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What is LSD? A guide for parents

Image: Thorsten Hartmann

LSD is one of the most famous hallucinogenic drugs and its popularity has been on the rise. It is now possible to buy it online as well as from dealers in the real world. Here’s what parents need to know

What does it do?

LSD experiences (usually called trips) may distort users’ sense of time, colour and sound. They can also involve hallucinations – seeing or hearing things that aren’t really happening. Sometimes this is a pleasant and relaxing experience, but trips are highly variable and easily influenced by your mood and surroundings. Some trips are frightening or unpleasant, and can cause panic or feelings of depression. While this is much more common among people who are already feeling anxious or are in an unfamiliar environment, it’s not always possible to predict what kind of trip you’ll have.

As a recreational drug, LSD is usually sold as tabs (small squares of paper, often decorated with pictures) that are then swallowed, but can also be found in liquid or pellet form. It’s hard to know how strong a tab will be or how long it will take to kick in, so some users end up inadvertently double dosing. Trips also vary in length but can last up to 10 hours.

The risks

The normal recreational dose of LSD is extremely low compared to the lethal dose, so while it’s technically possible to die from an overdose, it’s very unlikely. Deaths or injuries associated with LSD are usually caused by users’ behaviour. Someone having a bad trip, for example, could panic, do something dangerous and end up getting hurt. It is also not physically addictive, though users may build up a tolerance and feel like they need to take higher doses to have the same experience.

Some people say they have flashbacks to their LSD experience – often within weeks, but sometimes up to years after the fact. This might have led to the common misconception that LSD remains in your body for years, which is untrue (it should be fully metabolised within a day). Even so, unexpected flashbacks after a trip can be upsetting. 

LSD has never been shown to directly cause long term damage, and recent research has contradicted the widespread perception that LSD causes mental illness. 

‘Anyone with a history of mental illness should be very careful about taking LSD’

That said, there is some evidence that existing mental health issues can be exacerbated by psychedelic drugs, so anyone with a history of mental illness should be very careful about taking LSD. 

Why is LSD popular with young people?

LSD isn’t one of the most commonly used drugs by any stretch, but it has experienced a surge in popularity. This could be a sign of the influence of dark web drug markets, which can make it easier to find a source of less common drugs.

But some experts think there could be other factors at play, too. With typical prices ranging from £1 to £5 per tab, LSD is a relatively cheap high, which could be appealing to cash-strapped young people. And anecdotally, some people are citing a trend towards psychedelic imagery and retro styles in popular culture – though of course it’s hard to know what effect (if any) this has on rates of drug use.

Raising the issue with your child

Because LSD isn’t physically addictive and is almost never linked to fatal overdoses, some young people may be under the impression that it’s a safe drug to try, if they can find a reliable source. But no drug is entirely safe.

If you think your children are curious about trying it, make sure they know that you can’t necessarily predict how a drug will affect you. Bad trips can be extremely upsetting and traumatic, and could cause people to act in erratic or dangerous ways. And while LSD itself doesn’t cause mental illness, it could be a very bad decision for people who are already struggling with their mental health.

While many people take LSD because they think it seems fun or are curious about the experience, some do use drugs to escape unpleasant feelings or circumstances. If your child or their friends are getting involved in drug use, it might be worth considering whether they need support to deal with any other issues.

Further reading

The advice published on Parent Info is provided by independent experts in their field and not necessarily the views of Parent Zone or NCA-CEOP.

Updated: ​May 2018

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