Because psychedelic drugs are considered to be less addictive in general than stimulants and opioids, less likely to be abused in the long term, and less likely to cause intense physical side effects or overdose, they are often thought of as less harmful than other drugs. This is far from the truth, as psychedelic drugs are also dangerous in many of the same ways that other commonly abused substances are. For someone who is constantly abusing these drugs, there is always a chance for dangerous side effects, and certain hallucinogens (like PCP and MDMA) can cause overdose and death the first time they are abused.
Understanding the dangers of psychedelic drug effects is necessary, and users of these substances should not think themselves immune to the same issues experienced by abusers of other types of drugs.
Physical Dangers of Psychedelic Drug Effects
While these drugs do not cause some of the same effects that make other substances dangerous, they can be problematic and even harmful in their own right. According to the NIDA, “Unpleasant adverse effects as a result of the use of hallucinogens are not uncommon. These may be due to the large number of psychoactive ingredients in any single source of hallucinogen.”
Some of the physical effects of psychedelic drug abuse that could be dangerous include:
- An increase in heart rate and blood pressure
LSD, psilocybin, peyote, and PCP all cause these effects, as does MDMA. In acute use, it may not be a particularly problematic issue, but over time, the rise in blood pressure and heart rate caused by consistent psychedelic drug abuse can become dangerous.
- An increase in body temperature
While most hallucinogens cause this issue, MDMA may cause a person’s body temperature to become especially high, leading to dehydration and possibly even death. According to CESAR, “Ecstasy-related deaths have been reported, usually as a result of heatstroke from dancing in hot clubs for long hours without replenishing lost body fluids. Dehydration and heat exhaustion are the two biggest dangers when under the influence of MDMA.”
- Loss of appetite
Drugs like LSD and peyote can cause intense appetite suppression which, if they are abused in the long-term, can cause weight loss and malnourishment.
- Nausea and vomiting
Nearly all hallucinogens cause nausea, vomiting, and other issues of this type. The strong effect these drugs have on the stomach and gastrointestinal system can cause dangerous effects over time.
- Ataxia and muscular issues
Psilocybin and PCP, among other drugs of this class, can cause ataxia (or the inability to voluntarily move the muscles). PCP can even cause intense amounts of muscle rigidity which can also affect a person’s body in the long term as well as with acute abuse.
Abusing psychedelics over a long period of time can cause these side effects to become more dangerous, but even taking one of these drugs once in an extremely large dose can be problematic. Especially with MDMA and PCP, there is a potential for hallucinogenic drug overdose as well as many other dangerous physical effects that can result.
Psychological Dangers of Psychedelic Drug Effects
Many people abuse these drugs for the psychedelic effects they cause, as they can give an individual an extreme “sense of heightened understanding,” an intensified sense of smell and hearing, synethesia (or the ability to “hear colors and see sounds,” also called mixed senses), and “the sense that one is undergoing a profound mystical or religious experience” (CESAR).
However, there can be times where an individual experiences what is called a bad trip, or an adverse reaction to the drug’s psychological effects. This reaction can include:
- Frightening hallucinations
- Extreme depression
- Rapid mood swings
- The fear of disintegrating, not being real, or that one’s identity is no longer clear
These bad trips are difficult to predict, as certain psychedelic drugs like LSD and psilocybin may create different effects in the same individual at different times of use based on changes in setting, tolerance, and mood (CESAR). With psychedelic drugs, there is no assurance that, just because someone used them once and had a good experience, they will continue to have positive experiences afterward.
Also other psychological issues can result from the abuse of these drugs such as:
- Toxic psychosis
This disorder is characterized by visual disturbances and extreme paranoia. A person will require treatment for this type of psychosis. As long as the drug is taken in the long term, this condition can be caused by almost any psychedelic, from PCP to MDMA to LSD.
- Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder
HPPD causes flashbacks to previous drug trips, usually adverse ones, even months or years after the individual stops abusing these drugs. It can also mimic the signs of a stroke or brain tumor.
Though not incredibly common, addiction can result from long-term psychedelic abuse. An individual can become addicted to PCP and MDMA more easily than other hallucinogens, though abuse over time is never healthy for a person’s mental state.
Tolerance and cross-tolerance for all psychedelic drugs develops quickly and can cause users to bounce from substance to substance, looking for the effects they once felt.
Behavioral Dangers of Psychedelic Drug Effects
The psychological effects of these drugs can cause a person to behave dangerously. For example, drugs like PCP and MDMA can cause severe depression over long-term use, especially the latter when its use is suddenly cut off. This can lead to thoughts of harming oneself and attempts of suicide, causing the individual to need specialized care.
PCP can cause extremely violent behavior and a person who is highly intoxicated should be approached with caution. According to CESAR, “There have been reports of death due to accidental drowning, leaping from high places, and motor vehicle accidents in addition to violent episodes of self-mutilation, suicides, and homicides.”
In addition, people can hurt themselves by taking psychedelic drugs, even those which seem the least likely to cause harm, as these individuals may become confused or delusional as a result of the drugs. These drugs produce mind-altering effects (and also physical issues) which have the potential to become problematic and harmful no matter how you view them.