Hallucinogenic Drug Abuse

03/10/20: Addiction Recovery
Recreational hallucinogenic drug use has been especially controversial over the years. It’s been both hailed as a mind-opening healing medicine and a dangerous, deadly illicit substance. So what is the truth? Is it black and white, or have we entered into a gray area with these highly potent, mind-altering substances? Read all about it in this article.

What Are Hallucinogens?

Drugs that are hallucinogenic alter a person’s brain functioning in a way that makes them see, feel, hear, and experience their surroundings much differently than a sober person would. Hallucinogens are typically considered to fall under one of two categories: 1) classic hallucinogens such as LSD, magic mushrooms, etc, and 2) dissociative drugs like PCP, ketamine, DXM, etc. Both kinds of substances can cause a person to hallucinate, conjuring up sensations and images that appear to be real but are actually a façade. Being high on one of these drugs is commonly referred to as “tripping,” and the state of being under the influence of a hallucinogen is known as a “trip.”

History of Hallucinogens 

Hallucinogens have been used for thousands of years across hundreds of cultures for spiritual purposes and traditional rituals. The drugs used for these purposes are often regarded with immense respect and caution, and “trips” are almost always supervised and guided by a trained shaman. Due to its use in these rituals, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the legalization of these substances. Many argue that they are an important part of religious practices, and thus should not be regulated or made illegal. However, other groups claim they are simply too dangerous and their traditional uses too barbaric to be allowed to continue.  Despite most of these substances being made illegal in the United States, guided trips using plant medicine like Ayahuasca and Peyote continue to prevail in traditional rituals and have now become popularized in modern culture. In fact, there’s an entire show on Vice called Kentucky Ayahuasca that chronicles the day-to-day life of Steve Hupp, a former bank robber turned “modern American shaman.” These kinds of modern practices are cropping up as more people are exposed to traditional healing ideology.

The Popularization of Recreational Hallucinogenic Drug Use in the United States

What was a common trend in the psychedelic 60’s and 70’s, we’ve now come to recognize as highly dangerous: recreational use of hallucinogenic and psychedelic drugs. These drugs are so potent and mind-altering that they inspired an entire culture in the era. This culture is remembered (and referred to) as one of peace and love. Unfortunately, due to a lack of awareness and information about the dangers of hallucinogens, many taking the drug were unaware of its potentially terrifying side effects until they had entered into psychedelic hell, which would sometimes last for hours.  During this time, people would often lace food and drink with trip-inducing drugs, unbeknownst to the person consuming them. This kind of behavior was rampant at the infamous Woodstock. At this festival touted as a gathering of peace, love, and music, "They were giving out electric Kool-Aid laced with whatever," a nurse said in an interview with the Times Herald-Record. "Now, when kids take a tab of acid, they know what they're getting into. When you drink something that's cold because you're thirsty, that's different. A lot of the kids hurt with this stuff were just thirsty. They didn't have any choice." Medical care providers on-site reported that they had treated 797 bad trips throughout the duration of the festival. And those are only the ones who sought treatment!  These days, 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 (RehabSpot). While hallucinogens aren’t as highly addictive or as frequently used as other drugs like opioids, people can and do get addicted to using them. 

Common Classic Hallucinogens

LSD (D-lysergic acid diethylamide)

LSD is probably the first drug that people think of when they hear the term “hallucinogenic drug.” It is a clear or white, odorless substance derived from a fungus that typically grows on rye and other types of grains. LSD is also commonly referred to as acid. More about LSD.

Psilocybin (4-phosphoryloxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine)

Psilocybin originates from certain types of mushrooms located in tropical and subtropical regions of South America, Mexico, and the U.S. This substance is well known under the name “magic mushrooms” or simply “shrooms.”

Peyote (mescaline) 

Peyote is derived from mescaline found in a small, spineless cactus native to Mexico and southwestern Texas, but can also be found in synthetic form. This is one of the hallucinogens that is traditionally used by members of the Native American Church, who revere peyote as a sacred medicine. 

DMT (N,N-dimethyltryptamine)

DMT is the powerful chemical found in some kinds of Amazonian plants. Ayahuasca is a type of tea which is made from these plants and used in healing and/or spiritual rituals. There are also forms of synthetic DMT. More about DMT.

Common Dissociative Hallucinogens

PCP (Phencyclidine)

PCP was developed in the 1950s as a general anesthetic, but due to the serious side effects of the substance, it is no longer used for that purpose. It comes in a number of forms, including tablets, capsules, liquid, and white crystal powder.

Ketamine

Ketamine, like PCP, was developed as an anesthetic for humans and animals. For this reason, a lot of the ketamine on the streets comes from veterinary offices. It can be found in powder and pill form, as well as injectable liquid form.

Side Effects of Hallucinogenic Drug Abuse

Like any other harmful illicit substances, hallucinogen use causes a lot of unwanted side effects. These range from mildly uncomfortable and inconvenient, to severe and life-threatening. Here are some to look out for with Classic Hallucinogens:

Short-term Effects of Hallucinogenic Drug Abuse

  • Bizarre behaviors
  • Psychosis (detachment from reality)
  • Panic
  • Paranoia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Increased blood pressure, breathing rate, and/or body temperature
  • Dry mouth
  • Sleeping problems 
  • Loss of coordination
  • Excessive sweating

Long-term Effects of Hallucinogenic Drug Abuse

  • Nausea
  • Increased heart rate
  • Intensified feelings and sensory experiences
  • Warped sense of the passing of time
And here are those commonly associated with Dissociative Hallucinogens:

Short-term Effects of Dissociative Hallucinogens

  • Hallucinations
  • Disorientation
  • Loss of coordination
  • Numbness
  • Increase in blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature
  • Memory loss
  • Panic and anxiety
  • Seizures
  • Immobility
  • Mood swings
  • Trouble breathing

Long-term Effects of Dissociative Hallucinogens

  • Memory loss
  • Weight loss
  • Speech problems
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Hallucinogens and Addiction

While hallucinogens aren’t commonly thought of as being addictive, evidence does show that it is possible, and people can develop a tolerance to them. An example of this, according to The National Institute of Drug Abuse is LSD. They say “LSD is not considered an addictive drug because it doesn't cause uncontrollable drug-seeking behavior. However, LSD does produce tolerance, so some users who take the drug repeatedly must take higher doses to achieve the same effect. This is an extremely dangerous practice, given the unpredictability of the drug.” PCP, on the other hand, can actually be addictive. People who quit regular use of the substance reported experiencing drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms.  As you can see, addiction to hallucinogens is really a wild card. More research is definitely needed to fully determine the risks in this area. 

Can Hallucinogens Be Used As Medicine?

While this topic has been fairly controversial through the years, there is now a lot more research being done into the potential benefits of hallucinogens on mental health. Obviously, ancient rituals and cultures saw the good in these natural, mind-altering substances, and have continued to stand strongly by their benefits and importance. But does the science back it up? Only time will tell.  As of now however, certain drugs have been cleared for medicinal use. One such example is ketamine therapy, which has been FDA approved to treat severe depression. In addition, lots of research is being done on the mind-healing effects of psilocybin, and many report that they have found relief from debilitating symptoms because of these kinds of treatments. For more information, check out this article: 4 Psychedelic Drugs That Could Treat Mental Health Disorders.

What Can Be Done For Hallucinogen Addiction?

Much like treating any other addiction, if you or a loved one is seeking treatment for a hallucinogen addiction, you should strongly consider entering a treatment program where you have 24/7 access to licensed, trained medical professionals and counselors. These sorts of brain-altering drugs shouldn’t be taken lightly, and therefore it is best to seek professional help.

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