Effects of Hallucinogens on the Brain

May 2021 Effects of Hallucinogens on the Brain

Many people associate hallucinogenic drugs with Woodstock or  the “hippie” culture. The all-natural hallucinogens tend to get attention for such events and cultural movements specifically. Still, there are other forms of hallucinogens. Regardless of the type, the effects of hallucinogens on the brain can be severe.

Also, regardless of the type, all hallucinogens tend to alter a person’s awareness. In the short term hallucinogens might seem harmless, but over time, repeated use of hallucinogens can actually change the overall brain chemistry

In this blog, we will take a look at the effects of hallucinogens on the brain, as well as the addictive nature of hallucinogens. We’ll even figure out how a person can get help if he or she suffers from a hallucinogen addiction.

What Is a Hallucinogen?

Hallucinogens are a diverse group of drugs that can be made naturally from plants or mushrooms or synthetically. Hallucinogens tend to alter a person’s overall awareness as well as their thoughts and feelings. 

Classic hallucinogens tend to be naturally made while dissociative ones tend to be synthetic, or man-made. As the name implies, hallucinogens typically cause hallucinations or out-of-body experiences.

Hallucinogens have been used in a wide variety of ways. In some cultures, they are used in religious ceremonies. 

Hallucinogens have also been used to heal. More recently, hallucinogens have been predominantly used in a recreational way. Certain parts of the world still primarily utilize hallucinogens in a medical way.

How Do Hallucinogens Work?

Are Hallucinogens AddictiveTypically, hallucinogens act on neural circuits in the brain in order to produce their perception-altering, or hallucination, effects. The effects of hallucinogens are most obvious in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. 

The prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain that controls mood, cognition, and perception. The prefrontal cortex also affects the parts of the brain that are associated with arousal and physiological responses to stress and panic.

What Are the Different Types of Hallucinogens?

As we mentioned above, there are two different types of hallucinogens, classic and dissociative.

Classic Hallucinogens

The following are classified as classic hallucinogens:

  • LSD – LSD is one of the most common hallucinogens on the market. It is also one of the most powerful and mind-altering chemicals in existence. LSD is a clear or white material that is odorless and comes from lysergic acid. Lysergic acid is typically found in a fungus that grows on rye and other grains. LSD is also commonly known as acid and dots.
  • Peyote – Peyote, or mescaline, is another popular hallucinogenic. Peyote is a small, spineless cactus that is mostly comprised of mescaline. While peyote can also be synthetic it is typically obtained naturally. 
  • DMT – DMT is a powerful chemical traditionally found in Amazonian plants. In its natural form, DMT is made into a tea called ayahuasca. This tea is also known as aya and hoasca. DMT can also be made synthetically in a lab. Synthetic DMT is a white crystalline powder that people typically smoke. 
  • 251-NBOMe – This type of hallucinogen is synthetic and shares similarities to both LSD and MDMA but is much more potent than both. While it was developed for use in brain research, 251-NBOMe is also used on the street, going by the name N-Bomb or 251.
  • Psilocybin – Psilocybin is extracted from a specific type of mushroom that’s found in regions of South America, Mexico, and the US. This hallucinogen commonly refers to mushrooms, shrooms, or magic mushrooms. 

Dissociative Hallucinogens

The following are classified as dissociative hallucinogens:

  • Ketamine – Ketamine is traditionally used as a surgery anesthetic for both humans and animals. People typically use ketamine in powder or pill form. Now ketamine can be made into an injectable liquid. Commonly known on the street as Special K, when used recreationally, ketamine is typically snorted.
  • PCP – Developed in the 1950s as a general anesthetic for surgery, PCP can be found in various forms of hallucinogens. The most common forms of hallucinogens are liquid and white crystal powder. While it is no longer used for any medical purposes, PCP is still popular as a street drug where it is commonly known as Angel Dust.
  • Salvia – No, not the saliva in your mouth. This “salvia” is a plant that is commonly found in southern Mexico as well as Central and South America. Salvia is typically ingested by chewing on the leaves from the plant or extracting the juices and drinking them. If the leaves are dried, they can be smoked or vaporized.
  • Dextromethorphan – Also known as DXM, dextromethorphan is a cough suppressant. It is also a mucus-clearing ingredient in certain over-the-counter cough medicines. 

Effects of Hallucingens on the Brain

The  specific effects of hallucinogens on the brain vary, especially depending on the type of hallucinogen. Classic hallucinogens temporarily disrupt communication between brain chemical systems throughout the brain and spinal cord. 

Classic hallucinogens also interfere with the brain’s serotonin. Serotonin regulates things like mood, sleep, hunger, body temperature, muscle control, sexual behavior, and sensory perception. 

Dissociative hallucinogens tend to interfere with the brain chemical known as glutamate. Glutamate regulates things like emotion, learning, memory, responses to the environment, and pain perception.

What Are the Short-Term Effects of Hallucinogens?

What Are the Effects of HallucinogensAfter ingesting a hallucinogenic, a person will likely experience hallucinations of some kind almost immediately. Thye might see images, hear sounds, and feel sensations that do not actually exist but they feel all too real to them. These effects of hallucinogens, also known as tripping, can begin as quickly as 20 minutes after ingesting a hallucinogen and can last up to 12 hours. 

“Trips” are oftentimes very unpredictable and can vary based on a variety of things such as the amount taken and the person’s surroundings, mood, and personality. When someone has a negative reaction to a hallucinogenic, it k’snown as a “bad trip”. 

While there are universal effects that all hallucinogenics share in common, each individual type of hallucinogenic can have its own unique short-term effects associated with it as well. 

Effects of DMT

  • Agitation
  • Hallucinations centered around radically altered environments
  • Increased heart rate
  • Body and spatial distortions

Effects of LSD

  • Numbness
  • Weakness
  • Tremors
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dry mouth
  • Sweating
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased body temperature
  • Sleeplessness
  • Dizziness
  • Impulsiveness
  • Rapid emotional shifts

Effects of Peyote

  • Profound sweating
  • Flushing
  • Increased body temperature
  • Increased heart rate
  • Uncoordinated movements

Effects of Psilocybin

  • Nervousness
  • Paranoia
  • Panic
  • Spiritual experiences
  • Feelings of relaxation
  • Unintentional, fatal poisoning if misidentified 

Effects of Ayahuasca

  • Altered state of awareness and perception
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Tea induced severe vomiting

Effects of Dissociative Hallucinogens

  • Hallucinations
  • Numbness
  • Loss of coordination
  • Increases in body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure
  • Mood swings
  • Amnesia
  • Seizures
  • Psychotic symptoms
  • Trouble breathing

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Hallucinogens?

effects of hallucinogensLong-term, one of the first things a regular user of hallucinogenics will notice is the high degree of tolerance he or she builds up. As a result, every time a person takes a hallucinogenic, he or she will need more and more of it to reach their desired effect. Use of hallucinogens can also inadvertently lead to a tolerance level being formed for other types of drugs that act on the same brain cell receptors as the hallucinogenics. 

The two most significant long-term effects of hallucinogenics are persistent psychosis and Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder or HPPD. While neither of these ailments are common, they are unpredictable and can sometimes occur simultaneously. 

Persistent Psychosis

Symptoms associated with persistent psychosis include:

  • Paranoia
  • Mood disturbances
  • Visual disturbances
  • Disorganized thinking

Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder

  • Symptoms that can be associated or mistaken for a neurological disorder
  • Visual disturbances
  • Hallucinations

Are Hallucinogens Addictive?

While for the most part, hallucinogens are not addictive, in some cases they can be. Even in the cases where they aren’t addictive, like with LSD, the effects of hallucinogens can still be habit-forming. The fact that people now have a higher tolerance for hallucinogens can cause someone to take dangerous amounts of substances. 

On the other hand, PCP has shown to be an addictive substance. People who have abruptly stopped taking PCP have experienced classic withdrawal symptoms such as cravings, headaches, and sweating.

What Are the Effects of Hallucinogens?

While there are no FDA-approved medications used to treat the effects of hallucinogens and hallucinogenic addiction, behavioral treatment has shown to be an effective method. While it is rare a person can develop an addiction tohallucinogens. When that happens, it’s important to know that you don’t have to battle the addiction on your own. 

At Phoenix Rising, we treat a wide variety of addictions and mental health-related ailments, including addiction to hallucinogenics. We also offer a wide variety of both traditional and non-traditional treatment methods in order to provide the best possible care to everyone who comes to us. 

If you or someone you know suffers from addiction and could benefit from one of our addiction treatment programs here at Phoenix Rising Recovery, contact us today. We want everyone that comes to us to live a happy, healthy, and sober life.