LSD 101: An Overview
5 min

LSD 101: An Overview

5 min
News Research

People hallucinate when they take LSD, or acid. It’s a known fact. You take a couple blotters, you start seeing pink elephants and hearing music that isn’t there. That’s how it works.

People hallucinate when they take LSD, or acid. It’s a known fact. You take a couple blotters, you start seeing pink elephants and hearing music that isn’t there. That’s how it works.

What people don’t know is that LSD also causes what are scientifically termed “delusions.” Now, don’t get scared with all the negatives attached to that word; it’s just the word the medical field uses to define the phenomenon. The two are similar, but they have one particular difference.

A hallucination is what you probably think it is: some imaginative thing someone hears, sees, or otherwise senses, that in reality doesn’t actually exist. You might have had the experience of standing up too quickly after a long while of sitting and suddenly being hit with a loss of vision along with visions of stars, colors, or patterns. These patterns of light are hallucinations; while you can see them right in front of you, you’re still fully aware that they don’t really exist, and that they’re going to fade away in a second or two. Hallucinations are more common.

A delusion, on the other hand, is a distortion in sensory or thought in which the person is entirely unaware that anything out of the ordinary is going on. Most likely, you haven’t ever had a delusion, or you’ve had one or two occurrences that you probably don’t even remember. People can experience delusions if they’ve taken a strong medication or recreational drug, if they’re malnourished or haven’t been having enough food or water, or even from simply being way too stressed out for way too long. Delusions are less common, and usually much more intense. An online post I read talked about a guy who hit a big bowl of salvia extract, then started yelling at his friends, thinking they were wild creatures invading his house. That’s a delusion.

So with that out of the way; how long do the hallucinations and delusions from LSD last? Well, the trip, as people call the entire LSD experience from onset to come down, usually kicks in a half hour to an hour and a half after it’s taken, depending on the dose and how much stuff the person already has in their stomach. If you’re taking a dose that you’re expecting to get delusions from, it’s probably a big dose, so the trip will probably come on quickly, too.

And what other effects do you experience during an LSD trip? Well, some physical indication that you’re tripping will be apparent; your pupils can dilate, your heart rate and blood pressure can temporarily rise, your temperature can be measurably higher, and you might be sweaty. None of these effects are permanently harmful, unless they’re mixed with another drug or some pre-existing condition. Someone who either has a low tolerance or has just taken a relatively big dose can get lightheaded, drowsy, and dizzy, their vision might blur or defocus, and they can get “pins and needles” (an uncomfortable tingling sensation). During a “bad trip,” uncomfortable side effects like these are often connected to the hallucinations or delusions the user is going through; for example, a person who had taken an accidentally large dose posted that at one point he saw his body enveloped in some kind of thick hair, poking against his skin and causing a “tingling in [his] fingers and hands like pins and needles.”

Visual hallucinations are by far the most common in LSD trips. At lighter doses, a person on acid can experience a keener sense of color and vision. Things look brighter and sharper; natural patterns jump out; colors are saturated and vivid. As the dose increases, visual hallucinations apart from the real word will start to manifest: halos of light form around bright objects, and moving things and lights leave “trailers” along their paths. Brightly colored geometric patterns show on surfaces and walls and intensify when the user closes their eyes; a user will see things like grids of fluorescent shapes, intricate forms of colors composed of numerous lines and shapes arranged in patterns, and emerging fractals that progress through the visual color spectrum or a part of it as the iterations go up or down.

An acid trip can also be insightful and self-revealing. The normal “walls” that regulate which thoughts are important enough to bother the conscious and which ones aren’t seem to be torn down. A trail of thought can seem to flow and burst into a connected tree of related thoughts; different trains of thought, sometimes similar and sometimes completely unrelated, can all take their own paths simultaneously. If an LSD user has taken the right dose, their acid trip will also be uplifting and euphoric; the sensation has been described as “soaring high spirits.” The user will find new beauty in things that used to seem useless and mundane, finding new connections that they before would have simply passed by. For this reason, many people define it as an entheogen; a substance that fosters religious or spiritual enlightenment.

On higher doses, time can appear to slow, then speed up, then slow down again, or even stop to a halt and then start moving backwards. Mixing of the senses, called synesthesia, can manifest in a user tasting a song or hearing shades of colors.

As far as judgment and impairment goes, LSD can do some things pretty similar to alcohol, and even to more extent. Take too much LSD, and you might find yourself wobbling, slurring your speech, and even “forgetting” your common sense temporarily, the same way you might after far too many shots of vodka. So, LSD users planning on taking more than a light dose often do it with someone sober around, just to keep them from doing something they might regret. You cannot die from LSD; but,

Close friends and relatives who have tripped acid at the same time often say they felt a spiritual bond of some sort during the experience. One might say something that, to most, sounds like plain gibberish, but to the other person, makes perfect sense. They feel connected; like their relationship has grown stronger, and even that they’re becoming “one” with each other.

But on the outside, especially to someone who hasn’t been around a lot of LSD use, a person tripping heavily on acid can seem weird or just plain scary. They might wander around aimlessly, talking off at no one about random subjects on seemingly incoherent trains of thought. Someone sober will find that getting through to them can prove difficult.

Now, most often every time, when someone takes LSD, they’re hoping for a “good trip.” They’re looking to enjoy the elaborate hallucinations, or maybe to journey into parts of their conscious they never knew were there. But dosages aren’t always reliable, and even on the right dose, for seemingly no reason at all, “bad trips” can crop up.

Bad trips can be very scary, causing the user to feel completely out of control of their own bodies and thoughts, left to experience whatever the LSD trip happens to bring on. On very high doses (which aren’t nearly as common these days as they were in the 60’s and 70’s, during LSD’s prime time), a user’s mood can swing dramatically from elation to depression without warning. The trip can completely envelop reality, leaving the user unaware of the outside world,lost in a dreamland filled with fanciful hallucinations and mysterious landscapes. Not so fun if all the user was expecting was some brightly colored shapes on the walls.

So even though we don’t know exactly what goes on in the brain that triggers a bad trip, there are still plenty of preventative measures we can take to keep the likelihood of that happening small. First and foremost, make sure the dose you’re taking is right for you! Don’t rip off a random amount of blotter paper and swallow it; ask someone who’s experienced and has tripped from the same batch how much you should take. Or, if you can get the microgram dosage, you should be taking ~ 100 micrograms of LSD for your first trips. Also, don’t decide to trip acid right before class or work, or before a dinner with your parents; it’s stupid. Make sure trip in the right setting: that means a comfortable place where you can sit back and relax without distractions, as well tripping when you are in a good mindset to do so. If you’re feeling depressed, anxious, or otherwise down, your trip setting is not right.

Countless times, someone watching an LSD user trip hard has fought the urge to call 911 until they no longer can, eventually having the paramedics take them to the ER. Now, I’m not going to weigh in on whether you should or shouldn’t call the police in a situation like this. What I am going to say is that you and the person tripping need to make that decision before you even think about taking the LSD. Thinking ahead is key to having a good acid experience. Most times, the ER doesn’t end up doing much other than giving the user a cool glass of water and a soft bed to lie back in. At most, they might give them a shot sedative, just to calm them down and stifle the intensity of the trip. But generally, LSD users who are sent to the hospital end up recovering on their own.

Some people, after experiencing one trip, say no to acid for good. Others take it as a lesson, adjust their LSD usage, and continue trying to achieve good trips. Others still fail to learn, doing it again and again, missing the whole point of the drug. LSD is just a tool; how well it works depends on the person using it.

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