Why You Should be Concerned About Hallucinogens
In recent years, a movement has grown in both the U.S. and Canada to recognize the alleged “benefits” of hallucinogenic drugs. The language surrounding this movement is dangerous because it serves to normalize drugs that have known harms and long-term risk factors. Each hallucinogenic drug, including the plant-based ones, have dangerous side effects, even long-term, potentially very harmful results.
It’s essential to get accurate data on hallucinogens, to know what these drugs are, to understand how they are harmful, and to learn why one should avoid using such drugs.
Different Types of Hallucinogenic Drugs
Hallucinogens are not one drug but rather a category of drugs. The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines hallucinogens as, “Hallucinogens are a diverse group of drugs that alter a person’s awareness of their surroundings as well as their own thoughts and feelings. They are commonly split into two categories: classic hallucinogens (such as LSD) and dissociative drugs (such as PCP). Both types of hallucinogens can cause hallucinations or sensations and images that seem real though they are not.” Hallucinogens alter one’s perception of reality. Such drugs make it so that the user is not sure what is real and what isn’t.
Classic hallucinogens include:
- LSD. A powerful and mind-altering chemical, LSD is a clear or white odorless material made from lysergic acid. LSD causes hallucinations and powerfully altered perceptions, also called “trips.”
- Psilocybin. Psilocybin refers to certain types of mushrooms that have hallucinogenic properties. Such mushrooms are found in South America, Mexico, and subtropical regions of the United States.
- Peyote. The main ingredient of peyote is mescaline, and the drug is sometimes just called mescaline. Peyote is a small, spineless cactus found only in the limestone soils of the Chihuahuan desert in southern Texas and northern Mexico.
- DMT. DMT is the potent, mind-altering chemical found in some Amazonian plants. The most well-known drug that contains DMT is called ayahuasca, a tea made from DMT-rich plants. Ayahuasca is also known by other names like hoasca, aya, and yagé. DMT is also made in a lab, as are many other naturally occurring hallucinogenic drugs.
- 251-NBOMe. Initially developed for scientific research purposes, when the synthetic hallucinogen 251-NBOMe is used illicitly, it creates effects similar to LSD and MDMA.
Some hallucinogenic drugs fall under a special category called “dissociative drugs.” According to NIDA, “Dissociative drugs can cause users to feel out of control or disconnected from their body and environment.” Dissociative drugs are hallucinogens, but they create a different effect than other hallucinogenic substances.
Some dissociative drugs include:
- PCP. PCP got its start in the 1950s as an anesthetic for surgery, but it is no longer used for this purpose because of its dangerous side effects. Instead, PCP is now made illegally and sold on the black market for recreational uses.
- Ketamine. Ketamine is also an anesthetic for surgery; this one is mainly used in veterinary offices. Ketamine is sometimes stolen from such offices then sold on the street. It is also used as a date-rape drug.
- Dextromethorphan. Sold over the counter as a cough medicine, this drug can produce hallucinations when misused.
- Salvia. One of the only plant-based dissociative drugs, salvia is typically ingested by chewing the plant’s leaves or drinking juices that are extracted from the leaves. Salvia leaves can also be smoked, vaporized, and inhaled.
The Short and Long-Term Effects of Using Hallucinogens
There are many side effects of using hallucinogens. As these drugs affect users differently, there is no way to predict exactly what will happen when someone uses them. Hallucinogenic substances alter mood, shift sensory perception, throw off sleep and appetite, change body temperature, alter sexual behavior, and manipulate intestinal muscle control. They also change pain perception and emotion, as well as learning and memory. And because people who use such drugs do not know what is real and what isn’t, people who are high on hallucinogenic substances often have unusual and sometimes dangerous responses to the environment around them. For example, someone who drives a car while high on a hallucinogen poses a significant risk to himself and others.
Some of the short-term effects of using hallucinogens include:
- Spiking heart rate
- Nausea and vomiting
- Intensified sensory perceptions
- Changes in the sense of time, space, and reality
- Increased blood pressure, breathing rate, and body temperature
- Loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping
- Dry mouth
- Uncoordinated movements
- Excessive sweating
- Panic, paranoia, psychosis, very bizarre behaviors
Some of the long-term effects of using hallucinogens include:
- Persistent psychosis; a series of ongoing and continuous visual disturbances, disorganized thinking, and paranoia.
- Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD). NIDA defines this concerning condition as “Recurrences of certain drug experiences, such as hallucinations or other visual disturbances. These flashbacks often happen without warning and may occur within a few days or more than a year after drug use. These symptoms are sometimes mistaken for other disorders, such as stroke or a brain tumor.”
Dissociative drugs also produce unique and harmful side effects. People who use such drugs experience numbness, disorientation, loss of coordination, hallucinations, increased blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature in the short term. They can also experience memory loss, panic and anxiety, seizures, psychotic symptoms, amnesia, inability to move, mood swings, and trouble breathing.
Dissociative drugs produce long-term effects, such as speech problems, memory loss, weight loss, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.
Treatment – Healthier Ways of Facing Life’s Problems
Hallucinogenic drugs have a powerful effect on the human body and mind. Quoting one NIDA article, “While the exact mechanisms by which hallucinogens and dissociative drugs cause their effects are not yet clearly understood, research suggests that they work at least partially by temporarily disrupting communication between neurotransmitter systems throughout the brain and spinal cord that regulate mood, sensory perception, sleep, hunger, body temperature, sexual behavior, and muscle control.” As one can imagine, a drug that temporarily disrupts communication between the brain and body has the potential to cause serious harm.
If you know someone who is using hallucinogenic drugs, they must stop using them. Such drugs can produce harmful, long-term, even permanent effects. If your loved one cannot stop using hallucinogens on their own, make sure they get professional help.