Hallucinogens are a broad group of substances that can alter perception, thought or mood. Also referred to as psychedelics, these drugs have a rich history and are common in many cultures due to their use in religious ceremonies. Phrases such as “dropping acid” or an “acid trip” typically refer to the use of hallucinogens.
The hallucinogenic effects of these drugs can be dangerous. For example, a person might believe that he or she can fly and leap off the top of a building. That’s because these drugs can cause delusions, as well as auditory and visual hallucinations. Hallucinogen users often seek a heightened consciousness and understanding, but some end up with intense anxiety or nightmarish delusions instead. Still, others may find themselves caught in a destructive pattern of hallucinogen abuse.
Types of hallucinogens
Some hallucinogens come from plants or mushrooms, while others are manmade. Types of hallucinogens that are commonly used include:
- D-lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD)
- MDMA (Ecstasy)
- Phencyclidine (PCP)
- Psilocybin (mushrooms)
- Mescaline (peyote)
The first synthetic hallucinogen, LSD was derived in 1938 and was used by many psychiatrists to help patients access repressed emotions. LSD is classified as a Schedule I type drug with no medical potential and a higher abuse potential. LSD, as with other hallucinogens, is known to cause visual and auditory hallucinations as well as anxiety. Panic attacks, acute psychosis and altered mental status are all common effects from this drug as well as the rest of the hallucinogen family.
MDMA, commonly known as Ecstasy, is considered to be a stimulant. But, this party drug can also cause hallucinations and delusions and, therefore, is also classified as a hallucinogen.
PCP falls under the category of a dissociative anesthetic of hallucinogenic drugs. Using PCP can lead to slurred speech, numbness in the extremities and hallucinations. In higher doses, PCP can cause seizures and coma, and can even be lethal. Repeated use of PCP can produce long-term effects such as memory loss, speech impediments and unpredictable flashbacks.
Mushrooms have been used for thousands of years in religious ceremonies, and today they are used by the general population to induce a state of visual and auditory hallucination. These have been known to be commonly used at music festivals or among international backpackers traveling around the globe. Using mushrooms can lead to hallucinogenic effects that usually last for six to eight hours.
Mushrooms can help one disconnect from reality and enhance routine experiences, heighten emotions or help one to interact more socially, fearlessly. Owing to these desires, people generally begin to use mushrooms containing ibotenic acid, muscimol and psilocybin as these are known to have significant psychoactive effects.
Peyote (Lophophora williamsii or Lophophora diffusa) is a spineless cactus that grows in the southwestern United States and Mexico. It has small protrusions called “buttons.” These cacti are used for psychoactive hallucinogenic purposes. Their main active psychedelic ingredient is mescaline that can be derived synthetically in a laboratory and then turned into a pill. The peyote “buttons” can be used to form a liquid, which can be ingested, or a powder that can be rolled into a leaf and smoked. Marijuana can also be added to this.
Effects of hallucinogen abuse
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), reports that the effects of hallucinogens can begin within 20 to 90 minutes of consuming and last for as long as 6 to 12 hours. Some of the common effects of hallucinogen abuse are:
- Increased heart rate
- Altered visual perceptions
- A false sense of reality
- Acute psychosis
- Enhanced emotions
Treatment for hallucinogen abuse
Some hallucinogens, like PCP, can be addictive. Others, like LSD, can result in a tolerance, meaning that users need to take higher doses of the drug to achieve the same effects. If one tries to withdraw from the drug on one’s own, it can lead to a number of withdrawal symptoms such as cravings, fatigue, irritability and a reduced ability to experience pleasure. Therefore, if someone is struggling with hallucinogens addiction, it is advisable to seek help from an expert sooner rather than later.
As with stimulants, treatment options for hallucinogens focus on providing a calming and safe environment. There is no medical treatment for intoxication or withdrawal of hallucinogens. Placing patients in a dimly lit, quiet room can help ease their anxiety resulting from intoxication. If they appear as a danger to themselves or others, then physical or chemical restraints such as haloperidol can be used as a temporary measure. If symptoms do not resolve, then admission to a psychiatric hospital may be required.