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Is LSD Addictive?

Teen girl in sunglasses with lsd on tongue in nightclub with pink smoke.  

LSD, or lysergic acid diethylamide, is a popular drug that produces hallucinations and other altered experiences. Medical research has shown that LSD is not physically addictive like cocaine or heroin, but it may be psychologically addictive.

Hallucinogens like LSD work by altering the sensations of sight, sound, touch and subjective experiences like the passage of time. People use hallucinogens for social or recreational reasons. They may do it for fun or to have new experiences with friends.

The experiences teens have while on LSD are often intense and long-lasting, which is a reason why teen addiction rarely develops. People may feel drained afterward with no desire to use the drug again for a while.

Physical vs Psychological Addiction

LSD is not physically addictive but has some potential for psychological addiction.

To understand addiction, it is helpful to know the basic terminology.

Addiction is the process when a person continues a behavior (a substance in this case) that is harmful to their health or other parts of their life. Despite the known harm, the person keeps repeating the behavior, and it may impact their finances, social life, and school-work. Someone experiencing addiction will exhibit symptoms of an addiction cycle: euphoria, crash and craving.

Dependence is a state where nerve cells — the cells of the brain and those that pass messages to the rest of the body — become accustomed to the presence of a drug and cannot function normally without it. When someone is dependent on a drug, they cannot stop taking it without experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Dependence is a primary driver of addictive behavior for many drugs. LSD does not cause dependence or withdrawal symptoms.

Tolerance is when someone needs to take more and more of a drug to experience the same effect. LSD is known to cause tolerance very quickly.

LSD does not cause physical addiction, and researchers believe this is because tolerance to it builds too quickly. A person who takes LSD for more than a few days in a row will stop experiencing the effects of the drug unless they take a break.

In contrast to physical addiction, psychological addiction is possible with LSD. Psychological addiction is the same thing as behavioral addiction, and any behavior can become destructive if a habit is formed. For example, if someone is using LSD to relieve stress without other ways to cope, they may have a higher risk of addiction.

Co-Occurring Addictions

The fact that LSD is psychologically but not physically addictive means that most people who try it will not have a problem stopping. People at the greatest risk of addiction are those who exhibit addictive behaviors in other ways.

People who tend to binge anything, whether it be food, friendships, or exercise, are at risk of displaying binging behavior with LSD as well.

Those with current addictions to other drugs may be tempted to mix LSD with other substances, like alcohol, Xanax, or weed. LSD causes few long-term side effects, but it does have a high risk of drug interactions. Mixtures like the above may increase the risk of someone experiencing serotonin syndrome, which is a medical emergency where the body cannot regulate temperature and movement.

LSD and the Teenage Brain

Little is known about the effects of LSD on a developing brain. LSD does have a few long-term effects, but they are not specific to teenagers and can happen to adults as well.

Those who abuse LSD in high amounts and for long periods may experience hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPDD). This is a condition where a person has flashbacks of LSD experiences without warning, sometimes a year or more after use.

Teens and others may also be at risk of persistent psychosis with long term LSD abuse. Psychosis is a group of mental problems that can include disorganized thinking, mood changes, and paranoia.

Signs of LSD Use Among Teens

LSD can cause the following effects on the mind and body:

  • Changes in body temperature (too hot or too cold)
  • Changes in sensory perception: sight, sound, and touch
  • Dry mouth
  • Emotional changes
  • Increased heart rate
  • Memory impairment
  • Mood changes
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Panic
  • Paranoia
  • Sweating
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Uncoordinated movement

The symptoms a person experiences are unpredictable and may change each time the drug is used.

LSD drug effects may be difficult to spot, but someone can look for changes in behaviors like different hygiene habits, changing friend groups, or secretiveness that is out of character. Since LSD has a low addictive potential, it may be easier to spot signs of other drug use in teens like alcohol or marijuana to help determine if LSD is being used as well.

If you are a teenager and have a friend who needs help, or if you are a concerned parent, please call Next Generation Village. We have treatment professionals who are trained and experienced in managing addiction in teenagers. It is vital to catch and treat addictive behaviors at a young age. Call Next Generation Village today.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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