Hallucinogens

Who’s using hallucinogens?
ecstacy-04_0At BHS in 2009, more than one hundred students (8%) admitted to trying LSD or another hallucinogenic drug. The use of hallucinogens among high schoolers appears to be rising nationally. The Monitoring the Future Survey 2008 showed a significant increase in recent use of LSD and decreased perceived risk of harm from LSD among 12th graders, reflecting longer term trends. A 2006 study found that 7% of twelfth graders had tried cough medicines to get high: between 1999 and 2004, usage increased tenfold, with 75 percent of abusers aged 9 to 17 years old.

How are hallucinogens taken?

  • LSD or acid is available in small square tabs of paper, often with a picture, called blotter acid, or as tablets, capsules and occasionally liquid. It is odorless and colorless, tastes slightly bitter and is usually taken by mouth.
  • Mushrooms containing psilocybin, a hallucinogenic substance, are typically taken by mouth.
  • PCP (Angel Dust) is available as tablets, capsule and powders that are snorted, smoked, or taken by mouth. It is addictive, commonly mixed with marijuana and mushrooms, and potentially fatal.
  • Dextromethorphen (DXM) is a cough suppressant contained in more than 100 over-the-counter medicines, and is widely abused by teens.

Tolerance and effects
Hallucinogens cause hallucinations: images, sounds and sensations that seem real but aren’t. They disrupt the interaction of nerve cells and the neurotransmitter serotonin, affecting behavioral, perceptual and regulatory systems. These include mood, hunger, body temperature, sexual behavior, muscle control and sensory perception. The body quickly becomes tolerant of hallucinogens, sometimes leading to increased use, heavier doses and severe side effects. Long-term effects can include flashbacks, depression, panic, reduced motivation, impaired memory and concentration, psychosis and delusions. Dextromethorphen at certain doses induces euphoria, hallucinations, distorted vision, out-of-body experiences and coma or death.

Signs of use might include

  • Eyes Dilated (large), fixed gaze, difficulty tracking. Might appear to be focusing on something caused by internal stimulation. Might see “trails” after an object moves. Visual hallucinations.
  • Body temperature Raised body temperature, sweating, drinking lots of fluids in small amounts.
  • Nausea Stomach pains, vomiting.
  • Sensory functions Heightened sense of touch, might repeatedly touch a certain object. Tactile hallucinations, possible crawling or burning sensations. Change in taste, smell and feel of food in the mouth. Difficulty chewing and swallowing food, low appetite.
  • Speech Rambling or strange, rapid or slowed.
  • Affect Inappropriate responses, smiling or laughing at internal stimuli, panic or heightened anxiety, mood swings.
  • Thoughts Obsessive, sometimes leading to erratic, unpredictable or dangerous behavior. Hallucinations might cause a reduced sense of reality and distorted concept of time and space. Grandiosity and false beliefs.
  • Sleep problems Insomnia during LSD trips (which can last 8 to 24 hours), crashes (coming down from the trip) involving agitation, panic, depression and suicidal thoughts.

Readings

Hallucinogens: forms, effects and trends
National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health
A source for this page, with further info

Tips for teens: hallucinogens
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
Free brochure for teens, also useful for parents

How to find the best treatment program for your teen
Time magazine
Expertise and resources on navigating an unregulated industry