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Hallucinogens essentially take the user on a “trip,” altering their senses and their sense of time and place. These drugs can cause feelings of euphoria and excitability, but there are a number of ways the body can possibly respond to it. Common symptoms of use include exhilaration, aggression, paranoia, high energy and more. These symptoms can happen all at once, one after another or they can cycle.
Sometimes users can feel like they are outside their body and outside time and space; their senses can combine as if they were, for example, “seeing sound” or “hearing colors.” These sensations can be benign or alarming, leaving the user disoriented and without their sense of self.
The duration of this “trip” or “high” depends on the dose taken and it also depends on the type of drug involved.
Why do people take hallucinogens?
Hallucinogens have historically been used for religious purposes; sometimes the effects of the drugs were mistaken for communication with deities and spirits, or perhaps a visit to the life beyond ours. Given the nature of the drugs, the authenticity of this communion is debatable. However, some smaller religions and cults still utilize the drugs for this purpose.
Beyond religion, these drugs have been used by creative people in literature, music and art in an effort to “open their minds” to new possibilities.
Modern use of hallucinogens falls in line with the same reason anyone uses any illicit substance.
The main reason is self-medication. Hallucinogens are an effective way for those to escape circumstances that make them depressed, anxious or otherwise down. The drugs help them release their stress and get away from their responsibilities for a while. Curiosity also plays a factor when it comes to hallucinogen use. Some simply want to try new things and experience sensations they may not otherwise get to try.
The most prominent reason, though, is mostly to have fun. It’s more common to see Hallucinogens used during vacation times or during holidays as a way to relax and take a vacation. The time away from work and other responsibilities is not in itself a trigger for trouble, but it can nonetheless lead to the mindset that would lend itself to use drugs.
Are hallucinogens addictive?
They are, yes, or at least they have the potential to be. Hallucinogens alter the senses and the user’s concept of time and space. The length and intensity of the high varies depending on the dosage and type of substance.
Legal hallucinogens in the US, although some may be illegal at the state level
- Salvia (banned in 29 or more states)
- Mexican Calea
- Hawaiian Baby Woodrose
- Peyote (consumed only for religious purposes)
Popular hallucinogens include:
- Peyote buttons
It’s not clear what it is that makes LSD such an effective hallucinogen. However, there are theories that the drug affects the serotonin receptors in the brain.
Psilocybin mushrooms consist of roughly 200 species of mushrooms. It is among the older Hallucinogens used, depicted in cave paintings to suggest use in primitive times, long before the written word.
The drug mostly affects one’s sense of time; it feels as if time is slowing down or it stops completely. Those who take psilocybin tend to build up a high tolerance quickly, the same as LSD, but like LSD, this tolerance subsides just as fast as it comes. There are typically no physical effects of this drug, but it may have lasting psychological effects.
Peyote is sometimes mistaken for “shrooms,” but it is actually a small cactus plant. The name is derived from a Native American word meaning “divine messenger.” It was and still is used in religious ceremonies. It’s seen as a remedy for a number of ailments, including the common cold, childbirth pain, blindness, skin diseases and more. Peyote is the most similar to Mescaline when it comes to hallucinogens. It does not relieve pain so much as it distracts the mind elsewhere.
DMT is produced from a number of plants and is known as the “business trip” due to its relatively fleeting effect; the effect tends to last only about 15 to 20 minutes. The brief trip is not to be underestimated, though; DMT is quite potent. Despite its power, it’s not likely to have any physical or psychological side effects and it’s also not likely to cause addiction.
Mescaline is the active ingredient in peyote, chemically isolated in 1897 and synthesized in 1918. This hallucinogen was supposed to help cure addictions before it was declared illegal. Because it’s derived from peyote, it works in a similar way. The user typically sees different shapes and colors while taking the drug.
DXM is found in over-the-counter cough syrup. When used as directed, it works well at suppressing coughs. Taken in much larger doses, however, it becomes a hallucinogen. The effects of this particular drug can last upwards of six hours.
DXM affects the area of your brain that perceives pain, memory and emotions. Users may also feel physical effects when using DXM, but more likely, these effects will go unnoticed, making them especially dangerous.
It’s not always easy to see if someone you love is using drugs. Hallucinogen use can sometimes be somewhat easy to see, but if the person is not currently high, it’s harder to spot the signs.
Research has suggested that heavy hallucinogen use can cause a decline in cognitive function. This is especially visible in younger people due to the fact that their brains are not yet fully developed. Symptoms sometimes include forgetfulness, confusion, a shorter attention span and slow reactions. It is not yet known whether or not these symptoms are permanent.
Signs of being under the effect of an hallucinogen:
- Seeming to be disconnected from reality
- Saying they are seeing, hearing, or feeling things that are not there
- Dilated pupils
- Mood fluctuations
- Incoherent speech
- Anxiety and paranoia
- Unusual eye movements, like they are seeing something not there
Who is at Risk?
Hallucinogens are often laced with other illegal substances or even alcohol.
There are certain groups that are at special risk for hallucinogen abuse.
Veterans often suffer from several mental disorders, especially after being deployed and seeing combat. They may consider hallucinogens as a way out of dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder; this can be seen as a form of self-medication.
Teens and College Students
Young adults and teenagers are often more susceptible to using controlled substances. This can be due to peer pressure, a sense of invincibility, a search for ‘fun’ or maybe an escape from the pressures of school work, and social pressures. Drugs are often a part of the party scene, which is easy to find in college and sometimes at other levels of school.
Certain high-pressure careers can be a hotbed for drug abuse, including hallucinogens.
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