Hallucinogens and the Effects on the Body
Hallucinogens are drugs that cause users to have altered experiences when under their influence. They are classified in two ways: as classic hallucinogens and as dissociative drugs, per the National Institute on Drug Abuse. They may distort reality and cause users to feel like they are seeing, hearing, or even touching things that aren’t really there.
Hallucinogens have been popular in the club scene and among youths and college-aged individuals for many years. They are abused most often by individuals who are interested in partying or experimentation, but addiction to hallucinogens is entirely possible. As tolerance takes hold and the dose of the drug needed to get high increases, addiction is already forming.
Some of these substances are known for causing users to feel like they have superhuman strength. This can lead to violent behavior, such as picking fights with people and aggressive driving. While small doses of these drugs may produce typical side effects, larger amounts can lead to a lot of discomfort, like cold chills and abdominal pain. Some people who use LSD will experience sensations of having bugs crawling on or under their skin. This undesirable side effect is actually quite common and may result in users picking at and damaging their skin.
One of the most common side effects that people encounter when abusing PCP is ataxia. This effect leaves individuals unable to move at times by rendering their muscle reflexes somewhat paralyzed. The damage can even be permanent for some people who abuse the drug heavily.
Hallucinogens cause many side effects besides just the experience of distorted episodes. Both classic hallucinogens and dissociative drugs are known for creating mood swings that come and go swiftly in the affected person. In addition, they may cause:
- Auditory delusions
- Visual hallucinations
- Tactile hallucinations
- Violent moods
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
Many people who abuse hallucinogens will also experience flashbacks. In fact, as many as 80 percent of people who use these drugs do, according to Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing: Concepts of Care in Evidence-Based Practice.
Depersonalization is one of the most frightening side effects of abusing hallucinogens. When this occurs, people lose all rational sight of who they are. They may start to worry that they don’t exist anymore or that they are physically disintegrating. Some users will have trouble recognizing their own identity and remain fearful that they are losing it for long periods of time.
Stranger to My Self: Inside Depersonalization: The Hidden Epidemic notes that in 164 case studies, 40 of the individuals who used drugs reported experiencing this side effect, and many of these cases involved drugs like ketamine and LSD. This kind of event is more likely to happen with strong hallucinogens and dissociative drugs like PCP and LSD, but it can happen with heavy abuse of almost any of these drugs.
Most hallucinogens are not believed to be physically addictive; however, this does not mean that the withdrawal process is easy. Continued use of the drugs often leads to psychological dependence, and this means withdrawal may involve various uncomfortable symptoms.
While processing a hallucinogen from the body is a fairly straightforward process, ridding the mind and body of a hallucinogen’s effects can be trying. It can be hard for people who are used to abusing these drugs to turn off the desire to chase down that euphoric high. Detoxing from hallucinogens is best managed in a supervised setting with medical care on standby. Withdrawal can be tough, with symptoms like paranoia, anxiety, confusion, depression, and mood swings. With proper care and support in place, clients can effectively make it through the withdrawal process and continue into comprehensive addiction treatment.
Long-Term Dangers of Hallucinogen Use
There are long-term health risks involved with ongoing hallucinogen use. The sooner someone stops abusing hallucinogens, the less likely it is that these effects will take hold.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s possible to overdose on hallucinogens. In 2011, the following cases were related to various hallucinogens and treated in American emergency rooms, per the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration:
- 75,538 cases involving PCP
- 4,819 cases involving LSD
- 1,550 cases involving ketamine
- 8,043 cases involving other hallucinogens
Over time, people who abuse hallucinogens are likely to suffer from memory impairment. This is because serotonin and glutamate levels are largely affected by these drugs, and both chemicals are important to optimal brain functioning.
Another issue that stems from trouble in cognitive functioning includes speech impairment. In some cases, the individual may have trouble speaking clearly. Sometimes, these symptoms of disorientation and slurred or mispronounced speech may be confused for the symptoms of a stroke. Convulsions aren’t unheard of among these individuals either. While these symptoms eventually dissipate in most users of the drug, they can be permanent in some cases.
In addition, the lapse in serotonin can leave some people who abuse these drugs with lasting depression that is extremely difficult to overcome. It can also make people struggle to stay on task, impair their decision-making abilities, and cause mental confusion that is hard to deal with on a daily basis.
In some cases, people could be left with such unstable and depleted levels of serotonin and so much neurological damage that it prevents them from making enough of the feel-good chemical. As a result, they may develop mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder or antisocial personality disorder.
In more severe cases, some users are left with hallucinogen persisting perception disorder, a condition that involves continued effects of hallucinogens long after the drug has been processed from the body. This disorder is relatively rare, as Medical Daily notes just 4.1 percent of people in one study experienced it.
Treatment for Hallucinogen Abuse
Those who abuse hallucinogens have a way out of the abuse cycle via comprehensive treatment. With therapy that addresses the initial causes of substance abuse, clients can learn better ways to cope with stressors in life and ultimately embrace a healthier, more positive future.