LSD is a hallucinogenic drug that goes by the street name acid. LSD stands for lysergic acid diethylamide which is synthetically produced. Lysergic acid was first discovered in ergot, a type of fungus that is found on contaminated rye and other grain. Despite being known as a hallucinogenic drug, LSD does not usually cause hallucinations if consumed in small amounts. It  does ‘excite’ the CNS (central nervous system) but due to the unpredictable nature of this drug, it may have various effects on different individuals.

What does LSD look like?

LSD is a colorless and odorless liquid. It has a slightly bitter taste and is usually soaked on blotter paper and colorful paper stamps. This makes it less conspicuous compared to other narcotic drugs and can often be missed by concerned parents. LSD in the form of tablets, capsules, gelatin squares and sugar cubes are more easily identified but due to the fairly innocuous appearance of these forms, it may not be immediately evident that these substances are laced with LSD.

Peddlers often sell LSD in forms that appeal to a young clientele – targeting children and teenagers.

Effects of LSD

LSD changes the user’s mood. The exact effect of LSD use cannot be predicted due to a number of variables including :

  • Quantity of active ingredient in the various forms of administration.
  • Individual’s personality, mood and environment at time of use.
  • Pre-existing mental health disease.
  • Level of tolerance.

LSD Effects on the Brain

The exact mechanism of action of hallucinogens like LSD is not known. It was initially believed to increase serotonin (a brain hormone) levels in the brain. However, LSD may instead act on the serotonin receptors present on certain neurons (nerve cells). This in turns sets a complex pathway into motion, stimulating certain areas of the brain, triggering the release of other neurotransmitters and altering sensory perception.

These effects on the brain are seen as :

  • Euphoria or even depression.
  • Anxiety or panic attacks.
  • Distorted sensory perceptions.
  • Fear, anger or even violent behavior.
  • Hallucinations in large doses.

LSD Effects on the Body

Some of the effects of LSD include :

  • Increased body temperature.
  • Sweating.
  • Dilated pupils.
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Nausea.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Tremors.
  • Insomnia.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Dizziness, numbness of body parts or unusual sensations.

LSD has similar effects to ecstasy (MDMA), another common type of hallucinogen.

Most of the effects mentioned above are short term – lasting between 1 to 2 hours after use. Sometimes the effects can persist for 6 to 8 hours. This depends on the quantity used and if repeat doses are administered.

Long Term Effects

The most common long term effect reported by LSD users are ‘flashbacks’.  This may be flashbacks of actual incidents that occurred during the LSD trip, hallucinations experienced during the trip or even past events from earlier in life. Other effects of LSD may include persistent psychosis. This may be seen or diagnosed as schizophrenia,  clinical depression, or certain behavioral disorders. This may last for years and never resolve.

The typical presentation of these long term effects is encapsulated in the colloquial term “acid head”. The image of the “spaced out” hippie depicted in many television series is a typical example of the long term effects of LSD. While these characters are depicted in a manner that is meant to be amusing, the reality of the long term effects of LSD can be devastating.

Bad LSD Trip

At times, users have a frightening, unpleasant or disturbing experience when using LSD – this is known as a ‘bad trip’. This may involve hallucinations which can be emotionally upsetting to extremely uncomfortable physical sensations. During a bad trip, a user may experience exacerbated episodes of the physical effects which can lead to dehydration, shock or even result in paralytic states while the person ins conscious or episodes resembling catatonic states.

A bad trip may depend on the quality of the LSD used or the person’s tolerance to LSD. Mixing LSD with other narcotics or alcohol can also result in a bad trip. Even regular LSD users have bad trips occasionally and there is always the risk of criminal activities being perpetrated by the user or against the user during this period.

LSD vs Shrooms

LSD is sometimes confused with magic mushrooms or ‘shrooms’ although LSD is manufactured synthetically these days while magic mushrooms are consumed in the natural form. Both are hallucinogens and may have similar effects, however, LSD and ‘shrooms’ are two different illegal substances.

Psilocybin mushrooms, or ‘shrooms’, like LSD, can cause hallucinations if consumed in large quantities. LSD is available as a concentrated colorless, odorless, slightly bitter liquid which can be licked off blotter paper or applied on the tongue. ‘Shrooms’ are used in their natural form, either dried or fresh, and is eaten, chewed or brewed to make a tea. The effects of both LSD and ‘shrooms’ are similar although magic mushrooms are considered to be more unpredictable because of variations in species, cultivation methods and quantity of active ingredients.


Article reviewed by Dr. Greg. Last updated on May 19, 2010