Muir Wood therapist, David Laing
Muir Wood Adolescent and Family Services is a Joint Commission-accredited mental health and substance use disorder treatment provider located in Petaluma, California. We provide integrated evidence-based care including psychiatry, psychotherapy, experiential therapy, wellness services, and milieu therapy for adolescents and teens, and their family members.

LSD Abuse

LSD Abuse

It’s possible that teens are finding LSD less dangerous because they also find it fun. But abuse can have long lasting consequences.

Lysergic acid diethylamide, commonly known as LSD or plain “acid,” is a drug that seems custom-made for teenagers. The drug is placed on tiny sheets of paper printed with colorful cartoon characters, making it both visually interesting and portable. It can melt away in the mouth, leaving no pesky wrappers or ashes for nosy parents to find. It also leaves no scent on the breath or stains on the fingers when users take it, so teens might find it easy to sneak their use past school administrators. Unfortunately, teens who dabble in LSD use and abuse could be doing serious damage to their developing brains. Some might even develop addictions as a result of their use.

A Powerful Substance

LSD is a hallucinogenic drug that is manufactured in illicit laboratories all across the world. At one point, the drug was used in medical research, but much of the drug’s use is now considered illicit and illegal. Since the drug was once part of the medical community, however, researchers know quite a bit about how the drug works, and how people who take the drug might feel while they’re under the influence.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, LSD works by disturbing the function of cells in the brain and spinal cord, amending the production and use of a specific chemical used for sensory perception, muscle control and behavior.

When these systems are amended, people can experience a radically transformed version of reality, which might include:

  • Visual or auditory hallucinations
  • Ability to “hear” colors or “see” sounds
  • A sensation of slowed time, or the feeling that time is passing quickly
  • A feeling of connectedness with a higher power

In the past, an experience like this was considered part of growing up, and native cultures often provided young men with hallucinogenic drugs to give them a peek into the world of the divine that might be just outside of their normal perception. Young people who study ancient cultures may be tempted to try LSD, believing that they’re just tapping into a valuable tradition that could help them transition from youth to adulthood. Unfortunately, teens who take LSD in the modern culture are likely having a very different experience, when compared to the experiences of people who take the drug in a native context.

As an article in the Journal of Drug Issues suggests, youths in native cultures take hallucinogenic drugs under the supervision of their elders, and their experiences are often monitored and explained. Guides like this can keep users from harming themselves while under the influence, and they can provide guidance that might keep an experience from taking a turn to the negative. Modern users rarely take LSD with this kind of help. In fact, modern teens might not ever admit to their elders that they even take drugs. The experiences they have might be much more dangerous as a result.

Negative Effects

Since LSD is produced illicitly, it comes with no dosing information or warning documentation. Teen users may have no idea how the drug was produced, and they might not know how much of the drug they should take and how the drug might impact them. Some teens may start off their LSD experimentation by taking in massive doses of the drug, flooding their bodies with all sorts of chemicals and feeling very intense reactions as a result.

The feelings of panic that might bubble up when a user feels overwhelmed might be augmented by the presence of LSD, and in no time at all, users might begin to head down a “bad trip,” in which they experience:

  • Terrifying hallucinations
  • Rapid heart rates
  • A sense of impending doom
  • Persistent fears about the health of others
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion

According to the Nemours Foundation, these experiences can last for 12 hours or more, and there’s no way for users to reduce the amount of time they’re under the influence. Once the drugs have taken hold, the trip will last for a specific period of time, and if it’s a negative experience, teens might simply be forced to endure the issue.

Those who emerge from a terrible experience like this might feel lucky and fortunate, but they might also be plunged back into dysfunction at a later date.

At one moment, the user might feel healthy and happy. At the next moment, that user might be back in a hallucinating state, feeling terror. Experts aren’t quite sure what causes this problem, and they’re similarly unsure of how to help people who deal with flashbacks. It’s a risk that users of this drug just take.

Understanding the Risk

Although experts have been quite vocal about the dangers of LSD and a number of people who have taken the drug discuss their concerns openly, many teens just don’t seem to understand the hazards of this drug, and in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, fewer teens report that abuse of the drug is dangerous. In 2002, 76.2 percent of teens felt that LSD use happening once or twice per week was dangerous. In 2011, that number dropped to 70.4 percent. This seems to suggest that teens are buying into marketing claims about the safety of LSD, and they’re choosing to dabble in this very dangerous drug without recognizing the hazards that lie ahead.

They might take the drug in the context of a dance party, using it to help them better see the flashing lights and feel the pulsating music. They might also know of friends who take the drug recreationally and feel comfortable discussing that fact, and that might also make them feel as though use isn’t risky.

Specific Risks for Teens

While anyone who takes LSD might be at risk for a negative episode and a catastrophic flashback syndrome, research suggests that teens who take this drug might have some consequences that just aren’t common for adults. As a result, this might be considered a drug that’s horrible for teens to take even once.

Much of the concern centers on the subject of addiction. Traditionally, LSD hasn’t been considered an addictive drug, because it doesn’t cause chemical damage inside the cells of the brain that have been associated with compulsive use. Unlike heroin, which has been linked to such damage, LSD has been considered a relatively safe drug from an addiction perspective. There’s some evidence, however, that suggests that teens can and do develop addiction syndromes in response to LSD. In one study, in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers found that nearly 24.1 percent of teens who used hallucinogenic drugs like LSD had symptoms consistent with an abuse or dependence syndrome. Researchers aren’t sure why, but these teens seems capable of forming very strong attachments to these drugs in a short period of time, and they seemed capable of forming very serious addictions as a result. A separate study in the International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research also noted a dependence syndrome in adolescents who abused hallucinogens, and while the syndrome was most pronounced in those who took MDMA, it was part of the spectrum for adolescents who took LSD.

Teens addicted to LSD may find that they need the drug in order to cope with a strong emotion, such as anger or fear.

They may also find it hard to interact with others unless they’re under the influence, as the real world without the presence of drugs strikes them as colorless and boring. Some teens even begin to feel as though they need to take more and more LSD to feel the same amount of sensation. Their bodies become tolerant to the drug, and they might need to take massive doses in order to bring about the changes they crave. This is an intensely dangerous practice, as high doses of drugs have been associated with high levels of damage.

Help for Adolescent Boys

There are no specific medications that can be used to treat an LSD addiction, and there are no shots or chemicals that could be injected in order to make the need disappear. Instead, teen boys must learn more about how to use the power of their minds to keep their cravings for LSD at bay.

Some may find help comes through learning about meditation.By soothing their minds with thought, they might need to take in smaller amounts of drugs. Others find that confidence comes through hiking, working with horses or having some other transformative experience. They learn how to respect their bodies, and they might be less inclined to use drugs in the future. Boys who use drugs might also benefit from conventional therapies in which they resolve conflict with their families and learn to express their desires clearly and plainly.

If you think your son would benefit from a program like this, please call. This is the kind of assistance we offer at Muir Wood, and we have counselors available to get the enrollment process started right over the phone. Please call to find out more.