Effects of LSD

An intimate look at the subjective effects of LSD and its potential therapeutic utility.

Overview: LSD, also known as acid, is a semi-synthetic psychedelic drug that causes altered states of consciousness characterized by changes in perception, mood, thought patterns, and sense of self. LSD has been used for both recreational and medicinal purposes since its discovery in 1938. Recently, scientists have been investigating how LSD might be used to help people with a range of mental health disorders. However, LSD is not without its risks, and potential dangers associated with LSD use include physical risks and mental health complications. Understanding the risks can help users make informed decisions about their use of LSD.

What is LSD?

LSD, or lysergic acid diethylamide, also known as acid, is a powerful semi-synthetic psychedelic drug derived from a fungus that grows on rye and other grains. It is typically consumed orally and causes altered states of consciousness characterized by changes in perception, mood, thought patterns, and sense of self.

LSD has been used for both recreational and medicinal purposes since its discovery in 1938. From the 1950 to 70s, LSD was studied for its potential to help with anxiety, depression, and addiction, as well as other mental health problems. Some early research showed promising results, but most of these studies were done a long time ago and don't meet current scientific standards. 

Nevertheless, the discovery of LSD had a strong influence on psychology and psychiatry during that time, but mainstream popularity, increasing recreational use, association with the counterculture movement, and media manipulation provoked the drug’s being made illegal in the United States in 1968. 

Recently, there has been renewed interest in studying LSD for its potential therapeutic benefits in psychiatry. Scientists are investigating how it might be used to help people with a range of mental health disorders.

The Subjective Effects of LSD 

LSD can induce a wide range of experiences, with effects typically taking hold approximately 20-60 mins after ingestion and lasting for 8-12 hours. These acute effects can be broadly categorized into four main categories: perceptual, emotional, cognitive, and sense of self. 

Perceptual effects of LSD may include

  • Perceptual distortions
  • Perceptual intensification (sound quality, light intensity)
  • Vivid mental imagery
  • Closed eye visuals (often kaleidoscopic/geometric)
  • Synaesthesia (merging of senses that aren't typically connected e.g., shapes/colors being changed by sound)
  • Transcendence of space and time

Emotional Effects of LSD may include:

  • Intensification of feelings
  • Emotional amplification
  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Increased emotional empathy
  • Euphoria
  • Awe
  • Bliss

Cognitive Effects of LSD may include:

  • Flexible thinking
  • Psychological insight 
  • Enhanced creativity 
  • Enhanced memory of personal history
  • Free expression of thoughts, emotions, and memories 
  • Greater meaning found in things around us

Effects of LSD on sense of self may include:

  • Insight into patterns of thought and behavior
  • Insight into personal problems and past experiences
  • Loss of the boundary between self and other 
  • Ego dissolution 
  • A sense of unity and interconnectedness
  • A sense of being at one with the universe

Some people who take LSD have a mystical-type experience. A mystical experience refers to a unique state of consciousness in which an individual comes to a realization that they are an inseparable part of the divine, the universe, or the ultimate reality, using whatever term they prefer based on their cultural background or personal beliefs.

Research has shown that such mystical experiences may be associated with positive therapeutic outcomes for individuals with depression and anxiety who have not responded to other treatments. However, not all studies have reported this association.

Understanding the Risks: Potential Dangers of LSD Use

While LSD has been touted for its potential therapeutic benefits and mind-expanding properties, it is not without its risks. In fact, there are a number of potential dangers associated with LSD use that are important to be aware of before considering taking the drug. From physical risks to mental health complications, understanding the potential risks can help users make informed decisions about their use of LSD.

The Psychological Risks: Potential Effects of LSD on Mental Health

It is important to note that LSD can have profound psychological effects, and it should only be taken under medical supervision or in a safe and controlled environment. Researchers urge that psychedelics can be destabilizing if they are not taken in the right context.

One of the key factors that can significantly impact the effects of LSD is the concept of “set and setting.” Set refers to the individual's mindset, expectations, and psychological state prior to taking LSD, while setting refers to the physical and social environment in which the drug is consumed. The importance of set and setting cannot be overstated when it comes to reducing the likelihood of having a negative experience with LSD.

It is also recommended to have a trusted individual present to offer support during the experience. This person could be a trusted friend or a therapist who is familiar with psychedelic experiences. Having someone you trust by your side can provide reassurance and help to minimize any negative feelings that may arise.

Another important consideration is dosing. The potency of LSD can vary significantly from one batch to another, making it important to start with a low dose. By erring on the side of caution and taking a conservative amount, users can help to reduce the risk of experiencing overwhelming or uncomfortable effects. 

Contraindications: Health Conditions that May Make LSD Use Unsafe

LSD is generally considered to be a physically safe drug in terms of its short-term and long-term effects. LSD has a very low risk of causing physical dependence or addiction. Moreover, there is no evidence to suggest that LSD is toxic to any major organs of the body or that it causes any long-term physical damage, and there have been no reported cases of a fatal overdose on LSD. 

However, it is important to be aware of the potential contraindications associated with its use. Being aware of contraindications is important in order to minimize the risks and potential negative effects of LSD use, and to promote safer and more informed decision-making.

For example, LSD modestly raises blood pressure and heart rate during its effects. Those with severe cardiac disease should be excluded from clinical research and refrain from recreational use of LSD.

Though very rare, LSD use may worsen psychotic disorders or trigger prolonged psychotic reactions. Genetic vulnerability to psychotic reactions is suspected in cases where initial psychotic reactions occur after taking LSD, though it is currently impossible to tell if the person would have experienced a psychotic reaction had they not used the drug. In clinical psychedelic research, screening for psychotic disorders and vulnerability is an important safeguard against psychotic reactions. 

People who meet any of the following criteria are excluded from clinical research and are strongly advised to refrain from using LSD: 

  • Personal or familial history of psychosis
  • Pregnant 
  • Cardiovascular conditions
  • Epilepsy with a history of seizures
  • Insulin-dependent diabetes
  • Regularly taking a psychoactive prescription medication 
  • Regularly taking any medications that have a primary centrally-acting serotonergic effect
  • More than 25% outside the upper or lower range of ideal body weight

Effects of LSD on the Brain

LSD is a complex molecule that stimulates various receptors in the brain, serotonin receptors in particular. Serotonin receptors are proteins in the brain that respond to the neurotransmitter serotonin. LSD takes the place of serotonin in these receptors and stimulates them directly.

Recent research suggests that the 5-HT2A receptor is the key receptor through which LSD initiates psychedelic effects. In fact, studies have found that the psychedelic effects of LSD are fully blocked by a 5-HT2A receptor antagonist drug called ketanserin, indicating the central role of this receptor in mediating LSD-induced experiences.

When LSD binds to the serotonin receptor, the receptor changes its shape to accommodate the LSD molecule. The effects of LSD inside the receptor cell depend entirely on the nature of the drug, which leads to a unique signaling pattern that differs from serotonin and other psychedelics. Due to the 5-HT2A receptor being open only a small percentage of the time, LSD gets trapped in the receptor for an extended period, leading to its unique potency and long-lasting effects.

Brain Network Reorganization and Neuroplasticity 

LSD has unique effects on the brain's Default Mode Network (DMN), which is a group of interconnected brain regions that are active during rest and internal thought processes. These processes include self-reflection, memory recall, and imagining the future.

LSD temporarily reduces the connectivity of the DMN, and also disrupts connections within certain brain regions. However, it increases connectivity between the DMN and other areas of the brain involved in attention and conscious action. These changes in the brain's connectivity may be what cause the LSD experience, ego dissolution, and associated therapeutic effects in distinct mental disorders.

Recent research has shown that psychedelics such as LSD can promote the growth of new neuronal connections in the brain, leading to increased neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity, which refers to the brain's ability to adapt and change in response to new experiences, has also been correlated with improvements in mood states.

Further research is needed to fully understand the effects of LSD on the brain.

Exploring the Therapeutic Potential of LSD

LSD is currently being studied for its potential therapeutic benefits in conjunction with psychotherapy for individuals with mood disorders. These studies have yielded promising results.

One double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study found that LSD-assisted psychotherapy significantly reduced anxiety in 12 patients with life-threatening diseases. Biotech company MindMed also reported positive results from their Phase 2 study of LSD for anxiety, showing significant reductions in anxiety that lasted for 16 weeks post-treatment.

It's important to note that while these studies are promising, they have their limitations and further research is needed to fully understand the therapeutic potential of LSD. The studies mentioned above had small sample sizes, and larger randomized controlled trials are needed to confirm these findings.

It is also important to mention that any treatment involving the use of a mind-altering psychedelic drug requires careful consideration and support from qualified professionals. However, if safety protocols are met, LSD may prove to be a useful tool for healthcare providers in treating certain mental health conditions. 

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