What Are The Long-Term Effects Of LSD?

LSD doesn’t appear to cause any lasting changes to the heart, brain, lungs, or brain.

By Sam Eskenazi Last Updated: September 17, 2022
Last Updated: September 17, 2022
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LSD is easily the most famous example of psychedelic drugs out there and is likely the most well-used, at least among the older generation.

However, before taking LSD, or any substance for that matter, it’s always important to be wary of the potential for serious long-term effects.

Though the precise mechanisms of LSD are still uncertain, we do have an understanding of what some of the potential long-term effects might be.

So, what are the long-term effects of LSD, and are they anything to worry about?

Key Takeaways: What Are The Long-Term Effects Of LSD? 

  1. People frequently report an increase in positive mentality after taking LSD, including a greater sense of open-mindedness and interconnectivity several months or years after taking it. 
  2. If abused or susceptible to psychiatric disorders, LSD has the potential to cause long-lasting, unwanted hallucinations that could persist for many years (a condition called HPPD).
  3. LSD has little, if any, direct physical effects on the body — it does not appear to cause any lasting damage to the heart, brain, lungs, or any other organ system.  

What Exactly Is LSD? 

LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) was the very first synthesized psychedelic drug and was invented by Albert Hofman, a Swiss chemist, in 1938.

Known for its psychedelic effects and mind-bending experiences, LSD has a reputation as a sort of beginner-level venture into psychedelics.

However, thanks to its decline into illegality a few decades ago, LSD ceased to really be a part of the mainstream drug culture, giving way to lesser psychoactive substances like cannabis or MDMA (ecstasy).

Despite this, the use of LSD has been rising significantly [1] in the last few years, and it is starting to come back as a popular choice for casual drug users.

With an increase in usage, there will inevitably be an increase in curiosity surrounding its use, as more people start wanting to know exactly what goes into the drug they are taking.  

So what kinds of things can happen when you take LSD? What are the first feelings that a new user can expect to notice?

What Are The Immediate Effects Of LSD?

The immediate, short-term effects of acid are unpredictable, but there are a few generalizations we can make to give you an idea. 

By far, the most typical effects of taking LSD are a combination of changes in thought patterns, an enhanced sense of empathy and openness, and visual and auditory distortions (commonly referred to as hallucinations but are more akin to illusions).  

These trips will typically contain feelings of increased energy alongside a feeling of joyful euphoria and pleasure, which can sometimes be accompanied by a feeling of “openness,” often described as a sense of connection with others, the environment, and the universe.

In fact, this feeling of interconnectivity and openness can be used to help treat patients suffering from a myriad of psychiatric illnesses [2] — including psychological and emotional trauma, depression, and addiction

The Effects Of LSD On The Brain

Everything we put into our bodies interacts with a myriad of sophisticated bodily systems, triggering one reaction after another, eventually leading towards the effects we associate with the drug. 

This means isolating exactly how something like LSD works isn’t as easy as one might think. In fact, there’s still a lot we don’t know regarding how LSD actually works. 

On top of that, research into LSD was blocked for over two decades since it was outlawed in the 1960s. 

However, research is picking up again, and using modern imaging technology, we’ve been able to get a much better understanding of exactly how LSD affects the brain.

Here’s what we know so far: 

  • LSD activates the 5HT2A & 5HT2C serotonin receptors [8].
  • LSD activates the dopamine D2 receptors [9].
  • LSD causes an increase in brain activity within the hypothalamus [3].
  • LSD causes a release of glutamate levels in cortical areas within the cerebral cortex [4].
  • LSD inhibits our default mode network (DMN) — which serves as our source of ego.

What Are the Potential Negative Long-Term Effects of LSD?

The idea of taking a substance and having it affect you months later is pretty frightening.

Most people planning to take LSD want to experience its pleasant effects and then move on — ideally with a more expanded mindset and altered view on life.

While many people experience “bad trips” on LSD, which can be pretty scary in the moment, once the effects of the drug wear off, everything goes back to normal.

However, there’s one side effect that could last days, months, or even years after the experience — a condition referred to as hallucinogen-persisting perception disorder (HPPD) [5].

This disorder is characterized as a reoccurring, persistent sensation of hallucinations, including perceptions of small movements, light distortions, and auditory hallucinations. The worst part is that these feelings tend to last several months or years and come and go seemingly without any warning.

Again, this is incredibly rare, but it is linked with extreme abuse of LSD, which could point towards the potential for LSD to have some serious long-term consequences. The risk of HPPD increases if LSD or other psychedelics are used irresponsibly or if the individual has a higher risk of psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia or psychosis. 

LSD has been around since the 1960s and has been used by hundreds of millions of people throughout the years. 

Related: Does LSD Cause Brain Damage?

What Are the Potential Long-Term Benefits of LSD?

Studies have shown that many people experience a positive behavioral change after taking LSD, noticeable enough to feel more satisfied in their lives or just generally have a better mood and outlook on the world around them [6].

This isn’t to say that they have become different people — instead, people often cite a general feeling of more awareness of themselves, as well as increased connectivity to society and the world around them.

There is also an association of increased creativity surrounding LSD, which likely explains why so many artists and musicians, especially within the psychedelic rock genre, are frequently associated with taking it.

Whether this change in feeling manifests itself as an increase in spiritualism or just a change in outlook regarding their lives, many people, from Bill Gates to the great Aldous Huxley, report that taking LSD was the best thing they ever did.

It doesn’t happen to everyone, but LSD can be not only enjoyable to take in the moment but also helpful in developing you as a person in the long term.

Final Thoughts: Is It Safe To Take LSD?

It’s so difficult to really say whether or not any particular substance is safe for an individual because everyone has different levels of risk tolerance. On top of that, not everyone is capable of handling the effects of LSD, to begin with.

While studies have shown LSD to be safe for most people, there is always the risk of developing long-term negative side effects [7].

The most concerning long-term side effect of any psychedelic is HPPD — which involves recurrent visual hallucinations lasting several months or years. 

The best thing to do is to make sure only ever to take LSD in a safe, supportive space, surrounded by people you love and care about. Never take LSD if you or a direct family member suffers from psychosis, schizophrenia, or other psychiatric disorders. 

References

  1. Yockey, R. A., Vidourek, R. A., & King, K. A. (2020). Trends in LSD use among US adults: 2015–2018. Drug and alcohol dependence, 212, 108071.
  2.  Fuentes, J. J., Fonseca, F., Elices, M., Farré, M., & Torrens, M. (2020). Therapeutic use of LSD in psychiatry: a systematic review of randomized controlled clinical trials. Frontiers in psychiatry, 10, 943.
  3. Preller, K. H., Razi, A., Zeidman, P., Stämpfli, P., Friston, K. J., & Vollenweider, F. X. (2019). Effective connectivity changes in LSD-induced altered states of consciousness in humans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(7), 2743-2748.
  4. Nichols, D. E. (2004). Hallucinogens. Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 101(2), 131-181.
  5. Hermle, L., Simon, M., Ruchsow, M., & Geppert, M. (2012). Hallucinogen-persisting perception disorder. Therapeutic advances in psychopharmacology, 2(5), 199-205.
  6. Schmid, Y., & Liechti, M. E. (2018). Long-lasting subjective effects of LSD in normal subjects. Psychopharmacology, 235(2), 535-545.
  7. Carhart-Harris, R. L., Kaelen, M., Bolstridge, M., Williams, T. M., Williams, L. T., Underwood, R., … & Nutt, D. J. (2016). The paradoxical psychological effects of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). Psychological medicine, 46(7), 1379-1390.
  8. Titeler, M., Lyon, R. A., & Glennon, R. A. (1988). Radioligand binding evidence implicates the brain 5-HT2 receptor as a site of action for LSD and phenylisopropylamine hallucinogens. Psychopharmacology, 94(2), 213-216.
  9. Seeman, P., Ko, F., & Tallerico, T. (2005). Dopamine receptor contribution to the action of PCP, LSD, and ketamine psychotomimetics. Molecular psychiatry, 10(9), 877-883.