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What Does It Feel Like to Get High on Acid?

Acid Trips are Unpredictable

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Updated April 09, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Image of a psychedelic acid trip visual illusion

Colorful visual illusions are typical sensory effects of an acid trip

Image (c) Billy Alexander

The Acid Trip

Getting high on LSD, also known as an acid trip or psychedelic experience, is technically termed LSD intoxication. An LSD trip is a lengthy process, typically lasting 8-12 hours, sometimes longer, and with the distortions in time perception that occur as a drug effect, the experience can feel much longer, even as if it will last forever. This can be highly enjoyable when the mood of the user and those around them is buoyant or contented, but extremely unsettling when moods are low and thoughts take a somber or even macabre turn.

Unpredictability is the name of the game, and chronic LSD users embrace the exploration of the unknown, and the sense of excitement in not knowing what will happen next. People who dislike unpredictability may find the experience of tripping on acid scary, even if nothing overly frightening happens, simply because of the profound distortions in perceptions and thinking that occur. So if you like to know what to expect, stay away from LSD and other hallucinogens.

LSD is typically used for recreational and social reasons more than for self medication, although some people believe that hallucinogens provide insight into themselves and the nature of the universe, and that it helps them access greater awareness of spirituality. This is a controversial claim, as LSD can trigger a variety of mental health problems, and can trigger feelings of spiritual alienation as well as spiritual awareness.

Visual Distortions and Hallucinations

Distortions to the way that you see things is a hallmark of the LSD experience. Visual distortions can take a variety of forms -- for example, some appear like an overlay or outline of geometric or swirling patterns, others are described as a change in the perceived size or shape of objects, and others can best be described as the appearance of movement of static objects, such as the appearance of walls "breathing."

Sensory perceptions can get mixed up, resulting in synesthesia. Synesthesia occurs when stimuli that are typcially perceived through one sense are perceived through another, such as seeing sounds, or hearing smells.

Hallucinations, in which an object or person is seen when they are not really there, can also happen during an acid trip. Hallucinations may come and go in an instant. These could include auditory hallucinations, or hearing things that aren't there; tactile hallucinations, or feeling things that are not there; olfactory hallucinations, or smelling things that are not there; and gustatory hallucinations, or tasting things that are not there -- however, visual distortions are by far the most commonly reported type of sensory distortion from LSD.

You can imagine how confusing it is to be surrounded by several types of visual distortions at once -- although people on acid are generally aware that what they are seeing and feeling are part of the drug experience, it can nonetheless sometimes be difficult to be clear about what is real and what is not real. Usually, people on acid are able to go with the flow and ride out the visual distortions, which generally get more intense during the first couple hours of the trip, then get less intense for the remaining 6 or so hours. But sometimes people under the influence of LSD panic, are frightened by what they are seeing, or react inappropriately to their surroundings. It is important for someone in this state not to go off on their own, as they can be prone to accidents and misadventure.

Changes in Thought Processes

LSD typically changes the way people feel about themselves, other people, and the world, and this can happen in positive or negative ways. How a given individual will be affected is extremely unpredictable -- no one takes LSD hoping or expecting to have a bad trip, although some accept the possibility as a risk worth taking, while others do not believe it will happen to them until it does.

One of the ways people's feelings about themselves changes while on LSD is often described as a breakdown of the ego, or sense of self. Previously held beliefs about who you are and what matters to you can shift temporarily or permanently. This is sometimes described positively -- people may become more understanding of the plight of others, get in touch with inner strengths, or feel more spiritually connected. But the breakdown of the ego can equally be described negatively -- people may feel their life is meaningless, the world is cruel, or the human race is a ship of fools, and this can be profoundly alientating and depressing.

Occasionally, these feelings can lead to suicidal or destructive impulses. It is very important to keep a person who is high on acid in a safe, secure environment until the effects of the drug wear off. Always call 911 if someone who seems to be having a bad trip goes off on their own, or is in a potentially dangerous environment -- LSD can lead to serious errors in judgement.

Sources:

American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-IV-TR Fourth Edition (Text Revision). American Psychiatric Association, 2000.

Denning, P., Little, J., and Glickman, A. Over the Influence New York: Guilford. 2004.

Fadiman, J. The Psychedelic Explorer's Guide: Safe, Therapeutic, and Sacred Journeys. Rochester, Vermont: Park Street Press. 2011.

Hayes, C. (Editor) Tripping: An Anthology of True-Life Psychedelic Adventures. New York: Penguin. 2000.

Hofmann, A. LSD My Problem Child. New York: St Martin's Press. 1983.

Stevens, J. Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream. London: Paladin. 1989.

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