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Hallucinogen Addiction and Abuse
Though Hallucinogens have a history of medicinal and spiritual use, today they are commonly abused for their psychoactive effects. These substances, also known as dissociatives, make up a diverse group of drugs that, though not chemically similar in most cases, produce similar alterations in perception, feeling, and experiences.
How Hallucinogens Work
The different plants and chemical compounds that make up the group of drugs known as Hallucinogens alter normal brain function by disrupting communication between chemical systems in the brain and spinal cord. Hallucinogens also hinder the release of serotonin (the chemical responsible for regulating mood, sleep, sensory perception, body temperature, sex drive, and muscle control). This is why many individuals who use Hallucinogens report increased feelings of euphoria, touch, and sexual pleasure. However, repeated use can train the brain to become dependent on a Hallucinogen for a release of serotonin, instead of the brain producing normal amounts on its own.
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Types of Hallucinogens
Many Hallucinogens are Schedule I drugs under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning they have a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use in the US. While Hallucinogen addiction and overdose are generally low, individuals may still become dependent on the effects these substances produce.
Some of the most common Hallucinogens include:
Phencyclidine (PCP) was originally developed in the 1950s as an anesthetic for surgery. After it was later discovered to be a dissociative anesthetic, its medical use was discontinued in the 1960s. It produces an “out of body” experience but can also result in serious side effects. PCP can be found in liquid, powder, and white crystal forms and is often added to other illicit substances (i.e. Meth, LSD, and Marijuana) to enhance psychedelic effects.
Other names for PCP include Angel Dust, Hog, Love Boat, and Peace Pill.
Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) is an odorless, colorless substance known for its highly potent psychedelic effects. Originally used as a therapeutic aid in the 1960s, it has largely been debunked as a clinical therapy aid today. LSD is most commonly abused by individuals in their late teens and early twenties. For the most part, LSD is consumed orally in powder, liquid, or pill form and produces mood-elevating “trips.” Some have reported acute anxiety and depressions after use due to LSD’s effect on the brain’s serotonin levels.
Other names for LSD include:
- Blotter Acid
- Mellow Yellow
- Window Pane
- Yellow Sunshine
Ketamine is a surgical, dissociative anesthetic that also produces some hallucinogenic effects. It is primarily an injectable, used widely by veterinarians, but can also come in powder or pill forms. Because Ketamine is a sedative and induces immobility, relief from pain, and amnesia, it has also been used as a date rape drug. The onset of effects is quick (often occurring within a few minutes) and the hallucinations its produces last approximately 30 to 60 minutes. Sometimes a “bad trip” happens, leaving someone who is high on ketamine in a terrifying state referred to as a “k-hole.” Common street names include Kit Kat, Special K, Super Acid, Super K, Vitamin K, and Special La Coke.
Mescaline is a hallucinogenic compound that is the active ingredient in Peyote, a small, spineless cactus. It is traditionally used by Native Americans in spiritual rites central to the Native American Church. Though it has been suggested to be an effective treatment for depression and alcoholism, it remains a Schedule I substance. Abuse of Mescaline can cause illusions and hallucinations, altered perception of space and time, and altered body image. Peyote and Mescaline are also known as Buttons, Cactus, Mesc, and Peyoto.
Psilocybin is a chemical compound contained in some psychedelic mushrooms native to Mexico, Central America, and the US. These mushrooms are distinguishable from edible mushrooms for their long, slender stems and caps with dark gills on the underside. They are generally ingested orally or brewed in tea to reduce the bitter flavor. Psilocybin can produce hallucinations, an inability to differentiate reality from fantasy, panic attacks, and psychosis if consumed in large doses. It is also known as Magic Mushrooms and Shrooms.
Synthetic Cathinones, or “Bath Salts,” are man-made illicit substances known for their stimulant and hallucinogenic effects. Chemically, Bath Salts are related to the khat plant, grown in East Africa and southern Arabia. Its makeup varies with each lab that produces it, increasing its potential for fatal use. Bath Salts are usually a white or brown crystal-like powder, packaged with labels like “not for human consumption” to bypass federal regulations. They are sold legally as cheap substitutes for stimulants like Meth and Cocaine because labs are able to reintroduce slightly-altered versions of the substance in quick succession and dodge law enforcement efforts.
Salvia Divinorum is a plant with psychoactive properties that is native to Mexico and Central and South America. Also called Diviner’s Sage, Magic Mint, and Sage of the Seers, this Hallucinogen distorts time and causes a “flying” feeling. Unintended physical effects include dizziness, lack of coordination, chills, and nausea. Salvia Divinorum is legal in some states, decriminalized in others, and an illegal Schedule 1 substance in many states as well.
DMT, or dimethyltryptamine, is a hallucinogenic found in some plants as well as inside the brains, blood, and urine of mammals. Those seeking a high from the compound commonly use Amazonian plants, like Ayahuasca, to extract a derivative in the form of white, crystalline powder. DMT can be smoked, injected, or consumed orally to produce intense hallucinations (including “true” hallucinations, involving total departures from reality) and euphoria. It is a Schedule 1 drug in the US and is also referred to as Dimitri.
Officially known as Gamma-Hydroxybutyric Acid, this central nervous system depressant can be found naturally in human cells. GHB is synthesized for the effects of euphoria, decreased inhibitions, sleepiness, disorientation, loss of coordination, and decreased heart rate it produces. It is sold as a liquid, or as a white powder commonly dissolved in a liquid, like juice or alcohol. Xyrem is the FDA-approved prescription name, but it is also called Roofies, Easy Lay, Georgia Home Boy, Goop, Scoop, Grievous Bodily Harm, and Liquid Ecstasy.
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Effects of Hallucinogens
Hallucinogens interfere with a normal-functioning brain by prematurely flooding the brain with serotonin (the neurotransmitter responsible for mood regulation, sensory perception, sleep cycles, hunger, body temperature, sex drive, and muscle control). This excess of serotonin can cause the body to develop a dependence on the Hallucinogen. The abuse of Hallucinogens can leave the body unable to produce adequate amounts of serotonin on its own.
The short-term effects of Hallucinogens can include:
- Fluctuations in heart rate
- Intense feelings and sensory feedback
- Feelings of distorted time
- Dry mouth
- Anxiety or paranoia
The extended abuse of some Hallucinogens may produce a variety of long-term effects, including:
- Speech problems and memory loss from repeated PCP use
- Bladder ulcers and kidney problems from Ketamine use
- Visual disturbances
- Mental problems
Abuse of Hallucinogens
Evidence has suggested that some Hallucinogens can be addictive when used repeatedly because individuals can develop a tolerance to their effects. As a result, some must use more of a given substance to produce the same effects. For example, LSD is not considered to be addictive, but people may need to take increasing amounts of it each time to get the same “high.” People may also develop an addiction to PCP after prolonged abuse. Withdrawal from PCP may produce drug cravings, headaches, and sweating. Detox from any hallucinogen is not something that should be done alone.
In 2013, 229,000 Americans aged 12 and older reported current LSD use.
By 2018, 16.6% of Americans over 26 had reported some lifetime use of Hallucinogens.
Effects typically begin with 90 minutes of ingestion and can last up to 12 hours long.
Find Treatment for a Hallucinogen Addiction
Currently, there are no government-approved medications to treat a Hallucinogen addiction. Behavioral therapy in particular may benefit individuals seeking recovery from Hallucinogens. Inpatient and outpatient treatment centers are also available to treat a variety of addictions and co-occurring disorders. If you need help finding the right treatment center, contact a dedicated recovery provider now, and start your journey to sobriety.
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