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Hallucinogen Addiction Treatment

The name derives from its primary side effect, hallucinations, which are profound distortions in one’s perceptions of reality. Users experience seemingly real sensations and images even though they do not exist. Many types of hallucinogens are found in plants and mushrooms (or their extracts) and some are manmade. These drugs are commonly divided into two broad categories: classic hallucinogens or psychedelics (e.g. LSD) and dissociative drugs (e.g. PCP). Dissociative drugs such as PCP, ketamine, and Salvia divinorum can make users feel out of control and disconnected from their bodies and environments.1,2

Hallucinogens are not associated with the same high degree of physical dependence as alcohol or heroin, with the exception of PCP, although the cognitive impairments they impart lead to a desire for continued use. Although LSD is not considered an addictive drug, its effects can be unpredictable and lead to tolerance, causing some users to take escalating amounts. In addition, LSD produces tolerance to other hallucinogens including psilocybin. Long-term cognitive impairments, psychosis and paranoia linked to hallucinogen use can make it difficult for users to admit they need to quit or seek professional help. Treatment for hallucinogen use or addiction may include outpatient therapy, participation in a 12-step program, partial hospitalization or residential treatment.3,4

Hallucinogen Use

Research suggests hallucinogens temporarily disrupt communication between chemical systems throughout the brain and spinal cord. Some hallucinogens interfere with the action of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which regulates mood, sensory perception, sleep, hunger, body temperature, muscle control and sexual behavior. Others interfere with the action of the neurotransmitter glutamate, which regulates pain perception, responses to the environment, emotion, learning and memory. Some of the most prominent effects occur in the prefrontal cortex, an area involved in mood, cognition and perception, and other regions important in regulating arousal and physiological responses to stress and panic.4

People who use hallucinogens may have a hard time coping with the “real world” around them. This can result in problems at work, with relationships or in other areas of one’s life.3 Behavioral signs of abuse vary by drug, but may include:

  • A distortion of self-image over an extended period of time
  • A warped perception of time, even when not under the influence of a hallucinogen
  • Mood swings and changes in behavioral patterns
  • Psychotic episodes associated with long-term use and amount ingested
  • Flashbacks, also known as Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder4,5

Stats and Facts

  • In 2015, an estimated 1.2 million people ages 12 or older were current users of hallucinogens, although this category includes other drugs such as LSD, PCP, peyote, mescaline, psilocybin mushrooms, Ecstasy, ketamine, DMT/AMT/“Foxy” and Salvia divinorum.6
  • An estimated 121,000 adolescents ages 12 to 17 and 636,000 young adults ages 18 to 25 were current users of hallucinogens in 2015.6
  • The lifetime prevalence of hallucinogen use was 1.9% in 8th-graders, 4.4% in 10th-graders and 6.7% in 12th-graders.1
  • In 2011, hallucinogens accounted for an estimated 7% of U.S. hospital emergency room visits involving illicit drugs.7
  • In response to an online survey of 1,516 college students, 4.4% reported using salvia at least once within the past 12 months.8

Relapse Prevention

As is the case with other illicit drugs, treatment for hallucinogens should incorporate a structured routine with minimal temptations to help avoid relapse. Other important elements to help prevent relapse include education on the negative effects of long-term drug use, social support from peers and mental health professionals and avoiding triggers (e.g. environments and individuals promoting drug use).

  1. Hallucinogens. National Institute on Drug Abuse website. https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/hallucinogens Updated May 2014. Accessed January 14, 2017.
  2. Hallucinogens and Dissociative Drugs. National Institute on Drug Abuse website. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/hallucinogens-dissociative-drugs/what-are-dissociative-drugs Updated February 2015. Accessed January 14, 2017.
  3. What Are Hallucinogens? CRC Health website. http://www.crchealth.com/addiction/hallucinogens-treatment/ Accessed January 14, 2017.
  4. Drug Facts: What are hallucinogens? National Institute on Drug Abuse website. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/hallucinogens Updated January 2016. Accessed January 14, 2017.
  5. Hallucinogens Abuse. Go Mentor website. http://www.gomentor.com/articles/hallucinogens-abuse.aspx Accessed January 14, 2017.
  6. 2015 Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators report. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website. https://www.samhsa.gov/samhsa-data-outcomes-quality/major-data-collections/reports-detailed-tables-2015-NSDUH Updated November 7, 2016. Accessed January 14, 2017.
  7. Intoxication from LSD and other common hallucinogens. UptoDate website. http://www.uptodate.com/contents/intoxication-from-lsd-and-other-common-hallucinogens Accessed January 14, 2017.
  8. Lange JE, Reed MB, Croff JM, Clapp JD. College student use of Salvia divinorum. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2008 Apr 1;94(1-3):263-6.
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