What Is LSD?

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on June 29, 2023
5 min read

LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), also called “acid,” is a type of synthetic and mind-altering substance. This psychedelic belongs to a class of drugs called hallucinogens. When you take LSD, even in small doses, it can make you hallucinate – hear, see, and smell things that aren’t really there.

People tend to take LSD to get a high, “trippy” feeling that you can’t get from reality. LSD remains one of the go-to ways you can change the way you see the world around you, even though it’s illegal.

Scientists first made LSD in 1938, from a chemical they took from a type of fungus called ergot. This fungus often infects rye plants. 

Here’s a look at what LSD is, how it works, and its short- and long-term effects on your health.

In its purest form, LSD looks like a white or colorless crystalline powder, has no smell, and might taste bitter. But in this form, even the smallest dose can be strong and dangerous. 

To lower the strength, drug droplets are often mixed with other substances such as absorbent paper like gelatin sheets. It's also infused into sugar cubes.

When you place it on your tongue or swallow it, it releases the drug into your system. You can also buy LSD in pills, capsules, or liquids.  

LSD street names

Besides “acid,” LSD sold on the streets might be called other names such as:

  • Sugar cubes
  • White lightning
  • Dose
  • Tripping
  • Blotter
  • Mellow yellow
  • Dots
  • Windowpane

Experts don’t fully understand how LSD affects your brain and central nervous system to cause the psychoactive effects that make you see colors, hear sounds, or lose the sense of time. But it belongs to the same class of drugs, ergolines, that treats migraine and Parkinson’s disease. If scientists can figure out the reason why it affects your brain like this, it could potentially help treat other conditions in a safe and effective way.

What researchers do know is that LSD attaches to serotonin receptors on your brain cells. Serotonin is a chemical that your brain uses to communicate with the rest of your body. It also controls behavior, mood, the senses, and thinking. 

When you take LSD, it reacts with these receptors to trigger the hallucinogenic effects within your senses. Researchers believe this reaction is also what causes the long-lasting high.

When the drug kicks in, a “trip” -- the state in which you feel the drug’s mind-bending effects -- can look or feel like:

  • Greater awareness or clarity
  • Lack of control over how and what you’ll see or hear
  • Distorted images that change in shape or size
  • Seeing sounds or hearing colors, also known as synesthesia
  • Emotional feelings or insights
  • Mood swings
  • Feeling detached from your body or mind
  • Loss of understanding of time or reality
  • Lack of focus or concentration 

Yes, especially if you take it in high doses. A bad trip can cause side effects like:

  • Dilated pupils
  • High body temperature
  • High heart rate 
  • High blood pressure
  • Lots of sweating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sleeplessness
  • Dry mouth
  • Tremors (body shakes)
  • Serious feelings of anxiousness
  • Panic
  • Confusion
  • Violence

After an LSD trip, you might have feelings of anxiety, depression, or tiredness for up to a day. 

No. It is a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substance Act. If you’re caught with it, you could face jail time. LSD is not approved for medical use either. 

If you take a very high dose, you can overdose and have serious LSD toxicity in your body. This can cause:

  • Coma
  • Breathing problems
  • Vomiting 
  • Hyperthermia (very high body temperatures)
  • High heart rate and blood pressure
  • Bleeding problems 

If you notice these signs, you’ll need immediate medical attention. Call 911 or head to the nearest hospital.

LSD isn’t considered an addictive drug. It also doesn’t create the need for you to take it to complete daily tasks.

But it’s possible to build a tolerance for it, even after you use it just for a few days. This means the more you take, the higher the doses you’ll need in order to feel the same level of high.

Some long-term LSD users may experience “flashbacks.” This comes from stress, where feelings or visuals that you once had during a trip might pop back into your head. This happens even when you’re not using the drug.

Flashbacks can often take a toll on your quality of life. But how often they happen and intense they are tend to dip after you stop using LSD for a while.

Some people might also develop a condition called hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD). It’s similar to flashbacks, but if you have HPPD, you might get flashbacks long after you stop using LSD.

A few LSD users could also develop drug-induced psychosis, a mental disorder that causes you to have delusions, hallucinations, and unusual physical behaviors and speech. 

If LSD use begins to interfere with the quality of your life and that of your loved ones, talk to your doctor about getting professional help and support to gain back control.

To avoid a relapse, try talk therapy with a certified mental health expert. You can also join a recovery program to help you quit LSD or cut back. 

If you have flashbacks or HPPD, your doctor might prescribe medications to keep mental health symptoms like anxiety, depression, and certain psychiatric behavior under control. These can include:

  • Calcium channel blockers
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • Beta-blockers
  • Antiepileptic drugs

It’s best not to use LSD. But if you or your loved one plans to use LSD, there are some steps you can take to reduce your odds of an overdose.

You should:

  • Understand LSD, its dosages, and its effects on your body as much as you can before you use it. 
  • Start with a small amount to test how you’ll react. 
  • Avoid LSD if you’re feeling down, depressed, or paranoid. LSD can make these symptoms worse.
  • Don’t operate heavy machinery or sharp tools when you take LSD.
  • Drink plenty of fluids when you’re on an LSD trip.
  • If a loved one or friend takes LSD, keep a close eye on them to make sure they don’t have negative effects.
  • Set a limit on how much LSD you’ll try. 
  • Space your LSD trips apart by days, weeks, or months. This will not overwhelm your body.
  • Don’t mix LSD with other substances and smoke or drink it. 

If you or a loved one is showing signs of an overdose or a bad trip, it’s a medical emergency. Call 911 or get to the hospital as soon as possible.