Hallucinogen Addiction

Many types of hallucinogenic drugs exist, including LSD, peyote, mescaline, ecstasy and ketamine (“special K”). Many of these drugs are commonly used by teenagers and young adults, and are popularly used at “raves” or club parties. Repeated hallucinogen use can cause dependence.

What Are Hallucinogens?

Hallucinogens are a class of illegal drugs that distort one’s perception of reality by causing the user to hear sounds, feel sensations and see objects that don’t exist in reality. They may also cause paranoia and mood swings. There are two types of hallucinogens — natural and synthetic. Natural hallucinogens include peyote, mushrooms and mescaline. Synthetic, or “man-made” hallucinogens include LSD, ecstasy and ketamine, among other drugs.

Most hallucinogens are taken orally, in very small dosages. They may be taken as a tablet or liquid, or may be applied to small squares of blotter paper. Most users experience the effects within 45 minutes, and the “trip” may last up to eight hours.

Some users report a pleasurable experience when they use a hallucinogen, while others have extremely negative experiences. This is known as a “bad trip.” During a bad trip, a user may require emergency medical attention to prevent them from being destructive or violent.

The Biology of Hallucinogen Addiction

Hallucinogens have complex effects on the human brain that aren’t yet fully understood. Hallucinogens seem to induce temporary psychosis in users. Hallucinogen use also affects the activity of serotonin in the brain, specifically interfering with serotonin receptors.

Addiction to LSD or other hallucinogens can cause the following effects:

  • Changes in perception
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Hallucinations
  • Perceptual distortions
  • Severe emotional changes
  • Time and space distortions.

The effects of hallucinogens can vary widely, and may be different from one use to the next. Some users may experience feelings of euphoria, while others may experience extremely frightening emotional effects.

In the long term, hallucinogens can cause flashbacks. Users experiencing a flashback have no warning, and may experience the same symptoms they did when they initially used the drug. This is one of the most dangerous effects of LSD and other hallucinogens, as it can occur anytime and anywhere. Users report flashbacks weeks, months or even years after their initial drug use.

Hallucinogen Addiction Risk Factors

Hallucinogen addiction is most common among males over the age of 18. However, the drug is increasing in popularity with teenage users. Long-term addiction can cause nerve cell damage, brain damage and cognitive impairments. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (2010), more than one million Americans currently use or abuse hallucinogens.

Hallucinogen Addiction Warning Signs

LSD abuse can mimic the symptoms of some severe psychological disorders, and may be mistaken for mental illness. Signs that someone may be using LSD or another hallucinogen include:

  • Anxiety
  • Dilated pupils
  • Distorted sense of sight, hearing or touch
  • Extreme emotional disturbances
  • Irrational behavior
  • Paranoia.

LSD use doesn’t necessarily signal addiction, however. Addictive behavior occurs when the drug is used regularly, despite adverse effects on a person’s health or social relationships. A need for increasing amounts of the drug to get high may also signal a hallucinogen addiction.

Hallucinogen Addiction Treatments

There are few treatment options for LSD addiction, as the drug is short acting and has few chronic effects. However, a standard drug treatment program may be helpful for someone addicted to hallucinogens.

How to Seek Help

If you or someone you know is addicted to hallucinogens, you can find a treatment center by visiting http://dasis3.samhsa.gov/.

If you observe someone experiencing a “bad trip,” call 911 immediately. They may need urgent medical attention, and could be dangerous. Do not approach them if they seem violent or agitated.

Resources

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2010). Chapter 8 hallucinogens. Retrieved on August 12, 2010 from http://www.justice.gov/dea/pubs/abuse/8-hallu.htm

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2010). Tips for teens: The truth about hallucinogens. Retrieved on August 12, 2010 from http://ncadi.samhsa.gov/govpubs/phd642/

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2010). NIDA InfoFacts: hallucinogens – LSD, peyote, psilocybin, and PCP. Retrieved on August 12, 2010 from http://www.drugabuse.gov/infofacts/hallucinogens.html