While many authorities in the field have proven that continued use of these substances can lead to addictive behaviors and detrimental effects to the body's health, some researchers have found that certain hallucinogens can have a radically beneficial effect on long-term psychological health. The true verdict, however, is still out on the subject.
As such, it's crucial to arm yourself with knowledge about these potentially dangerous substances so you can make an informed choice about their use and know how and when to get help for an abuse disorder.
The term "hallucinogen" is a class of various drugs that physically alter the way our bodies perceive light, sound, and touch. They can also have an effect on thoughts and emotions as well. The combination of both psychological and physical stimulations can produce sensations that the user interprets as being real when, in fact, they are not.
Some common synthetically produced hallucinogens are LSD and MDMA (ecstasy) while the most popular natural hallucinogens are psilocybin (magic mushrooms) and peyote.
Researchers believe that the main mechanism behind the hallucinogenic effect of these substances involves interacting with the neurotransmitter serotonin. The most pronounced effects are seen in the prefrontal cortex which is largely responsible for regulating perception, mood, and cognition.
Most hallucinogens are typically ingested either by eating the plant or brewing a tea (psilocybin and peyote) or by taking the drug orally via pill or dissolved in the mouth with blotter paper (MDMA and LSD).
A few street names for hallucinogens to be aware of include:
Hallucinogens have also been known to be strongly associated with the club scene and are thought of by many as "party drugs." These substances in particular are frequently taken before or during outings to night clubs or house parties to intensify the effects of the evening.
Many hallucinogens tend to have overlapping side effects like an increased heart rate and nausea. Some of the short-term physical side effects of abusing hallucinogens broken down by drug type are as follows:
The actual length of the "high" produced by abusing hallucinogens can vary wildly depending on the substance. Generally, the effects can be felt within 20 to 90 minutes after ingestion with effects lasting on average 6 to 12 hours. MDMA users, on the other hand, will typically feel the effects for about 3 to 6 hours.
While these highs can involve intensely intricate hallucinations and feelings of euphoria, a powerful connection with the world, and extreme empathy, hallucinogens also carry with them the possibility of a "bad trip." A bad trip is characterized by disturbing visualizations, intense anxiety and panic, unrivaled terror, and an ultimate loss of self-identity. While these trips may be brought about by being in the wrong environment or not having the right mindset going into the experience, the fear of a bad trip alone is usually enough to keep people from abusing hallucinogens altogether.
When it comes to long-term side effects of hallucinogen addiction, the physical problems may seem a bit more disconcerting. While a lot of the science is still out on the long-term effects for many of these drugs, some studies have shown that regular use and abuse could cause two very serious problems: persistent psychosis and flashbacks.
Persistent psychosis is characterized by continuing mental problems brought about by drug use. These effects could include rapid and frequent mood changes, disorganized patterns of thinking, regular visual disturbances, and markedly high paranoia.
These incidences involve randomly feeling the effects of these drugs after the initial dose has already worn off. Hallucinogen abusers report that they have experienced these flashbacks anywhere from several days to more than a year after their last incident of using. Experiencing persistent flashbacks that interfere with normal functioning is called hallucinogen persisting perceptual disorder or HPPD.
Another long-term side effect of hallucinogen addiction, particularly when it comes to psilocybin, is the possibility of poisoning from eating the wrong kind of mushroom which, depending on the type, can result in a host of health effects and the possibility even of death.
Similarly, especially in the case of MDMA, these substances are prone to being cut with other drugs. As they are typically purchased on the streets, hallucinogen users never really know whether the drug they are taking is pure or if it's made up of other, more harmful substances. As such, regular use of these drugs can lead to severe consequences to your health caused by these unknown substances.
Addiction to hallucinogens has, for the most part, been determined to be a primarily psychological effect rather than a physical one. By reinforcing positive associations with the substances as with other kinds of addictions, the brain begins seeking out ways to reproduce those behaviors to produce the same effect.
Given that much of the lasting effects are psychological then, a hallucinogen addict may report symptoms of withdrawal during recovery that correspond mostly with emotional states such as:
That being said, some users have reported experiencing physical side effects of hallucinogen abuse withdrawal like:
Besides these signs of withdrawal to watch out for, there are a few other behavioral patterns to keep in mind if you are trying to determine if someone you know has a hallucinogen abuse problem.
If you or someone you know appears to be addicted to hallucinogens, there are ways that you can help, most notably by getting them the professional care they need to kick the habit. A combination of inpatient and behavioral treatments along with counseling can help a hallucinogen addict get to the root of their addiction and end their dependence for good.
While many hallucinogens have been branded as "harmless" because of their diminished damage to the body and lower rates of physical addiction, these drugs can have a significant impact on the psychological function of an abuser's brain.
As such, hallucinogen abuse is a habit that should be stopped as soon as possible.