9 Popular Drug Myths Ep 2 – LSD, Prescription Pills, and The Stereotypical Addict
By Lauren Brande | Published 6/19/17
My name is Lollie and you’re listening to Let’s Talk Drugs, where we take an in-depth look at substance abuse by examining the evidence. Let’s Talk Drugs is presented by ProjectKnow.com (that’s project k-n-o-w dot com), a website dedicated to providing accurate and easy-to-understand information about drugs and alcohol. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse, call us at to speak with a recovery support advisor about getting help.
This series will explore 9 popular drug myths, from single-use heroin addiction to whether or not ecstasy can cause holes in your brain. We’ll be featuring 3 myths per episode, so be sure to subscribe and check back next Monday for more drug debunking.
In the last episode, we found out that heroin addiction is not based in one-time use, alcohol can be dangerous even if you’re not addicted, and recovery is a lifelong journey that only starts with rehab. This second episode looks at LSD in spinal fluid, the veil of safety around prescription drugs, and the stereotypes that surround addiction.
Myth #4: LSD Is Stored in Spinal Fluid for the Rest of Your Life
This myth probably arose from the experience of acid “flashbacks” following long-term chronic use of LSD. A small percentage of users will experience slight visual hallucinations, such as after-images or movement in their peripheral vision, when they are not using LSD after a long period of frequent dosing.1, 2 This is certainly not the norm, however, and it has nothing to do with LSD remaining in the body.
“The maximum amount of LSD in both plasma and in spinal fluid peaks within about 30 minutes to 1.5 hours and steadily drops over the next couple hours.”
The liver metabolizes LSD relatively quickly after ingestion. In fact, LSD’s plasma half-life (which is how long it takes to eliminate half of a drug amount from the body) is only around 3.5 hours.3, 4 However, this information alone does not tell us whether LSD is stored in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). In order to dispel this myth, we need to look even closer at the pharmacokinetic properties of LSD.
Numerous studies have shown that LSD can easily pass the blood-brain barrier, which not only impacts the rapid distribution of LSD throughout the body, but also the body’s ability to process it.3 When a person takes LSD, the amount present in their blood plasma is about the same as the amount in their cerebrospinal fluid.3, 4 The maximum amount of LSD in both plasma and in spinal fluid peaks within about 30 minutes to 1.5 hours and steadily drops over the next couple hours.3, 4
In general, LSD and its metabolites can be detected in blood for 6-12 hours after ingestion and in urine for 2-4 days after ingestion, obviously depending on the dose and individual metabolic rate.3 After this time, levels drop too low to be detected by current available methods – which doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t there anymore. But it does mean that the concentration is so low that the possibility of it having a psychoactive effect is extremely small.
Long-standing LSD effects may arise due to brain changes evoked by high, regular dosing, but these effects are very rare, and they have more to do with physical brain alterations than supposed “storing” of LSD in the body.5
Some people believe that these potential after-effects mean that a person is “legally insane” due to taking LSD a certain number of times. But this is also a misconception.
The word “insanity” is commonly used to refer to people struggling with psychological disorders. But in a strictly legal sense, insanity is a courtroom defense term that means a person is not mentally present enough to be found guilty of a crime committed.6 It has nothing to do with how many times a person has ingested LSD.
On top of this misconstrued term, the use of LSD is not commonly associated with any persistent, detrimental mental health consequences.7, 8 A person may experience psychotic-like symptoms during the drug experience. But these symptoms generally will not last beyond the trip, unless the person takes LSD very often and in higher doses.9
That said, some users report having really bad trips and experiencing terrifying sensations instead of the typical euphoric psychedelic effects. These bad trips include feelings of extreme anxiety, paranoia, and fear that this awful experience will never end. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to predict whether a person will have this horrible reaction, and many experienced LSD users have been caught off guard by a bad trip that seems to arise out of the blue.10
You may have also heard that taking LSD can cause you to develop schizophrenia. This is actually true, to a point. LSD can be detrimental to people who are predisposed to developing psychotic disorders like schizophrenia, whether by their genetics or certain environmental factors.11 However, these risks apply only to people who are already at risk of developing these psychotic disorders.
So no, LSD is not stored in your body forever. And no, it cannot cause a person to spontaneously develop long-standing psychological disorders. Moving on…
Myth #5: Prescription Drugs Are Safer Than Street Drugs
Doctors prescribe these drugs so they must be safe, right? Wrong!
Many prescription drugs can be highly addictive despite being legally prescribed for acceptable medical uses. Even if the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) doesn’t classify prescription drugs in the same category as drugs such as heroin, cocaine, or meth, many medications contain strongly addictive substances.
The most highly abused prescription drugs are:12
- Opioids – Used to alleviate moderate to severe pain, with mechanisms of action similar to heroin.
- Central nervous system (CNS) depressants – Used to reduce anxiety and help with insomnia. Many exert their sedative effects similarly to alcohol.
- Stimulants – Primarily used to lessen symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), with neural mechanisms similar to cocaine and methamphetamine.
Let’s start off with opioid medications, which are a particular problem in the U.S. right now. Nearly 23,000 people died because of prescription opioid overdose in 2015, a major increase from 16,500 only 5 years earlier.13 On top of this, overdose rates for opioid medications were almost twice as high as overdose rates for heroin in 2015.13
“These medications can be so potent that taking them for more than a short period of time can be deadly.”
These are pretty horrifying facts considering how frequently these medications are prescribed. Between 1999 and 2010 alone, the number of opioid medication prescriptions nearly quadrupled!14 To add to this prescription epidemic, the dose being prescribed has steadily increased, putting users at further risk.14
Opioids can even be dangerous when taken with a prescription. On top of non-medical use, one of the leading risk factors for opioid overdose is long-term medical use.15 These medications can be so potent that taking them for more than a short period of time can be deadly.
Use of these medications can have long-lasting consequences for the user – whether they’re taken for medical issues or abused without a prescription. Just because these pills come from a medical provider does not in any way mean they are without risk. Opioid painkillers put the user at high risk of overdose and addiction.
Central nervous system (CNS) depressants, such as benzodiazepines and barbiturates, are another class of prescription drugs that can be highly dangerous for the user. In 2011, almost 34% of emergency department visits involving nonmedical use of prescription drugs were related to use of CNS depressants.16
“The reason people die when they mix these drugs is because their breathing and heart rate slow down so much that they simply stop.”
However, unlike opioids, the biggest risks surrounding the abuse of these drugs are not related to overdose, but instead concern withdrawal and the dangers of mixing them with other substances, including alcohol. Many people suffer severe health consequences when they use a CNS depressant with alcohol (which is also a CNS depressant) or when they try to quit after extended use.
Mixing benzos or barbiturates with other CNS depressants like alcohol or opioids will result in an extreme slowing of neuronal communication. This slowing not only affects thinking and movement control, but vital life-maintaining functions like breathing and heart rate. The reason people die when they mix these drugs is because their breathing and heart rate slow down so much that they simply stop.17
CNS depressants also have a high addiction potential, and an abuser of these drugs runs a risk of experiencing life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. When a person develops a dependence on these drugs, their brain gets used to a lower level of stimulation because CNS depressants reduce brain communication. Once use is stopped, especially if it is cold turkey, withdrawal can bring about deadly seizures due to neurological overstimulation.18, 19
A medical professional may be prescribing these, but don’t let that fool you: Unless taken exactly as prescribed and with careful medical monitoring, these anxiety-reducing medications can be a nightmare.
Finally, we have the so-called “study” drugs. Prescription stimulant medications are prescribed to treat symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), yet they are commonly abused on college campuses as a study aid. Some even use them for weight loss, enhanced athletic performance, and late-night partying.
“Chronic non-medical use can lead to cardiomyopathy, or heart muscle disease, which is a weakening of the heart that can lead to arrhythmic heartbeat or heart failure.”
In individuals with ADHD, prescription stimulants reduce hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsivity – all the symptoms that make school and work extremely difficult for people with ADHD.20 For some reason it’s been assumed that these same drugs will enhance the intellectual performance of non-ADHD people as well. But the evidence for this is extremely limited, and it may even stem more from placebo effects than from real-world alterations.20
- Heart attack.
- Abnormally high blood pressure or heart rate.
- Sudden death.
Chronic non-medical use can lead to cardiomyopathy, or heart muscle disease, which is a weakening of the heart that can lead to arrhythmic heartbeat or heart failure.20 Escalating doses may even lead to addiction, which further complicates the risks and consequences of prescription stimulant abuse. Prescription stimulants may be more effective for improving deficiencies than they are for enhancing performance.
All in all, just because certain drugs come from doctors does not mean that they are safe to use without a prescription. Abusing prescription medications can be just as risky and life-threatening as abusing illicit substances – the uniting theme here is still “abuse.”
Myth #6: Drug Users Are Lowlifes
When people hear the term “drug addict,” they often think of a person who is living on the streets, starving, strung out, and desperate for the next fix.
Although there are certain risk factors for developing addiction, these do not look the same in every user. A substance use disorder can affect any person from any background.
In fact, many people who are struggling with addiction are functioning relatively well in their day-to-day lives. Addiction spans many lifestyles and occupations. Most often, addiction problems develop in high-stress environments, either due to home life or job pressure.21
Having a higher income level has been found to protect against substance abuse problems, but only in rural areas, not in cities or suburbs.22 High-status occupations are also associated with drug abuse disorders, and the use of alcohol and marijuana in young adulthood has been associated with growing up in a family with higher wealth, income, and education.22, 23
“Most often, addiction problems develop in high-stress environments, either due to home life or job pressure.”
The typecast of an addicted individual as a street-dwelling “lowlife” is simply not correct. Individuals with a high socioeconomic status have the same risk of engaging in substance abuse and developing a problem with addiction. Most people have very similar brain structure and general chemistry, and addiction doesn’t care whether a person grew up wealthy or not. Addiction doesn’t always live in the streets – sometimes it lives in a high-rise penthouse.
Alright, another 3 drug myths have been officially flushed! Were any of them news to you? Share with us at #LetsTalkDrugs. We want to hear your reactions, your questions, and your stories. Next week we’ll take a look at ecstasy brain holes, the sobering effects of coffee, and one of the most controversial drugs in today’s political climate: marijuana. We’re available on
SoundCloud, iTunes, Google Play, Youtube, and most podcast listening apps, so check our website for more information and be sure to subscribe. Until next time, I’m Lollie and this has been Let’s Talk Drugs.?
Next Time on Let’s Talk Drugs…
Prev Episode | Podcast Home | Next Episode
If you’re struggling with drugs or alcohol, don’t wait until it’s too late to seek help. Call us at to discuss your treatment options and get started on your recovery journey today.
- Halpern, J. H. & Pope Jr., H. G. (2003). Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder: what do we know after 50 years? Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 69(2). 109-119.
- Hermle, L., Simon, M., Ruchsow, M., & Geppert, M. (2012). Hallucinogen-persisting perception disorder. Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology, 2(5). 199-205.
- Passie, T., Halpern, J. H., Stichtenoth, D. O., Emrich, H. M., & Hintzen, A. (2008). The pharmacology of lysergic acid diethylamide: a review. CNS Neursocience & Therapeutics, 14. 295-314.
- Dolder, P. C., Schmid, Y., Haschke, M., Rentsch, K. M., & Liechti, M. E. (2016). Pharmacokinetics and concentration-effect relationship of oral LSD in humans. International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, 19(1).
- Abraham, H. D. & Duffy, F. H. (1996). Stable quantitative EEG difference in post-LSD visual disorder by split-half analysis: evidence for disinhibition. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging Section, 67. 173-187.
- Legal Information Institute. Insanity Defense. Cornell University Law School.
- Krebs, T. S. & Johansen, P. (2013). Psychedelics and mental health: a population study. PLOS ONE, 8(8). E63972.
- Halpern, J. H. & Pope, H. G. (1999). Do hallucinogens cause residual neuropsychological toxicity? Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 53. 247-256.
- Carhart-Harris, R. L., Kaelen, M., Bolstridge, M., Williams, L. T., Underwood, R., Feilding, A., & Nutt, D. J. (2016). The paradoxical psychological effects of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). Psychological Medicine, 46. 1379-1390.
- Ungerleider, J. T., Fisher, D. D., Fuller, M., & Caldwell, A. (1968). The “bad trip” – the etiology of the adverse LSD reaction. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 124(11). 1483-1490.
- Abraham, H. D. & Aldridge, A. M. (1993). Adverse consequences of lysergic acid diethylamide. Addiction, 88(10). 1327-1334.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). What is the scope of prescription drug misuse? Misuse of Prescription Drugs.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2017). Overdose Death Rates.
- Manchikanti, L., Helm II, S., Fellows, B., Janata, J.W., Pampati, V., Grider, J.S., & Boswell, M.V. (2012). Opioid epidemic in the United States. Pain Physician, 15. ES9-ES38.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012). CDC grand rounds: prescription drug overdoses – a U.S. epidemic. MMWR Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 61(1). 10- 13.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Drug Abuse Warning Network, 2011: National Estimates of Drug-Related Emergency Department Visits. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 13-4760, DAWN Series D-39. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2013.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Is it safe to use CNS depressants with other medications? Misuse of Prescription Drugs.
- Petursson, H. (1994). The benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome. Addiction, 89(11). 1455-1459.
- Sellers, E. M. (1988). Alcohol, barbiturate and benzodiazepine withdrawal syndromes: clinical management. CMAJ, 139(2). 113-120.
- Lakhan, S. E. & Kirchgessner, A. (2012). Prescription stimulants in individuals with and without attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: misuse, cognitive impact, and adverse effects. Brain and Behavior, 2(5). 661-677.
- Sinha, R. (2008). Chronic stress, drug use, and vulnerability to addiction. Annals of the New York Academy of Science, 1141. 105-130.
- Diala, C. C., Muntaner, C., & Walrath, C. (2004). Gender, occupational, and socioeconomic correlates of alcohol and drug abuse among U.S. rural, metropolitan, and urban residents. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse: Encompassing All Addictive Disorders, 30(2).
- Patrick, M. E., Wightman, P., Schoeni, R. F., & Schulenberg, J. E. (2012). Socioeconomic status and substance use among young adults: a comparison across constructs and drugs. Journal on the Study of Alcohol and Drugs, 73(5). 772-782.
How Our Help Line Works
If you’re seeking addiction treatment for yourself or a loved one, our ProjectKnow.com help line is a private and convenient solution. Caring advisors are available 24/7 to discuss treatment options with you.
Calls to this helpline are 100% confidential and will be answered by American Addiction Centers (AAC).