Those who start to abuse psychedelic drugs regularly do so because they are looking for a more intense, more psychological high than other drugs can provide. According to the NIDA, “Ingesting hallucinogenic drugs can cause users to see images, hear sounds, and feel sensations that seem real but do not exist,” which can seem either profound or terrifying depending on the specific individual’s experience.
Still, individuals who abuse these drugs often only care about these effects and not about the problems that psychedelic drug abuse can cause. If you are concerned that someone you know is abusing these drugs, look for the signs and symptoms of abuse and attempt to gently bring up your concerns.
Motivations for Psychedelic Drug Abuse
These substances are powerful, and the consistent abuse of psychedelics is often caused by different motivations when compared to the reasons for abusing other drugs. The NIDA states, “Historically, hallucinogenic plants have been used for religious rituals to induce states of detachment from reality and precipitate ‘visions’ thought to provide mystical insight or enable contact with a spirit world or ‘higher power.'” This custom still exists today so someone who has been concerned with these practices (either suddenly or always) is more likely to abuse psychedelic drugs than other substances.
Still, some individuals do abuse hallucinogens in order to have fun or be more social at parties. For example, MDMA (molly or ecstasy) is also called the love drug or hug drug because it causes people to feel emotional warmth for others as well as self-acceptance. Depending on a person’s motivations and how well you understand them, you may be able to discover which drug they are likely abusing.
Signs of Psychedelic Drug Abuse
The signs of this syndrome are obvious in both their physical and behavioral forms. As a clear sign of psychedelic drug abuse, a person’s behavior will often be strange, especially when they are heavily intoxicated. They will be likely to act on sensations that do not exist, become extremely happy one moment and upset the next, or to show signs of:
These mood changes will occur based on whether their high is positive or negative (adverse reactions to the drug are often called a bad trip). But a person’s behavior is not the only sign of psychedelic drug abuse. These substances can cause intense physical effects as well, including:
With almost any psychedelic, users tend to sweat profusely. This is a direct result of the fact that these drugs cause an increase in the user’s body temperature. Especially in the case of MDMA abuse, users will sweat and even experience chills because they can become dehydrated as a result of dancing in a hot club or bar without replenishing their bodily fluids. CESAR states, “Dehydration and heat exhaustion are the two biggest dangers when under the influence of MDMA.”
- Nausea and vomiting
Nearly every hallucinogen will cause some sort of stomach upset, especially strong drugs like psychedelic mushrooms (psilocybin) and LSD. Nausea, vomiting, and intense stomach cramps are common among regular abusers.
- Teeth clenching
MDMA and PCP can cause intense teeth or jaw clenching, not unlike methamphetamine. However, other drugs like peyote, psilocybin, and salvia divinorum are more likely to cause a relaxed state that does not include this kind of intense side effect.
- Coordination problems
A person will not be able to walk straight easily when they are only psychedelic drugs and may prefer to sit for long periods of time.
- Increased blood pressure and heart rate
If you are able to take these signs from the individual, you will likely see that they rise in addition to the person’s body temperature. However, salvia divinorum actually causes “decreased heart rate” which may distinguish its use from other psychedelics (CESAR).
- Pupil dilation
Most hallucinogens cause dilation of the pupils as opposed to some other, heavily abused drugs (like opioids) which cause the pupils to contract.
- Muscle twitches
Muscle weakness or loss of muscle control can be caused by these drugs which may lead to the observable sign of involuntary muscle twitches.
- Rapid breathing
Another clear sign of psychedelic drug abuse, this is especially common with PCP and MDMA.
These signs will usually be present in someone abusing specific hallucinogenic drugs. Especially if you notice the physical signs in addition to strange behavior, there is a strong likelihood that the individual is abusing these drugs.
Symptoms of Psychedelic Drug Abuse
It can be difficult to determine the symptoms of psychedelic drug abuse in another person because symptoms, by definition, can only be confirmed by the users themselves. But in many cases, those who are experiencing the symptoms of this drug abuse syndrome will speak (or even complain) of them, allowing you to recognize the issue and have a clearer idea of the individual’s abuse and the drug they are taking.
Many individuals experience depression, either during a bad trip or as a withdrawal effect (in the case of MDMA abuse). The user will likely discuss feelings of hopelessness or possibly even admit to having suicidal thoughts.
- Heightened sensory perceptions
Often while individuals are intoxicated from the effects of these drugs, they will experience sensory perceptions more strongly, in the effect of “brighter colors, sharper visual definition, increased hearing acuity, more distinguished taste” (CESAR). Many individuals will also claim to be able to see music or hear colors, a sensation known as synesthesia or a melding of the senses.
- Altered space and time perceptions
The individual might discuss feelings of not knowing where they are or what time it is. In addition, many individuals lose the ability to tell the difference between reality and fantasy while on these drugs.
- Numbness of tongue
The lips, mouth, and tongue may all go numb for the individual, something you are only likely to recognize only if they tell you.
- Dry mouth
This symptom may also not be as obvious unless the individual complains of it.
The signs and symptoms of psychedelic drug abuse are often more intense than many other drugs, and your ability to discern them can allow you to realize not only the presence of hallucinogenic drug abuse but also which drug the individual is abusing. This can help you when attempting to get the individual the help they need.