Lies About the Drug Burnouts

Repost from the old site.

Dope fries your brain, and all ex-dopers are “permafried,” or damaged by drugs. This condition is both immediately obvious and permanent.

This is one of the staples of the anti-drug line, and it appears that the vast majority of Americans have bought into it, including most drug users and former users.

I think it’s utter nonsense, so I’m going to take it on head-on here in this post.

Simply put, I don’t really think that “drug burnouts” exist anymore than “alcohol burnouts” do. The notion comes from the idea that illegal drug use damages the brain. Hence, after years of use of this, that, or various substances, the brain is permanently damaged, and the person is odd, strange, weird, bizarre, permanently spacey, “permafried,” crazy, nuts or mentally ill in some way or another.

The theory is very appealing in that unfortunately, it is starting to look like most of these drugs, at least in heavy use, are capable of damaging the brain. The jury is still somewhat out on cannabis, but even that does not look really encouraging for heavy long-term users.

The theory is typically used to abuse users of hallucinogens and psychedelics, probably because these are the most feared drugs of them all. There is a serious problem with the “fried brains acidheads” line: the hallucinogens are one of the very few drugs that look pretty clean as far as brain damage goes.

When you come out and say that LSD does not cause general damage to the brain, as I am doing now, people tend to get really upset. After all, if anything damages your brain, it must be LSD! After all, if acid, the ultimate evil drug, doesn’t mess with your brain, then surely nothing does.

The truth is much more strange. It’s now clear that the most popular drugs of all, like cocaine and methamphetamine. can damage the brain, often pretty quickly.

Cocaine begins to cause demonstrable brain damage after as few as 12 uses (constriction of the arteries of the brain). After a few grams a month for a few years, clear brain damage shows up on the P300 test (a general slowing of the EEG). There is now evidence for serious changes in white and gray matter with heavy cocaine use.

Meth is much harder to pin down, but heavy current users often appear scattered and damaged. After 1.5 grams a week for 1-2 years, clear signs of damage start showing up. I believe that damage is also starting to show up on white and gray matter tests.

I can’t emphasize strongly enough what bad news these white and gray matter tests are – they indicate destruction of the neurons themselves and the connections between them.

The damage from meth seems to be to dopamine neurons and their connections and is observable with brain diagnostic imaging tools. Whether or not damage occurs at lower doses over shorter periods of time is not known, but meth is starting to look like nasty stuff for your brain.

I still say you can take meth at least a dozen times or so (and possibly much more!) without any permanent damage. At some point though, you are going to start damaging your brain, and we don’t really know what that point is. Want to try to find out when the damage begins? Don’t bother!

Ecstasy or MDMA, formerly up in the air as far as brain damage goes, is looking worse all the time. The best we can say now is that one dose probably does not cause damage. More than one dose almost surely does, and the damage is cumulative. The drug damages serotonin neurons in certain parts of the brain by killing the connections (axons) between the neurons. The neurons themselves are not killed.

It is a common falsehood about drug abuse and the brain that “drugs kill brain cells.” In truth, actual neuronal death is hard to pin down for a lot of these drugs. Instead of killing brain cells outright, drugs often just damage them so they don’t work quite so well. With MDMA, the serotonin axons grow back, but they do not grow back correctly.

I never did MDMA – it was after my time.

Even heavy cannabis use is looking suspect.

Drinking more than two drinks a day over a period of time causes shrinkage of the brain. The shrinkage increases as the drinks per day does up. Periodic heavy drinking depresses brain cells for up to two years, and chronic heavy drinking actually kills neurons.

Now on to the psychedelics. The hard facts are that we do not have good evidence that LSD, peyote, psilocybin and similar drugs damage the brain in any way that would that reduce your intellect, make you odd, strange, weird, bizarre or crazy, or effect your ability to think and feel rationally.

It is true that LSD, psilocybin and MDMA are capable of causing HPPD. That is hallucinogen persisting perception disorder. The result is visual aberrations persisting into the period when one is not using the drug. LSD seems to be the worst offender, but some cases are caused by psilocybin. Until a cure or prevention is found, HPPD is an excellent reason to avoid using psychedelics, LSD in particular.

There is a board on the Net for HPPD sufferers, and if you go there and tell them that you are still using acid, they are going to give you a piece of their mind. They aren’t anti-drug ignoramuses or holier than thou moralistic types. They’ve just been there and done that and don’t want to see you in the same boat as they are.

No one has any idea what is causing HPPD, but a Dr. Abraham in Massachusetts has the notion that it is related to damage to the visual system. All LSD users show damage to the visual system. It’s not apparent to most of them, but it shows up on tests. It has to do with how fast you can adjust to from a totally light environment to a totally dark environment. LSD users do poorly on that.

It’s interesting to note that although all of the tests for LSD and brain damage in animals were negative with the exception of very high doses that would be about the equivalent of 1,000 50 mcg. hits at once, LSD was shown to be hypotoxic to the optic nerve in the bird.

These negative findings for brain damage and LSD go back to the 1950’s. We now have over 50 years of negative tests for LSD and brain damage in animals as well as humans.

LSD does some pretty bizarre things to animals. If you give it to a cat and put the cat in an enclosed area with a rat, the cat will cower in terror of the rat, which it normally would try to kill. Strange.

All tests of intellectual function damage for LSD users have come up negative. Some suggested temporary damage on visual function tests (the Trail-Making B Test), but as the HPPD data above suggests, LSD may indeed damage the visual system. Even this finding cleared up one year post-drug

Damage to the visual system would logically cause HPPD. Would it make a person weird, strange, odd, bizarre, insane and stupid? Why would it? The visual system effects vision. It doesn’t effect psychological stability or the ability to think or feel in a normal way.

That said, there is anecdotal evidence that very heavy LSD is somehow bad for your brain. It seems to go away if you quit, but it’s there nevertheless. There are reports on the net of users who used LSD very heavily – several hits, several times a week, for a year or so. Afterward, they had symptoms of brain damage.

They could no longer do the intellectual work that they could formerly do, and they had a hard time reading. After a year or so off the drug, their intellect seemed to return. The users were not mentally ill at any time.

The notion of mental illness from the use of LSD is very controversial. It seems almost impossible to understand how a drug that has no permanent brain effects outside the visual system could make a person weird, strange, odd, bizarre, crazy, nuts, insane, or mentally disturbed in any way at all. Surely, if it did so, the etiology could not be from actual brain damage but must be in purely psychological terms: psychogenic.

Nevertheless, we continue to get reports of mental illness after LSD use.

The most frightening to me are reports of mental illness after very heavy use. We have reports of individuals who used LSD very heavily (several times a week at high dose) for a year or two. After that, they became mentally ill and had to be admitted to a hospital. They got better and were released and seemed OK on the outside. But then they got into heavy LSD use again and had to be readmitted.

There are other reports of folks in their 40’s and 50’s who used LSD maybe 2,000-3,000 times. They are reported to be mentally ill to some degree or another.

We don’t yet have any good theory to explain cognitive problems or mental illness in extremely heavy LSD users, but nevertheless, based on anecdotal evidence, one ought to avoid this sort of high-risk behavior.

Timothy Leary probably used LSD between 1,000-2,000 times. I have to admit he looked pretty fried the last few times I saw him on TV. He also used all sorts of other drugs.

As a good general rule though, I haven’t met one person yet who is “permafried” from any kind of drugs. My perception has been that if you quit using, after a while you become normal again. Most of the so-called permafried types are still using drugs heavily. It seems to me that no matter how damaged people seemed, if they quit and sobered up, they seemed to be quite OK once they were clean.

I’ve met some folks who seemed damaged from very heavy dope use, but in the one case I can think of, he wasn’t really strange or weird. He could be socially inappropriate, and his basic problem was he didn’t give a damn about anything. You will find this personality syndrome in a lot of very heavy users that otherwise function pretty well – they seem like they don’t care about much of anything.

He couldn’t hold down a job because he was so damaged that he couldn’t even make change. Yet I was at a party with him once and he picked up this gorgeous young blond ten years his junior and fucked her brains out that night. How nuts can you be if you can pull off something like that?

I met another fellow like that on the streets of San Francisco 15 years ago. Smart guy, Masters Degree from a good university, lived off a trust fund, traveled the world, partied his brains out, in his 40’s.

He had that “I don’t give a fuck” attitude, but I don’t consider that mental illness. Hell, I don’t consider most stuff mental illness! He wasn’t ready for corporate America, but he didn’t want to be either, and I didn’t consider him mentally ill in any way, shape or form.

But then I think the whole notion of “crazy” is horribly abused against people who aren’t even nuts at all.

I’ve known many individuals who used drugs heavily for years who are now more or less sober, although some continue to use cannabis. For the life of me, I can’t see how even one of them has been permanently damaged by their drug use. I haven’t met a permafried person yet, but I guess there’s always a first.

I keep meeting people who used cocaine very heavily for 5-10 years, or so heavily as to have to go into drug treatment, or took LSD up to 300 times or so, or have been smoking pot for 20-30 years and still are, now heavily, in their 40’s. For the life of me, I can’t see anything wrong with them now. Some of them have very good jobs and make $100,000/yr or so.

Despite a lot of theoretical support for the “permafried” notion (in that many of these drugs are now being found to actually damage your brain), I haven’t seen much of it in my life. If anyone knows any “permafried” individuals who are now clean and have been clean for a while, let me know in the comments.

Until then, I think the whole notion is ridiculous.

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16 thoughts on “Lies About the Drug Burnouts”

  1. That’s interesting about the visual ‘damage’. That’s the only real after-effect I remember from the period in the early 70s when I used acid a lot. I remember that for maybe a year after I stopped I still had slight hints of that ‘acid sky’ thing ALL the time – that’s when the sky seems to be more ‘lit up’ than usual, flickering – if you’ve smoked a lot of cannabis you’ll know what I mean. I got really weary of it; I used to wonder if the sky was ever going to stop flashing. And reading too – there seemed to be a lot of flashing around the peripheral vision, and it was easy to slip out of focus. Hard to find words to describe it, but the phenomena you discuss seem to correlate to my experience, and it WAS my ONLY noticeable after-effect. Went away eventually though.
    As to mental illness, as Bob Dylan said:
    ” People say that it’s a sin
    to know and feel too much within
    [I always thought she was my twin
    but I lost the ring;
    she was born in Spring,
    but I was born too late –
    blame it on a simple twist of fate]”

    The sheer information overload, the experience that is so removed from the experience of everyone else, could obviously be difficult to cope with.

  2. Sorry, that last post was me. McTrousers is another of my aliases – the blog thing remembered it from another site.

  3. This is a bit late, but I have met one person that was “burnt out”. The only thing I noticed is that it wasn’t from using one drug only. This guy did every drug you could name and then some. I feel like in order to end up “fried” you would really have to go quite crazy with the quantity and variety of the drugs you take over a decently long period of time.

  4. AMBIANCE Each drug has a “scene” and this is what effects the personality:


    These are intellectual drugs used on college campuses most heavily. You could be a huge “pothead” in college and then the day you graduate you quit every using anything stronger than coffee. You’ll still seem middle-class.

    Many dead-heads who were bohemian types in their 20’s later join the corporate world.


    Crackheads spend a great amount of time in “bad scenes”-ghettos, around minorities, avoiding police scrutiny, going to jail. Even the ones who started life middle-class will have gone through a period of petty crime in order to feed a habit. If they quit and go clean, they have a criminal bad vibe to them because their habit turned them into a petty criminal.

    NB Women who are addicted to crack have usually resorted to prostitution and this will have an even stronger impact on the personality because of sucking off lowlifes in parked cars.


    Lot’s of people use meth and do not become addicted. But 30% of them become “tweakers” who use every day and do not “come down” and steal, lie and scam to keep getting more meth. But I would say less than crackheads because meth is so strong that when you do come down, you do not REALLY want more immediately. The comedown is really harsh so you have to forget about it.


    Many people have used a line of coke off and on for decades. Very few get hooked unless they graduate to crack cocaine. Cocaine is a short-term high and you have to use huge amounts to develop paranoia and psychosis. One line will not be enough.


    They are out of your system in a few days anyhow.


    You’re done. I’ve never known a casual heroin user. Most people start smoking it and then eventually shoot it. Like crack cocaine, when you quit you already a criminal who has stolen, robbed, been arrested, committed all manner of crimes to get it. So you will have a criminal record, been a prostitute and these experiences will rub off on you. You’ll give people a bad vibe.

      1. LSD trips seem to create a life altering experience for many. I have been told by a few people that they had a
        complete change of personality after one or two trips of LSD. I am not sure how true is it.

    1. Heroin users are hopeless. Most of those heavy heroin users have Very little chance of coming back to normal life.

  5. I’ve abused benzodiazepines quite a bit over the course of 2 years and I got unlucky and got mentally disabled for about 1 year. Now I would say my brain functions better than ever (after half a liter of pig-brain extract injected into my body). Benzodiazepines would be my best bet on anything fucking you up for life.

    This is peripheral but D-Methamphetamine (Dexosyn) in low doses seems it would tend to help the brain.
    Just linking this because it is most likely a preferable drug for some with ADHD type problems, and whatever else.

      1. Street speed has gone through several forms/stages:

        “Crank” in the 90’s was the most physically and mentally destructive. Ice is much more powerful and addictive but made with better ingredients.

        The days of meth-heads with sores all over their body and missing teeth are gone because the chemical process is different now.

      1. I think benzos are much more addictive if you have anxiety problems.
        The recommendation I hear is to not use them for more than 14 days or so, to avoid withdrawal symptoms, but even then I don’t know if it is that common, and protracted withdrawal symptoms are quite rare.

        The problem I had with quitting was that I couldn’t function mentally without it, I could not speak or think, and it seems my anxiety had gotten worse over the 2 years I had used it (anxiety got way better as soon as I had quit it for a while).

        1. Also it can take time for withdrawal symptoms to occur. So if one uses it for a period I would suggest to then wait for 2-3 weeks before thinking it didn’t cause any problems.

        2. On the other hand my father has used them for decades and don’t have any problems other than possibly somewhat increased anxiety over the years.

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