Lysergic acid diethylamide, referred to in the medical community and by users alike as LSD or “acid”, is one of the most controversial drugs in the world. LSD is known for its psychedelic properties which create altered perceptions of the world around a user along with hallucinatory effects. When undergoing an acid trip, people claim to see and feel any number of stimuli: environmental changes, vivid colors and shapes, visual apparitions, and more. In most cases, it is impossible to differentiate fiction from reality, and even the most bizarre or implausible visions or sensations are perceived as real while under the influence.
Unlike drugs classified as opioids, benzodiazepines, amphetamines, and others, LSD is not considered to have addictive properties. The compound was first synthesized as far back as 1938, and it has had a fascinating, albeit divisive, history ever since. From then until the present day, LSD has seen uses as a commercial medication, as an experimental compound for chemical warfare by the Central Intelligence Agency, and even as a figurehead of sorts for drug countercultures the world over.
An acid high is achieved when a recreational user places an LSD-soaked paper on a mucous membrane in their mouth. While proponents and defenders of other drugs simply extol the euphoric effects of their substance of choice, LSD users take the veneration to another level entirely. Some users claim that LSD has inherent spiritual benefits or capabilities. The psychedelic effects are perceived as out-of-body experiences or as a means to reach higher beings, planes of existence, or as a lens to tap into otherwise inaccessible dimensions of reality or abilities of the human mind. Pulling back the curtain of consciousness, as it were.
Even at typical dose amounts, the psychedelic effects of LSD can lead to irreversible mental health problems. Certain symptoms characterize these especially dangerous trips.
The term “overdose” means something slightly different in regard to LSD. Many people associate an overdose with an inevitable fatal outcome, which is not always the case. An overdose is defined as much by its symptoms as its results. This being said, it is certainly possible to overdose on LSD. It is very unlikely it will be fatal.
In addition, an LSD overdose is more commonly referred to as a “bad trip.” These events are a combination of physical, mental, and emotional symptoms that can be both debilitating and dangerous to a user. The victim is no longer themselves in these situations, and anything can happen with such vast detachment from reality.
Truly, the real danger in correlation to LSD use is one’s own actions while on the drug. The drug may not kill a person from toxicity, but it can kill with its effects just the same. Acid highs create dissociative behavior. Individuals have been known to subject themselves to dangerous circumstances without even realizing it. Thus, several deaths are attributed to LSD, again, not due to toxicity, but due to reckless behavior such as walking into traffic, falling off cliffs, among others. Each and every LSD trip results in varying degrees of a lapse in judgment and loss of inhibitions. Consequences are nonexistent in such a state, as too is the understanding of basic concepts such as the difference between right and wrong. LSD users have hurt themselves and others in these contexts.
Because of this, it’s an oversimplification to answer yes or no to whether an LSD overdose is possible. The truth of the matter operates in a gray area.
LSD is taken recreationally in doses measured in micrograms — 1,000 micrograms make up a single milligram. This is in quantities far below the medical or recreational use of other drugs, but the effects are just as potent.
Experts place a standard LSD dose at anywhere between 10 and 500 micrograms. This number fluctuates depending on the individual and how tolerant they are to the drug. While the substance isn’t necessarily addictive, frequent use develops a pattern of tolerance just like any other substance use disorders.
When users pass the 1,000 microgram threshold they may begin to exhibit respiratory stress or even pass out. Some have reported feeling as though they were dying at doses of this size. Fortunately, it is extremely difficult to acquire such large doses.
While an outright overdose on LSD is rare, people have been known to suffer a fatal overdose when misidentifying the substance from something else. As of 2010, a similar hallucinogen called 25I-NBOMe, 25I for short, has made the rounds in recreational circles. First-time or frequent LSD users alike can take this psychedelic by mistake instead, and this problem is now more common than ever.
Symptoms of a bad trip can arrive within a few hours after ingesting LSD. Such side effects can range from uncomfortable to overwhelming. Bad trip symptoms to be mindful of include:
- Spike in core body temperature and excessive sweating
- Dilated pupils
- Numbness of the body and extremities
- Spasms or convulsions
- Loss of appetite
- Mood swings
- Harmful ideas and thoughts of suicide
Trips on LSD can go from bad to worse in a matter of minutes. While most symptoms will go away after a given time, usually 24 hours, some can stick around indefinitely. In fact, one of the chief dangers of LSD use comes with the potential for onset of psychosis. This isn’t just the case for users with prior mental health disorders either. Some individuals without such a predisposition were permanently affected as well.
Multifaceted treatment is needed for an LSD trip that has gone south. As with all instances of drug overuse, emergency medical responders should be contacted before any other actions are taken. Before they arrive, the best thing anyone can do for an LSD victim is to calm them. This can include removing them from a distracting or dangerous environment—sensory overload is a major contributor to any bad trip. Sometimes this route requires that the individual is isolated from others to prevent harmful behavior. Never sacrifice your health and wellbeing in this process; only do what you or others feel comfortable with. Once under medical supervision, physicians may administer benzodiazepines or other antipsychotic medicines to make coming down off the trip an easier experience for everyone involved.
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