This article has been medically reviewed by Dr Robert Lefever, a world-leading addictions specialist.
For many years, people have been using hallucinogens or psychoactive drugs to change reality. However, these chemical substances can change the functioning of the nervous system. The nervous system is responsible for transmitting messages to different areas of the body and coordinates the behaviour. Hence, the consequent change in the functioning of the nervous system causes alterations in cognition, mood, perception, consciousness, or behaviour of the individual using the substance.
The subjective experience can differ significantly even with the same amount of hallucinogens. These differences also depend on a particular class and various other factors. Without a clear understanding of dosage and unpredictability, it can cause overdose or poisoning to the users. If you or your loved ones are struggling with addiction, contemplating treatment can be challenging. Please feel free to contact us today to get a full assessment and guidance for a better future.
Types Of Hallucinogens
Hallucinogens are classified as psychedelics, deliriants, and dissociatives. As mentioned earlier, these different classes of hallucinogens induce various effects. The reason is that these distinct classes have specific pharmacological mechanisms, i.e. a specific biochemical interaction through which a drug produces its effects on the organism’s body.
Hallucinogens are also commonly known as psychedelics. The primary function of psychedelics is to induce changes in the states of consciousness. The changes include specific visual, psychological, and auditory changes. Psychedelics are further divided into three families: tryptamines, lysergamides, and phenethylamines. These drugs produce effects by binding to serotonin receptors.
As the name suggests, this sub-class of hallucinogens induces a state of acute confusion or delirium in the user. The individual also experiences an inability to control actions. Although deliriants are legal, these are broadly unpopular, as they are abused as recreational drugs. Typical or classical deliriants are anticholinergic and work by blocking the muscarinic acetylcholine receptors. Deliriant induces severe, dangerous, and unpleasant hallucinogen effects.
Dissociative hallucinogens produce catalepsy, amnesia, and analgesia. These are known as dissociative drugs because they create a sense of detachment from the environment. Furthermore, these drugs have disruption or compartmentalisation of perception, identity, memory, and consciousness. As a result, the individual using the drug feels dissociated from the personality and experiences observing oneself but cannot take control. Such effects are achieved by blocking the messages received by the NMDA receptor set.
Uses Of Hallucinogens
Hallucinogens, psychedelics, deliriants, and dissociatives have been used around the world for a long time. They have a variety of uses, i-e. to improve an individual’s performance or change consciousness. Some of the uses of hallucinogens are:
Used as a recreational drug, people use hallucinogens to experience an enlightened state of mind. Moreover, individuals use them to deal with stress, boredom or to escape the troubles of life. Similarly, seeking pleasure and passing the time are some of the reasons behind its usage.
Since the 1950-the 1960s, studies have been conducted on the potential therapeutic use of hallucinogens. Unfortunately, the FDA banned them due to increased recreational use and side effects. However, hallucinogens have therapeutic effects in substance abuse, mood, and anxiety disorders, but the dose depends on the individual’s condition. Some of the psychedelics used to enhance the psychotherapeutic processes include 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine and psilocybin. Therefore, the FDA also approves these two drugs.
Hallucinogens are often used for spiritual purposes to achieve mystical visions or to become detached from reality. History also indicates the use of hallucinogens for religious or shamanic rituals. In the spiritual context, these drugs are used to facilitate healing, communication with spirits, divination, and coming-of-age ceremonies.
In addition to the uses mentioned above, artists, poets, and writers have used hallucinogens for creative aspirations.
Side Effects Of Hallucinogens
The experiences as a result of hallucinogens are not predictable. Moreover, these may vary depending on the personality, expectations, mood, and surroundings of the individual and the amount that the user has ingested. Other factors that can influence the effect of hallucinogenic drugs include:
- Health, size, and weight of the user
- Duration of drug usage
- In what amounts, the user takes the drug
- What is the potency of the drug
- Whether the individual uses hallucinogens and other drugs at the same time
The individual feels sensations, sees images or hears sounds that don’t exist. Usually, the effects of hallucinogens begin within 20 to 90 minutes after the ingestion of drugs. These effects can last up to 12 hours.
The effects of hallucinogens are categorised as the following short-term and long-term effects.
Short-term Effects Of Hallucinogens
Experiences an individual has after using hallucinogens are known as “trips”, and the acute or unpleasant experiences are referred to as “bad trips”. Users may experience sensations that the individual enjoys, are mentally stimulating, and achieve heightened understanding. However, experiences, “bad trips”, may include feelings of despair, terrifying thoughts, anxiety, insanity, losing control, or even death.
Some short-term side effects of hallucinogens include:
- Increased heart rate and energy
- Loss of appetite
- Dry mouth
- Sleeplessness and dizziness
- Tremors, numbness, and weakness
- Rapid emotional swings
- Changes in the perception of time
- Mixed senses
- Intensified sensory experiences and feelings
Long-term Effects Of Hallucinogens
Individuals who use hallucinogens develop tolerance to the effects of the drugs. Users may need larger doses of the drug to achieve the desired effect. Another long-term side effect of hallucinogens is the “flashback, “ also called hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD). In HPPD, the user re-experiences the drug even days or years later.
Persistent psychosis is another known long-term effect of hallucinogens. However, the occurrence of both persistent psychosis and HPPD is rare but is unpredictable. Moreover, these two conditions can occur together, and also, these can happen more often than before.
The exact cause of the flashbacks is not known. However, psychosis and HPPD are common in individuals with psychological problems or have a history of psychological issues. In addition, these symptoms are often mistaken for neurobiological disorders, e.g., brain tumours or stroke. In short, long-term effects of hallucinogens include:
- Persistent psychosis, characterised by disorganised thinking, visual disturbances, paranoia, and mood disturbances.
- Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD), characterised by hallucinations, flashbacks, and visual disturbances.
Are Hallucinogens Addictive?
Although, an individual using the drug may not get addicted to it compared to other substances. However, hallucinogens can cause physical or psychological dependence. One form of physical addiction is tolerance to the hallucinogenic drug. Tolerance means that the individual needs more drugs to achieve the high achieved initially.
Another critical point to consider is that hallucinogens may produce tolerance for a particular drug that the individual uses and other drugs included in that class. This is especially true for classic hallucinogens.
However, classic hallucinogens such as LSD don’t produce tolerance to drugs with a different site of action, i-e., the drug that doesn’t act on or bind to the same brain cells receptors. As a result, the individual using the hallucinogenic drugs doesn’t develop long-term tolerance to the medication. Instead, patience is lost as the individual stops taking medicine.
Some people may also experience withdrawal symptoms after the cessation of drug usage. It is particularly true for hallucinogens like ketamine or PCP. Some of the common withdrawal symptoms are sweating, headaches, and cravings. However, not everyone experiences withdrawal symptoms.
Apart from the physical dependence, if the individual tries to get the drug no matter what feels the recurrent need to take the drug, starts avoiding personal responsibilities, and continues using the drug despite consequences, the individual has developed a psychological dependence on the drug.
Still, more research on the addiction and tolerance potential of different hallucinogens is being conducted.
How Do Hallucinogens Work On Our Body?
As mentioned earlier, hallucinogens change the functioning of the nervous system. Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers and transmitters in the brain that carry messages from one neuron to another. Therefore, neurotransmitters help different coordinate parts of the body. The synthesis, storage, release, and transmission of neurotransmitters is a complex process. And changes in any of these processes cause chemical imbalance and alter the functioning of the nervous system.
Any drug, including hallucinogens, works by suppressing, stimulating, and modulating the activity of the neurotransmitters. However, the binding site of each drug is different, and depending on various other factors, every drug has its specific effects.
For instance, classic hallucinogens produce effects by acting on the brain’s neural circuit that uses serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that acts as a mood stabiliser, plays a role in sleep, appetite, and, in short, the regulation of all brain functions.
Similarly, dissociative hallucinogens alter the action of glutamate, which is an excitatory neurotransmitter. Glutamate plays a vital role in memory, learning, pain perception, and reward system. Some dissociative hallucinogens also change the action of dopamine which is linked to feelings of euphoria.
Studies have shown that the most prominent effects of hallucinogens occur in the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for a wide range of executive functions, such as memory, cognitive flexibility, judgment, focusing attention, planning, etc. Hence, changes in these functions result in the effects caused by hallucinogens.
Hallucinogens have been used to induce changes in the states of consciousness for a variety of reasons. The effects produced by the drugs, or what is called tripping, may seem alluring at first. However, these drugs can have severe short-term and long-term effects. In addition to the potential side effects, hallucinogens can result in physical and psychological dependence, tolerance, and withdrawal symptoms in some individuals. With free online consultation at Help4addiction, find out the right solutions to your hallucinogen problems.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the source of hallucinogens?
Are hallucinogens legal in the UK?
What are common hallucinogens?
LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide)
Magic mushrooms (psilocybin)
Mescaline (peyote cactus)
Morning glory seeds.
How long does hallucinogen stay in the body?
What are the effects of mixing hallucinogens with other drugs?
Can hallucinogens affect the mental health of the individual taking them?
Are hallucinogens addictive?
What are the factors that influence the effects of hallucinogens?
- The Therapeutic Potential of Psychedelic Drugs: Past, Present, and Future
- Can a hallucinogen from Africa cure addiction?
- ‘The ketamine blew my mind’: can psychedelics cure addiction and depression?
- Associate editor: BL Roth Hallucinogens
Hallucinogens are a class of drugs that induce changes in the states of consciousness. These drugs have severe short-term and long-term effects and physical and psychological dependence, tolerance, and withdrawal symptoms. Help4addiction is the right place to contact if hallucinogens are a problem for you or your loved one.