Friday, January 16, 2009

Tripping for Life

The Legend:  There was a guy who had LSD in his pocket and got caught in the rain, now he's tripping for life.

Status: False


This rumor warns that residues of LSD will remain in your body forever, suggesting that you might be one of the unfortunate few who will actually hallucinate forever. During the 1970's and 1980's, one of the methods for teaching drug prevention was the use of scarelore, telling drug stories that would scare the crap out of kids, and hopefully keep them scared long enough that that they wouldn't use drugs. Tripping for life was one of those scare stories that was told not just between kids, but by teachers as well.

Over the years students have insisted that this particular legend was true, even saying that they had seen it on TV. And if it's on TV, it must be real, right?

So, is it possible to trip for life?

Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD)

The jury is still out on whether or not LSD causes flashbacks, or the recurrence of the LSD experience in the absence of the drug. Both users and professionals disagree within their ranks. Considering the number of people who have used LSD over the past 50 years one would think that there would be some more definitive science surrounding the flashback phenomenon, but there isn't.

Some say that flashbacks are simply a manifestation of schizophrenia. Others argue that it is a type of biochemical post-traumatic stress reaction. The accepted theory in the 1970's was that flashback-like experiences were not caused by any biophysiology, but by user expectation and a selective attention to naturally occurring alterations in consciousness. Bright flashes, halos, and trails are all visual phenomenon that happen, generally unnoticed, in most people. After you've used LSD, you now have a way to label them, (Heaton, 1975).

What we do know for sure is that a very few people who use LSD will develop lasting visual problems. This has been labeled Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD) (Halpern & Pope, 2003). Unlike flashbacks, HPPD tends to be a fairly continuous experience of visual interference rather than a series of acute episodes.

HPPD is a condition where one or more of the perceptual disturbances associated with LSD use occur without taking the drug. The American Psychiatric Association recognizes this disorder, but also reminds us that such visual disturbances can be symptoms of other medical conditions. For many, the visual problems resolve on their own after a few months, for others the visual disturbances can last five or more years.

HPPD is strictly a visual disorder. Symptoms can range from mild to so severe that they interfere with work or school. People with these symptoms know that what they are seeing is not reality. There are no concurrent symptoms of depression, confusion or panic attacks, though people with HPPD often report anxiety, (Halpern & Pope, 2003).

The good news is that for people who suffer from HPPD, benzodiazepines, such as Clonidine, can significantly reduce symptoms, (Lerner et al, 1998; 2003).