Hallucinogens are a category of drugs that alter thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. They can be used in several ways, including ingesting, smoking, and inhaling. Though the use of hallucinogens is not as prevalent today in the U.S. as other substances like alcohol, marijuana, and opioids, they are frequently paired with other drugs or alcohol, which can contribute to addiction. Current research shows that people can become addicted to hallucinogens.
What Are Hallucinogens?
Hallucinogens are considered to be psychoactive drugs that can produce hallucinations in users by altering sensory perceptions to various extents. They cause visual and audible hallucinations, disorganized thoughts, dizziness, blurry vision, nausea, vomiting, loss of coordination, and increased blood pressure and heart rate. Using hallucinogens is also known to produce anxiety and paranoia. Sometimes, the acute anxiety it produces leads to harmful behaviors that cause injuries. Hallucinogen abuse may also lead to acute depression and other mental health problems, especially for users who have underlying mental health conditions.
How Do Hallucinogens Affect the Brain?
Under normal conditions, neurotransmitter chemicals transmit messages all through parts of the body and brain. The neurotransmitters help a person move, talk, make decisions, and they control automatic body functions like breathing and digestion. Similar to other substances, hallucinogens affect how the brain produces and manages those neurotransmitters.
Some substances, like opioids, stimulate the brain to produce high levels of the neurotransmitter chemical dopamine. This causes temporary feelings of pleasure or a high feeling. Conversely, hallucinogens disrupt the manner in which the brain produces neurotransmitters, leaving users’ brains and bodies confused. Users then experience unexpected changes in their mood, their feeling of physical pain, the ability to eat or sleep, and their responses to the outside world. Hallucinogens can also trick users’ minds into hearing, seeing, or experiencing incidents that aren’t real.
What Are the Different Types of Hallucinogens?
The hallucinogen category of drugs can refer to numerous different substances that disrupt the functioning of the body and brain. Some of the most commonly used hallucinogens include LSD (also known as acid), which is manufactured in a laboratory, psilocybin (mushrooms), and peyote, which comes from a cactus that contains mescaline. Whether man-made or organic, hallucinogens can produce unpredictable and uncontrolled experiences that affect the thoughts and actions of users.
Other kinds of hallucinogenic substances are primarily man-made and are known for their potent properties. These include Ketamine and PCP, both of which were made for medical purposes but currently, are now used recreationally.
The use of hallucinogens for recreation is illegal. As a result, there is always a risk of the drugs being laced, or cut, with other dangerous substances that may cause medical complications.
What Are the Warning Signs and Symptoms of Hallucinogen Use?
Because there are various types of hallucinogens, there are some signs and symptoms that are specific to the particular substance, how it’s used, and the individual. However, there are some signs and symptoms that are common to hallucinogens, in general, including:
- Symptoms of intoxication
- Very dilated pupils
- Warmer than normal skin, excessive sweating, body odor
- Fear, terror, paranoia
- Distorted sense of hearing, sight, and touch
- Poor impulse control
- Distorted self-image
- Distorted sense of time
- Behavioral and mood changes
- Deadened sensory perception (may experience a severe injury while appearing not to notice)
- Unpredictable flashback episodes, even long after withdrawal
- Unpredictable behavior (may swing from passive to violent for no apparent reason)
What Are the Short-Term Effects of Hallucinogens?
The short-term effects of hallucinogens typically begin within 20 – 90 minutes and last between six to 12 hours. Users call the experiences that hallucinogens cause “trips” and call unpleasant using experiences “bad trips.”
The short-term effects of hallucinogens include:
- Uncoordinated movements
- Increased heart rate
- Dry mouth
- Excessive sweating
- Problems sleeping
- Loss of appetite
- Spiritual experiences
- Relaxation and detachment from environment and self
- Changes in the sense of time
- Intensified feelings and sensory experiences
- Extreme and unreasonable distrust of other people
- Mixed senses (like hearing colors or seeing sounds)
- Increased respiratory and heart rate and body temperature
What Are the Long-Term Effects of Hallucinogens?
One of the biggest concerns about the long-term effects of hallucinogen abuse is the impact it has on the mind. Hallucinogens cause the brain to be “scrambled,” and they disrupt the body’s normal functioning. As a result, the use of these drugs can have a long-lasting effect on the brain – especially in individuals who already have underlying mental health conditions that are worsened by hallucinogen abuse.
Users who suffer from long-term hallucinogen abuse may develop psychosis. This condition causes the person to struggle with controlling their thinking and emotions, see or hear things that aren’t real, and experience extreme paranoia. Another long-term effect is persistent hallucinations. This can cause the individual to experience hallucinatory flashbacks that continue even long after the person stops using the drug. The long-term use of PCP may result in side effects that last for years after the use of the drug is discontinued. The effects include anxiety, depression, weight loss, memory loss, and speech problems. Ketamine abuse can result in users developing symptoms that include poor memory, kidney conditions, and ulcers in the bladder.
There is evidence that shows hallucinogens can be addictive. People who use these drugs can develop a tolerance to them, which means that they have to take more and more of the drug to experience the same effects. Additionally, some hallucinogens also produce tolerance to other similar substances.
What Are the Withdrawal Symptoms of Hallucinogens?
When a long-time user of hallucinogens stops taking the drug, they are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can range from mild to severe depending on the substance, the length of use, the amount of the substance used, and the individual’s mental and physical health. Some common symptoms of withdrawal from hallucinogens include:
- Speech problems
- Mood swings
- Panic attacks
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
Hallucinogens are dangerous substances that can result in psychological and physiological complications. Because most hallucinogens can contain unknown chemicals and substances, each individual’s experience will be different. For these reasons and others, it is critical to find professional treatment when trying to stop abusing hallucinogens. Most people cannot stop on their own.
Finding Help for Hallucinogen Addiction
The good news about hallucinogen addiction is that it can be treated with professional help. If you or your loved one is struggling to stop using hallucinogens, it’s important to reach out for help from a reputable drug and alcohol treatment center. With proper treatment, hallucinogen addicts can and do recover, and they go on to live happy and meaningful lives.
The first step toward recovery is asking for help. It may seem intimidating, but you are not alone. There are caring and compassionate addiction treatment programs that can help you learn how to live life in a new healthy way.