What Does LSD Do to Your Brain?

What Does LSD Do to Your Brain?


What is LSD? Otherwise known as acid, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) is a commonly abused psychedelic drug that alters your perception and state of mind. This potent psychedelic is known for producing what many call an “acid trip,” in which users may experience side effects like hallucinations and euphoria. But what’s the science behind an acid trip? What does LSD do to your brain to create these side effects? 

What Part of the Brain Does LSD Affect?

Before we get into what your brain on LSD looks like, let’s answer an important question: what part of the brain does LSD affect? The region of the brain that’s believed to be most affected by acid is the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for cognitive function and control, including working memory, attention, impulse control, and cognitive flexibility. The prefrontal cortex also influences dopamine levels, and when prefrontal dopamine is low, impaired cognitive control occurs.  Because LSD influences the levels of dopamine in the brain, it does have a potential for abuse and addiction. Additionally, the physical impact of LSD isn’t pleasant, and long-term use can make it more difficult because of withdrawal symptoms. Those who find themselves unable to control their use of acid can get help at our drug and alcohol rehab Chicago.

What Does Acid Do to the Brain?

So how does LSD work, exactly? Acid or LSD works by binding to serotonin receptors on the surface of brain cells. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter or chemical messenger that regulates emotions, mood, motor control, hunger, body temperature, sexual behavior, and perception. Scientists believe that LSD acts through a specific receptor called 5-HT2AR.1 By binding to these receptors, LSD modifies neural pathways, producing hallucinations and altering your perception of time, sound, and color.

Some short-term effects acid has on the brain include:

  • Altered sense of self
  • Altered sense of time
  • Synesthesia, or when your senses “crossover” (hearing colors, seeing sound)
  • Euphoria
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Increased libido or sex drive
  • Increased sociability
  • Feeling several different emotions at once

These altered perceptions and sensations often cause panic in users. When users experience unpleasant side effects, the experience is referred to as a bad trip. Some common symptoms of a bad acid trip include terrifying thoughts, feelings of despair, fear of losing control, paranoia, and fear of death.  In addition to the immediate effects that acid has on the brain (acid trip), more research is exposing the drug’s long-term impact. The most common long-term effects of acid are psychosis and a condition called hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD). 


Psychosis refers to a disruption of your thoughts and perceptions, causing an altered sense of reality. In other words, psychosis makes it difficult for you to tell what’s real and what isn’t. You may also see, hear, or believe things that aren’t real. Although experiencing LSD-induced psychosis is rare, it can happen as a result of long-term use or toxicity (when a person takes too much for the body to handle). Those who have pre-existing mental disorders or psychosis-related conditions are also more likely to experience psychosis than users who do not. There are many elements at play in this connection, so it’s important to consider the individual’s health and whether they use other drugs, as well. 

Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD)

Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder or HPPD is a chronic, non-psychotic disorder in which a person experiences lasting or persistent visual hallucinations or perceptual distortions after previously taking LSD. The recurring distortions are also referred to as flashbacks, or basically when a person who’s taken acid in the past experiences the side effects of an acid trip when they aren’t using it.  Sometimes, these flashbacks can be pleasant, but other times, not so much. The visual disturbances that may occur can be unsettling enough to interfere with the person’s daily activities. In most cases, LSD flashbacks happen once or twice within a few days of use but can even show up weeks, months, or years after the person has last used acid. Other side effects of HPPD include anxiety, ringing of the ears (tinnitus), difficulty concentrating, and eye floaters. 

The Bottom Line

While there’s no substantial evidence to support that LSD kills brain cells, it can be damaging. Not only is acid bad for your brain, but it’s also bad for your mental health. Drugs that affect serotonin levels can cause conditions like serotonin syndrome and worsen symptoms of mental illness.  LSD is a powerful substance that can lead to some frightening side effects. If you have an existing mental health condition or risk factors for psychosis, then you’re at higher risk of experiencing the adverse effects of LSD on the brain. 

If you find yourself unable to stop using acid or have become addicted to other drugs or alcohol, call Banyan Treatment Centers Chicago now at 
888-280-4763 to learn how our Chicago IOP programs for addiction can help. 

Related Reading: 

LSD Myths Debunked: The Truth Behind Acid 
Can You Overdose On Acid? 
What Is an Acid Trip? 


  1. NIH - Protein structure reveals how LSD affects the brain 
Alyssa is Banyan’s Director of Digital Marketing & Technology. After overcoming her own struggles with addiction, she began working in the treatment field in 2012. She graduated from Palm Beach State College in 2016 with additional education in Salesforce University programs. A part of the Banyan team since 2016, Alyssa brings over 5 years of experience in the addiction treatment field.