Hallucinogens have been used for centuries in rituals and spiritual practices for their ability to alter human perceptions and moods. According to the NIDA “The very same characteristics that led to the incorporation of hallucinogens into ritualistic or spiritual traditions have also led to their propagation as drugs of abuse.”
Most hallucinogens are classified as Schedule I substances controlled by the DEA under the Controlled Substances Act and have “no currently acceptable medical use in the United States, lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision, and a high potential for abuse.” Their potentials for being dangerous arise out of their variant potencies, chemical compounds, and effects on the user.
Commonly Known Hallucinogens
Hallucinogen chemicals can be found in plant sources or synthetically made. Some of the most commonly known hallucinogens are PCP, LSD, “magic mushrooms”, mescaline, MDMA, and Ketamine. The effects of these hallucinogens, while dose-dependent and varying among users have been well documented. Abusers anticipate having a pleasurable experience in accordance to the type of hallucinogenic drug they are taking, but, the unpredictability of what actually occurs puts every user at risk with each dose.
According to the 2014 Nation Drug Threat Assessment, “Since 2009, US law enforcement officials have encountered more than 240 new synthetic compounds, including 99 synthetic cannabinoids, 52 synthetic cathinones, and 89 other compounds. K2/Spice and bath salts, marketed as synthetic marijuana and stimulants, respectively, along with the powerful hallucinogen, 25i (also known as 25-NBOMe, Smiles, 25I-NBOMe, NBOMe, are some of these powerfully dangerous drugs that have hallucinogenic effects and are obtainable over the counter in some areas to be abused by naïve and young individuals.
Dangers of Variable Substances
Uncertainty is the most common element of all hallucinogen drugs. Hallucinogens that come from natural sources have a high degree of potency and neurotoxin variances because no two plant DNA’s are ever the same. The chemical extractions from these plants will also vary with the possibility of added chemicals in the process of making the drug available on the street.
For synthetic hallucinogens such as PCP, MDMA, Ecstasy, and other designer drugs, one can never be sure of how the drug was made and what is contained in it. Many hallucinogens are disguised as other substances and pose significant dangers with ever-changing compounds that keep them moving on the radars of law enforcement to control their distributions. Dealers often have no idea of the actual chemical compounds or potencies of their drugs and abusers are basically, guinea pigs that help them determine the street values. Worse, many manufacturers and dealers could care less what happens after the drug is sold.
Factors that Influence the Hallucinogen “Trip”
Hallucinogen experiences, sometimes, referred to as “trips” can never be completely controllable. Dose to dose, the changing experiences from user to user adds to the dangers of using these drugs. There are, simply, too many variable factors involved including:
- Substance variables
- Dosage potencies
- Methods of ingestion (smoking or injecting hallucinogens are rapid delivery methods that send the chemicals to the brain quicker than oral ingestion increasing the effects and the risks)
- Use with other substances
- Biological factors including age, metabolism, tolerance, physical and mental health status
- Prior hallucinogen use and expectations
- Environmental and other contextual factors such as atmosphere or preplanned settings
Hallucinogens can cause negative experiences, known as “bad trips” and the abuser may experience intense paranoia, fear, anxiety, confusion, or go from a tranquil mood to an extremely violent and combative one. The fear of insanity or death, deliriums, and imagined terrors can become so frightening that the user becomes manic or suicidal. Although some hallucinogen trips last from 4-6 hours, some conditions can last longer.
The Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality (CBHSQ) reported that on an average day during 2012, the number of young adults aged 18 to 25 who used hallucinogens were 46,179 and 1,561 were first time users. Hallucinogens work by disrupting brain communications that can significantly go awry and first time hallucinogen users are likely to experience a lot more negativity as they feel the loss of control over their perceptions and senses.
Other Dangers of Hallucinogen Drugs
Hallucinogen drugs can cause other serious dangers to the person’s health physically and psychologically including the following:
- Elevated heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature are common dangers that lead to overdose. Other dangers include dehydration, cardiac arrest, seizures, coma, organ failures, and sudden death.
- Falls, accidents, and other injuries often occur as cognition and motor functioning skills become impaired.
- The person may be at risk of rape or assault and have the inability to gage dangers or remember circumstances that occur.
- Neurotoxins in the drugs can cause vital organ failures and poisoning overdoses.
- Brain damage or neurological damages can become permanently debilitating.
- Depression and other emotional dysregulations typically occur when the hallucinogen effects subside or the person experiences withdrawals. Depression, anxiety, and panic disorders can become serious mental health disorders requiring psychiatric interventions.
- Hallucinogen abusers are at high risk of suicide or violent tendencies that can be harmful to others as well.
- Cognitive deficits may last up to a year or more.
- The appearance of unexpected and frightening flashbacks, also known as Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD), can occasionally occur for months after last dose.
- Abuse of hallucinogens with other substances can dramatically alter the effects of the drugs increasing the dangerous risks of overdose and death.
- Abusing hallucinogens at an early age can cause developmental issues and reduce learning capabilities.