Most people who take hallucinogenic drugs like psilocybin (mushrooms), LSD, or MDMA, do so recreationally with the intention of altering their perception of reality. In most cases, hallucinogen use is so infrequent it poses no significant threat of long-term consequence. However, consistently using a hallucinogenic drug for an extended period of time can lead to the development of a diagnosable hallucinogen use disorder, or HUD. Because repetitive use of hallucinogens can lead to the development of serious and irreversible mental health problems, seeking treatment early on is essential.
Some might argue that hallucinogens are not physically addictive, though there is a fair amount of scientific research which confirms the contrary. The American Journal of Addiction states, “Overall, one in five (20%) MDMA users and about one in six (16%) other hallucinogen users reported at least one clinical feature of HUDs [hallucinogen use disorders]. Among MDMA users, prevalence of hallucinogen abuse, subthreshold dependence, and dependence was 4.9%, 11.9%, and 3.6%, respectively. The majority with hallucinogen abuse displayed subthreshold dependence. Most with hallucinogen dependence exhibited abuse.” (1) Another study published by The Journal of Addictive Diseases finds, “The national U.S. rates per 100,000 total NIS claims for hallucinogen use disorder hospitalizations increased from 1998–2000 to 2013–2014 and outcomes worsened over time: hospitalizations, from 22.8 to 40.4 (1.8-fold); in-hospital mortality rate, from 0.3 to 0.6 (2.3-fold); and non-home discharge, from 4.2 to 6.3 (1.5-fold), respectively. Hallucinogen use disorder hospitalizations were common and increased from 1998 to 2014 in the U.S.” (2) If you or someone close to you has been struggling with hallucinogen misuse or dependence, there is help available. Reach out to us directly to learn more.
What are Hallucinogens?
Hallucinogens are a class of chemical substances that work by changing the way the brain perceives messages, ultimately affecting physical sensations as well as thoughts and feelings. Some hallucinogenic drugs are derived naturally from plants, while others are man made. In some cultures hallucinogenic drugs are used for their medicinal properties or to facilitate emotional and/or spiritual healing. In the U.S. hallucinogens are often used recreationally, frequently combined with other substances and taken in a social environment. There are two distinct categories of hallucinogenic drugs: dissociative drugs and classic hallucinogens. Examples of dissociative drugs include PCP, salvia, and ketamine. These drugs cause the user to dissociate from their surroundings, or lose touch with reality. They might not know who or where they are, and they are liable to act in ways that seem erratic and out-of-character. Classic hallucinogens include psilocybin, peyote, ayahuasca, DMT, ecstasy, MDMA, and LSD. Classic hallucinogens are less likely to make people act erratically and violently, though when taken in high doses they can lead to significant changes in perception and potential dissociation.
Some hallucinogenic drugs, like ketamine and MDMA, have been used in a medicinal setting to treat certain underlying mental illnesses like depression and posttraumatic stress disorder. Because scientific research on the effective treatment of these conditions is relatively new and considered inconclusive, these treatment methods are often deemed controversial.
Hallucinogens can be psychologically addictive when used in excess. In addition to the development of a hallucinogen use disorder, short and long-term use of these substances can lead to a variety of other serious side effects, including:
- Mood swings, often marked by irritability and agitation.
- Severe anxiety, which can be coupled with panic attacks and/or paranoia.
- Persistent psychosis.
- Depressed mood and suicidal ideation.
- Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder.
Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder, also known as HPPD, is a condition where a person continues to experience some effects of the hallucinogenic drug they originally took for days, months, or even years after the final dose. The person might experience hallucinatory flashbacks, changes in perception, or changes to vision, and the symptoms of HPPD can easily interfere with day-to-day life. This condition can develop after one use. The severity of side effects produced by hallucinogen abuse depend on the type of substance being used, the amount being used, and whether or not the individual was suffering from an underlying mental illness before using the drug.
How Addictive are Hallucinogens?
Some hallucinogenic drugs, like ayahuasca, peyote, and psilocybin (all naturally derived) are considered relatively safe to use infrequently and in small amounts, and there are very few recorded cases of addiction in association with these three drugs. Man-made, chemically structured hallucinogens like PCP, LSD, and ketamine, on the other hand, can be highly addictive when used repeatedly.
There are several factors that have been known to contribute to the development of a hallucinogen use disorder. In addition to the type of drug being used, these include:
- Genetic predisposition to the development of substance use disorder.
- The presence of underlying mental illness.
- Past trauma (unresolved)/PTSD.
- The availability of substances in the community and other environmental factors.
- Social factors like family relationships and peer pressure.
Signs & Symptoms of Hallucinogen Addiction
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, lays out several additional diagnostic criteria those with HUDs tend to experience. If you answer “yes” to more than two of the following questions, there is a good chance you would benefit from some degree of treatment.
- Do you often use more of the drug than you intended, or take hallucinogens for a longer period of time than originally intended?
- Have you attempted to quit using your drug of choice on your own with limited success?
- Do you experience cravings for hallucinogens throughout the day?
- Do you spend a significant amount of time obtaining hallucinogens, using hallucinogens, and recovering from the effects of hallucinogen use?
- Have you started to experience problems at work or at school directly related to your hallucinogenic drug use?
- Do you continue to use hallucinogenic drugs despite newly developing or worsening physical and psychological symptoms?
- Have you been instructed to cut back on your hallucinogen intake by a licensed healthcare professional, and have you made the decision to ignore their advice?
- Do you engage in risk-taking behavior while under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs, like driving while under the influence or mixing the drug with other substances?
- Have you started to neglect activities you previously enjoyed as a direct result of your drug use?
- Have you developed a physical tolerance, meaning more of the hallucinogenic drug is required in order for the desired effects to be achieved?
- Do you experience withdrawal symptoms when you attempt to cut out hallucinogens entirely? Hallucinogen withdrawal symptoms are largely psychological in nature, and can include anxiety, paranoia, and feelings of detachment from reality.
Treatment Options for Hallucinogen Addiction
Because hallucinogenic drugs impact the mind more than the physical body, the most effective treatment options include a combination of behavioral therapy and psychiatric care. There are no FDA-approved medications used for the treatment of HUD, and it can be difficult to find a traditional addiction treatment program that specializes in the treatment of HUD with or without the presence of co-occurring disorders. The good news is, most traditional, multi-staged treatment programs offer psychiatric services, meaning those with hallucinogen use disorders would benefit from participating. If you are interested in seeking professional treatment for an HUD, contact us today and we will gladly point you in the right direction.
If you or someone close to you has been struggling with a hallucinogen use disorder or has been using hallucinogenic drugs more than seems normal, we are available to help. In many cases, individuals with diagnosable HUDs require intensive psychiatric intervention and benefit from a traditional, therapeutically-based inpatient treatment program. To learn more about the HUD treatment options available in your area, reach out to us today. As soon as you do you will be put in contact with an experienced Addiction Treatment Specialist, who will connect you with a variety of resources. We understand how difficult it can be to come to terms with a substance use disorder of any type or severity, and we are available to help walk you through the treatment process from start to finish. Simply call us or contact us directly through our website to begin.