Hallucinogens come in both plant-based and synthetic forms, with plant-based hallucinogens making up an important aspect of indigenous cultures in ritual and religious ceremonies. The unusual effects of hallucinogens account for their use in religious ceremonies as well as for their use in the United States.
Unlike opiates or cocaine, the effects of hallucinogens produce “out-of-body” experiences where users may see visions or experience the world around them in unusual ways. These effects come with a price when using hallucinogens on a frequent basis.
While nowhere near as addictive as other types of drugs, hallucinogens take a toll on the brain’s ability to regulate bodily processes in a normal fashion. Over time, hallucinogen use damages brain structures and produces harmful, long-term effects in users.
The effects of hallucinogens can vary from person-to-person with any one person experiencing different effects at any given time. Considering how these drugs interfere with normal brain function, the effects of hallucinogens not only pose a risk to a person’s health, but can also endanger one’s safety and well-being.
Effects of Hallucinogens
Hallucinogen are so named because of their ability to produce hallucinatory states. The effects of hallucinogens can take any number forms, some of which include:
- Objects taking on distorted forms or shapes
- Objects moving on their own
- Feeling one’s body change in shape or size
- Time moves slower
- Seeing random colors
- Hearing random sounds
- Smelling random odors
Hallucinogens work by distorting a person’s sensory perceptions, which in turn alters his or her perceived reality. Once ingested, hallucinogens typically take effect within 30 to 90 minutes. According to Bryn Mawr College, some of the most commonly used hallucinogen drugs include:
Effects on the Brain
Neurotransmitter chemicals act as communication messengers throughout the brain and central nervous system. In effect, the brain must maintain a certain balance of neurotransmitter chemicals at all times in order to regulate brain and bodily functions on a normal basis. Some of the functions affected by neurotransmitter outputs include:
- A person’s cognitive abilities
- Sensory perceptions
- All processes regulated by the central nervous system
Hallucinogens work by stimulating the brain cells responsible for secreting neurotransmitter chemicals. When stimulated, these cells produce unusually large amounts of chemicals, which offsets the brain’s natural balance. Ultimately, the effects of hallucinogens over time can compromise a person’s physical and psychological health while causing widespread brain cell deterioration.
In particular, the effects of hallucinogens target serotonin, glutamine, norepinephrine and dopamine neurotransmitter levels. Of these four chemicals, serotonin levels are the most affected.
The slightest change in serotonin output can have significant effects on a person’s ability to interact with his or her environment. Serotonin levels regulate:
- Impulse control
- Sex drive
- Hunger states
- Muscle coordination and movement
- Visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory and taste perception
- Body temperature
While the various types of hallucinogens do produce different effects, any one drug’s effects correspond with how it alters chemical levels in the brain.
Physical Withdrawal Effects
The effects of hallucinogens on bodily function tend to accumulate over time. With each dose of any one drug, the brain cells responsible for secreting neurotransmitter chemicals have to work much harder than they normally do. With frequent use, brain cells start to deteriorate making it more difficult for them to regulate bodily processes and meet the body’s needs.
Physical withdrawal effects develop out of this deterioration process as various areas of the body start to malfunction as a result. While the physical withdrawal effects of hallucinogens can vary from person to person and drug to drug, symptoms most commonly experienced include:
- Elevated heart rates
- Shakiness or tremors
- Elevated breathing rates
- High blood pressure rates
- Body temperature fluctuations
- Stiffness in the muscles
With continued drug use, these effects become increasingly more intense over time.
Good Trips vs. Bad Trips
Unlike other types of drug “highs,” the effects of hallucinogens directly correspond with a person’s emotional state, surrounding environment and the drug dosage amount ingested. According to the U. S. Drug Enforcement Administration, these factors can produce either “good trips” or “bad trips,” with trips referring to the type of hallucinations experienced.
A good trip normally entails exhilarating visions and/or sensations with users often reporting having had spiritual or divine encounters. Someone who’s already depressed or angry about something going on in his or her life stands a good chance of having a bad drug experience. Likewise, the effects of hallucinogens can also take a bad turn when the surrounding environment is new or unsettling in some way.
With bad trips, the effects of hallucinogens may the take form of:
- Deep, dark feelings of sadness and despair
- Seeing frightening images
- Feeling bugs crawling all over one’s body
- Hearing deafening noises
- Extreme feelings of anxiety or even terror
Potential Long-Term Effects of Hallucinogens
The long-term use of hallucinogens can severely compromise a person’s psychological stability to the point where long-term brain damage may result. Since hallucinogens directly target the brain’s sensory and cognitive functions, these areas tend to suffer the most damage from long-term hallucinogen use.
Potential long-term effects of hallucinogens may include:
- Ongoing feelings of paranoia
- Schizophrenic-type behaviors
Long-term effects of hallucinogens can also leave users experiencing random flashbacks of past drug trips, both good and bad. In some cases, users may develop a condition known as hallucinogen persisting perception disorder or HPPD, where he or she continues to experience distorted sensory perceptions for months or years.
While nowhere near as addictive as opiates or stimulates, the effects of hallucinogens still carry a risk of addiction when used on a frequent basis. Like any other drug that alters neurotransmitter functions, the brain can develop a tolerance for hallucinogens, at which point brain functions become physically dependent on the drug’s effects.
With ongoing drug use, a person will likely develop a psychological dependence where he or she “needs” the drug’s effects to cope with everyday life. More than anything else, frequency of drug use and dosage amount determines how quickly brain tolerance levels rise, as well as how likely a person will become addicted to hallucinogens.
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