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Teens and LSD

It is this lack of inoculation of the current generation with regard to the risks of LSD that makes them vulnerable if the drug returns to popularity.

Teens and LSD

How much do your sons, daughters, or grandchildren know about LSD? 

If they are like the majority of 8th through 12thgraders, they will not be well informed about how this drug works. LSD has not been popular since the mid-1990s, and school prevention efforts have come to focus more on current drugs of choice, such as marijuana, alcohol, and cigarettes.

This gap in awareness is in contrast to the knowledge of their grandparents. 

Most senior citizens and baby boomers will remember the youth culture in the 1960s, with its high regard for tie-dyed clothing, strobe lights, and integration of LSD into the hippie movement and counterculture music. Names like Timothy Leary, the Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, or the Beatles will evoke stories about their connection with "acid" (LSD). 

Even parents of the current crop of teens are likely to have some familiarity with LSD as a club drug favored by those attending raves (all-night, high-energy dance parties) in the 1990s. 

It is this lack of inoculation of the current generation with regard to the risks of LSD that makes them vulnerable if the drug returns to popularity. Be proactive; have the conversation.

What Is LSD?

LSD (d-lysergic acid diethylamide) is a powerful mood and perception changing chemical that was first discovered in 1938. It is generally absorbed through the mouth tissue and is sold in tablets, capsule, and liquid forms. Colorless and odorless, it has a slightly bitter taste.

According to the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, LSD is a Schedule 1 drug. This means it is illegal to buy, possess, manufacture, process, or distribute LSD without a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) license. Distributors and users both can be sentenced to jail time.

The most common street form of the drug is called "blotter acid" and is a 1/4-inch square created by adding liquid LSD to multi-colored absorbent paper. The user places the tab on his or her tongue, and mind-altering effects begin within 30 to 90 minutes of ingestion.

Other common forms of delivery of LSD are on sugar cubes or gelatin. Each dose, or "trip," lasts about 12 hours. 

Street names for LSD include acid, yellow sunshine, blue heaven, cubes, Lucy, and dot. Often the blotter tabs have cartoon characters or other colorful designs and may look like postage stamps to the untrained observer.

How It Works

LSD is a hallucinogen that distorts the way a user perceives time, motion, colors, sounds, and self. It primarily affects two brain regions: the cerebral cortex -- involved in perception, mood, and cognition -- and the locus coeruleus, which receives sensory signals.

LSD heightens sensitivity -- all that we see, hear, taste, touch, and smell becomes magnified. Sometimes two or more senses combine, causing a person to “hear” colors or “see” sounds. This phenomenon is known as synesthesia.

Other effects include feeling time as moving very slowly or that one's body is changing shape.

The physical effects of LSD depend upon the amount taken and the individual's sensitivity to the drug. It causes eye pupils to dilate and can:

  • Elevate body temperature
  • Increase blood pressure and heart rate
  • Cause profuse sweating
  • Result in appetite loss
  • Create sleeplessness
  • Cause dry mouth
  • Result in body tremors
  • Increase impulsive behavior
  • Cause rapid shifts in emotions

Who Is Abusing LSD?

The NIDA-funded 2010 Monitoring the Future Study indicates that 1.2% of 8th graders, 1.9% of 10th graders, and 2.6% of 12th graders abused LSD at least once in the year prior to being surveyed.* 

While these are relatively low percentages, data collected in the same study with regard to perceived risks of using LSD indicates that the drug may be poised for a future popularity.

The belief that LSD has harmful effects decreased substantially among 8th and 10th graders, while remaining level for 12th graders. This suggests that younger teens are less knowledgeable than older students about the effects of this drug and may be more receptive to experimentation under the right circumstances.

There is no reason to suspect that these figures are significantly different for local youth.

Negative Consequences: Having a Bad Trip

The main issue with LSD is that psychological and physiological effects are unpredictable and depend upon the individual's mood, personality, expectations of the drug, and surroundings. 

A user may be filled with intense joy at seeing a three-dimensional glistening of dew on a leaf or in a state of profound panic feeling that the walls are closing in. Euphoric moods may rapidly change to terror and back again.

"Good" LSD trips may result in a profound sense of emotional and spiritual awareness. Bad trips may induce anywhere from momentary discomfort to temporary psychosis.

Finally, some users experience psychotic-like "flashbacks" months or years after an experience. These episodes – known formally as hallucinogen persisting perception disorder, or HPPD -- are "spontaneous, repeated, sometimes continuous recurrences of some of the sensory distortions originally produced by LSD including hallucinations and visual disturbances." **

Having the Conversation

It is not easy for parents to find clear signs that their child may be using LSD. The following list, provided by the Mayo Clinic, may also indicate other drug use or physical and emotional states: 

  • Dilated (large) pupils
  • Disorientation
  • Rambling or strange speech
  • Sweating
  • Rapid mood changes
  • Panic and/or heightened anxiety response
  • Stamp-like items with pictures ***

The best approach is to talk openly about the history of the drug and the attraction that hallucinogens such as LSD have had to young adults for generations. Listen with respect to your child's views about this type of drug. What are his or her questions and concerns? 

Finally, discuss the potential risks of this powerful drug to developing minds and bodies and encourage future conversations.  


* See http://www.monitoringthefuture.org/pubs/monographs/mtf-overview2010.pdf

** See  http://www.nida.nih.gov/ResearchReports/Hallucinogens/halluc3.html

*** See  http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/drug-addiction/DS00183/DSECTION=symptoms



- NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) has an excellent fact sheet on hallucinogens such as LSD at  http://www.drugabuse.gov/infofacts/hallucinogens.html

- For an excellent presentation of how LSD works, see  http://headsup.scholastic.com/articles/drug-facts-how-hallucinogens-work/

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