Thursday, January 15, 2009

Snap, Crackle Pop - I'm Tripping!

The Legend: LSD remains in your spinal fluid for a lifetime.

Status: False

  • LSD can stay in your spine for up to 30 years.
  • LSD sticks to your spine and weakens it.
  • LSD is in your spine, travels up to your brain stem to your brain and makes you instantly insane.
  • LSD robs spinal fluid from the spinal cord.
  • LSD is stored in the spinal cord and if you crack your back you can have a flashback.
  • Chiropractic adjustments can release LSD and can cause flashbacks.
  • Because LSD is stored in your spine if you crack your neck while on acid it sends you into a never ending rip and you eventually die.
  • LSD is stored in the bottom of your spine, which is why right before you start to trip you feel a tingling up your spine.
  • When you take LSD your spine will move upward, releasing chemicals that cause you to trip.
  • LSD is stored in your spine and once it reaches a critical level you will die.
  • LSD forms a mucus layer around your brain, then drains spinal fluid from your back.

So, once it's in your body it stays in your body forever, working in your spine to become active again, on and off throughout the rest of your life? These rumors persist as a way of possibly explaining why some people (very few) have experienced flashbacks. "I'm hallucinating, therefore it must be those drugs I took back in 1978," Um, no, more likely something else is going on and you need to get yourself to a doctor.

This spinal fluid belief is so widely held that message boards on the topic are full of pregnant women afraid to get epidurals for fear of triggering a flashback, and pain patients refusing spinal injections as a course of treatment for the same reason.

Ask yourself what the phrase "robs/drains spinal fluid" means. How is it robbed and where does it go? How does the spine "move upwards" independently of everything that's attached to it? Doesn't make much sense, does it.

For starters, let's take a look at the physiology involved. Your brain, spinal cord and cerebro-spinal fluid is a closed system. That means that spinal fluid is not going to drain or flood your bloodstream without a massive trauma, and cracking your back, getting an injection, or visiting a chiropractor is not a massive trauma.

There are dormant viruses, like chicken pox, that really do stay in your body throughout your lifetime, making occasional reappearances. LSD is not a virus, nor does it hang around in your spinal fluid for years after use - especially considering that your spinal fluid replaces itself on a very regular basis.

LSD is a water-soluble chemical that is metabolized and excreted from the body rapidly. The metabolic half-life of LSD in the human body is 3-5 hours. After 5 hours, most of what remains are water-soluble metabolites that have no neurological effects. Because of its high solubility in water, LSD does not form deposits in your body.

Since the trippy effects of LSD can last up to 12 hours, it has been suggested that LSD triggers some type of neurochemical chain reaction that creates experiential changes that persist long after the drug has left your body.  

And how about those flashbacks being caused by dormant LSD that is stored in your spine? Flashbacks have spotty science behind them. The term "flashback" has been used in so many ways to mean so many things that it is virtually meaningless now. Some believe they are a purely psychological phenomenon, where the brain responds to a stimulus that reminds a person subconsciously of the LSD experience, and they re-experience some of those sensations all over again. Sort of like when you smell your lover's cologne on a stranger and feel a wave of warmth for this person even though you don't know him. Another explanation for flashbacks is that the user is schizophrenic, which explains the hallucinations in the absence of the chemical.

Since we've already determined that LSD is not being stored in spinal fluid, chances are pretty good that it's not weakening your spine either. What is more likely is that all those LSD users from the 60's and 70's are getting older and developing age-related spine and back problems. Is there some residual paranoia that makes us attribute back pain to LSD use that took place 30-40 years ago? Maybe, but we'd be wrong. Do aging LSD users develop back pain? Yes.  Do aging LSD non-users develop back pain? Yes.

There is mention of this myth in popular culture as well. You will hear reference to this in the Eminem song, Drug Ballad, "Let the X destroy your spinal cord."  It is also mentioned in the 1998 movie SLC Punk, where it is said that once LSD stored in your spine reaches a critical level you will die.

Here's what's next...

There seems to be a recent expansion of this idea of linking other drugs to spinal fluid or spinal problems. The following material came from some "ask the experts" type of Internet forums, mostly on college websites.
  • Is it true that MDMA (ecstasy) drains the fluid from your spinal cord, and if it does, can that happen after about 3 uses?
  • Can taking DXM (dextromethorphan) cause problems with your spinal cord later on after use? For example, draining spinal fluid?
[Insert eye-roll here]