A hallucinogen is a type of psychoactive drug that changes the way the brain and body interact with the outside world, producing hallucinatory visions or causing users to experience sounds, sensations, emotional responses, or experiences that are not real. Because hallucinogens interact directly with the brain, they can lead to dependence and addiction.
If you’re struggling with addiction to hallucinogens, consult a medical professional or addiction treatment provider like Solution Based Treatment & Detox right away.
What are Hallucinogens?
Hallucinogens are drugs including LSD and psilocybin that affect our perception of reality. These drugs can be man-made in a laboratory or illegal production facility or can be derived from plants, in the case of drugs like peyote and ayahuasca. Whether they are manufactured or natural, hallucinogens are mainly used by individuals for recreational purposes, although there are a limited number of academic studies that are examining whether these drugs can be used for medicinal purposes.
Though commonly associated with the class of drugs known as club drugs, hallucinogens include many different types of drugs that range in potency and effects. If you’re struggling with your use of hallucinogens, including the negative or dangerous side effects associated with their use, reach out to an addiction treatment provider as soon as possible.
How Do Hallucinogens Affect the Brain?
Hallucinogens directly impact the brain. When absorbed into the bloodstream, these drugs disrupt the area of the brain responsible for interpreting outside information, as well as the brain’s production of vital neurotransmitter chemicals which govern the way our body reacts to outside information.
These neurotransmitter chemicals travel throughout the body’s nervous system, including the nerves and spine, controlling many aspects of our behavior, including emotional responses, reactions to outside stimuli, and muscular movement. When these neurotransmitters and the brain region that governs them are disrupted, the brain becomes temporarily unable to process these functions normally, leading to hallucinatory visions, unpredictable emotional states, involuntary muscle movements, and the perception of events or experiences that are not real.
Research into the long-term effects of hallucinogen use on the brain remains limited, but some long-term users have experienced lasting visual or auditory hallucinations even after they stop taking the drug. In some cases, research indicates that hallucinogen use may increase the risk of schizophrenia more than drugs such as opioids or alcohol but less than cannabis.
Signs of Hallucinogen Abuse
Because hallucinogens produce abnormal behavior as they take effect in the brain and body, the signs of hallucinogen use are relatively easy to spot. However, long-term abuse of hallucinogens may be more difficult to determine. We’ve included both short term and long term signs and symptoms of hallucinogen abuse below.
Short Term Signs and Symptoms
Short-term signs and symptoms of hallucinogen abuse typically last for a few hours but can last up to 12 hours. These include:
- Seeing, hearing, or experiencing sounds, feelings, visions, or experiences that are not real
- Strong emotional responses, including crying, laughing, or talking
- Temporary inability to communicate or understand what other people are saying
- Difficulty making decisions or acting rationally
- Increase in blood pressure or heart rate
- Difficulty moving or controlling muscular movements
- Nausea, vomiting, or intestinal issues
- Sweating or increase in temperature
- Anxiety, stress, paranoia, or hyper-vigilance
Long Term Signs and Symptoms
For long-term users of hallucinogens, signs and symptoms may be more subtle and manifest themselves through altered behavior, disinterest in personal or professional responsibilities, and, in some cases, an increased risk of mental health complications. These signs and symptoms include:
- Lack of interest in personal or professional relationships
- Missing work or school or chronically showing up late
- Emotional instability
- Poor decision making or irrational behavior
- Disinterest in hobbies or other activities the individual once enjoyed
- “Flashbacks” or visual or auditory hallucinations even when not taking the drug
- Increased risk of mental health complications
- Paranoia, irritability, and anxiety
- Difficulty organizing thoughts or communicating clearly
While long-term use of hallucinogens still requires further study, it’s clear that their impact on the brain and body can be significant and, if not managed properly, potentially harmful.
Withdrawal From Hallucinogens
As with most drugs, users who take hallucinogens can develop a tolerance to their effects, meaning they must take higher doses of the drug to achieve the same effect. However, unlike many other addictive drugs, hallucinogens typically do not produce withdrawal symptoms such as headache, chills, or pain.
Despite this, hallucinogens should not be used casually or recreationally due to their risk of exacerbating underlying mental health conditions, causing potentially harmful or erratic behavior, and leaving lasting visual or auditory hallucinations.
Hallucinogens are also often consumed alongside other drugs, such as MDMA (Ecstasy) or dissociative drugs like PCP. These drugs do produce withdrawal effects and impact the brain and body in different ways than hallucinogens, making combining the drugs particularly dangerous. For example, combining hallucinogens with MDMA can result in severe risk to the heart.
Treatment for Hallucinogen Addiction & Abuse
Hallucinogens produce complex reactions within the brain and body, and the results of their use may vary from person to person. That’s why reputable treatment providers will always begin treatment for hallucinogen addiction by fully understanding the unique background and goals of each client. Determining how much, how often, and why users consumed the drug will help addiction treatment professionals develop a comprehensive and personalized treatment plan.
Before beginning formal treatment for hallucinogen addiction, users must undergo the detoxification process, in which their bodies remove the remaining traces of the drug. This can be uncomfortable and potentially harmful if not monitored by a professional medical staff, which is why seeking professional addiction treatment is so essential. Medically-monitored detoxification programs can help keep clients more comfortable and stabilized as the drug leaves their systems.
Once they have completed detoxification, clients can begin a formal treatment program for hallucinogen addiction. Reputable addiction treatment programs typically include some aspects of the following:
- A 12-step or related framework to build lasting recovery habits and a support system
- Individual and group therapy led by licensed therapists
- Recreation or exercise programs to promote a healthy lifestyle
- Nutritional counseling or advisory services
- Life skills and accountability training
- Multiple levels of care to meet individuals where they are
- Aftercare and case management services
- Alumni support
If you or a loved one are struggling with hallucinogen use, don’t despair. An addiction treatment professional can help guide you towards recovery. Our team at Solution Based Treatment & Detox can help, so contact us today.
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