What Is A Hallucinogen?
How Hallucinogens Work
Hallucinogens work by disrupting the interaction between serotonin and its receptors. Serotonin is heavily involved in the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain that controls cognition, perception, emotion, arousal, stress, and panic. However, different types of hallucinogens have different effects on the brain and can cause a widely different experience. There are have been relatively few formal studies on the exact mechanisms that induce the effects they do, so much of how hallucinogens work is still unknown.
Hallucinogens Effects (a.k.a. “tripping”)
Despite their name, however, hallucinogens don’t always cause hallucinations. In fact, one of the hallmarks of using this type of drug is that the effects can be unpredictable, varying wildly from person to person. While sensory effects are what’s most commonly associated with using hallucinogens or “tripping”., the immediate, short-term effects of hallucinogens include a range of reactions that can last anywhere from 12 to 24 hours (or even longer).:
- Feelings of euphoria
- Blurred vision
- Sense of relaxation and well-being
- Hallucinations and altered perception
- Confusion or loss of coordination
- Increased breathing rate, heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature
- Irregular heartbeat or palpitations
- Chills or shivering
These mind-altering effects aren’t always pleasant and are often referred to as “a bad trip”. Hallucinations or sensory distortions can be unpleasant and accompanied by feelings of paranoia, fear, anxiety, or panic. In some cases, use can incur psychosis and a number of other negative psychological effects.
Long Term Effects of Hallucinogen Drugs
The main effects associated with the use of hallucinogens are psychological which is also the case for long-term effects. Repeated use can result in persistent psychosis, hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD), or worsening of existing mental health issues including depression. It can also bear neurological consequences that affect cognitive functioning such as memory, concentration, or the ability to speak.
Psychosis is a severe mental illness that makes it difficult (if not impossible) to distinguish what’s real and what isn’t. Ultimately, someone with psychosis has no grasp on reality and is constantly dealing with delusions (false beliefs) or hallucinations (false sensory perceptions).
The user will also have trouble organizing their thoughts, verbalizing their thoughts (incoherence), mood swings, paranoia, and ongoing hallucinations (usually of a visual nature) even when not using the drug. The consequences of which can be extremely dangerous and cause the user to act irrationally and put themselves in the way of danger.
Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder
The more common long-term effect is a condition called hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD). This involves recurring “flashbacks”, a re-experience of a different instance of drug use, or visual hallucinations such as halos or light trails.
What Makes Hallucinogens Dangerous?
The primary danger of drugs like LSD and ketamine is not physiological damage, like causing your internal organs to shut down as alcohol could. Instead, the risks are the indirect results of psychological damage. As powerful as the mind is, it’s also quite fragile. Hallucinogenic drugs can essentially “break” the mind and result in long-lasting psychological impairment: development of worsening depression, anxiety, hallucinations, or in the worst case, psychosis.
Seeing things that aren’t there, or feeling things that defy rational thinking can lead to highly risky behavior (example: jumping off a building because you feel you can fly). Since these kinds of drugs interfere with mood regulation and rational thinking, they also lead to higher risks of suicide.
Are Hallucinogens Addictive?
Hallucinogen drugs are not addictive in the traditional sense of drug abuse where the body eventually comes to require the substance to function or that it causes “uncontrollable drug-seeking behavior according to the NIDA definition of addiction. However, this powerful serotonin disruptor can result in the development of drug tolerance as well as physical dependency.
The type of hallucinogen also plays a role in the development of addiction. PCP, for example, is known to be highly addictive and result in typical side effects such as cravings or withdrawal symptoms. LSD, shrooms, and peyote, on the other hand, do not.
One reason to get help for being addicted to hallucinogenic drugs immediately is that it does not take years of chronic abuse to incur the most severe psychological consequences. Every use, no matter how small or infrequent, puts your mind – and inherently, you’re life – at risk.