LSD Effects on the Body
5 min

LSD Effects on the Body

5 min
News Research

LSD can make you trip harder than most any natural psychedelic, and it’s taken in tiny doses measured in literally millionths of a gram. But what really goes on in your brain when you take a blotter?

LSD: How It Works & Acid Flashbacks

LSD can make you trip harder than most any natural psychedelic, and it’s taken in tiny doses measured in literally millionths of a gram.

But what really goes on in your brain when you take a blotter? What do the LSD chemicals do?

Well, as of today, scientists and doctors don’t completely know. They know that LSD binds to the serotonin, or 5-HTP, receptors but isn’t shaped like serotonin as much as psilocybin and psilocin, the psychoactives in magic mushrooms, are. And apart from that, they know it induces strong hallucinations and distortions in sensory information when someone takes it.

So, here’s what serotonin does. It’s a natural, endogenous (meaning it’s produced within your body) chemical in the brain that’s classified as a “neurotransmitter,” along with dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine, which is also called adrenaline. In the brain, serotonin is the chemical that’s released when someone has a natural euphoria, like a runner’s high or the pump of performing on-stage at a rock concert. Chronic depression, on the other hand, is often linked to a lack of serotonin. As a neurotransmitter, it sends information through by electron transport through different parts of the body.

Serotonin has a significant effect on sleepiness and dreams. Serotonin receptors have also been found in parts of the brain involved with learning, along with places in the digestive system, where they regulate appetite in a similar way to endocannabinoids. But its real interest, when it comes to the effects of LSD, is its involvement in moving around information, especially sensory information, and possibly, the electrical signals that manifest as thought. LSD’s effects, which include visual and aural hallucination as well as a free flow of thoughts along with taste, touch, and smell enhancement, made the discovery of its binding to 5-HTP receptors big news. While more and more doctors are looking into LSD for its therapeutic use, its role in medicine gained even faster as its potential in treating numerous patients with different types of serotonin deficiency or other neurotransmitter related conditions took the spotlight.

An average acid blotter today is usually soaked with about 100 micrograms of LSD, and the small amount dissolves as fast as the paper will allow it; the paper itself takes a bit of stomach acid to digest. So, the LSD is finally absorbed through the stomach, goes to the liver to get metabolized, is transported through the blood streams, activates serotonin receptors at the brain, and then, well, goes out when you pee. By the time all of the LSD gets to your brain and the user’s at the peak of their trip, it can be two to almost six hours after the blotter’s eaten.

Normally, LSD thoroughly clears your system in a few days, sometimes maybe a few weeks. In the 1970’s, an LSD user was completely undetectable, and even today, no conventional drug tests can find LSD in blood or urine. Certain expensive chemical analysis techniques, like gas chromatography, mass spectrometry, and others can detect LSD, but they’re never administered by legal systems and are rarely even used.

Regardless of whether it’s detectable, though, there is one debate about whether LSD completely clears your system.

LSD Flashbacks

Some acid trippers, including a handful from the baby boomer generation that took LSD as teens and young adults in the 60’s and 70’s, say that months or even years after they haven’t touched LSD in any shape or form, they can have a “flashback,” experiencing the effects of a low LSD dose lasting just minutes, or, in some cases, going into a full blown, full length acid trip.

Doctors and scientists, as of now, can’t offer any explanation for flashbacks. Right now, clinical studies are aimed at finding out how likely, in a rough percentage, it is for an LSD user to experience a flashback. Some studies are simply aimed at finding evidence that flashbacks truly even exist.

Myths going around include the fact that each time you take any amount of LSD, a certain percentage gets sent to your spinal fluid (or brain fluid, or brain matter, etc.), and it stays there forever, building up in amount for each hit you take. Then, at some time in the future, an amount of LSD makes its way out, getting caught in the bloodstream and making the user, unwillingly, trip again. Others include the fact that LSD leaves permanent holes in your brain, and when past user’s thought patterns reach these portions of their brain, then they trip.

(Real doctors and scientists dismiss these theories at a glance. LSD metabolizes within days or weeks of entering the stomach and liver. It doesn’t, and can’t stay in your spinal, brain, or whatever fluid. There’s no evidence showing it gets to those fluids anyway; LSD goes through the body’s system like any other drug, eventually binding to receptors and then leaving the body. Also, LSD doesn’t burn any holes in your brain. The precursor to that myth described the fact that the very hallucinations you see on LSD come from LSD searing or tearing holes in your gray matter. That’s definitely not any of the theories anyone legitimate is looking at today.)

Some researchers think the phenomenon of an LSD flashback started as people simply having panic attacks and blaming their past drug use, and the stories soon blew up to become an urban legend. But other professionals think there’s truth to the numerous testimonials of users from various countries worldwide. Two of the most well-known studies related to flashbacks were looking to put a percentage to the likelihood of a flashback occurring in users without any pre-existing mental conditions. Researchers M.P. Naditch and S. Fenwick published their finds under the title “LSD flashbacks and ego functioning” in the 1977 issue of the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, and they came to the round number of 28% of the average user participants. Back in 1971, M. Blumenfield and his team had done a similar study and came up with the result 20%. Just two years before that, a researcher named M.J. Horowitz looked for similar numbers in his publication, “Flashbacks: recurrent intrusive images after the use of LSD.” His evidence showed only 5% of participants. All three, if nothing else, give a lot of well documented evidence supporting the existence of LSD flashbacks, even if we still don’t yet know what really goes on behind them.

A lot of observations also point to a link between pre-existing psychological conditions and acid flashbacks (which is why the majority of well conducted studies rule this factor out, making sure all participants have no pre-existing conditions or family history of similar conditions). Many users who either have a history of abnormal psychological reactions to drugs, are generally prone to mental conditions, or are experiencing effects of their condition in the present, such as schizophrenics who regularly have visual and aural hallucinations without the use of psychedelics, also have a tendency to report a larger amount of flashbacks. With this fact, and the fact that LSD metabolizes rapidly in the body, leads many researchers to theorize that an acid flashback is not actually caused by any physical amount of real lysergic acid diethylamide chemical. Instead, they say, in the same way that LSD can exacerbate pre-existing psychological illnesses (many reports show acid use leading to a more rapid onset of schizophrenia in patients who have a family or personal history with the condition), their effects can also “merge” with the effects of the condition. In essence, a person with schizophrenia can, even months or years after taking acid, fall into a psychotic episode prompted by their psychedelic use that, on the whole, resembles an LSD trip. A person with bi-polar disorder, similarly, might not see actual hallucinations during a flashback, but, in relation with their condition, experience the harsh mood swings between euphoria and depression that come along with medium to high doses of the psychedelic on top of an extreme sensitivity to emotion and thought patterns.

Everything considered, flashbacks are one of the least serious health “issues” that LSD can bring (and the drug, overall, brings little to no health issues to healthy individuals without a psychological history). Most likely, you won’t ever experience a flashback. Even most regular acid trippers have never encountered one, and with most of the psychedelic population being non-regular users (or “experimenters”), the number of people out there who have actually had the experience themselves is pretty low. So, while you should always make sure you think about what psychoactives you’re putting into your body and what they do in there, the flashback phenomenon really isn’t something that should discourage you from trying out LSD.

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