Can you get addicted to hallucinogens?
The short answer is: Yes. You can get addicted to certain types of hallucinogens.
However, most hallucinogenic, mind-altering drugs don’t cause any kind of physical dependence or withdrawal symptoms. For example, can you get addicted to LSD, psilocybin or mescaline (in the classical definition of drug addiction vs drug dependence? No. (The exception is PCP, which is highly addictive.) But even if hallucinogens are non-addictive drugs, people can develop is a psychological dependence to them.
What are the different kinds of hallucinogens? What are the differences between them? How do hallucinogens affect the brain? We explore all these questions here and invite you to ask your questions, or add your comments and experience with hallucinogens at the bottom.
Psychoactive ingredients in hallucinogens
All hallucinogens affect the brain, but the chemicals in them come from very different sources. LSD, or “acid,” is the most commonly-abused hallucinogen and is derived from the ergot fungus that grows on rye and other grains. Peyote is a small cactus found in the southwestern US and northern Mexico, used to create the drug mescaline. Psilocybin, on the other hand, comes from a certain type of mushroom found throughout North and South America. PCP, or phencyclidine, is a man-made drug which was originally used as an anesthetic, but which has been discontinued from medical use due to the serious adverse effects many people experienced.
Hallucinogens and the brain
Despite the name, hallucinogens do not always cause hallucinations. What they do is alter the user’s mood and perceptions of the world around them. Because most of these chemicals are derived by processing plants, the amount of the drug can vary widely each time you take it.
LSD, mescaline, and psilocybin all affect the brain by disrupting serotonin transmitters in the brain. PCP functions by affecting the brain’s glutamate receptors, which are responsible for the perception of pain, responses to the environment, learning, and memory.
Developing hallucinogen tolerance and addiction
While LSD is not addictive, it’s possible to develop a tolerance to the drug over time. LSD stays in your system for a relatively short amount of time. LSD can be detected in urine for 2-5 days after use, but effects generally wear off after 12 hours. However, repeat users will have to take greater and greater amounts to get high. This can be dangerous because it increases the likelihood of adverse effects. Tolerance to LSD can also create a cross-tolerance to other hallucinogens.
On the other hand, psilocybin and mescaline do not seem to be addictive, although tolerance is possible.
PCP is definitely addictive, causing cravings and compulsive PCP-seeking behavior, despite the high rate of severe adverse effects from using the drug. In other words, PCP is much more dangerous than other commonly-used hallucinogens.
Health effects of hallucinogen abuse
Even non-addictive hallucinogens can cause serious health problems. All hallucinogens have the potential to cause “flashbacks,” where users will suddenly re-experience using those drugs, sometimes many years later. This can be frightening and debilitating. These drugs can cause panic attacks and psychotic episodes when used. The way that hallucinogens warp reality can put users in danger from their surroundings.
One unique danger abusers of psilocybin mushrooms face is accidentally taking poisonous mushrooms, which can be deadly. Peyote can cause fetal abnormalities in pregnant women. LSD can cause fever, increased blood pressure, and tremors.
PCP is especially dangerous – its effects can mimic schizophrenia, causing delusions, hallucinations, paranoia, and disordered thinking. Even a year after stopping PCP, former users can continue to struggle with memory loss, difficulties in speaking and thinking, weight loss, and depression. Overdoses can cause seizures, coma, and death, especially if combined with other drugs or prescription medications.
Questions about hallucinogen use and abuse
How likely is it you’ll develop an emotional or psychological dependence on a non-addictive hallucinogen like LSD or mescaline? Not very. Most users voluntarily reduce their consumption of the drugs over time.
What should you do if you’re addicted to PCP? The truth is, scientists and doctors don’t really know. The same inpatient and behavioral treatments which might be recommended for other addictions are good options. Support groups and 12-step programs may be able to help. There are, unfortunately, no known medical treatments for PCP addiction at this time.
If you have questions about hallucinogen use, please leave them here. We will be happy to respond to you personally and promptly. And if we can’t answer your question directly, we will refer you to someone who can.
Reference sources: NIDA InfoFacts: Hallucinogens – LSD, Peyote, Psilocybin, and PCP
Drug Enforcement Administration: Hallucinogens
NIDA for Teens: Mind Over Matter: Hallucinogens
Photo credit: Rick Harris