Hallucinogens Abuse and Addiction Treatment


The term “hallucinogens” covers a wide range of substances that can variably affect a person’s sensory perception, potentially leading to hallucinations. More research needs to be done on understanding the full addiction potential of hallucinogens, though cases of problematic and compulsive use can develop. Hallucinogen related addictions are sometimes diagnosed as hallucinogen use disorders.1

Hallucinogens are thought to exert their mind altering properties by influencing the chemical signaling carried out by certain neurotransmitters in the brain. Some hallucinogens can disrupt serotonin activity within in the brain, for example.1

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DMT Abuse

LSD Abuse

Common Hallucinogens

While the broader hallucinogen class of drugs sometimes includes substances such as MDMA (Molly, ecstasy) and the dissociative drugs PCP and ketamine, the so-called “classic hallucinogens” include:1

  • LSD: This white odorless substance is derived from the lysergic acid found in a fungus on rye or other grains. Its psychedelic effects may be felt with minuscule doses, making it one of the more potent mind-altering hallucinogens.
  • Magic mushrooms: With a chemical called psilocybin as the primary psychoactive component, these mushrooms may be harvested throughout the Southwestern U.S., as well as tropical and subtropical regions of Mexico and South America.
  • The peyote cactus: is a natural source of the hallucinogen mescaline, which may also be manufactured synthetically.
  • Like peyote, DMT (dimethyltryptamine) can be found naturally—in some plants in the Amazon—or be made synthetically. A related substance called ayahuasca is a tea made from DMT-containing plants.
  • 251-NBOMe: Sometimes referred to as N-bomb, this synthetic hallucinogen was originally developed to help with brain research. But its potent effects, known to be similar to LSD and MDMA, have led to its illicit use.

How are Hallucinogens Taken?

There are several different ways to use hallucinogens, and they vary depending on type. In their various preparations, different classic hallucinogens can be:1

  • Swallowed, either as pills or liquids.
  • Eaten raw or dried, in the case of naturally occurring mushrooms and peyote.
  • Drank after being brewed as a tea.
  • Smoked.
  • Put in the mouth as a drug-soaked piece of paper. The lining of the mouth would then absorb the substance.

Ecstasy, MDMA, and Molly

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Ecstasy Abuse

It may surprise you to learn that ecstasy, MDMA, and Molly are all the same substance. It’s another synthetic hallucinogenic drug, but it also chemically similar to stimulant substances, making it a little difficult to classify.2 Ecstasy addiction is sometimes diagnosed as a hallucinogen use disorder using criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition: DSM-5.

Ecstasy’s popularity in club and social scenes comes from its effects on 3 important molecules involved with our brain’s reward system, physiological processes such as heart rate, and mood: dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin.2

It’s taken via a capsule, tablet, or swallowed in liquid form. Some may snort the powder.2

Diagnosing Hallucinogen Use Disorder

man taking LSD at partyAlthough several hallucinogens lack some of the associated features—such as dependence and a marked withdrawal syndrome—common to other addictive substances such as alcohol or opioids, their use can lead to pronounced tolerance and may otherwise be associated with problematic patterns of use.1

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition: DSM-5, there are a handful of criteria that medical and clinical professionals can use to diagnose a hallucinogen use disorder. Some of these criteria include:3

  • Using higher doses of the drug, or using it over a longer period than intended.
  • Recurrent hallucinogen use interferes your ability to fulfill job, school, or domestic obligations.
  • Giving up passions, work, family time, and hobbies to use.
  • Building up a tolerance to hallucinogens.
  • Using hallucinogens in situations where you know it’s hazardous to your or others’ health.

Health Risks of Hallucinogens

Many people take hallucinogens to enjoy the “trips” it can cause: People often experience sensations—such as images, sounds, and sensations—that seem real but don’t exist. However, when such experiences become frightening or otherwise unpleasant, users sometimes referred to it as a “bad trip”.1

One of the many inherent dangers of tripping on hallucinogens is that the user never knows exactly what’s in store during their trip. This could lead to some potentially harmful actions, such the person using the substance thinking they can fly and jumping out of a window.

Besides potential physical injuries, bad trips can also lead to panic attacks, paranoia, anger, and violent actions. Suicidal thoughts and actions are also possible.4

There are other adverse effects associated with hallucinogen use, including:1, 4

  • Dizziness.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Trouble sleeping.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Increased heart rate and body temperature.
  • Paranoia.
  • Pyschosis.

Specifically with ecstasy, users might experience sweating, chills, blurred vision, nausea, and muscle cramping. With high doses of the substance, temperature regulation sometimes becomes an issue, which could lead to potentially fatal hyperthermia and related liver, kidney, or heart failure.2

There are two rare but potentially serious long-term effects associated with classic hallucinogen use.1

Persistent psychosis includes paranoia, mood changes, visual disturbances, and disorganized thinking. Flashbacks to an experience while on a hallucinogen, called Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD), can develop within a few days or up to a year after the experience.1

Both of these conditions may be more prevalent in those who have a history of other mental health issues. However, though rare, anyone can experience persistent psychosis or HPPD, even after using hallucinogens for the first time.1

Although no significant withdrawal syndrome has been reported in connection with many of the hallucinogens, there may be some residual effects, including anxiety, flashbacks, and cognitive impairment that persist after use stops.4

Treatment for Hallucinogen Abuse

Hallucinogen abuse does not often lead to dependence and/or addiction, but it is possible.5

Currently, there are no medications that the Food and Drug Administration have approved for treatment of hallucinogen use disorder. As with most substance addictions, medical and clinical professionals recommend behavioral treatment approaches like cognitive behavioral therapy as a way to help patients reach sobriety and set a strong foundation for continued, long-term recovery.1

Recovery First Treatment Center is dedicated to helping you reach your recovery goals and has the evidence-based tools like medical detox, cognitive behavioral therapy, and follow-up aftercare programs to keep you on track. Call our Admissions Navigators today at 954-526-5776 to learn more.

Sources

  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Hallucinogens drugfacts.
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). MDMA (ecstasy/Molly) drugfacts.
  3. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5 (5th ed.). (2013). Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association.
  4. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). TIP 45: Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment.
  5. Wu, L.T., Ringwalt, C.L., Mannelli, P., & Patkar, A.A. (2008). Hallucinogen use disorders among adult users of MDMA and other hallucinogens. American Journal on Addictions 17(5).



About The Contributor

Scot Thomas, M.D.
Scot Thomas, M.D.

Senior Medical Editor, American Addiction Centers

Dr. Thomas received his medical degree from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. During his medical studies, Dr. Thomas saw firsthand the multitude of lives impacted by struggles with substance abuse and addiction, motivating... Read More


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