Hallucinogens are a class of drugs used to enhance or alter mood, perceptions and emotions. A common misconception is that these drugs cause hallucinations, which by definition are false idea or beliefs when in reality; these substances are known to cause a change in thought and mood.
Today, hallucinogens are being abused by individuals as young as 12 years old. These agents are quite common among high school and college students due to their mind-altering effects however they come with serious side effects and addiction potentially. According to the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 229,000 Americans ages 12 and older reported current (past-month) use of LSD and 33,000 reported current use of PCP (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2013). Among high school seniors, salvia was significantly more popular than LSD or PCP.
Depending on the specific hallucinogen, signs and symptoms can very. For example, PCP is known to cause rapid eye movements known as horizontal nystagmus, severe agitation and even violent behavior. On average, hallucinogens produce effects within 30 minutes of ingestion and these effects can last anywhere from 30 minutes to 12 hours depending on the specific drug and the dosage. The following are general signs and symptoms associated with hallucinogen intoxication:
Increased heart rate
Increased blood pressure
Increased body temperature
Increase in anxiety and agitation
Numbness, weakness and tremors
Feeling of intense relaxation
Rapid emotional shifts
Increase in impulsive behavior
Loss sense of reality
Feelings of detachment
Treatment for hallucinogen addiction is aimed at providing a safe and calm environment for the individual while providing behavioral therapy. There is no pharmacological treatment for hallucinogen addiction and individuals may continue to have a false perception of reality and may exhibit psychosis and therefore it is important to seek a treatment center where the therapy team is experienced in treating individuals with this specific addiction. As with all other substance abuse disorders, it is important to assess the individual for underlying co-occurring disorders such as depression, anxiety or eating disorders. If a co-occurring disorder is left undiagnosed or untreated, the substance abuse disorder will most likely re-occur in the future.
Although hallucinogens are not physically addictive, individuals can exhibit a psychological addiction due to the long-term effects on the brain. Hallucinogens work on the brain by causing a disruption in neurons resulting in a dysregulation of serotonin. LSD, peyote, and psilocybin are known to directly affect the neurotransmitter serotonin, which plays a major role in behavioral, perceptual, and regulatory systems. PCP, on the other hand, acts through a glutamate receptor that is important for pain perception, responses to the environment, learning and memory. Overtime the use of hallucinogens can result in altered mood, memory problems, emotional dysregulation, persistent speech difficulties, suicidal thoughts, depression, social withdrawal, and severe flashbacks. Although hallucinogens are not deemed physically addictive, they can cause withdrawal effects such as flashbacks, which occurs when an individual abusing hallucinogens goes through a “trip” after the effects of the drug have worn off. This can occur months or even years after discontinued use. PCP specifically is known to have withdrawal effects, which include headaches, sweating and severe cravings.