By Cate Baily

"I'm Losing My Mind"

Amanda Contadino: Former LSD abuser

A young woman's experience with the hallucinogenic drug LSD

Sometimes when Amanda Contadino moves her hand in front of her face, she sees trails behind it, like the mark of smoke a skywriter leaves. Sometimes when she's sitting perfectly still, the wind and birds seem to swirl around her at dizzying speeds.

But there are no trails and there is no whipping wind. These sensory bloopers may be related to the LSD Amanda took when she was 16.

LSD, also known as acid, is a hallucinogen, or drug that can cause hallucinations. In other words, it can make someone see, hear, and feel things that aren't really there. It is sold on the street in many forms, including capsules, liquid, treated sugar cubes, and gel wafers called windowpanes.

Often, it's added to decorated blotter paper and divided into small squares which are then chewed and swallowed.

We talked to Amanda, now 21 and a resident of the Phoenix Academy of Long Island drug treatment center in East Hampton, New York.

Never Good Enough

It all started when Amanda was 13 years old. "I always had a problem being accepted," she said. So, when she saw some friends smoking a joint, she asked to try it, thinking that drugs were a way to bond.

She also thought that her drug use—which soon included ecstasy and cocaine—would numb her pain. "I never felt like I was good enough," she says.

One day when Amanda was 16 and home alone, she decided to take LSD, or drop acid. After about an hour, she started laughing hysterically.

That was the first of many trips, as the drug's highs are called. Amanda's LSD use ramped up from occasional weekend use, taking one or two doses, to daily use at school, taking six or seven doses.

Experts say that Amanda's daily use of LSD is rare. Because the drug isn't addictive like heroin or cocaine, people generally stop taking it after a few experiences. Perhaps it's bad trips that turn them off.

Bad Trips

The term bad trip refers to unpleasant—even terrifying— feelings and sensory experiences while high on LSD. Amanda told us about one particularly awful hour she spent tripping or "bugging out," as she put it.

It was the day before Easter and many family members were milling around her house. She had dropped acid with friends downstairs and was feeling panicked about getting caught. She sat behind her drum set rocking back and forth, holding a glow-in-the-dark star. That star "seemed like my only friend in the world," she says.

As it turns out, she may have been right. "The friends I got high with," she says now, "weren't my real friends." As soon as she left drugs behind, they dropped her.

Amanda and her so-called friends believed they'd reached "a higher plane," or some form of enlightenment, on acid. In reality, they were stagnant and unproductive. "I went nowhere," says Amanda. "I did nothing but worry about getting acid."

Take a look at this trend. According to a NIDA-funded study, the percentage of teens using LSD dropped significantly from 2001 to 2002. These are the lowest rates for high school seniors in 27 years. Maybe teens are getting the message that it's just not worth it.

Not Mentally the Same

Today, Amanda isn't worried about getting acid but about the damage it may have done to her brain. The trails and other perception problems haven't gone away, and it's been three years since her last hit of LSD.

In a way, though, Amanda got lucky. She used to call tripping "losing my mind." For some of her friends, the made-up term may have turned out to be real. "I've had friends who've never come back from it," she says. "They're not mentally the same. They're in psychiatric units."

According to Dr. Geraline Lin of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), psychotic breaks are associated with LSD use, but it's unclear whether or not the drug directly causes mental illness. In fact, scientists are still struggling with many unanswered questions about LSD and the brain.

Amanda now aspires to become a drug counselor to help others out of a life ruled by drugs. She wants to share what she says she has learned: "You can experience life in all its beauty without drugs."

From Scholastic and the Scientists of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services