront previously unknown anxieties and concerns
    • Blissful states and happiness
    • Sounds and/or music that create visual sensations
    • Changes in observations
    • Feeling detached from one’s surroundings, and people and objects around you seem unreal
    • Depersonalization: having the feeling that you’re observing yourself from outside your body
    • Increased feelings of well-being
    • Closeness to others and trust
    • Openness to emotions and new ideas
    • Sensing that you are connected with something larger than yourself
    • More emotional empathy or understanding
    • Greater sensitivity to music

    These effects, combined with a greater ability to process emotions, may be helpful in LSD-assisted psychotherapy. However, LSD also reduced the ability to identify sad and fearful faces and complex emotions.[8]
    Given the general positive outcomes, a growing number of people across the world are using psychedelics outside of clinical settings. This use happens even though research on the medical use of psychedelics is still scarce.[9]

    What is LSD said to be good for?

    Although several studies involving LSD were done in the mid-20th century, only a handful of experimental trials have been conducted in the last 25 years. According to the review of the most rigorous research, there is evidence that LSD may be helpful as a treatment for alcohol use disorder.[14]

    The results also suggest that, in general, a few single doses of LSD in a medical setting may be helpful for patients with anxiety related to severe illness, depression, or addiction.[15] One study concluded that LSD produced long-lasting and notable reductions in anxiety and depression symptoms for up to 16 weeks.[16]

    Although these results are encouraging, more research is needed to confirm these outcomes and the healing potential of LSD in psychiatry.[17] In 2022, a review of the scientific trials of psychedelic medications studied for mental health and substance use disorders raised concerns about LSD and its potential as a treatment. The reviewers considered that until then no LSD trials had met the expected scientific standards.[18]

    However, in March 2024, a research program involving an LSD formulation to treat generalized anxiety disorder was granted breakthrough status by the US Food and Drug Administration. This means that this LSD formulation was shown to be effective in clinical trials and that its development and review as a potential treatment could be expedited. According to the biopharmaceutical company that conducted the trials, a single dose of its LSD formulation led almost half of the participants (48%) to show no symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder after 12 weeks following the drug’s administration. These preliminary results still have to be confirmed in several larger trials in order for the formulation to be approved as a treatment.[19]

    It is also possible that LSD may be useful to treat issues beyond mental health. The Pentagon has recently funded research to find out if a version of LSD that does not cause hallucinations may treat hearing loss.[20]

    What about microdosing? What it is used for?

    LSD is such a potent psychedelic that it has effects in very small amounts. A recreational dose of LSD is generally between 100 and 200μg (1μg is one millionth of a gram) or 0.1 to 0.2 mg. Compare this to the 325 mg of active ingredient in a regular aspirin. So, a microdose is a very tiny amount of LSD, between 10 and 20μg.

    According to several recent studies conducted in Europe, people who took LSD microdoses reported improvement in their mood, creativity and thinking. It also reduced anxiety and increased energy and friendliness.[21]

    In one of these studies, researchers were able to measure increased changes in a blood marker related to neuroplasticity, which is the ability of the brain to rewire itself. These changes are often needed in order to effectively treat depression.[22]

    However, some researchers have found similar positive outcomes of microdosing with LSD in individuals who were given placebos. Placebos are substances that cause no effect on the body – like a sugar pill. These results have led some to claim that the positive effect of microdosing is only the belief  that there will be improvement instead of the actual microdose.[23]

    In any case, experts agree that the promising early results warrant more research on microdosing.

    What are the risks?

    As with any substance there can be risks. For LSD they include:

      • A “bad trip”. A “bad trip” can include extreme anxiety or sadness and confusion. This can lead to unpredictable behavior, especially if the experience takes place in an environment that is not supervised or controlled.[24]
      • Large dose: In large amounts a person may panic or feel afraid. They may be frightened by people around them and their environment. Consider calling an ambulance if these symptoms are severe.[25]
      • Body impacts. Some people have also reported experiencing flashbacks: episodes usually lasting seconds in which substance-related experiences seem to happen again.[26]
      • Higher blood pressure. Another possible negative effect is a moderate increase in blood pressure and heart rate. It’s risky for people with severe cardiovascular disease to use it.
      • Avoid Use. LSD with other drugs can be dangerous, including over-the-counter or prescribed medications. The reactions can be unpredictable. When combined with MDMA, also known as ecstasy, there is increased risk of experiencing a “bad trip.” With alcohol, LSD can mask the perceived effects of drinking as a person may not feel the effects of drinking, which can be extremely dangerous, as people may continue drinking to levels that could threaten their lives.[27]

    As a recreational drug, there is no evidence that LSD causes physical dependence. Many people who use it claim to experience an improvement in mood after the “high” has worn off. Others report that coming down leave them feeling agitated, anxious, and a bit “off.”[28]

    There are no known withdrawal symptoms if a person stops taking it. LSD has very low toxicity, even at very high doses, which means it does not cause damage to the body or the brain.[29]

    However, LSD does produce tolerance, so some people who take the drug repeatedly must take higher doses to achieve the same effect.

    What if my child is using LSD?

    Although LSD does not cause addiction or physical or mental harm, it is important to note that, as with any other illegal substance, nobody really knows what’s in a product that is not regulated. So, many substances sold as LSD may have very different ingredients, increasing their risk significantly. To learn more about counterfeit pills and its risks, read this article.

    If you suspect your child is using LSD or any other substance, talk with them. Here are some techniques to help you establish positive and fruitful communication.

    Reducing the risks of using LSD

    If you think that your loved one is using LSD, talk to them. Here are some useful ideas about how to approach the conversation.

    The best course of action is not to use LSD. If your loved one insists on using it despite its downsides, consider sharing ways to reduce the risks. Remember that the most important thing is to keep them safe. Reducing the risks is not encouraging the use of substances. Instead it recognizes that there are ways to minimize the consequences of LSD use.

    Here are some risk reduction measures you may wish to share with your loved one. The recommendations are from a survey of people who use LSD and what they do to reduce risks:[30]

    • Know your substance: all substances’ effects are dose-related. Usually, the more substances you take, the stronger and longer-lasting the effects (and the greater the risk of harm). So, it’s a good idea to ‘test dose’ each new batch of LSD to see how strong it is. Start with a small amount of LSD and waiting for 90 to 120 before taking the planned dose.
    • Avoid when depressed, anxious or paranoid: substances tend to worsen these states. Getting paranoid (e.g., being overly suspicious or fearful for no reason) when tripping is not uncommon.
    • Avoid driving, biking or swimming: operating vehicles under the influence of any substance is always risky, the same as swimming.
    • Watch friends who are tripping: check in on your friends if they are using LSD to make sure they are safe.
    • Use LSD with people you trust: sometimes psychedelics can produce unpleasant experiences, so it is best to have someone you trust on your side.
    • Use a reliable source: don’t get substances from people you don’t know or barely know.
    • Plan your experience: plan in advance what you will do and where you will be when using LSD.
    • Set a limit on the amount: use only what you planned to use before your session.
    • Leave time between trips: leave enough time between trips (days, weeks, months) to understand and process your experience.
    • Stay hydrated: Drinking plenty of water can help prevent dehydration and reduce the risk of overheating, which can be a side effect of LSD use.
    • Avoid mixing with other substances: Mixing LSD with other drugs, including alcohol, can increase the risk of negative side effects, including seizures, paranoia, and heart problems.

    What if you or your loved one decide to try LSD?

    If you decide to try LSD in the United States for treatment of mental health and substance use problems you can apply to become part of a research study. Check out this database of privately and publicly funded clinical trials.

    Psilocybin and psilocyn are the hallucinogenic compounds contained in certain mushrooms. These “magic” mushrooms (other names include caps and shrooms) are generally grown in Mexico and Central America and have been used in native rituals for thousands of years.
    A few simple tips and guidelines can go a long way toward spotting issues with drug use earlier rather than later.
    Learn more

    [1] https://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/ben/cdar/2014/00000007/00000003/art00004

    [2] https://www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/lsd.html

    [3] https://www.dea.gov/factsheets/lsd

    [4] https://pubs-acs-org.ezproxy.gc.cuny.edu/doi/pdf/10.1021/acschemneuro.8b00043

    [5] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24594678/

    [6] https://pubs-acs-org.ezproxy.gc.cuny.edu/doi/pdf/10.1021/acschemneuro.8b00043

    [7] https://www.nature.com/articles/npp201786

    [8] https://www.nature.com/articles/npp201682

    [9] https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/02698811231158245

    [10] https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00943/full#B28

    [11] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3910781/

    [12] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29147729/

    [13] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32098487/

    [14] https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00943/full#B28

    [15] https://www.nature.com/articles/npp201786

    [16] https://www.biologicalpsychiatryjournal.com/article/S0006-3223(22)01553-0/fulltext#secsectitle0070

    [17] https://www.nature.com/articles/npp201786

    [18] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK586533/#vabriefpsym.s3

    [19] https://ir.mindmed.co/news-events/press-releases/detail/137/mindmed-receives-fda-breakthrough-therapy-designation-and-announces-positive-12-week-durability-data-from-phase-2b-study-of-mm120-for-generalized-anxiety-disorder

    [20] https://www.politico.com/newsletters/future-pulse/2024/06/07/acid-for-the-ear-00162225

    [21] https://www.beckleyfoundation.org/2021/03/04/is-microdosing-just-placebo-insights-from-the-beckley-foundations-research-programme/

    [22] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33962534/[19] https://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/acsptsci.0c00099

    [23] https://www.vice.com/en/article/akev74/does-microdosing-actually-work-the-science-is-still-conflicted

    [24] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27578767/

    [25] https://adf.org.au/drug-facts/lsd/

    [26] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10080051/

    [27] https://adf.org.au/drug-facts/lsd/

    [28] https://www.vice.com/en/article/7kbyae/drug-users-comedowns-crashes-lsd-mdma-cocaine

    [29] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/6384428/

    [30] https://www.globaldrugsurvey.com/gds-2018/thinking-of-using-lsd-for-the-first-time-heres-our-checklist-to-help-you-stay-safe/