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Treatment for Misuse of Hallucinogens/Dissociative Drugs

Dissociative drugs, or hallucinogens, can be misused and may lead to addictive behaviors. It may be possible to develop a hallucinogen addiction or symptoms similar to one, however, it can be successfully treated and managed with the right care. This article will discuss types and examples of dissociative drugs, effects of dissociative drugs, signs of misuse, and how to find treatment and support for hallucinogen addiction.

What Are Dissociative Drugs?

Hallucinogens, also called dissociates drugs,  are a type of drug that causes hallucinations (visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, etc.), which are distortions in a person’s perception.1 People use hallucinogens to induce detachment from reality with the hope of connecting to a “higher power” or simply to destress and have fun.1 Dissociative drugs have historically been used in religious and spiritual practices and are being researched for their potential for treating mental health disorders like schizophrenia.1

Some dissociative drugs are derived from plants and fungi, while others are synthetic, or lab made.2 Common street names for dissociative drugs are acid, Special K, Mind Candy, and X.3 They can come in many forms, including colorful tablets, pills, and papers, and can be smoked or taken orally.3

Hallucinogens are a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act and at this time maintain no accepted medical use or treatment purpose in the United States in part due to the unpredictability of their impact on the body.3 Use of dissociative drugs has been linked to injurious and reckless behaviors.2 Additionally, there is the risk that dissociative drugs may be contaminated with another substance, such as heroin, cocaine, or fentanyl, which can increase the risk of potential overdose and death.2

Dissociative Drug Examples

Hallucinogens are commonly classified according to how they work in the brain.1,2 Dissociative drugs are one of two main categories of hallucinogens, while classic hallucinogens make up the other category.1

Classic hallucinogens, or psychedelic drugs, target the brain chemical serotonin, which can promote feelings of connection with others, along with psychedelic effects like intense visions and sensations.2 Examples of classic hallucinogens include:2,4,5

  • Psilocybin, which is found in certain types of mushrooms in South America, Mexico, and the United States.
  • LSD (Acid), which is created from lysergic acid found in a fungus.
  • DMT, which is found in ayahuasca and made from an Amazonian plant.
  • Mescaline (Peyote), which is found in the crown of various cacti.
  • NBOMes, which is a synthetic psychedelic made from other psychedelics like mescaline.

Dissociative drugs are classified for their shared impact on the brain chemical glutamate.2 This category of hallucinogens can cause a person to feel dissociative effects like being disconnected from their body and environment.2 Dissociative drug examples include:2,4

  • Ketamine, an injectable anesthetic for use in animals and humans, and also a nasal spray (esketamine) used in the treatment of depression.
  • Phencyclidine, or PCP (Angel Dust), which was once used as an intravenous anesthetic but was discontinued due to dangerous effects.

There are other drugs that do not fit within the classic or the dissociative category of hallucinogenic drugs.2 These are categorized as “other” because they affect varying parts of the brain, unlike the hallucinogens that target specific neurotransmitters.2 This third category of hallucinogens may cause a combination of both psychedelic and dissociative effects.2 Examples include:2

  • MDMA (molly or ecstasy), which is a synthetic hallucinogen that produces effects similar to that of methamphetamine.
  • Ibogaine, which is derived from the bark of plants found in Western Africa.
  • Salvia, which is a mint-family herb found in Mexico.

Dissociative Drugs Effects

Drugs like dissociative drugs can alter important areas of the brain.6 While there are limited formal studies on the specific effects of hallucinogens on the brain, people have reported common symptoms as a result of their use of psychedelics.7 Some of the common effects include:2,7

  • Visual and auditory hallucinations.
  • Rapid and intense mood swings.
  • Feeling sensations that are not real but seem to be.
  • Strong emotions like fear, anxiety, or hyper-connectedness.

Due to their impact on different parts of the brain, hallucinogens can have effects unique to each substance. LSD effects, for example, can include feeling as though you are hearing colors and seeing sounds.7 PCP can cause distorted experiences that mimic schizophrenia, a numbing effect, or intense anxiety.7 Use of PCP over an extended period of time has been linked to memory loss, thinking difficulties, weight loss, and depression.7 The effects of MDMA can mimic both that of hallucinogens and stimulants and have been known to increase energy and feelings of pleasure and cause altered sensory and time perception.8

Ultimately, the effects of a hallucinogen vary widely depending on each person, the amount used, length and frequency of use, and other factors.2 Physical side effects can include:2

  • Changes in heart rate.
  • Headaches.
  • Nausea.

Effects are not usually life-threatening, but there is a potential for overdose.3 This is especially true if the hallucinogen has been altered by another substance or mixed with other drugs like fentanyl.2 Deaths have also occurred from use due to hallucinations that can precipitate accidents, dangerous behaviors, and suicide.3

Are Hallucinogens Addictive?

Addiction is defined as a complex and chronic medical disease that prompts compulsive use of a substance despite negative or harmful consequences.9 Research has found that the use of psychedelic drugs does not typically lead to addiction, but there is the potential for tolerance to build as a result of prolonged use.2

Experts in the field of mental health and substance misuse utilize the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.) to formally diagnose mental health and addiction disorders according to specific criteria. According to the manual, disorders related to hallucinogen use exist, such as “phencyclidine (PCP) use disorder” and “other hallucinogen use disorder.”10

Signs of Dissociative Drug Misuse

Just as the effects of dissociative drugs can vary from person to person, dissociative drug abuse signs can also vary. Some of the most common signs of dissociative drug misuse include:2

  • Changes in mood.
  • Behaving in dangerous or unpredictable ways.
  • Experiencing hallucinations or delusions.

Common signs of addiction include:10

  • Strong urges to use.
  • Using in dangerous or risky situations.
  • Experiencing tolerance and withdrawal.
  • Wanting to stop using but being unable to.

Finding Treatment for Hallucinogen Misuse

One of the negative experiences that can come from the use of hallucinogens is referred to as having a “bad trip.”11 This may include panic attacks, anger, impulsiveness, recklessness, violence, and paranoia.11 Experiencing a bad trip can be a frightening experience for a person and can even lead to suicidal thoughts or attempts.11 In such cases, the use of a quiet room that reduces sensory stimulation is a helpful intervention.7 People may also benefit from medically monitored detox to provide comfort and support during a bad trip, where the use of benzodiazepines may be used by a physician to reduce agitation and the potential for seizures.7

The use of psychedelic drugs does not typically lead to addiction, but use can lead to tolerance and continued use. Currently, there are no specific interventions for hallucinogen addiction treatment, but treatment programs such as inpatient care and behavioral therapy may prove to be helpful, especially in the case of polysubstance use.

If you or someone you know is struggling with the use of dissociative drugs or other substance use disorders, treatment is available. Rehab programs, including inpatient and outpatient support, exist that can provide guidance in recovery from these and other substances. An American Addiction Centers (AAC) admissions navigator can speak with you about your treatment options and health insurance coverage. Call now at .

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