Signs of Hallucinogen Addiction

Hallucinogens are substances that alter how an individual perceives reality, which may or may not include hallucinations (in other words, the term “hallucinogen” does not necessarily mean that hallucinations will result).  These subjective changes in perception result from changes in sensory experience: how a person sees, feels, hears, smells, tastes, and/or perceives time or other aspects of reality.   Both psychedelic and dissociative drugs are considered to be hallucinogens.  In the past, some of these substances were originally incorporated into spiritual practices or ritualistic traditions. 

Categories of hallucinogens include Phenethylamine (e.g., MDMA and peyote), Psilocybin Analogs (commonly mushrooms but also available as tablets in some cases), Ibogaine (from an African shrub), Salvia Divinorum (originally from Mexico), Ayahuasca (derived from a plant native to South America). There are a number of hallucinogenic drugs that are illegally used for recreational purposes in the United States, some of the most common include PCP (phencyclidine), Ecstasy (MDMA), LSD (d-lysergic acid diethylamide), Peyote (part of a cactus that contains mescaline), and Psilocybin (4-phosphoryloxy-N, N-dimethyltryptamine).  For example, in 2008, as many as 4% of high school seniors had tried LSD in their lifetimes.  Some signs of hallucinogen abuse and addiction follow.  Keep in mind that these symptoms could vary in presence and intensity depending on the substance that is being abused.

  • Mood swings – A person who uses hallucinogenic substances with regularity may rapidly fluctuate between emotional highs and lows.
  • Disinhibition – Hallucinogen use may make a person feel sexually uninhibited (which can lead to engaging in high-risk sexual behaviors) or invincible (which may lead them to believe they have extraordinary powers or can safely participate in illegal, sometimes criminal behaviors).
  • Synesthesia – Perhaps best described as “sensory crossover,” an example of synesthesia would be hearing a bell ringing when looking at a specific object.
  • Fear, anxiety, or panic – New sensory experiences may or may not be frightening depending on whether the user perceives them as positive or negative (e.g., somehow threatening).  Especially if they feel attacked and out of control, a person who has used a hallucinogenic drug may speak as if they are afraid of voices, people or things that are not actually present, or other hallucinations that they are experiencing.  In extreme but real instances, some users have committed suicide after taking hallucinogenic drugs.
  • Flashbacks – As long as a year after use, a person may have flashbacks about what they saw, heard, felt, etc. while using one of these drugs. In some cases, the individual may feel substantial distress about these flashbacks that can make it difficult for them to function at work or in social settings.  This may be diagnosed as hallucinogen-induced persisting perceptual disorder (HPPD).
  • Agitation – Particularly if the person is experiencing a “bad trip,” they may appear restless, irritable, and agitated.

Not all hallucinogens are physically addictive, but—as mentioned above—their use can have many serious short- and long-term consequences.  Should the person develop HPPD or hallucinogen-induced psychosis, they may be treated with a few different medications.  If there is someone in your life who is exhibiting signs of chronic hallucinogen use, consider getting them help soon to reduce the likelihood of negative consequences.

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