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LSD Psychosis: Recognize the Signs (& What to Do)

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Lysergic acid diethylamide or LSD is known to cause powerful psychedelic effects, including hallucinations, altered consciousness, and other psychological and sensory effects. It’s not known to cause dangerous physical symptoms in typical doses, but it can cause some dangerous psychological symptoms, including psychosis and schizophrenia. Learn more about LSD and its connection to psychosis.

WHAT IS PSYCHOSIS?

Psychosis refers to a psychological symptom that’s characterized by a loss of your ability to discern reality from imagined events or people. Psychosis can cause psychological disturbances like paranoia or hallucinations that can get in the way of you living a healthy and fulfilling life.

Psychosis is a common symptom of schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders. It can also be caused by a traumatic experience. In some cases, severe depression or bipolar disorder can cause psychotic symptoms. Some diseases and viruses that damage the brain have been known to cause psychosis-like strokes, brain tumors, and multiple sclerosis.

However, psychosis has also been linked to certain kinds of recreational drug use like stimulants and psychedelics. People who’ve taken LSD have sometimes developed psychotic symptoms and even struggle with long-term disorders like schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia and other disorders that cause psychosis can typically show symptoms for the first time in your late teen years or early adulthood. However, psychedelics like LSD may also trigger psychotic symptoms in someone that’s never experienced them before.

LSD is a powerful psychedelic drug that causes altered consciousness and hallucinations. Compared to other drugs, it is relatively mild in its physical effects. It’s not known to cause dependence or addiction, and large doses don’t do physical harm. It’s possible to overdose on LSD at extremely high doses around 1,000 to 7,000 micrograms, which dwarfs the doses taken by recreational users, even heavy users.

SYMPTOMS OF LSD PSYCHOSIS

Psychosis can come and go or slowly get worse over time. In cases of drug-induced psychosis, symptoms can be temporary, but they can also last a long time like schizophrenia. It’s important to recognize the signs of psychosis because treatment can help you deal with symptoms. You might be able to notice some of the early warning signs of psychosis in yourself, but it might be more difficult as the disorder progresses. Friends and family members may also be able to notice some of the signs and symptoms of psychosis.

  • Difficulting thinking clearly
  • Poor concentration
  • Suspicion or mistrust of others
  • Lack of personal hygiene
  • Isolation
  • Mood swings or emotionlessness
  • Sensing things other people don’t
  • Auditory or visual hallucinations
  • Unusual thoughts or beliefs despite what other people say
  • Delusions of grandeur
  • Paranoia
  • Depersonalization

Because psychosis can alter your sense of self and your sense of reality, it can be difficult for an individual to recognize the signs in themselves. However, if your loved ones tell you something is wrong, it’s wise to listen, particularly to people you’ve known for a long time. When in doubt, an assessment from a medical professional can help you identify a mental health problem like psychosis.

WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT PSYCHOSIS?

Many people have psychotic episodes and symptoms as a part of a diagnosed disorder, or after taking a drug like LSD. Dealing with it can be difficult, especially on your own. If you’ve recognized the signs or if a family member has, you should speak to a professional that can make an official diagnosis and then recommend treatment options. In some cases, antipsychotic medications can be used to help ease symptoms. Psychotherapy can also help you cope with psychotic episodes when they occur.

It’s also recommended to stay connected to a close support system that can help you as you experience symptoms. Loved ones that you can trust can help you when you are having trouble trusting yourself. It’s also important to address other issues that may be worsening your other mental health problems like substance use disorders.

IS LSD A CAUSE OR A CATALYST?

The exact origins of the psychotic symptoms in cases involving LSD are difficult to determine. For instance, stimulants like cocaine and meth have been known to cause psychosis through an overabundance of dopamine. A theoretical cause for problems like schizophrenia is poorly regulated dopamine activity. Stimulants cause a build-up of dopamine in the brain. LSD does affect dopamine receptors, but not to the degree that stimulants do.

LSD does cause powerful, consciousness-altering experiences. It can also cause traumatic events and imagined threats that leave lasting psychological damage. High doses can be especially dangerous to your mental health.

When LSD use leads to psychotic episodes and symptoms, it can be difficult to determine whether those were caused by LSD or if LSD triggered a preexisting but dormant psychosis. In some cases, LSD induced schizophrenia, which could mean that it’s particularly dangerous for people who have mental health issues or people with a genetic predisposition to psychotic disorders.

DEALING WITH SUBSTANCE ABUSE AND MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS

If you or a loved one is struggling with a substance use disorder and you’ve noticed some signs of psychosis or other mental health issues, it’s imperative to address them as soon as possible. Both substance use disorders and mental health problems can be treated with personalized treatment and the right level of care.

When you first enter treatment, you’ll go through an assessment process that’s designed to pinpoint your needs. If you have a substance use problem and co-occuring mental health problems like psychosis, you may go through dual diagnosis treatment.

That means, your treatment plan will be tailored to address both problems simultaneously. Otherwise, ignoring underlying issues can slow or even reverse the progress you make dealing with just one disorder.

You may start treatment in a level of care that’s right for your needs, which is determined with the help of the ASAM criteria, a list of six dimensions that should be considered in treatment. The criteria, which are outlined by the American Society of Addiction Medicine, include intoxications or withdrawal potential, biomedical conditions, psychological conditions, readiness to change, relapse potential, and living environment.

If you have a mental health problem that requires high-level care like schizophrenia, you may go through more intensive treatment options to address it.

In treatment, you may go through individual, group, and family therapy sessions. You may also go through behavioral therapies that can help increase your readiness to change, improve motivation, and build self-efficacy. Severe mental health issues are treated with a top priority after your physical health and may require treatment from specialists.

If you or a loved one is struggling with a substance use disorder and co-occurring issues like psychosis, you should seek help as soon as possible. Addiction is progressive and tends to get worse over time. It can also be worsened by mental health problems. Getting treatment early can help you avoid some of the most severe consequences of addiction and co-occurring disorders.

Sources

American Society of Addiction Medicine. (n.d.). What is the ASAM Criteria? from https://www.asam.org/resources/the-asam-criteria/about

American Psychiatric Association. (2017, January). What Is Addiction? from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/addiction/what-is-addiction

National Institute of Mental Health. (2016, February). Schizophrenia. from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/schizophrenia/index.shtml

Klock, J. C., Boerner, U., & Becker, C. E. (1974, March). Coma, hyperthermia and bleeding associated with massive LSD overdose. A report of eight cases. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1129381/

Tost, H., Alam, T., & Meyer-Lindenberg, A. (2010, April). Dopamine and psychosis: Theory, pathomechanisms and intermediate phenotypes. from

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