Are Long Term Effects of Hallucinogens Harmful?
Hallucinogens attract a certain type of recreational drug user as these drugs produce unusual, mind-altering effects unlike opiates and stimulants. Hallucinogens enable users to enter into a reality of their own making via hallucinations and out-of-body experiences. These same effects also contribute to the likelihood of developing long term effects of hallucinogens, especially in cases of frequent or long-term drug use.
Hallucinogens encompass a family of different drugs, all of which produce hallucinations in one form or another. Existing as both plant-based and synthetically made substances, unpredictability best characterizes the effects any one drug may have, according to Saddleback College. This unpredictability component plays into the dangerous and potentially long term effects of hallucinogens.
Some of the more commonly used hallucinogens include:
While a handful may be currently under study as possible treatments, hallucinogen drugs have no accepted medical uses.
Hallucinogen Effects on the Brain
The various drugs that make up the hallucinogen group all affect brain functions in different ways in terms of which chemical processes any one-drug targets. According to Bryn Mawr College, hallucinogens alter neurotransmitter levels, most notably serotonin, glutamate and dopamine.
In general, these neurotransmitters help regulate:
- Cognitive functions
- Emotional stability
- Motor coordination
- Sensory perceptions
Changes in brain chemical processes over time account for the long term effects of hallucinogens as each dose of the drug incites a massive influx of neurotransmitter chemicals into the brain.
Long Term Effects of Hallucinogens
Serotonin, one of the neurotransmitters affected by hallucinogens, plays an instrumental role in managing the brain’s cognitive functions. With frequent drug use, serotonin levels in the brain become imbalanced and eventually depleted over time.
As a long term effect of hallucinogens, memory impairment develops as communications within the brain’s cognitive centers start to break down. Hallucinogen effects on glutamate levels also contribute to memory lapses as this chemical regulates electrical activity throughout the brain.
The physical long term effects of hallucinogens have as much to do with their effects on the mind as on the body. Regardless of which neurotransmitter types any one drug alters, chemical level changes have a domino effect offsetting other interconnected chemical pathways.
According to the National Center on Substance Abuse & Child Welfare, physical long term effects of hallucinogens may take the form of:
- Impaired speech patterns
- Convulsion episodes
- Elevated heart and blood pressure rates
- Impaired motor coordination
- Elevated pain threshold to the point where self-injury can occur
- Heart and/or lung failure
Certain hallucinogen drugs, such as ecstasy, not only exhaust serotonin supplies, but actually destroy serotonin-producing cells in the brain. These interactions increase the risk of having low levels of serotonin on an ongoing basis.
This condition greatly contributes to any potential psychological long term effects of hallucinogens. Signs of serotonin syndrome include:
- Problems concentrating
- Faulty judgment
- Poor logic and decision-making abilities
- Problems staying on task
Over time, the repeated surges of neurotransmitter chemicals brought on by hallucinogen use have a lasting effect on the brain’s chemical pathways. Consequently, flashbacks of prior drug “highs” can become a long term effect of hallucinogens.
Flashback episodes can happen at any time, predisposing users to dangerous scenarios such as when driving or caring for children. In general, hallucinogens can produce both pleasant and horrific hallucinations, any one of which can fill the content of a flashback episode.
According to the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration, both the cognitive and emotion-based centers of the brain rely on a certain balance of neurotransmitter levels at all times. Unstable levels can greatly disrupt a person’s emotional stability to the point where full-blown mood disorders take root.
The risk of developing this long term effect of hallucinogens increases the longer a person continues to use. Mood disorders commonly associated with hallucinogen use include:
- Clinical depression
- Anxiety disorders
- Antisocial personality disorder
- Social anxiety
- Panic disorders
Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder
Hallucinogens interfere with the brain’s ability to process incoming (and outgoing) sensory information, which accounts for the altered sense of reality users experience. With frequent, ongoing use, these interactions place users at risk of developing a condition known as Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder or HPPD, according to Columbia Health.
As a common long term effect of hallucinogen use, signs of HPPD typically appear as:
- Cloudy visual field
- Seeing color splotches
- Grainy visual field
Psychedelic-type hallucinogens, such as mescaline, LSD and peyote pose the greatest risk for developing HPPD.
Hallucinogens not only affect how the brain works, but also interfere with the body’s central nervous system functions, one of which being the cardiovascular system. With each drug dose, changes in neurotransmitter levels cause increases in heart and blood pressure rates.
With ongoing drug use, long term effects of hallucinogens can result in damage to the tissues that make up the heart and blood vessel linings. In extreme cases, heart and/or lung failure can occur.
In essence, a hallucinogen “high” brings on a state of temporary psychosis in which users lose touch with the world around them. After months or years of repeated “high” experiences, the brain essentially takes on a new chemical make-up that’s ripe for psychosis-type conditions to develop, according to Psychology Today.
This long term effect of hallucinogens can last for years, regardless of whether a person stops using or not. Signs of psychosis typically take the form of:
- Severe depression
- Frequent mood swings
- Talking to imaginary people
- Hearing voices
- Violent outbursts
All in all, the long term effects of hallucinogens can be quite harmful. Long term hallucinogen use warps the brain’s overall chemical and physical structure, which in turn causes widespread deterioration throughout the body’s major systems.
The risk of addiction is also another potential long term effect of hallucinogens. While hallucinogens as a group do carry a low addiction risk, chronic drug use greatly increases this risk.
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