Is LSD a Depressant?

LSD is short for lysergic acid diethylamide. It is an illicit hallucinogen that comes as a white powder or clear liquid. Typically taken by mouth, the psychedelic drug can also be injected into a vein or inhaled through the nose.

LSD is a mind-altering drug that changes behavior, mood and a person’s perception of physical reality.

But while LSD can cause effects characteristic of both depressant and stimulant drugs, it is classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the National Institutes of Health as a hallucinogen, not as a depressant.

LSD in dictionary
A hallucinogen is a type of drug that alters a person’s perception, awareness, thoughts and feelings. Just as the name implies, hallucinogens cause hallucinations.

Hallucinations are things that are thought to be real. They can often be seen, heard or felt. In reality, though, the mind is creating them, and they do not exist.

Notably, LSD and other hallucinogens do not have the sedating effects of depressant drugs, such as Xanax, Valium and the “date rape” drug Rohypnol, which is not approved for sale or use in the United States.

Researchers believe that LSD stimulates serotonin receptors in ways similar to those of the neurotransmitter serotonin, but the exact causes of the effects of LSD are unknown.

This illicit drug has dangerous effects on the mind, including hallucinations and visual distortions, mood swings and altered perceptions of time. LSD produces physical effects that mirror those of other hallucinogens, including dilated pupils, tremors, increased heart rate, high blood pressure and sweating.

The effects of LSD are felt within 10 to 30 minutes of ingestion, depending on how it’s taken. When injected in a vein, a user can expect to feel the drug’s effects more quickly, usually within just 10 minutes.

LSD can also be taken by mouth. When administered orally, a user can expect to start feeling the effects of LSD within 20 to 30 minutes. These effects usually peak in about two to four hours and can last up to a total of 12 hours.

LSD affects a person both physically and psychologically. These effects can be short- or long-term.

Physical Effects of LSD Include:

  • Increased alertness or energy
  • Dizziness
  • Dilated pupils
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dry mouth
  • Increased blood pressure, body temperature and heart rate
  • Clenching of the jaw
  • Numbness, weakness and tremors
  • Increased sweating

Psychological Effects of LSD Include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Altered state of mind
  • Altered perception of environment
  • Altered perception of psychological well-being
  • Changes in personality
  • Detachment between one’s self and the outside world
  • Anxiety, depression and schizophrenia

The World Health Organization, the American Society for Addiction Medicine, the DEA and the National Institutes of Health, among others use varying systems of classification for drugs. Among these are the stimulant, depressant or hallucinogenic effects of a drug on the central nervous system.

The symptoms of LSD use are quite different from those of tranquilizers, sedatives and hypnotics, which include drowsiness and low blood pressure. Based on this criteria, LSD is clearly not a depressant.

Although the mental health disorder depression is distinct from the physical state of depressed — or inhibited — brain activity, researchers have been studying the therapeutic effects of LSD and other hallucinogens on depression and anxiety.

A small study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology in 2016 showed that the hallucinogen psilocybin used along with psychotherapy may prove effective in treating anxiety and depression.

The study found that a single, moderate dose of psilocybin produced fast-acting, lasting and significant anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects in patients dealing with the psychological effects of a cancer diagnosis.

A 2017 article published in The New York Times asserted that other non-scientific reports have claimed the same effects are possible using small doses of LSD, a new and unproven practice called microdosing.

The author of the article warned that the psilocybin study had some significant design flaws, including a possible “carry-over effect” from a control substance called niacin, a vitamin found in greens, meat, poultry and fish, also used in the study.

LSD is a powerful, unregulated drug. It would be difficult to monitor its purity or appropriate dosing.

And, while no definitive association between hallucinogen use and mental illness has been found as of yet, the drug’s Schedule I classification makes current data unreliable. Because LSD has no legitimate medical use and a high potential for abuse, it is difficult for researchers to gain access to larger, more controlled long-term clinical studies.

Additionally, users may be at risk for bad trips or flashbacks, and LSD may trigger a psychotic disorder in those with a genetic risk.

LSD should never be taken with antidepressants, a separate class of drugs that includes selective serotonin update inhibitors, serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, and tricyclic antidepressants.

Mixing the two substances can sometimes lead to a state of “wandering.” Wandering causes a user to stray away for a length of time without a clear sense of direction, making the person vulnerable to injury.

Other risks of mixing LSD with other drugs can include seizures and death.

Seeking treatment for LSD addiction can be an intimidating thought, but many rehab facilities cater to the specific needs of their patients. With rehab centers across the United States, The Recovery Village can help you find effective treatment options for your mental health and substance use problems. To learn more about how treatment can help you heal, contact a representative at The Recovery Village today.

BBC News. (2015, March 5). People’s brains scanned while on LSD in study in Cardiff. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-wales-south-east-wales-31740491

Friedman, R.A. (2017, February 13). LSD to Cure Depression? Not So Fast. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/13/opinion/lsd-to-cure-depression-not-so-fast.html

Griffiths, R.R. (2016, November 30). Psilocybin produces substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer: A randomized double-blind trial. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0269881116675513

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2015, February). Hallucinogens and Dissociative Drugs. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/hallucinogens-dissociative-drugs/how-do-hallucinogens-lsd-psilocybin-peyote-dmt-ayahuasca-affect-brain-body

National Institutes of Health. (2017, February 14). Protein structure reveals how LSD affects the brain. Retrieved from https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/protein-structure-reveals-how-lsd-affects-brain

Ross, S. et al. (2016, November 30). Rapid and sustained symptom reduction following psilocybin treatment for anxiety and depression in patients with life-threatening cancer: a randomized controlled trial. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0269881116675512

U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2018, May 5). Substance use – LSD. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000795.htm

Is LSD a Depressant?
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