Hallucinogens

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HallucinogensAddiction, Effects, Withdrawal & Treatment

What are Hallucinogens?

Hallucinogens are psychoactive drugs that alter the user’s thinking processes and perception in a manner that leads to significant distortions of reality. Hallucinogens are commonly divided into two categories: classic hallucinogens (such as LSD) and dissociative drugs (such as PCP). Both types of hallucinogens can cause hallucinations or sensations and images that seem real though they are not. Moreover, dissociative drugs can cause users to feel out of control or disconnected from their bodies and environment [1].

Some hallucinogens are derived from mushrooms or plants, and some are synthetic (human-made). Historically, people have used hallucinogens for healing or religious rituals. More recently, people report using these drugs for social or recreational purposes, including to have fun, have spiritual experiences, deal with stress, or just to feel different.

Hallucinogens
It is important to realize, although we may imagine that hallucinogenic drugs are not as popular as they once were, they are still being abused by many individuals in large amounts for various reasons.

Some of the more common hallucinogens include:

Are Hallucinogens Addictive?

Most hallucinogens are classified by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) [3] as Schedule I controlled substances, meaning they have no known medicinal uses and have a high potential for abuse and physical or psychological dependence. Ketamine is a Schedule III drug and PCP is a Schedule II, due to their previous medical uses, but they are serious drugs of concern nonetheless.

Many people equate the term drug addiction with the experience of withdrawal symptoms, even though the two are separate issues. Hallucinogen users don’t tend to experience withdrawal symptoms with the cessation of use, due to the fact that these drugs don’t have a high potential for physical dependence. And although hallucinogens aren’t classically addictive, individuals can still suffer from problematic use that impairs their daily lives.

The American Psychiatric Association lists specific diagnostic criteria for a hallucinogen use disorder, which encompasses both hallucinogen abuse and negative consequences of use. Individuals who use these substances for non-medicinal purposes, have issues controlling their use, and experience negative consequences as a result of their use may be diagnosed with a hallucinogen use disorder or phencyclidine (PCP) use disorder in the case of PCP use.

Hallucinogens Effects 

Hallucinogenic drugs can have many dangerous effects for which users are often not prepared. Because these drugs highly affect the brain and the body, many dangerous incidents and conditions can occur as a result of abusing them. Here are some of the most dangerous aspects of hallucinogenic drugs.

Sensory Effects 

Sensory effects include perceptual distortions that vary with dose, setting, and mood. Psychic effects include distortions of thought associated with time and space. Time may appear to stand still, and forms and LSD powder and capsules colors seem to change and take on new significance. Weeks or even months after some hallucinogens have been taken, the user may develop an uncommon disorder called Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD) or experience “flashbacks.” 

HPPD can include fragmentary recurrences of certain aspects of the drug experience in the absence of actually taking the drug. The occurrence of HPPD is unpredictable, but maybe more likely to occur during times of stress and seems to occur more frequently in younger individuals. 

Physical Effects 

Hallucinogenic drugs also put individuals in physical danger as well, although it does not lead to death as often as behavioral issues. Certain hallucinogens have different physical effects on the body, many of which can be highly dangerous.

  • LSD
    • Dizziness
    • Raised body temperature
    • Nausea
    • Blurry vision
    • Tremors
    • Palpitations
  • PCP
    • Increased breathing rate
    • Numbness in extremities
    • Loss of muscular coordination
    • Coma
    • Seizures
  • Peyote
    • Raised body temperature
    • Increased heart rate
    • Uncoordinated movements
  • Psilocybin
    • Nausea
    • Vomiting
    • Drowsiness
    • Muscle relaxation

In addition to the effect of dose, the combination of alcohol (and/or other drugs) with hallucinogens increases the possibility of unpredictable and unpleasant physical effects of a hallucinogenic experience.

Short Term Effects of Hallucinogens 

Classic Hallucinogens Short-Term Effects

Classic hallucinogens can cause users to see images, hear sounds, and feel sensations that seem real but do not exist. The effects generally begin within 20 to 90 minutes and can last as long as twelve hours in some cases (LSD) or as short as 15 minutes in others (synthetic DMT). Hallucinogen users refer to the experiences brought on by these drugs as “trips.” If the experience is unpleasant, users sometimes call it a “bad trip.”

Along with hallucinations, other short-term general effects include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Nausea
  • Intensified feelings and sensory experiences (such as seeing brighter colors)
  • Changes in sense of time (for example, the feeling that time is passing by slowly)

Specific short-term effects of some hallucinogens include:

  • Increased blood pressure, breathing rate, or body temperature
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dry mouth
  • Sleep problems
  • Spiritual experiences
  • Feelings of relaxation
  • Uncoordinated movements
  • Excessive sweating
  • Panic
  • Paranoia—extreme and unreasonable distrust of others
  • Psychosis—disordered thinking detached from reality
  • Bizarre behaviors

Dissociative Drugs Short-Term Effects

Dissociative drug effects can appear within a few minutes and can last several hours in some cases; some users report experiencing drug effects for days.

Effects depend on how much is used. In low and moderate doses, dissociative drugs can cause:

  • Numbness
  • Disorientation and loss of coordination
  • Hallucinations
  • Increase in blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature

In high doses, dissociative drugs can cause the following effects:

  • Memory loss
  • Panic and anxiety
  • Seizures
  • Psychotic symptoms
  • Amnesia
  • Inability to move
  • Mood swings
  • Trouble breathing
Hallucinogens
Hallucinogens affect a person’s perception of reality. They make people hear, see, or feel things that aren’t real. Hallucinogens also affect emotions, sleep, and sexual behavior. Dissociative hallucinogens make people feel disconnected from the body.

How does it Make You Feel? 

Classic hallucinogens affect serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that helps control functions such as behavior, mood, and perception. Hallucinogenic drugs create most of the same physical effects as stimulant drugs, such as increased heart rate, dilated pupils, increased blood pressure, and sleeplessness. Classic hallucinogens can cause users to see images, hear sounds, and feel sensations that seem real but do not exist. The effects generally begin within 20 to 90 minutes and can last as long as 12 hours in some cases (LSD) or as short as 15 minutes in others (synthetic DMT).

People who use hallucinogens refer to their experiences with the drugs as “trips.” They call an experience that causes positive effects, such as happiness, heightened awareness, and abstract thinking, a good trip.

Unpleasant side effects, such as anxiety, paranoia, and panic, can lead to a bad trip. Bad trips are characterized by terrifying thoughts, loss of control, and insanity. Ketamine can cause an exceptionally bad trip called a k-hole. People who have experienced a k-hole say they felt like their consciousness disassociated from their body.

Some LSD users experience devastating psychological effects that persist after the trip has ended, producing a long-lasting psychotic-like state. This may limit their capacity to recognize reality, think rationally, or communicate with others. LSD-induced persistent psychosis may include dramatic mood swings from mania to profound depression, vivid visual disturbances, and hallucinations. In rare cases, the effects may last for years.

Types of Hallucinogens 

Some of the more common hallucinogens include:

Ayahuasca

Sometimes called hoasca, aya, and yage, ayahuasca is brewed from plants containing DMT along with an Amazonian vine that prevents the normal breakdown of DMT in the digestive system. It is usually consumed like tea.

DMT

Dimethyltryptamine, also known as Dimitri, is a natural chemical found in some Amazonian plant species, but it can also be chemically synthesized. It usually comes as a white, crystalline powder that is vaporized or smoked in a pipe or bong.

LSD

D-lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) is a manmade chemical made from ergot, a fungus that grows on certain grains. It is probably the most powerful hallucinogen available, producing hallucinations, changes in reality’s perception, and altered moods.

It comes as a white powder or clear liquid and has no color or smell. It can come in capsules, but most often comes on small squares of blotter paper or gelatin that users place on the tongue or swallow to take a “trip.”

Mescaline

A natural substance found as the main ingredient in the peyote cactus. The top of the spineless peyote cactus plants has disc-shaped “buttons” that contain mescaline. The buttons are dried out and then either chewed or soaked in liquid to produce an intoxicating drink. Mescaline can also be made through chemical synthesis.

PCP

PCP is a dangerous manmade substance that was originally developed as an anesthetic but was discontinued for human use in 1965 due to side effects. It is now an illegal street drug sold as a white powder or in liquid form. It can be snorted, injected, smoked, or swallowed.

It produces hallucinations and “out-of-body” sensations. Usage, especially in large doses, can be life-threatening and lead to serious mental health problems.

Psilocybin

A natural substance that is found in hallucinogenic mushrooms that contain psilocybin and psilocin. In large enough doses, psilocybin can produce effects very similar to the powerful hallucinogen LSD. “Shrooms” as they are sometimes called can be used either fresh or dried. They are normally eaten, mixed with food, or brewed like tea for drinking.

Hallucinogenic Herbs

A new trend among users of new psychoactive substances is the consumption of “herbal highs”: plant parts containing psychoactive substances. Most of the substances extracted from herbs, in the old centuries were at the center of religious ceremonies of ancient civilizations. Currently, these herbal products are mainly sold by internet websites and easily obtained since some of them have no legal restrictions [4].

Unfortunately, at the moment there are no data about the number of persons consuming herbal highs nor about the relevance of consumption on the online market or in the dark market just because information, diffusion, and selling are made anonymously, by web forums and mainly by dark internet.

Most of the “herbal highs” have been well known in the past centuries and used as sacred substances in traditional rites or as medicines by different ancient cultures. Actually, herbal highs are perceived as safe products since, as above reported, they are “natural” and “biologic”.

Hallucinogens
No one should abuse hallucinogens, as there is always the risk of overdose, poisoning, and death from their use.

Nevertheless, similarly to many synthetic drugs, plant and herbal supplements used recreationally can show a broad spectrum of euphoric, stimulant, and mainly hallucinogenic effects. Even if abuse liability is not a crucial point for these products, serious adverse effects can occur after consumption, due also to the false perception that these products are safe, legal, and organic.

Psychoactive plants such as Argyreia Nervosa, Ipomoea violacea and Rivea corymbosa; Catha edulis; Datura stramonium; Piper methysticum; Mitragyna speciosa have been known and used from ancient times, even if for some of the limited information still exist regarding subjective and neuropharmacological effects and consequent eventual toxicity when plants are used alone or in combination with “classical” drugs of abuse.

Hallucinogenic Alcohol 

For a long time, it was considered common knowledge that absinthe could produce hallucinogenic visions coupled with extraordinary drunkenness. Despite evidence to the contrary, many drinkers still hold onto the misconception that absinthe is hallucinogenic. 

Absinthe is a strong spirit created when neutral alcohol is distilled with botanicals like anise, wormwood, fennel, and other herbs and spices for a licorice-like flavor. There are two main styles of absinthe, Swiss/French and Czech/Bohemian.

Absinthe is not a hallucinogen rather its alcohol content and herbal flavor set it apart from other liquors. The chemical that’s taken all the blame for absinthe’s hallucinogenic reputation is called thujone, which is a component of wormwood. In very high doses, thujone can be toxic.

Absinthe is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and, until recently, was completely banned in the U.S. and most of Europe. This is because absinthe contains thujone, a toxic chemical found in several edible plants, including tarragon, sage, and wormwood.

Most hallucinogens are not legal. There are a few legal hallucinogens, but they can be problematic. So-called “legal highs” are actually the source of many emergency room visits. Furthermore, due in part to the fact that they are easier to procure, people are more likely to abuse legal hallucinogens. Substance abuse problems may then develop. There are, however, a few hallucinogenic drugs that are legal within the United States. They remain legal for their medicinal values and include:

  • Dimenhydrinate: Better known as Dramamine, is an over-the-counter drug used to treat motion sickness and nausea. It is a combination of two drugs: diphenhydramine and 8-Chlorotheophylline. The dimenhydrinate high consists of feelings of euphoria and hallucinations. 
  • Diphenhydramine: or Benadryl, is an antihistamine sold over the counter for allergic responses. In large doses, the drug causes hallucinations and mild euphoria (known as a diphenhydramine high). 
  • Dextromethorphan: or DXM, is the active ingredient in regular, non-prescription cough syrup. In small doses, it is an effective cough suppressant. In large doses, it is a dissociative anesthetic. The hallucinations linked with the dextromethorphan high are more like those experienced with classic hallucinogens like psilocybin mushrooms or LSD. Fatal overdosing on DXM though is a possibility. This is why laws have been put in place to prevent teens from drinking cough syrup.

How is a Hallucinogen Addiction Treated? 

Tolerance and dependency develop during the course of repeat cycles of abuse as a number of physiological adaptations to hallucinogen use and residual changes in the brain and central nervous system functions take place. Some of the effects are dramatic leading to severe depression and other emotional, cognitive, psychomotor, and behavioral or personality disorders that are difficult to reverse.

Detox

A large majority of hallucinogen abuse detox treatments are when the abuser suffers a “bad trip”, overdose, injury, or other medical complication from their hallucinogen abuse. Detox treatment for hallucinogens abuse and addiction primarily involves close observations and interventions for the dangerous side effects that hallucinogens can cause as well as the withdrawal symptoms that evolve as the drugs are eliminated from the system.

Stabilization is the first stage of effective treatment that may require medications such as anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, or anti-anxiety drugs to make sure the safety of the person and those around them can be ensured.

Counseling Services

Individual, group, and family counseling services are offered in the majority of mental health and substance abuse treatment programs to “get to the root of the problems”, improve communications and relationships, and motivate the abuser toward positive changes. . The structured guidance of a counselor helps the patient stay on track and in the right perspectives as they strive to achieve their potentials and goals of recovery.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a widely used treatment for hallucinogens abuse and addiction to help individuals identify negative thought patterns, emotions, and problematic behaviors and learn how to make healthy lifestyle changes that decrease the urges to use hallucinogens and other substances; paying particular attention to symptoms of psychosis, depression, and other co-existing mental health-related problems that are exacerbated by stress.

Increasing awareness of high-risk situations and warning signs and developing avoidance strategies and coping skills for handling those situations is an important part of treatment known as relapse prevention and knowing what to do should relapse occur is equally important to ensure any long-term recovery success.

Withdrawal Symptoms

The physical symptoms of hallucinogen withdrawal can differ depending on the physiology of the individual in question, as well as the specific type of hallucinogenic drug used.

The typical hallucinogen drug influences the production and processes of neurotransmitter chemicals in your brain, especially the chemicals glutamate and serotonin. Both these chemicals are essential for the regulation of a variety of major bodily processes. Therefore, once your body has grown accustomed to the influence of hallucinogens in your system, the following withdrawal symptoms might be triggered once you stop using hallucinogens:

  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Dangerously elevated heart rate
  • Stiffening of the muscles
  • High blood pressure
  • Rapid breathing/hyperventilation
  • Fluctuations in body temperature

Please understand that, while these withdrawal symptoms can be very inconvenient, they are an essential step to take on your journey to becoming free of substance abuse.

Those suffering from Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD) tend to experience a continuous perception distortion, even when they are not taking the drug. For instance, even after you quit using hallucinogens, you might continue to experience a changed visual perception that causes you to hallucinate and see images that aren’t actually there. HPPD can also lead to you experiencing intense flashbacks, as well as other psychological alterations. Said flashbacks can cause you to hallucinate for long periods and have difficulty differentiating between what’s real and what isn’t.

Treatment for Hallucinogens

The first step in treating hallucinogen withdrawal is to do a detox from the substance. During detox, individuals slowly taper off their dose over the course of time until they are no longer dependent on the substance. Some withdrawal treatment programs may also provide less powerful and longer-acting medications for individuals with severe hallucinogen drug addiction. It can help reduce withdrawal symptoms and make the detox process more comfortable. It is also safer to detox within a medically assisted facility with a clinician. Doctors can monitor the client during detox and intervene if any of the withdrawal symptoms become life-threatening.

Once detox is complete, treatment usually continues in an inpatient setting, depending on the individual’s needs. Treatment in an inpatient will give the client their best chance at a successful recovery. In addition, these programs can help with the detox process, making it both safer and more comfortable. They’ll also teach the skills necessary to remain sober during recovery.

Please, do not try to detox on your own. The detox process can be painful and difficult without medical assistance. However, getting through the detox process is crucial for continued treatment. We Level Up NJ provide proper care with round-the-clock medical staff to medically assist your recovery through our Hallucinogens Drug Addiction Treatment Program. So, reclaim your life, call us to speak with one of our treatment specialists. Our counselors know what you are going through and will answer any of your questions.

Hallucinogens
If you believe your loved one is abusing hallucinogenic drugs, know that help is out there and that you are not alone.
Sources:

[1] NIDA – https://nida.nih.gov/drug-topics/hallucinogens

[2] NIDA – https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/hallucinogens-dissociative-drugs/what-are-hallucinogens

[3] DEA – https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2020-06/Hallucinogens-2020.pdf