What Are Hallucinogens?
From tribal ceremonies to scientists studying white crystalline powder in labs, hallucinogens, also known as psychedelics, are drugs that change the perception of time and reality and have long been the subject of curiosity and debate.
Mentioning LSD typically conjures images of hippies in the 1960s or college kids in a club claiming they can see sounds. While those are two extreme examples, the reality is that hallucinogens and the people who use them are incredibly diverse. However, no one, from first-time users to chronic users, is immune to the high potential of a “bad trip” and the lasting effects of hallucinogen abuse.
Initially, most people use hallucinogens recreationally; however, they become an attractive way to self-medicate deeper issues. Developing a psychological dependence on psychedelics is more likely and dangerous than many people realize.
What Are Hallucinogens?
Hallucinogens are plant-derived or lab-created drugs that change the user’s perception of reality and cause an altered sense of time and space. The main effect of hallucinogens is visual distortions, but many people also see, hear, smell, and feel things that don’t exist.
Types of Hallucinogens
There are two types of hallucinogenic drugs—classic hallucinogens and dissociative drugs. There are various forms of each kind of hallucinogen; the differences come down to how their origins and their effects.
Essentially, classic hallucinogens change how you experience things; dissociative drugs change which things you experience.
Classic hallucinogens mainly alter the way the user perceives and processes reality. These hallucinogens cause heightened and altered sensory perception, strong emotions, and mixed sensory experiences.
Some cultures use classic hallucinogens in tribal and religious ceremonies believing they help achieve enlightenment or a higher sense of self.
Classic hallucinogens include:
- LSD (D-lysergic acid diethylamide)
- Magic mushrooms (psilocybin)
- DMT (N, N-dimethyltryptamine)
Dissociative drugs also have mind-altering effects but cause a sense of detachment or an out-of-body experience. Dissociative drugs are closer to sensory deprivation than altered sensory perception.
Dissociative drugs include:
- PCP (phencyclidine)
- DXM (dextromethorphan)
Most classic hallucinogenic drugs start from natural sources, whereas most dissociatives are entirely lab-created.
In the United States, all hallucinogens are Schedule I controlled substances except for PCP, ketamine, and in some instances, magic mushrooms. Because of their medical origins, PCP and ketamine are Schedule II and III controlled substances, respectively. Although they are federally banned, some cities have legalized psilocybin (magic mushrooms) for religious and therapeutic purposes.
Some people incorrectly consider MDMA a hallucinogen. Scientifically, MDMA is an entactogen or empathogen. Entactogens and empathogens cause intense emotions and heightened responses to internal and external stimuli but do not cause visual disturbances or hallucinations. Microdosing MDMA for therapeutic purposes is an emerging field of study separate from other hallucinogens.
Are Hallucinogens Addictive?
Hallucinogens are not physically addictive; however, their psychological and behavioral effects cause people to seek them out continually and engage in drug-seeking behavior. Many are mentally dependent but not addicted to hallucinogens.
Interestingly, LSD causes users to develop a tolerance to all types of hallucinogens. Tolerance requires increasingly large doses to feel the effects, which is dangerous considering how unpredictable psychedelic drugs can be.
PCP and ketamine are the only hallucinogens proven to be physically addictive; even one or two uses have a high potential to lead to addiction and experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Users also experience more intense physical and mental withdrawal symptoms with PCP and ketamine than with other hallucinogens.
While they may not cause physical dependence, repeatedly abusing hallucinogens can potentially cause or worsen mental illnesses. Generally, habitually using drugs, especially mind-altering ones, or alcohol can signify more profound mental health and emotional issues.
Effects of Hallucinogenic Drugs
The effects of hallucinogenic drugs come from their active ingredients and how they interact with the brain. Researchers are still working to understand the full scope of their chemical actions but have uncovered their primary mechanisms of action.
Most classic hallucinogens primarily affect serotonin release and how the brain interprets the signals and communication throughout the body.
Serotonin works to regulate the following:
- Body temperature
- Sensory perception
- Sexual behavior
- Bowel control
Dissociative drugs affect serotonin but primarily interact with glutamate, a neurotransmitter that helps carry information to the brain.
Glutamate works to regulate:
- Pain perception and response
- Response to external surroundings and stimuli
- Learning and comprehension
Originally used to refer to taking LSD or acid, the high from hallucinogenic drugs is called a trip; when people have disturbing visions and a rough time, it’s a bad trip.
Every type of hallucinogen will have different effects based on its dose, delivery method, and the person taking them. A person’s mindset and any co-occurring conditions will influence their experience. If you use drugs around people or places that are unfamiliar or unsafe, you’re more likely to have a bad trip.
If you wouldn’t have a good time in a situation sober, you probably will not have a good time when you start hallucinating.
The short-term effects of hallucinogens will vary based on the drug, the person taking it, how much they take, and if they take any other drugs simultaneously. Despite being most mental, physical reactions to hallucinogens are unavoidable due to their chemical interactions in the brain.
How long the trip lasts will vary too. For instance, LSD produces feelings and effects for 12 hours, whereas DMT’s effects last about 15 minutes.
No two people will have the same experience, even if they take the same type and amount of a substance.
Common hallucinogenic short-term effects include:
- Rapid heart rate
- Raised blood pressure
- Fast breathing
- Raised body temperature
- Seeing vivid and moving colors and textures
- Feeling, hearing, seeing, and feeling things that are not there
- Intense and spiritual feelings
- Altered sense of time
- Strange and intrusive thoughts
- Dry mouth
- Loss of coordination
- Staring and fixating on one spot
- Disordered thoughts
- Depersonalization or feeling like you are outside of your own body
- Derealization or believing the things and people around you are fake
- Inability to move
- Violent urges
- Thoughts about suicide or self-harm
There is no known antidote to hallucinogens. You can try to reduce overwhelming stimuli by finding a quiet, dark place to wait for the short-term effects to wear off.
The only cure for a bad trip is time.
The long-term effects of hallucinogens are physical and mental. Any drug that repeatedly affects chemical interactions and behaviors will cause lasting issues.
Like the short-term effects of hallucinogens, each person’s long-term side effects will vary based on the severity and length of abuse, preferred drug and dose, and any other co-occurring disorders.
Long-term effects of hallucinogenic drugs include:
- Drug cravings
- Compulsive drug-seeking behaviors
- Memory loss
- Speech difficulties
- Loss of coordination
- Changes in weight
- Withdrawal symptoms
- Suicidal thoughts
Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD)
Hallucinogens Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD) is a chronic, unpredictable condition that can come on without warning for years after the last time someone used acid.
HPPD involves a series of symptoms that occur at random, including:
- Unpredictable moods
- Disorganized thought patterns
- Visual disturbances
Without a history of hallucinogenic use, these symptoms would be signs of a stroke, brain tumor, or developing mental illness. Some people with HPPD benefit from anti-psychotic medicines and behavioral therapy to help manage their symptoms.
The withdrawal symptoms from hallucinogenic drugs are primarily psychological and behavioral. However, some, including dissociatives like PCP and ketamine, cause physical symptoms too.
Common hallucinogen withdrawal symptoms include:
- Mood swings
- Drug cravings
- Panic attacks
- Changes in appetite
- Memory loss
- Changes in heart rate and blood pressure
- Shaking or twitching
- Sensitivity to light and sound
- Violent and intrusive thoughts
- Suicidal thoughts
Withdrawing from hallucinogens can cause intense emotional turmoil and behavioral impulses that can cause a person to take dangerous actions. One of the many benefits of residential treatment is medical detox and constant support to address and ease all withdrawal symptoms and prevent any harm from acting on negative thoughts. Experts can also help recognize classic hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD) symptoms and establish a long-term strategy to manage them.
Treatment for Hallucinogen Abuse
Hallucinogen abuse is the perfect example of how underlying problems have a high potential to turn into dangerous behaviors and addiction.
At White Oak Recovery Center, we specialize in a whole-person approach to treat the immediate effects of addiction and uncover the roots of what made you turn to hallucinogens in the first place.
If you are worried about withdrawal effects, we offer onsite supervised detox with around-the-clock medical care and support to ensure your safety and health.
During your stay in our peaceful and private residential treatment center, the WORC team will build a personalized treatment plan to address your unique needs and help you develop new and healthy skills to thrive without jeopardizing your progress.
We aim to plant the seeds of recovery that will last a lifetime and help you grow into your full potential. Reach out to our treatment specialists now.