How LSD Affects The Brain

How LSD Affects The Brain

Without knowing any research information, you know that LSD affects the brain. But do you know how LSD affects the brain, and how it’s helping with severe trauma? Probably not.

This article explains how LSD affects the brain, and what to know before taking the popular psychedelic for mental health issues.

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LSD As A Psychedelic

Before diving into how LSD affects the brain, it’s important to get into its whole psychedelic characteristic. LSD, also known as Lysergic acid diethylamide, was discovered in 1938 by Albert Hoffmann, a Swiss scientist who accidentally ingested some of it, and therefore became the first person to be affected by it.

Hoffmann performed numerous tests on himself and wrote diaries describing his experience, all clearly showcasing its hallucinogenic properties. Hoffman used it on others as well, and documented their experiences, with outcomes very similar to his own.

From the 1950s-1970s, LSD was extensively studied for its potential therapeutic properties, evaluating behavioral and personality changes. Especially in regards to depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, after the USA banned its use and research in 1967, it took several decades for the interest to peak and the studies to start again.

As a psychedelic, LSD falls into the same chemical category as psilocybin and DMT (dimethyltryptamine), affecting the serotonin and dopamine receptors. This is primarily how LSD affects the brain.

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LSD And Hallucinations

As a hallucinogen, the effects of LSD cause visual and auditory distortions — known as hallucinations. It alters perception, making people see, perceive, feel, and hear things in a different way. This is called an LSD trip and it can last for several hours.

Depending on the dosage and the way you react to psychedelics, you can experience a variety of physical, mental, and emotional symptoms such as pupil dilation, euphoria, loss of appetite, a surge of energy, color enhancement, an appearance of geometrical shapes on surfaces, echo effects, changes in pitch, time dilation, mood swings, enhanced creativity, joy, and many others.

Still, there’s always a possibility of a “bad trip“. This can lead to negative sensations and emotions such as the following.

  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Dread
  • Panic
  • Paranoia
  • Sadness
  • Guilt
  • Despair
  • An overall pessimistic view on life

The majority of LSD effects are very positive and euphoric, and they can be pretty powerful and potent, even with a small dose. That’s why so many studies nowadays are trying to tap into the positive aspects and effects and use them to steer those suffering from depression and anxiety towards a more upbeat direction.

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How LSD Affects The Brain

In addition to hallucinations, LSD affects the brain chemically, too. This occurs by firing up synapses and targeting neurons and neurotransmitters, which wake up feelings of joy and euphoria.

Chemically, LSD interacts with proteins on the surface of the brain cells which act as receptors for the happiness hormone, serotonin. Serotonin is one of the most important neurotransmitters in the human body as it’s involved in regulating numerous functions. Its levels affect your mood, sleep, bowel movements, bone health, and even blood clotting.

Researchers from the University of North Carolina studied how LSD affects the brain. The team examined the exact correlation between LSD and serotonin receptors — finding that it’s through a receptor called 5-HT2AR. It’s already known that serotonin receptors activate two key signaling pathways within brain cells: through G-proteins and through β-arrestins. The research team, led by Bryan L. Roth, MD, PhD, found that LSD binds its receptor in a way that causes it to act mostly through the β-arrestin pathway instead of the G-protein pathway. This can therefore trigger different effects.

Another important finding explains its long-lasting effects. Apparently, this serotonin receptor closes a “lid” over the LSD molecule, preventing it from quickly detaching. This helps the effects go on for a longer time than they normally would.

All of these findings make room for exploration and further research which can dive into the potential therapeutic effects of LSD for those people whose receptors simply aren’t responsive enough.

The key is to isolate these chemical effects while eliminating, or at least minimizing the hallucinogenic effects, leaving only the therapeutic agents. If this becomes possible, it will be a great argument in the approval of LSD for its use in therapy.

Is LSD Addictive?

The question on most people’s lips still surrounds the potential addictive properties of this hallucinogenic drug. Is LSD addictive? The answer is no, LSD is not considered to be an addictive drug. There are no known cases of LSD addiction. There is, however, the possibility of becoming addicted to its psychedelic effects, but it’s very rare.

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Research On How LSD Affects The Brain

With the way psychedelics are moving today, it’s only a matter of time when more clinical trials on real human subjects will be allowed. This will then finally showcase some real results, done on large-scale studies in randomized trials. Unfortunately, until that happens, none of the evidence we have so far is enough.

Currently, there’s limited research showing how LSD affects the brain, and how it can potentially help those battling several mental health issues. These are things like treatment-resistant depression, anxiety, PTSD, and addiction, to name a few.

So far, research is promising, showing positive results of opening the mind and allowing brain cells to communicate with each other. However, more research is necessary for LSD to become a part of alternative treatments.

Many states have already started decriminalizing psychedelics and allowing for not only deeper research, but also controlled application in specific treatments. LSD is still not part of approved treatments. But as new research rolls in, it may only be a matter of time.

LSD is just one of many psychedelic drugs which are currently being in the spotlight for their potential therapeutic properties. You might know it as a party drug, as the hallucinogenic effects are attractive to those looking to take their clubbing experience to a new level.

Still, it doesn’t diminish the fact that LSD affects the brain chemically — and that it is often positive. Helping improve your mood and keep you feeling upbeat and euphoric. This brings hope for the future of mental health treatments worldwide.

Disclaimer: We do not endorse the illicit use of Schedule 1 psychedelic compounds in a non-therapeutic setting. We do, however, hope the regulations look at the research to understand how these drugs can used in powerfully positive ways.

Karla Tafra

View all posts by Karla Tafra

Karla is a freelance writer, yoga teacher and nutritionist who's been writing about nutrition, fitness, yoga, mindfulness, and overall health and wellness topics for over seven years. She's written for numerous publications such as Healthline, Livesavvy,, Well + Good, and many others, sharing her love of storytelling and educating. She loves talking about superfoods and another amazing plant powers that people can benefit from if they learn how to use it properly. Her passion lies in helping others not only eat healthier meals but implement good eating habits, find a great relationship with food & achieve a balanced lifestyle. She believes that the only diet and lifestyle that's worth creating is the one you can stick to, so she aims to find what that means for each and every individual. Teaching WHY we eat, and not only WHAT we eat, is the premise of her approach.

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