Is LSD Addictive? Is It Safe To Use For Mental Health Issues? We Provide Guidance
Deciding to use LSD for the treatment of mental health issues requires some understanding of the benefits and risks of the substance. Many people struggling with some sort of mental health condition may consider taking a psychedelic like LSD as an alternative treatment. Often, traditional treatments fail people, leaving them lost as to what to do next.
Since LSD scores very low in terms of causing harm to oneself and others, as elucidated by David Nutt in 2010 in The Lancet, it may seem like a safe option. Indeed, we know that LSD is physically non-toxic. Taking it won’t cause damage to any organ in your body. Moreover, the side effects of LSD may seem far better than that of conventional psychiatric medications, like antidepressants and benzodiazepines.
But when taking any drug for a mental health issue, it’s normal to wonder if the drug is addictive. Drugs that are relatively harmless physically can still pose a risk of addiction in certain individuals. One such example is cannabis.
It is common to find articles on LSD addiction from addiction-related and rehab sites. But is LSD addictive? Can you really become addicted to the psychedelic experience?
This article will first outline what is meant by addiction, looking at both its physical and psychological aspects. Then, we will explain why LSD should be considered non-addictive. Finally, this guide will conclude on the ways that LSD can actually treat addiction.
RELATED: How LSD Affects The Brain
What Is Addiction?
Before tackling the question “is LSD addictive?”, we first need to understand what addiction is. This is certainly a complex question, as medical professionals and addiction specialists will disagree as to whether addiction should be thought of as a disease, a health issue, a mental disorder, a coping mechanism, or even an allergy.
We won’t delve into each of these concepts of addiction and decide which one makes the most sense. Addiction can be thought of in multiple ways; it is often both a health issue and a coping mechanism, for example. Instead, we will focus on the distinction that addiction specialists commonly make between physical and psychological dependence. We will then define addiction.
Drug addiction and drug dependence are not the same, despite the fact that people use the terms interchangeably.
When you are physically dependent on a substance, your body starts to rely on that drug to function. When you stop taking the substance, you experience physical symptoms of withdrawal. You can be physically dependent on a drug without being psychologically dependent on it.
It is common for people to be physically dependent on caffeine, for example. If you drink coffee every day to wake yourself up, your body can rely on it to be alert. If you skip coffee one morning, you might experience physical withdrawal symptoms like a headache.
Psychological dependence, in contrast, describes the emotional and mental components of a substance use disorder (SUD), including strong cravings for the substance and finding it difficult to think about anything else. When you are psychologically dependent on a substance, you may believe you need the drug to do certain things, like sleeping or socializing. You may also lose interest in your usual activities as a result of this dependence.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which psychiatrists use to diagnose mental health conditions, SUD is not exactly the same as addiction. The latter is considered to be a severe form of the former.
Addiction is a condition involving compulsive substance use despite negative outcomes on one’s life and ability to function. It’s a complex condition with both physical and psychological components that can be difficult to separate.
Why LSD Is Not Addictive
Experts do not consider LSD to be addictive or prone to compulsive use. LSD is not known to cause physical or psychological dependence, nor do users compulsively use it in spite of the negative effects it has on their life, which is characteristic of addiction.
Of course, LSD, like all drugs, has its risks. In some cases, it destabilizes people, and may have long-term effects on those with certain mental health issues. This risk is very low, but it does happen.
Generally, however, if someone feels that LSD has negatively impacted their life, he or she won’t compulsively use the substance again and again. This separates psychedelics from substances that people commonly abuse and become addicted to.
People Don’t Want Frequent Psychedelic Experiences
One reason that LSD is not addictive is that it results in an intense, long-lasting experience. The LSD experience can be psychologically challenging and leave you feeling mentally and physically exhausted when it’s over. It is not an experience that someone tends to want to repeat too frequently. There are certainly accounts of people tripping every week. But while this use may be unusually regular, it does not necessarily indicate addiction.
Tolerance To LSD Builds Quickly
Another reason LSD is not addictive is that the human body quickly builds tolerance to the compound. Users require much higher doses of LSD after only a few days of repeated use. This makes it extremely difficult to have any effect after more than four days of use of LSD. This is not the case with other drugs that people become physically or psychologically dependent on or addicted to, such as opiates, benzos, or stimulants.
Is Microdosing Addictive?
But what about microdosing LSD? Can’t that be addictive? Microdosing involves more regular use than marodosing (taking a tiny dose of LSD two or three times a week) and sometimes for several months. However, this practice does not lead to addiction. People who microdose LSD do not develop physical or psychological dependence, nor do they experience impairments to one’s life.
Some individuals may use LSD as a form of escapism and use it regularly because they find the experience more fulfilling than normal life. In these instances, a person might develop an abusive or unhealthy relationship with LSD. Yet such a pattern of use is not the same as an addiction to alcohol or heroin.
It is possible for LSD use to negatively affect your life in some ways. But this doesn’t mean the use of LSD will be difficult to control, which is characteristic of an addiction.
LSD’s Anti-Addictive Potential
Rather than being addictive, LSD actually has the potential to be anti-addictive.
In the 1950s, researchers in Canada began treating alcoholism with LSD, achieving impressive rates of recovery in the process. Psychiatrists at the time, such as Humphry Osmond, who coined the term “psychedelic”, believed that treating alcoholism through these biochemical means would prove that the condition was a disease and not a sign of a weak or immoral character.
Local chapters of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) even approved of using LSD to treat alcoholism. In fact, Bill Wilson, the co-founder of AA, strongly believed in the power of LSD to free alcoholics from their addiction. He argued, based on his own experiences with the compound, that LSD can achieve a central tenet of the AA’s Twelve Step program: finding a “power greater than ourselves” that “could restore us to sanity”.
Wilson stated that, “the vision and insights given by LSD could create a large incentive — at least in a considerable number of people.” And in the biography of Wilson, written by an anonymous author, the co-founder of AA is quoted as saying the following.
“It is a generally acknowledged fact in spiritual development that ego reduction makes the influx of God’s grace possible. If, therefore, under LSD we can have a temporary reduction, so that we can better see what we are and where we are going — well, that might be of some help. The goal might become clearer. So I consider LSD to be of some value to some people, and practically no damage to anyone.”
However, by the late 1960s, LSD became a recreational drug associated with the counterculture movement. This worked to erode support for its clinical status. Then, with the introduction of the Controlled Substances Act (1970), LSD became a Schedule I drug in the United States. This essentially halted research into the therapeutic potential of the compound.
How Research Is Beginning To Utilize LSD Benefits
Modern research has shown that psilocybin (the active compound in magic mushrooms) can effectively treat smoking addiction. While LSD is different from psilocybin, it may be able to help people beat their addictions in similar ways.
For example, Johns Hopkins researchers looking at psilocybin and smoking cessation suggest that the mystical-type subjective effects of psilocybin are responsible for smokers being able to kick their habit.
LSD can likewise induce these mystical, life-changing experiences. Indeed, many people who have used LSD say that they were able to beat an addiction, including smoking, after their experience. The clinical psychologist Pål-Ørjan Johansen, who has conducted research into psychedelics and alcohol addiction with his wife Teri S. Krebs, observes the following.
“We’ve heard of addictions to alcohol, heroin, and tobacco that were broken with help from psychedelics. The reason seems to be that substances like LSD can provide a moment of clarity that can help you see your existence as a whole and get a long-term perspective into certain personal issues.”
Based on what we know about LSD, then, this compound is not only non-addictive with a low potential for abuse; it can potentially be used in the treatment of a range of addictions.