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Hallucinogens are drugs that affect several areas of the brain, producing visual, auditory, or tactile hallucinations. Sometimes, hallucinations may include smells or tastes, but reports of these are rarer. Essentially, hallucinogens alter perception of one’s surroundings, objects, the passage of time, or other conditions. Along with these changes come changes in thoughts and feelings, which may lead to spiritual or religious experiences. In some instances, these changes could have a negative impact on the person.
Drugs with hallucinogenic properties can be natural or artificial; they can be produced by a plant, or they may be manufactured in a laboratory. Most hallucinogenic drugs are not considered addictive, but some drugs that cause hallucinations along with other effects, like euphoria, may become addictive. Older hallucinogens are not linked to overdoses, although they may be linked to hospitalization due to psychotic symptoms; new hallucinogens, often manufactured in clandestine drug labs, put the user at a higher risk of overdose.
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) for 2014 found that first-time use of hallucinogens has remained steady since about 2002, with few people abusing these drugs regularly or in compulsive patterns suggesting addiction. About 1.2 million people, which is about 0.4 percent of the US population ages 12 and older, reported abusing hallucinogens in the past month. More men than women tend to abuse hallucinogenic drugs.
While these numbers are low compared to other substances of abuse, like opioids, alcohol, and marijuana, hallucinogens put a person at risk of acute and chronic health problems. Many people who abuse hallucinogens also abuse other intoxicants in a dangerous pattern of polydrug abuse.
There are a few classes of hallucinogens.
There are several varieties of hallucinogens that are abused. Some of the most famous are outlined below.
There are several short-term effects caused by hallucinogens and a few long-term effects that may become chronic conditions.
Short-term physical effects from hallucinogens include:
Some hallucinogens may trigger heart conditions or stomach problems in those who are prone to these issues. Underlying heart issues combined with any potent drug, including hallucinogens, can cause a heart attack.
In rare cases, in which a person takes a large dose of a hallucinogen, the individual may trigger persistent psychosis. This is more likely in a person who is at risk for a mental illness, but it can also occur in those with no known risk factors.
Ongoing psychosis will require a lifetime of mental and behavioral health treatment, and involves life-altering symptoms like:
Dissociative hallucinogens are more dangerous because they are more likely to induce panic, dissociation from reality, increased blood pressure, heightened temperature, breathing rate, and numbness. High doses of some dissociative drugs, like PCP, may cause seizures; some people become extremely violent and are likely to cause harm to those around them; and some people may spontaneously stop breathing, experience dangerously high body temperature causing damage to internal organs, or suffer from a heart attack.
While psychedelic hallucinogens do not cause many harmful long-term effects, dissociative hallucinogens, deliriants, and research chemicals may cause brain damage. Memory, cognition, speech, mood, and social life can all be negatively impacted by these drugs.
It is very rare for hallucinogens to cause overdoses or withdrawal symptoms, but there are some negative impacts associated with consuming hallucinogenic substances. The riskiest part of hallucinogenic drugs involves a changed perception of reality, which is the goal of taking these substances. However, people may have a “bad trip,” and experience panic, anxiety, and paranoia. They may see terrible things that are not real. This can lead to accidental harm to oneself or others, including falling, lashing out at hallucinations, damaging the skin due to tactile hallucinations, displaying erratic behavior, and even committing suicide.
Some hallucinogens produce “flashbacks,” or hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD). LSD is the most famous substance that causes this condition, but a few other hallucinogens may induce this effect. HPPD can involve seeing light trails or halos around light sources, re-experiencing emotional sensations from the trip, or having other visual, auditory, tactile, or emotional experiences associated with the original trip. LSD can produce HPPD in people even after one use. While flashbacks are not often considered negative, they can be distracting in dangerous situations, and they can cause panic or depression.
People who have schizophrenia or other related psychotic disorders should not take hallucinogenic drugs because it will make symptoms worse and harder to treat. While marijuana is the most commonly abused psychedelic drug among those with schizophrenia, other hallucinogens can increase tardive dyskinesia, manic episodes, and perceptual problems with reality versus fantasy. Abusing these drugs earlier in life can also bring the condition on earlier.
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