Hallucinogens are psychoactive drugs that cause hallucinations and distorted perceptions in an individual. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines these as “a diverse group of drugs that alter perception (awareness of surrounding objects and conditions), thoughts, and feelings.”
As the name implies, hallucinogens make people think and sense things that are not real. These can be found in nature and can also be produced synthetically. They are often called psychedelics and are popular as recreational drugs. People use hallucinogens to enhance routine experiences, emotions or social interactions. However, these are powerful and dangerous substances that can produce severe side effects.
Some of the common types of hallucinogens that an individual can use or abuse are:
- Mushrooms: Hallucinogenic mushrooms or psilocybin are native to North America, and are one of the naturally occurring hallucinogens. Historically, these have been used by the natives in religious ceremonies like vision quests. The mushrooms may be chewed or brewed into a tea.
- Peyote or Mescaline: Peyote, a member of the cactus family, is a powerful hallucinogen that has been used ritualistically by the natives for centuries. The main active psychedelic ingredient found in this substance is mescaline. Native Americans found that the dreamlike hallucinations produced by these substances gave them spiritual insights. Therefore, these drugs are still used in religious ceremonies by some natives. Peyote can be consumed in the form of a liquid or powder that can be rolled into a leaf and smoked.
- LSD: In the 20thcentury, people began synthesizing hallucinogenic compounds. Swiss chemist Albert Hoffman discovered psychedelic drug lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) in 1938. He hoped that the compound would be useful in treating certain psychiatric disorders. However, it became a popular recreational drug in the 1960s. Commonly known as Acid, LSD is a liquid that may be put onto a sugar cube that is then eaten or put onto a piece of paper which is placed on the tongue. For this reason, LSD is also commonly referred to as blotter which causes visual and auditory hallucinations.
- MDMA: Commonly known as ecstasy, 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) is both a stimulant and a hallucinogen, and is popular among high school and college students. It is commonly consumed in capsule or powder form, but it can also be swallowed as a liquid or snorted as a powder.
- Phencyclidine: Commonly known as Angel Dust, phencyclidine (PCP) is another powerful synthetic hallucinogen originally developed as an anesthetic. However, its use was discontinued because of its dangerous side effects. PCP causes slurred speech, numbness in the extremities and hallucinations. In higher doses, it can cause seizures and coma, and can even be fatal. Repeated use of PCP can have long-term consequences, including memory loss, speech impediments and unpredictable flashbacks.
Symptoms of hallucinogen abuse
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that the “effects of hallucinogens can begin within 20 to 90 minutes and can last for up to six to 12 hours.” Some of the common symptoms of hallucinogen abuse include:
- Increased heart rate
- Altered visual perceptions
- False sense of reality
- Acute psychosis
- Enhanced emotions
Seeking help for hallucinogen addiction
Some hallucinogens like PCP can cause hallucinogen addiction. Others, like LSD, can lead to development of tolerance, when users would need higher doses of the drug to achieve the same effect. If one tries to withdraw from these drugs, he/she might face a number of withdrawal symptoms like cravings, fatigue, irritability and a reduced ability to experience pleasure.
There is no medical treatment for intoxication or withdrawal of hallucinogens. But its addiction can be treated by providing a calm and safe environment to the patient. Placing the patients in a dimly lit, quiet room can help ease their anxiety caused by the substance used by them. If they appear to be a danger to themselves or others, physical or chemical restraints like haloperidol can be used as a temporary measure. If symptoms do not resolve, then admission to a psychiatric hospital may be required.