January 8th, 2024
For millennia, various cultures have used hallucinogenic substances for religious rituals, healing ceremonies and spiritual exploration. By altering perception, thought and emotion, modern proponents claim that hallucinogens can provide deeper personal insights, a connection with the spiritual world and even a gateway to god. Despite these claims, however, the use of hallucinogens can pose significant risks which are often overlooked compared to other drugs. Psychological damage, out-of-control behaviours and the potential for hallucinogenic addiction are all issues that users can and do experience. Anyone thinking of experimenting with hallucinogens must be aware of these dangers as they can cause lifelong consequences.
What is a hallucinogen?
Hallucinogens are a diverse group of substances known for altering thoughts, emotions and perceptions. They fall into two main categories: classic hallucinogens, like LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) and psilocybin (found in magic mushrooms), and dissociative drugs, like ketamine and PCP.
As their name suggests, hallucinogenic substances cause hallucinations or sensory experiences that appear real but are created by the mind. Scientifically, they work by disrupting the communication of nerve cells and the neurotransmitter serotonin, which plays a key role in regulating mood, sensory perception, sleep, hunger, body temperature and muscle control.
The effects of hallucinogens can be unpredictable, varying widely based on the type of substance and amount taken and the user’s personality, mood, expectations and environment. Some people may experience a positive “trip” that has given them new insights into themselves, the world or greater unseen forces. However, many others experience bad trips, which cause frightening hallucinations, mental distress, loss of control and potentially dangerous behaviour.
What is hallucinogenic addiction?
While hallucinogens are not generally physically addictive, excessive and prolonged use can lead to psychological dependence. Hallucinogenic addiction means you keep using these drugs even though it is causing clear adverse consequences.
Addiction usually develops through recreational use and can be driven by a desire to escape reality, enhance creativity or experience a perceived deeper insight into your mind or the universe. This can become compulsive, where you keep chasing a “high” and gradually lose control over your hallucinogen use.
Common types of addictive hallucinogens include:
PCP, also known as phencyclidine or “angel dust,” is a dissociative hallucinogen that can lead to a disconnection from reality and a sense of detachment from yourself and your surroundings. Unlike most other hallucinogens, PCP use can lead to physical dependence with withdrawal symptoms including depression, anxiety and intense cravings. Users can also become psychologically dependent on the intense euphoric and numbing effects PCP offers.
LSD is known for its potent psychoactive properties, but it also carries the risk of psychological LSD addiction. Users may come to rely on LSD to escape reality, seek enlightenment or for its sensory-enhancing properties. LSD addiction treatment explores the root causes of dependency to help change the behaviours, thoughts and feelings that fuel addiction.
Psilocybin (magic mushrooms)
Psilocybin is the psychoactive chemical in magic mushrooms which can induce deep introspective states and profound spiritual experiences. Users may become psychologically reliant on these experiences, finding it challenging to engage with the real world without the altered state that psilocybin provides.
Ayahuasca addiction is primarily psychological, stemming from its active ingredient, DMT. Used traditionally in spiritual rituals, ayahuasca is revered for its powerful psychoactive properties, capable of inducing intense hallucinations and emotional experiences. Users may become dependent on these profound experiences, seeking repeated use to attain spiritual insights or explore their emotions.
Ketamine is often abused recreationally for its ability to induce a trance-like state, offering a sense of disconnection from the body and reality. Some people also use it to deal with stress, trauma or other mental health issues. However, users can quickly become both physically and psychologically dependent on ketamine with severe health and personal implications.
Am I addicted to hallucinogens?
Identifying addiction to hallucinogens can be challenging as there may be no visible physical effects and because many people believe hallucinogens are not addictive. If you are worried that you may have developed an addiction to hallucinogens, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I feel a persistent desire to use hallucinogens?
- Has my hallucinogen use affected my relationships, education or work?
- Do I continue to use hallucinogens despite knowing the harm they cause?
- Have I tried and failed to stop using hallucinogens?
- Does using hallucinogens help me escape from problems or to regulate my mood?
- Do I need to use more hallucinogens than before to achieve the same effects?
- Do I try to conceal my hallucinogen use from my loved ones?
If you answered “yes” to these questions, they could be a sign of hallucinogenic addiction.
What can lead to hallucinogenic addiction?
A complex interplay of various factors can influence the development of an addiction to hallucinogens:
If you have a family history of substance abuse, you could be at a higher risk as genetic factors can influence susceptibility to addiction.
Mental health conditions
Many people with underlying mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety or PTSD, may turn to hallucinogens to alleviate symptoms, escape from emotional pain or cope with stressors. This can potentially lead to a pattern of abuse and psychological dependence.
Social and environmental influences
Exposure to social circles where drug use is common or growing up in environments where substance abuse is normalised can increase the likelihood of experimenting with and regularly using hallucinogens.
Certain personality traits can predispose individuals to hallucinogen abuse, which can lead to addiction. These can include a propensity for risk-taking, a desire for new experiences or a tendency towards impulsivity.
Hallucinogens can offer an escape from reality and a temporary relief from painful memories, which can be appealing to those struggling with the aftereffects of traumatic events.
What are the impacts of hallucinogenic abuse and addiction?
The consequences of hallucinogenic abuse and addiction are multifaceted and can affect various areas of your life:
Mental health problems
Regular use of hallucinogens can exacerbate existing mental health conditions like depression or anxiety. It can also lead to the development of new psychiatric issues, including psychosis, severe paranoia or hallucinogen-persisting perception disorder (HPPD). This results in episodes commonly known as “flashbacks”, which can occur years after you last took hallucinogenic drugs.
Prolonged use of hallucinogens can lead to problems with memory, attention and decision-making, which can affect everyday functioning and the ability to manage tasks and responsibilities.
Hallucinogen abuse can cause significant emotional disturbances, such as unpredictable mood swings, heightened anxiety and periods of paranoia. These can affect your relationships and lead to social isolation and related mental health struggles.
Physical health risks
While hallucinogens themselves may not cause direct physical harm, they can cause you to lose control and awareness. This can put you at risk of accidents and leave you vulnerable to crime or injury.
Social and interpersonal problems
Addiction can lead to strained relationships with family and friends, social withdrawal and difficulty functioning socially. Again, this can result in isolation and a lack of support, exacerbating other issues related to addiction.
Occupational and educational issues
Hallucinogen abuse can negatively impact academic and professional performance. This might manifest as decreased productivity, a lack of concentration, missing school and work or a total disengagement from work or educational pursuits.
Possession, use or distribution of hallucinogens can lead to legal problems, including arrest, fines and potential imprisonment. All of these can have long-term consequences on your life and future opportunities.
What does treatment for hallucinogenic addiction involve?
At UKAT, hallucinogenic addiction treatment follows a comprehensive approach that factors in all the different aspects of the condition. Since hallucinogens do not typically result in physical dependence, detox is not usually necessary (though it may be for substances like PCP and ketamine).
Instead, effective treatment involves a range of therapies such as individual counselling, cognitive-behavioural therapy, group therapy, and holistic approaches like meditation and mindfulness. These approaches can help you understand the underlying reasons for your drug use, develop coping strategies and learn how to live a drug-free life. Aftercare is also crucial in preventing relapse and maintaining long-term sobriety, as leaving rehab and returning to everyday life can be a big shock to the system.
Begin your recovery from hallucinogenic addiction today
If you or someone you know is struggling with hallucinogenic addiction, seeking professional help is a crucial step towards recovery. UKAT offers comprehensive treatment programmes with detox (when necessary), therapy, support and aftercare. Working with our medical and recovery experts, you will develop the necessary tools for overcoming addiction and rebuilding a healthy, fulfilling life. Reach out to UKAT today to find out more.
What is the strongest and most widely abused hallucinogen?
The strongest and most widely abused hallucinogen is often considered to be LSD (Lysergic Acid Diethylamide). LSD is known for its potent psychoactive effects, even in very small doses. It produces profound alterations in perception, mood and thought which can last for up to 12 hours or more. LSD is also more widely available than most other hallucinogenics, especially in the context of recreational drug use.
Is weed a hallucinogen?
Weed, or cannabis/marijuana, is primarily classified as a psychoactive drug, but it can have hallucinogenic properties, especially at high doses. The main psychoactive component of cannabis, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), can cause alterations in perception, mood and consciousness, which are characteristics of hallucinogens. However, marijuana is more commonly classified as a cannabinoid and is better known for its depressant and stimulant effects.
Can you overdose on hallucinogenics?
It is possible to overdose on hallucinogens, but the nature and consequences of overdose can vary significantly depending on the specific substance. For classic hallucinogens like LSD or psilocybin (magic mushrooms), a lethal overdose is extremely rare. However, taking large amounts can lead to intense and potentially dangerous psychedelic experiences, including severe psychological distress, panic and risky behaviours. Dissociative hallucinogens like PCP pose a higher risk of overdose, potentially leading to respiratory distress, seizures or coma.