The Effects of Hallucinogens on the Brain

Discussions of hallucinogens often include dreamy imagery and references to expanded consciousness. But taking LSD or a similar drug is far from a risk-free endeavor. The effects of hallucinogens on the brain can range from temporary distortion to long-term impairment. 

What are Hallucinogens?

Hallucinogens are drugs that affect how a person perceives their environment and other aspects of reality. Hallucinogens can impact how a person thinks, feels, and acts. 

As the name suggest, hallucinogens can cause hallucinations. This means that the effects of hallucinogens on the brain include seeing, hearing, or otherwise sensing things that aren’t really there.

The category of hallucinogens includes both natural and synthetic substances. Hallucinogens are also commonly divided into two groups: classic hallucinogens and dissociative drugs. 

Examples of classic hallucinogens include mescaline, psylocibin, ayahuasca, DMT, and LSD. 

  • Mescaline is extracted from the peyote cactus. 
  • Psylocibin is the hallucinogenic ingredient in several fungi, which are often referred to as magic mushrooms. 
  • Ayahuasca is a brew that may contain parts of many different plants.
  • DMT, which is a shortened version of N, N-Dimethyltryptamine, is an organic compound that is produced by several types of plants. DMT is present in ayahuasca.

Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is an ingredient in cannabis, may also be classified as a classic hallucinogen. 

The category of dissociative drugs includes PCP, DXM, and ketamine.

  • PCP, or phencyclidine, is also sometimes referred to as rocket fuel or angel dust.
  • DXM (dextromethorphan) is an ingredient in several cough medicines. It can have a dissociative effect when taken in larger-than-recommended quantities. 
  • Ketamine is an anesthetic. It has also been used to treat pain and depression. Recreational ketamine is often called Special K.

In addition to having hallucinogenic properties, dissociative drugs may also cause people to act aggressively or violently. 

Effects of Hallucinogens on the Brain

One achieve the effects of hallucinogens on the brain by disrupting or otherwise altering the functioning of neurotransmitters within the central nervous system. 

According to the British Psychological Society, classic hallucinogens such as LSD, DMT, and psilocybin interact with serotonin 2A receptors in the brain. 

A 2015 report in the journal Frontiers in Pharmacology notes that serotonin 2A receptors are associated with memory, learning, and other cognitive functions. These impairments may be potential risk factors for depression, addiction, and other mental health disorders. 

When a person takes hallucinogens, they may experience a variety of short- and long-term effects.

Short Term

Common short-term effects of hallucinogens include:

  • Elevated heart rate
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Increased sensitivity to light and sound
  • Distorted perception of time
  • Synesthesia (the feeling that you can taste colors or see music)
  • A sense of detachment from your body or your surroundings
  • Intense fear or panic
  • Hallucinations

One feels the short-term effects of hallucinogens on the brain within 90 minutes of taking the drug. Depending on which type of hallucinogen a person has taken, the effects can persist for more than 10 hours.

Long Term

People who use large amounts of hallucinogens, or who continue to use these types of drugs over long periods, may experience long-term effects such as:

  • Unstable mood
  • Psychosis
  • Persistent confusion
  • Disorganized thinking
  • Flashbacks (the sudden onset of hallucinations or other short-term effects, even though the person hasn’t used a hallucinogen recently)

Other potential long-term effects of hallucinogens on the brain include memory problems, paranoia, and depression.

Are Hallucinogens Addictive?

For the most part, hallucinogens are not highly addictive substances. However, it is possible for a person to become dependent on these drugs. The continued use of hallucinogens can lead to tolerance. This means that a person will need to use a larger amount of the drug to experience the effects that they previously achieved through more limited use. Also, tolerance is a common symptom of addiction.

Some people may feel compelled to use hallucinogens again and again, even after they have harmed by their previous use of these drugs. This is also common sign of addiction.

If a person has been using dissociative drugs, they may develop withdrawal symptoms if they try to end this behavior, or if they can’t acquire the drugs. In fact, the onset of withdrawal symptoms is one of the clearest signs that a person has become addicted.

Benefits of Professional Treatment for Drug Addiction

People who have been abusing hallucinogens may need professional addiction treatment. Neuroscience Institute offers personalized care at the inpatient an intensive outpatient levels. The benefits of receiving treatment for drug addiction at our center include:

  • Clinical excellence. We provide evidence-based, research-supported services in a manner that is consistent with the highest standards of our profession.
  • Personalized service. We review each person’s history, needs, and treatment goals, then develop the customized plan that will help them achieve long-term recovery.
  • Compassionate care. The members of our team truly care about the people we serve. We work hard to make sure our center is a safe and welcoming space for all.
  • Holistic treatment. Our programs address the physical, emotional, social, and spiritual aspects of addiction and recovery.

At Neuroscience Institute, we also treat people whose struggles with substance abuse and addiction are accompanied by co-occurring mental health disorders. 

Many people who abuse hallucinogens are also dealing with depression, trauma, or another mental health concern. In cases like this, effective treatment must address the full scope of each person’s needs. At our center, this is exactly what happens.

Begin Drug Addiction Treatment in South Florida

Neuroscience Institute is a premier source of quality addiction treatment for adults in South Florida. If you or someone you care about have been abusing hallucinogens or any other addictive substance, our team can help. Contact us today to learn more about our programs and services. 

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