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LSD and Schizophrenia: Does “Acid” Cause Mental Illness?

Some would argue that LSD and schizophrenia are closely related. Some would go as to far as to say that frequent usage of LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide) or “acid” can actually cause a person to develop schizophrenia. LSD or LSD-25 is known to have profound psychological effects that include: altered thinking, hallucinations, altered sense of time, and spiritual experiences.

Most people who use LSD use it on a recreational basis as a means of experimentation. The substance itself is not known to cause any brain damage and has a pretty low addiction potential. Although LSD’s profile seems pretty safe, certain users react with paranoia, delusions, and psychotic features.

Does LSD cause schizophrenia? Not likely.

There is not currently any research in support of the idea that LSD can cause schizophrenia. Although it may induce a state of psychosis that is very similar to schizophrenia – this is considered “drug-induced psychosis” and does not stem from other factors. In most cases, these symptoms go away and the person does not experience long term, permanent psychotic effects as a result of using LSD. Currently there is no research that would support the idea that using LSD significantly raises your risk of schizophrenia.

Some would argue that chronic LSD usage could eventually trigger schizophrenia in an individual that may be prone to the disease. This is where things get tricky and subjective opinions come into play. I would say that in someone who is prone to developing schizophrenia, it would be a very smart idea to avoid LSD and all other drugs. If you end up developing the illness after using LSD, there is no way of knowing whether it was caused by one too many “trips” on this drug or other drugs.

Differences between LSD psychosis and schizophrenia?

In one study, researchers took a look at whether individuals hospitalized for LSD psychosis were significantly different than people experiencing acute schizophrenia. Researchers took a look at many different factors including: family history, set of symptoms, and premorbid adjustment. Participants were tested extensively for 52 LSD psychotics and 29 schizophrenics.

What’s interesting is that the LSD psychotics did not differ from individuals with schizophrenia in incidence of psychosis or suicide among the parents. In other words, family history was pretty similar in regards to psychotic symptoms and suicide history. However, parents of the LSD psychotics had significantly high rates of alcoholism – far more than schizophrenics as well as the general population.

The groups had some slight clinical differences, but were equivalent in premorbid adjustment, cognitive performance when hospitalized and reassessed, and also similar in number of further hospitalizations. This study was able to demonstrate that LSD psychotics were pretty similar to schizophrenics. Findings from this study support the hypothesis that LSD psychosis could be a drug-induced schizophreniform reaction among individuals prone to substance abuse and psychosis.

Does this mean that LSD won’t cause schizophrenia?

There is still no clear cut answer as to what causes schizophrenia in the first place. Some think it’s based on genetic susceptibility, while others believe it’s a combination of both genetic and environmental factors. There is also evidence that usage of illicit street drugs could play a role in causing brain changes that would lead an individual to develop schizophrenia. Many famous people with schizophrenia are thought to have developed the illness as a result of hard drug abuse.

Of course we have the chicken and egg argument – which came first the schizophrenia or the substance abuse. In cases of substance abuse, would the person have gone on to develop schizophrenia if they had not abused drugs. Currently, most of the research supports that although there is a correlation between substance abuse, there is no major evidence supporting the idea that drug abuse can cause schizophrenia.  Many illicit drugs including Ecstasy can cause hallucinations and similar symptoms to schizophrenia.

Although usage of LSD may mimic schizophrenic symptoms and induce a state of psychosis, it is not thought to cause a person to develop schizophrenia. A state of drug induced psychosis is not the same as schizophrenia. With that said, LSD usage is thought to make symptoms of schizophrenia more intense and severe.

References List:

  1. Source: http://archpsyc.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=493357
  2. Source: http://archpsyc.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=493118
  3. Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12640322
  4. Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23890122

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5 thoughts on “LSD and Schizophrenia: Does “Acid” Cause Mental Illness?”

  1. Well what about Peter Greene, Syd Barret, and Brian Wilson? All musicians who experimented quite extensively with LSD in the late 1960’s and are regarded as having schizophrenia or schizoaffective-like symptoms. Coincidence? Or is there something connected here?

      • That would be three (plus Skip Spence – four) acid casualties out of all the musicians doing psychedelic drugs in the late Sixties. I wonder if those four really represent more than the ordinary average for mental illness in the average population.

        If hundreds and hundreds of rock musicians hadn’t used psychedelics, would it be statistically unlikely that four of them develop mental illness anyway?

  2. Im going through the same thing with my 26 year old son. He was a daily weed smoker from about age 14. In the last 5 years he has been doing all the stuff like ex, molly DMT, LSD…well 2 weeks ago he had a major break. I have taken or had him taken to the hospital…every time they released him. He is here at home but he is not the same at all. Still very paranoid, still thinks people are out to gt him…and so much more.

    The Dr says it is drug induced psychosis. I pray he is right. My sister was diagnosed late in life with schizoaffective disorder in her 50’s. I did everything I could to tell him these drugs were so harmful. Can someone please tell me what to do? I know the laws well after 18 years of age it is almost impossible to get help for a loved one. This is a nightmare…for him and for me.

    • Dear Dyanne, an uncle of mine has his fair share of drug using (molly, daily weed smoker, k2, crystal meth, LSD), and has been in a very bad state of mind for years now. His diagnosis went from Drug psychosis to Schizophrenic as it says above they are very similar if not lead to one another. But what I have noticed is that he likes to be comforted and reassured.

      Their minds are still in “trip” mode and during a trip is when all their insecurities feel like they are exposed to the world and feel as if they are being judged / hated and like someone is out to get him. Keep him away from every source of addiction and be there for him is the best you can do.


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