Hallucinogens have been around since ancient times and continue to be used by people in the present day. Since their rise in popularity in the 1960s, people have become fascinated with them and their effects. Their use has become increasingly more common in the medical field, specifically on the mental health front. However, for those of us who struggle with drug and/or alcohol addiction, might it be necessary to ask — how safe are hallucinogens for treating substance use disorders (SUD)?


What are Hallucinogens?

Classified by their ability to distort individual’s perceptions, hallucinogens can be found in certain plants and mushrooms or even be man-made. They are typically split into two categories: classic hallucinogens (LSD) and dissociative drugs (PCP). Both cause hallucinations, but classic hallucinogens cause sensory and imagery distortion, while dissociative drugs cause an out-of-body experience. Although researchers know that this particular drug can cause significant hallucinations to its users, not much is known about its overall causes and effects. Due to this complication, it leaves plenty of room for myths, speculations and opinions. Studies have been done on individuals who were using hallucinogens, however, the results were of the self-reported variety, by the users. 


Psychotherapy and Hallucinogens

After recent research, some psychologists have found that using hallucinogens while also incorporating psychotherapy, has allowed for lasting benefits for some of their patients. They also found that in comparison to other substances such as alcohol and tobacco, the risk for physical harm and addiction is relatively low. For many professionals, micro-dosing has become especially popular in recent years. Micro-dosing is when a patient takes or consumes a very small amount of a hallucinogenic substance. With even just a small amount, its use has been shown to help a number of psychological conditions such as SUD, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and mood disorders.

Specifically to SUD, it has been reported by users that even a single use of hallucinogen-assisted therapy resulted in a lower desire to use drugs/alcohol. While the scientific reasoning behind this is still not that well understood, many professionals and users find its effects to be trustworthy when conducted properly. Components that are incredibly important to monitor during this experience are both the set and setting. The set in this scenario is referring to the mood, tone and expectations for what is to come. The setting on the other hand, refers to the environment where the session is taking place, and the relationship dynamic with the trained professional. These qualities are important for this experience because if not monitored, they can cause the individual to feel stress, anxiety or paranoia. Due to the vulnerable, hypersensitive state the person is in, it is important to ensure a safe, positive environment for the individual. This therapeutic use of hallucinogens has also been shown to produce mood-elevating thoughts and beliefs of overall well-being and satisfaction in life. However, researchers advise that more research still needs to be conducted.


Potential Negative Effects for Using Hallucinogens

While hallucinogens may serve as a helpful tool for some people in very safe, monitored situations, this does not mean that there are no risks when consuming hallucinogens. Much like any other drug that exists today, there are many potential risks when deciding to use these kinds of substances. Many people assume that hallucinogens are incapable of leading to addiction because they most typically do not cause extreme physical cravings like that of methamphetamine or cocaine. However, this is actually dependent on the kind of hallucinogen being consumed. For example, users who stopped repeated use of PCP experienced typical withdrawal symptoms such as headaches and sweating. 

While other kinds of hallucinogens such as LSD do not cause as intense withdrawal symptoms, they do have different negative effects. Consumption of LSD produces tolerance, thus forcing the user to consume more of the substance. This is risky due to the unpredictable nature of hallucinogens. LSD (and some other hallucinogens) also can cause mental dependence for some people. Those who struggle with depression or anxiety may find themselves craving the calming, euphoric effect that it typically gives its users. Unable to experience similar satisfying feelings in sober reality, users may desire the temporary escape hallucinogens give them from their depression or anxiety. Some other potential short-term and long-term effects that have been reported include psychosis, severe paranoia, and bizarre behaviors. 


Overall, there remains more research needed regarding the clinical use of hallucinogens for treating SUD. Although many professionals and patients have reported their positive effects with sobriety and mental well-being, there are a number of potential risk factors that should be taken into consideration when contemplating this method of healing. At Pinelands Recovery Center of Medford, we want you to get the information and help you need for your recovery. Our New Jersey center relies on evidence-based treatment, such as various talk therapies, medical detox and experiential therapies to help people overcome addiction, including addiction to hallucinogens. Contact us today at (877) 557-5372 to find out more.