LSD Chemical Structure: The Active Ingredients & Risks Of Use
Why does having more information about drugs help lower your risk of drug abuse and addiction problems?
Well, the better you understand something, the less mysterious or strange it seems, and the less likely you are to try it out of simple curiosity.
Information about how drugs work and what they do in your brain also makes it easier to counter false narratives or people telling you that the drug is safe without giving you the information you need to make that decision yourself.
When it comes to drugs like LSD, there can be a lot of myths and misunderstandings about how the drug works. Unfortunately, that leaves people much more vulnerable to having problems with that drug. This is either because they decide to try it without really understanding what the drug will do or because they don’t fully understand the risks or how that drug can interact with their bodies, medications, and physical condition.
So, rather than leaving you floundering for accurate information about LSD’s chemical structure, what it does, and what the real risks are, let’s take this drug out of the dark and mysterious and talk about what it is.
What Is LSD: LSD’s Chemical Structure, Discovery, And Use
LSD is a chemical, just like the medications we take or the many chemicals contained in the foods we eat every day. It’s similar to the chemicals found in natural hallucinogenic plants and fungi, like psilocybin “magic” mushrooms, but it is not natural.
LSD is generally one of the strong hallucinogenic drugs and is also the easiest to take. Some forms of LSD can also be used to drug people without their knowledge, like adding liquid LSD to a drink.
There are limitations, for instance, because of LSD’s chemical structure, the drug breaks down quickly when exposed to light. That means that liquid forms of the drug only work in dark places after being stored in the dark since it was created.
Unfortunately, that weakness to light doesn’t necessarily protect you as much as you would think because it can still be a potent drug in dark settings like concerts, raves, and clubs.
Here’s what you need to know about the chemical structure of LSD, how it was created, and whether LSD has any valid uses today.
LSD’s Chemical Structure
The molecular structure of LSD is C20H25N3O, meaning that there are 20 carbon atoms, 25 hydrogen atoms, 30 nitrogen atoms, and a single oxygen atom in each molecule of this drug.
Like most other drugs that are psychoactive, meaning that they influence and alter your brain’s normal function, LSD isn’t a drug that’s produced in your body. Still, it is a chemical similar enough to naturally occurring chemicals in your body that can interact with specific receptors, which is how LSD causes the effects and side effects it does.
We’ll discuss how LSD works and what it does in your brain later.
How Was LSD Discovered?
Chemist Albert Hoffman first discovered LSD in 1938. Hoffman was studying ergot, a fungal infection of rye known to cause a wide range of problems, from hallucinations to toxicity and death, and widely thought to be responsible for at least some of the witch scares in history, including the events at Salem, Massachusetts.
While Hoffman, and the company he worked for, were aware of the risks and effects of ergot, one of the less well-known side effects of ergot is muscle and blood vessel constrictions. Those properties had even been used medicinally in the past.
Hoffman wanted to create a drug that would stimulate the respiratory and circulatory systems, which could potentially have been a helpful treatment for a wide range of conditions, and may even have helped people who didn’t have acute problems but chronic respiratory or circulatory trouble as well.
Instead, Hoffman created LSD, originally shelved because it was thought to be a useless compound. It was only later, when Hoffman returned to the compound for further study, that he accidentally absorbed some and noted the euphoric feeling and hallucinogenic effects that LSD is known for today.
Those observations prompted a lot of studies, and LSD was even common for parts of the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s. However, it has since become illegal recreationally and is not currently used medically outside limited studies.
Does LSD Have Any Medical Uses?
LSD is currently being studied for some psychiatric uses, specifically in treating alcoholism and as a medication that could help patients with PTSD, treatment-resistant depression, and other psychiatric use.
Limitations of these studies include the reality that there are severe legal restrictions on LSD, just like most recreational drugs, and an extensive approval process, plus the difficulty of getting a consistent legal source of LSD for use in the study.
The studies also generally focus on using LSD in a closely monitored and guided clinical session and using much lower doses than what’s typically used for recreational purposes.
What Does LSD Do In Your Brain?
LSD changes how you perceive sensory information, leading to increased sensation, altered sensations, and hallucinations. Most people report that visual hallucinations, mostly enhanced versions of what they see with their eyes, are much more common than auditory ones, but that’s only anecdotal.
LSD can alter your perception of sight, hearing, vision, taste, touch, and more while creating a euphoric feeling, lowering inhibitions, or altering your decision-making process.
In some cases, LSD is also known to produce anxiety, paranoia, and intense depressed feelings. In those cases, the increased sensory information you get while on LSD might be frightening or even triggering for people with a history of trauma or specific phobias.
There are a lot of different reactions that happen when people take LSD, in part because your particular reactions are determined both by your setting, how much of the drug you take, and the existing neurochemistry of your brain, which is then changed by the LSD, causing a cascade of effects in reaction to the drug.
How LSD’s Chemical Structure Interacts With Your Brain
The exact mechanisms behind LSDs function aren’t very well understood. Like most psychoactive drugs and medications, we have some idea of how LSD functions, but the full impact of LSD on your brain and how the known changes have other impacts isn’t completely understood.
It is suspected that LSD primarily interacts with your serotonin system, thanks to the euphoric feeling and altered decision-making, which are both common side effects of the drug.
The primary action, in that case, would be LSD molecules bonding to serotonin receptors and stimulating activity. That might mean that LSD should not be mixed with certain drugs that increase serotonin levels in the body, either by preventing serotonin reuptake or by increasing the amount of serotonin naturally produced in the body.
However, like many illegal recreational drugs, studies on the potential risks and drug interactions between LSD and other drugs or medications have been very limited. Additionally, we don’t fully understand the risks of mixing LSD and any other medication or recreational drug.
Side Effects Of LSD Use
LSD has wide-ranging side effects that are, by their very nature, incredibly individual and can be very different from person to person. Two people who are otherwise very similar and take the same amount of LSD might have different reactions to the drug.
LSD use also seems to be somewhat situation-dependent, with some people reporting a ‘bad trip’ if they aren’t prepared before taking the drug, if they were too stressed when they took it, or if they were in a position they perceived as being unsafe while on the drug.
That said, here are some of the common side effects of LSD use:
- Altered senses
- Altered sense of self
- Altered sense of time
- Altered sense of space
- Intense feelings
- Feelings and emotions that change rapidly
- Different emotions than you would normally expect with certain stimuli
- Crossover between sensations (tasting color, smelling sounds, etc.)
- Panic attacks
- Unusual behavior
These are just some of the many side effects you can have, so if you take LSD or have already tried the drug, you should be prepared for additional side effects.
Risks Of LSD Use
There are quite a few risks of LSD use, but the most prominent two are usually unusual behavior and flashbacks. It’s very easy to do something you will later regret while taking LSD or be convinced to do things you wouldn’t normally do while you’re using the drug.
In addition, one of the risks of using LSD is that people who have taken the drug can sometimes have LSD flashbacks, where they get some or all of the side effects of LSD use after they’ve used the drug, without warning and without actually using the drug again.
There isn’t a good way to predict how you will react to LSD or if you’re likely to have either of those reactions when you take it, and LSD flashbacks have been known to happen even years after you stop taking the drug.
How To Get Help Stopping LSD Use
If you’ve been using LSD and have had difficulty stopping the drug, you might be dealing with a complicated series of problems.
LSD generally doesn’t cause the same kinds of addiction that other recreational drugs can. This means that people who struggle to stop taking the drug might be dealing with complex mental health complications, might be dealing with high levels of stress, or other problems in their social and professional lives. Conversely, they might have another unspecified substance use disorder that LSD use is involved in.
Regardless of the specific reasons you’re taking LSD, getting help is your best option. Treatment centers have a lot of advantages when it comes to treating drug use, including access to mental health care and therapies designed to help you understand why you started using LSD and what you can do to prevent future use.
If you think a residential treatment facility might be right for you, contact Epiphany Wellness to learn about our programs and get started as soon as possible.
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- T B. LSD: Everything You’ve Been Afraid to Ask. Verywell Mind. Published March 5, 2022. Accessed January 7, 2023. https://www.verywellmind.com/the-effects-of-lsd-on-the-brain-67496