Hallucinogens are drugs that are ubiquitously present and used in parties. They have varying street names such as ‘magic mushrooms’ and ‘special K’. They are known for their ability to distort their user’s perception and view of reality. They cause hallucinations and are therefore termed as hallucinogens, psychedelic or psychoactive drugs. Due to the drugs’ ability to distort perceptions, users of the drugs tend to hear, see, taste and smell nonexistent things. Most hallucinogens are attributed to LSD although there are numerous hallucinogens such as PCP, psilocybin, peyote, ketamine, and others. Hallucinogens are mainly ingested through smoking, snorting and absorbing through the lining in the mouth with some ingested in tablet form. There are various types of hallucinogens with both short- and long-term effects on humans’ mental health.
Hallucinogens are a wide variety of drugs that distort a person’s perception, consciousness and awareness of their surroundings as well as mental processes and emotions. They induce a dream-like state where the user feels, sees and hears non-existent things. Hallucinogens are widely divided into two types that are classic hallucinogens and dissociative hallucinogens. Hallucinogens, both classic and dissociative, are mainly human-made though some are extracted from plants such as mushrooms. They are mainly used for recreational purposes while others use them for spiritual reasons and stress management. Other hallucinogens such as psilocybin can be effectively used in treating depression due to their therapeutic functions.
Effects on The Brain
Classic hallucinogens such as LSD (D-lysergic acid diethylamide) and Peyote (mescaline) produce their perception-altering effects on the neural circuits of the brain that use the neurotransmitter serotonin (de Rios, 1986). Neurotransmitters are naturally occurring brain chemicals that are responsible for the transition of information from the body and brain and vice versa. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter charged with the responsibility of transmitting information and controlling the normal functioning of one’s cognition, behavior, mood, and perception. They largely affect the normal operations of the prefrontal cortex of the brain which is responsible for mood, cognition, and perception (Lee & Roth, 2012). The hallucinogens, more so LSD and peyote, inundate the brain with signals that are similar to psychosis (severe mental disorder) that breaks the user’s mental inhibitions. The break-in mental inhibitions coupled with the hallucinogen agitation of the prefrontal cortex instigates a sensory crossover. The sensory crossover leads to the user’s experiencing an unfiltered stream of emotions and thoughts. This perspective explains the user’s perception of nonexistent things and hallucinations.
Dissociative hallucinogens such as PCP (phencyclidine) affect the brain’s transmitter glutamate. Glutamate is charged with the responsibility of controlling the functions of pain perception, learning, and memory (de Rios, 1986). Glutamate does its role in pain perception by activating cells that regulate pain outside the brain. Hallucinogens prevent the brain from activating the pain perception cells by their inhibiting of glutamate. Most of the dissociative hallucinogens flood the brain with inhibitors that block the brain’s reception of glutamate. The inhibition results in the user’s brain not receiving information from the glutamate transistors and invokes a numbing effect on the user’s brain. For the above reasons, dissociative hallucinogens make the user to be detached from his or her present surroundings. Detachment from surroundings can have further mental effects on users such as depression or stress. Hallucinogens are also responsible for altering the actions of dopamine in users. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter responsible for the creation of euphoria and the high associated with hallucinogens. Dissociative hallucinogens such as PCP have been used medically as painkillers and anesthetics.
Effects on the Body (Mental)
Hallucinogens are normally known for their psychological effects. However, they also affect the physical body of the user thus paving the way for serious mental implications. Hallucinogens inhibit neural transmitters thus interrupting the communication of the brain and nervous system which occurs through the body’s chemical systems. The interruption instigates an effect that is scientifically known as Ataxia. Ataxia is the paralysis, either permanent or temporary, of muscle reflexes that leads to uncoordinated movements. Hallucinogens are also known for causing skin and muscle irritation. The fact that they cause skin and muscle irritation leads to a state of constant discomfort, and may lead to users severely scratching and damaging their skins. Due to their inhibition and impairment of the motor system of the body, hallucinogens produce visual and auditory distortions that are responsible for disorientation and confusion of its users. The confusion aspect points to hallucinogens’ impact on the mental state of users.
The use and abuse of hallucinogens have numerous side effects that are classified into short-term and long-term effects. Short term effects are those effects felt by the user within one hour to twelve hours of ingestion of the hallucinogenic drug. The short-term effects are several and diverse and largely depend on the amount ingested, the potency of the drug, and the personality of the user (de Rios, 1986). The effects include a high characterized by warped perceptions of reality and a drug-induced psychosis that lasts from six to twelve hours. The high depends on the user’s personality and can produce mentally stimulating and enjoyable sensations or acute unpleasant experiences marked by anxiety and terrifying thoughts (Lee & Roth, 2012). According to de Rios (1998), the use of DMT is characterized mainly by unpleasant experiences of hallucinations ranging from alien abductions and near-death experiences. Other effects include dizziness and insomnia; increased blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature; uncoordinated movements such as numbness, weakness, and body tremors (Lee & Roth, 2012). In addition, the user experiences massive and rapid emotional shifts and impulsiveness that can shift from fear to euphoria within seconds. The rapid shifts in emotions point to serious impacts of hallucinogens on users’ mental situations. According to Lee & Roth (2012), the conditions create a situation where the user may experience several emotions simultaneously such as crying and laughing within a short duration of each distinct emotion.
From a long-term perspective, hallucinogen use leads to the quick development of a high degree of tolerance to the drug’s effects. This development leads to users using increasingly large doses to achieve the desired effects and high. In turn, the effect leads to the user’s being hooked and addicted to the drugs. Tolerance leads to dependence which can lead to overdose. An overdose of hallucinogens may lead to seizures, coma, and even death. According to Lee & Roth (2012), tolerance for hallucinogens are short-lived and is lost if the user stops ingesting the drugs for several days. Besides, their withdrawal symptoms are not severe compared to those of other drugs such as cocaine and heroin. This perspective offers hope for quick rehabilitation for addicts (Lee & Roth, 2012). The long-term abuse of classic hallucinogens has been attributed to the development of permanent psychosis and Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD). The permanent psychosis is characterized by visual disturbances, disorganized thinking, paranoia, and mood disturbances. The HPPD is characterized by constant hallucinations, color flashes, strokes or brain tumors, and other neurological disorders. In severe cases, long abuse of hallucinogens leads to a user’s inclination to schizophrenia and other mental illnesses in addition to the damage to the body and nervous system. Death caused by the use of hallucinogens is quite rare though the use of the drugs increases the chance of death as they increase the user’s predisposition to violent behaviors, suicides, and dangerous driving. However, according to de Rios (1998), more research should be conducted to uncover the long-term effects of hallucinogens.
In sum, hallucinogens have been used for centuries to spark creativity by artists, in religious and cultural rituals and generally for recreational purposes. They are common in the American nightlife more so among revelers chasing a high. Their ubiquitous use has led to many people being hooked to highly addictive drugs. In most case, hallucinogens are mixed with other drugs and substances such as alcohol and marijuana. Research proves that the mixing of hallucinogens with other drugs is quite dangerous and may lead to severe effects of hallucination and damage of body organs in extreme cases. Luckily, the drugs are not related to serious cases of addiction and withdrawal symptoms compared to other hard drugs. However, addicts need to seek rehabilitation to avert the addiction and save themselves from the short- and long-term effects of the drugs.
de Rios, M. D. (1986). Response to Joralemon’s Review of Visionary Vine: Hallucinogenic Healing in the Peruvian Amazon and Hallucinogens: Cross-Cultural Perspectives. American anthropologist, 88(3), 699-701. Retrieved from www.jstor.org/stable/679493
Lee, H. M., & Roth, B. L. (2012). Hallucinogen actions on human brain revealed. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(6), 1820-1821. Retrieved from https://www.pnas.org/content/109/6/1820.full