Psychoactive drugs like hallucinogens have been abused in America for hundreds of years. Hallucinogens and other psychoactive drugs alter a person’s perception of reality, making the drugs dangerous to abuse.
While some people may consider hallucinogens less potent or threatening than other drugs, such as heroin, these drugs can cause dependence, addiction, and many adverse side effects, some of which can last long-term. For these reasons, seeking treatment for hallucinogen addiction and dependence is important for a person’s health and safety.
What Are Hallucinogens?
Hallucinogens are a diverse class of psychoactive drugs. There are many different types of hallucinogens, but drugs classified as hallucinogens tend to result in altered perceptions, thoughts, and feelings. A person’s perceptions include awareness of their surroundings.
Hallucinogens work by disrupting the flow of communication between the brain and spinal cord. Depending on the drug, hallucinogens interfere with certain brain chemicals, such as serotonin or glutamate. These chemicals control different aspects of body functions, including perception of pain, memory, emotion, learning ability, mood, sensory perception, and more.
Because hallucinogens can be found in some plants in nature, these substances have been abused for centuries, and many are still abused today. For example, Ayahuasca is a tea containing parts from several Amazonian plants. The main, mind-altering chemical in Ayahuasca is dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a chemical found in many hallucinogens.
While all hallucinogens cause mind-altering effects, some also cause people abusing the drugs to feel a disconnection from their mind, body, or surroundings—a sense of loss of control.
People abuse hallucinogens for a variety of reasons, the most common of which includes the change in perception and awareness.
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Types of Hallucinogenic Drugs
Hallucinogens are abused in a variety of ways, depending largely on the substance.
The following are the most commonly abused hallucinogenic drugs:
- DMT (dimethyltryptamine): a chemical found in some Amazonian plants, and manufactured illegally. DMT is in several hallucinogens, and may be called Dimitri on the streets.
- DXT (dextromethorphan): an ingredient found in some over-the-counter cough suppressants.
- Ketamine: typically used for surgery anesthesia. Ketamine sold on the street is often obtained illegally from veterinarian offices.
- LSD (D-lysergic acid diethylamide): Perhaps one of the most powerful hallucinogens, LSD is a dangerous, unpredictable drug.
- PCP (phencyclidine): originally used as an anesthetic, PCP is no longer used for this purpose due to a host of serious side effects. The drug is still sold on the streets, however.
- Peyote/mescaline: Peyote is a small, cactus plant that contains the mind-altering ingredient mescaline, but peyote can also be synthetically manufactured.
- Psilocybin (4-phosphoryloxy-N, N-dimethyltryptamine): hallucinogenic mushrooms native to Mexico, South America, and the United States.
- Salvia (Salvia divinorum): a hallucinogenic plant found mostly in Central America and Mexico.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) explains, “Evidence indicates that certain hallucinogens can be addictive or that people can develop a tolerance to them. Use of some hallucinogens also produces tolerance to other similar drugs.”
While not all hallucinogens come with a high risk of addiction, developing tolerance to the drugs may be just as great a risk as developing addiction. When a person develops tolerance, he or she often takes more and higher doses of the drug to elicit the same effects. With drugs like LSD, taking more of the drug can be risky because the drug produces unpredictable effects.
Some hallucinogens do foster addiction, and those drugs may create a dependence in people who abuse them. PCP is known for causing physical dependence, and people who abruptly stop using the drug may experience withdrawal symptoms as a result.
The NIDA reported that in 2013, 229,000 people reported past-month use of LSD, and 33,000 reported past-month use of PCP. Salvia abuse was also popular among high school seniors in the same report.
Hallucinogen abuse may not seem as serious as other drugs of abuse, like opioids, but the effects of hallucinogens can be dangerous, and abuse of these drugs can lead to addiction, tolerance, and physical dependence.
Short-Term Effects Of Hallucinogens
The onset of short-term effects from hallucinogens depends on the drug. Short-term effects usually take place within 20 to 90 minutes of abuse, and may last up to six to 12 hours.
The most common side effect from hallucinogens is hallucinations. Other short-term effects of hallucinogens may include increased heart rate, nausea, an intensity to feelings and experiences, and changes in perception of the passage of time.
Some hallucinogens may also cause very specific, adverse effects, including:
- change to senses (i.e. reports of “seeing” sounds, etc.)
- disconnection to environment/self
- dry mouth
- extreme sweating
- increased blood pressure, body temperature, or breathing rate
- lack of coordination
- loss of appetite
- sense of spiritual experience
- sleep issues
- panic, paranoia, or psychosis
When drugs of abuse cause paranoia, panic, or psychosis, the person abusing the drugs is at heightened risk of experiencing unwanted consequences. This is especially true when the person is abusing a hallucinogenic drug with another drug of abuse. Abusing two drugs together, also called polydrug or polysubstance abuse, can cause wildly contrasting effects and may cause a person to overdose.
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Long-Term Effects Of Hallucinogens
Not much is known about the long-term effects of hallucinogen abuse. Research that exists focuses largely on the effects caused by one particular drug. However, research has shown that, while rare, long-term hallucinogen abuse may include persistent psychosis or memory flashbacks.
Persistent psychosis is a condition that causes continuing and persistent mental issues, including changes to mood, disorganized thinking patterns, paranoia, and visual disturbances.
Flashbacks cause people who have abused hallucinogens to relive the experience again and again. These recurrences can happen in the weeks and months following abuse, or a year or more afterward. For some people, flashbacks can be excessive and severe enough to affect daily functioning, a condition commonly called hallucinogen persisting perceptual disorder, or HPPD.
People who abuse PCP long-term may also experience anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts, memory loss, speech issues, and weight struggles. These effects can last up to a year or more after stopping PCP abuse. Ketamine abuse may cause long-term issues affecting the bladder, kidney, and memory.
Hallucinogen Withdrawal Symptoms
Certain hallucinogens do cause dependence, a physical reliance on a drug resulting in withdrawal symptoms when stopping use of the drug.
PCP is known for causing dependence in people who abuse the drug long-term. Withdrawal symptoms from PCP may include strong cravings for the drug, headaches, and excessive sweating.
Withdrawal from hallucinogens may not be long-lived. Once a person rids the body of the hallucinogenic drug, he or she may not experience the harrowing withdrawal symptoms any more, unlike with some other drugs. For this reason, detoxification from hallucinogens may be both necessary and important to addiction recovery.
Detoxification allows a person to flush out harmful toxins residing in the body from substance abuse. A medically-supervised detox program may provide the structure, support, and care necessary to complete detoxification and abstain from hallucinogen abuse. The best rehab centers provide not only a great medical detox program, but follow it with a customized treatment plan.
Hallucinogen Addiction Treatment
Underestimating the severity of hallucinogen abuse can be dangerous. Abuse of the drugs can cause persistent psychosis, paranoia, and even suicidal thoughts, and for some people these effects can occur long after abuse of the drugs has stopped.
Addiction treatment in an inpatient rehab center allows individuals struggling with hallucinogen abuse to overcome substance abuse in a safe environment, removed from any harmful triggers. A drug rehab center may provide the professional care, evidence-based treatment methods, and peer support which makes all the difference in recovery success.
To learn more about hallucinogen addiction and treatment options, contact us today.