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Hallucinogens

At Heritage Treatment Foundation we use the Holistic approach to hallucinogen addiction recovery.

Hallucinogens

group therapy

"Group therapy at Heritage Treatment Foundation consists of cognitive behavioural therapy, alternative treatments and recreational activities to treat the mind, body and spirit.”

Hallucinogens are drugs that alter nearly every aspect of our psychological functioning, and is best described by users as an alter state of consciousness.  There are four classes of hallucinogens.

Class 1

The first and most important group of hallucinogens is call serotonergic hallucinogens.  This class includes the synthetic compound lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and other drugs like mescaline (from the peyote cactus) and psilocybin (from certain mushrooms).  This class of drugs produce vivid visual hallucinations and a variety of other effects on consciousness. 

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LSD - Description

LSD is sold in the form of blotters and when used can cause intense changes in sensory perceptions, uncontrollable laughter and delirium.  Use of LSD can cause serious and sometimes lasting mental illness.

Short-Term Effects

Effects are felt within an hour, and last 2 to 12 hours.  Perception intensifies, colours appear brighter, objects more sharply defined or distorted.  Possible changes in the perception of time and distance.  A person may feel the body as light, heavy or distorted.  Thinking and concentration are difficult and short-term memory is impaired.  Extreme mood swings, including joy, inspiration, depression, anxiety, terror, aggression can occur.  There are no known deaths directly caused by overdose, but drug-induced confusion has caused accidental deaths.

Long-Term Effects

Decreased motivation and interest, or prolonged depression and anxiety.  LSD high may spontaneously recur days, weeks or even months later (called “flashbacks”).  Use during pregnancy may be related to increased incidence of spontaneous abortion or fetal abnormality.

Tolerance and Dependence

This tolerance crosses over to mescaline and psilocybin.  LSD does not cause physical dependence and there are no withdrawal symptoms when someone stops taking it.  It does not stimulate the brain’s reward system and does not have any direct reinforcing effects.  It does not reinforce the stimulation of the pleasure centres located in several areas of the brain.  Psychological dependence on LSD varies with the user.  A small number of very regular users may display anxiety of signs of panic when they are deprived of this drug.  But the desire to take LSD is not as strong as the obsessive cravings experienced by cocaine or heroin addicts.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Users coming down from LSD can experience extreme anxiety, paranoia, panic attacks, phobias and delirium.  After using LSD, user must abstain for several days to regain sensitivity.

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Mescaline - Description

Organic or natural mescaline is the main active ingredient in peyote, a small, greyish-brown cactus that grows in Mexico and Texas.  Synthetic mescaline is a white or coloured powder; usually taken in form of powder, tablet, capsule or liquid. In Canada, real mescaline is not available and therefore, the substance sold as mescaline here is actually PCP.  Mescaline causes fewer central effects than LSD, but more pronounced peripheral effects.

Short-Term Effects

Effects appear slowly, lasts 10 to 18 hours, and include changes in perception and mood, disorientation, impaired short-term memory and concentration.  Physical effects include dilation of pupils, increased blood pressure and heart rate, fever, sweating, nausea and vomiting.  High doses can cause a headaches.  The main central effects of mescaline are euphoria, sharpened senses, impaired short-term memory, thought disturbances, impaired concentration, and hallucinations.  These effects are accompanied by altered perceptions of oneself as well as of shapes, colours, time, and space.  The main peripheral effects of mescaline are altered vision, dilated pupils, and increased heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature.  Acute mescaline intoxication can cause a loss of one’s sense of self and of control over oneself and one’s environment.  People can also engage in potentially dangerous behaviour.  Chronic mescaline intoxication can result in such symptoms as lack of motivation, mood disturbances, and flashback hallucinations.

Long-Term Effects

These drugs may precipitate psychosis in vulnerable users.

Tolerance and Dependence

Mescaline users develop a tolerance for the hallucinogenic effects after taking it for just a few days, but lose this tolerance just as quickly if they stop taking it.  Users do not develop any physical dependence, but may display varying degrees of psychological dependence.

Withdrawal Symptoms

There are no withdrawal symptoms from mescaline use.

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Psilocybin - Description

Psilocybin is commonly known as magic mushrooms.  As a hallucinogen, psilocybin is about 10 times less powerful than LSD and causes less pronounced effects. Can be distributed as mushrooms or in capsules containing powder of any colour.  Can be sniffed, smoked or injected.

Short-Term Effects

Effects are felt after about half an hour, last for several hours, and include sensations of relaxation or fatigue, separation form surroundings, heaviness or lightness. The effects of psilocybin last about 3 to 6 hours and are usually gone in 12 hours, though users may sometimes still experience hallucination for up to four days after taking the drug.   Larger doses produce perceptual distortions, dizziness, abdominal discomfort, numbness of the mouth, nausea, shivering, yawning, flushing and sweating.  There are no known deaths directly caused by overdose, but drug-induced hazardous behaviours have occurred in some individuals. 

Long-Term Effects

These drugs may precipitate psychosis in vulnerable users.

Tolerance and Dependence

There is no evidence that psilocybin causes a physical or psychological dependence.

Withdrawal Symptoms

There are no withdrawal symptoms of using psilocybin.

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Class 2 - Description

The second class of hallucinogens includes MDA and MDMA (ecstasy), referred to as the methylated amphetamines.  As the name suggests, these drugs are structurally related to amphetamine (as is mescaline).  MDA and MDMA produce alternations in mood and consciousness with little or no sensory change.  They are thought to act like amphetamine and cocaine on dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin synapses.

The dangers of ecstasy are often underestimated.  Originally the pills sold as ecstasy contained a specific chemical, MDMA, which was responsible for its psychoactive effects.  Now drugs sold as ecstasy often contain other substances.  The MDMA molecule may or may not be present, and it may be mixed with other substances: stimulants such as amphetamine, methamphetamine, caffeine, and ephedrine; hallucinogens such as LSD, PCP, ketamine, nexus, and PMA; anabolic steroids; and analgesics.  Ecstasy may also be cut with corn starch or even with soap or detergents.  Ecstasy is mainly swallowed, but may sometimes be snorted, smoked, or injected intravenously.  Ecstasy is the prototype of the stimulant hallucinogens – psychoactive substances that have both stimulant and hallucinogenic effects.

Short-Term Effects

Though MDMA is technically classified as a hallucinogen because of its effects on the central nervous system, it is derived from amphetamines, which are characterized by their stimulant properties.  In ecstasy, it is these stimulant effects that predominate, causing excitation and feelings of physical and mental prowess while suppressing fatigue, hunger, and pain.  MDMA can also cause confusion, depression, sleep problems, anxiety, panic attacks, blurred vision, nausea, muscle tension, teeth-clenching, faintness, chills, sweating and increased heart rate and blood pressure.  The hallucinogenic effects are relatively minor and generally occur only with high doses.  Higher doses produce distortions in perception, thinking and memory, hallucinations and, in some people, anxiety and depression.  Deaths as a result of kidney and/or heart failure due to dehydration or hypothermia have occurred in the context of raves or dances.

Long-Term Effects

Some animal research indicates repeated use can cause brain damage.

Tolerance and Dependence

Although insufficient research has been carried out, it seems that tolerance to MDA does not develop.  Chronic users may become psychologically dependent.  As far as physical dependence is concerned, the experts’ opinion varies.  Since most users take ecstasy only occasionally, the dependence is not very pronounced.  Most of the problems caused by ecstasy arise from taking large doses on one occasion.

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Class 3 - Description

A third class of hallucinogens, called the anticholinergic hallucinogens, is less familiar to most people and includes drugs such as atropine and scopolamine found in plants such as mandrake, henbane, belladonna and Jimson weed.  These drugs produce a dreamlike trance in the user from which he or she awakens with little or no memory of the experience.  The drugs in this class act on cholinergic synapses of the brain.

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Class 4

Finally, a fourth class of hallucinogens includes phencyclidine (PCP or angle dust) and the related compound ketamine.  These are often referred to as the dissociative anesthetics because of their ability to produce surgical anesthesia while the individual remains at least semiconscious.  Dissociative anesthetics are thought to act through a receptor that influences activity of the excitatory amino acid neurotransmitter, glutamate.

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PCP - Description

PCP has effects comparable to those of LSD, but causes fewer hallucinations.  In its pure state, PCP is a white, crystalline powder that dissolves quickly in water and alcohol.  It is easy to manufacture.  Because PCP is cheap and easy to make, it is often used to “cut” other psychoactive drugs, such as LSD, cannabis, and cocaine, or to amplify their effects.

Short-Term Effects

Effects of low to moderate doses last 3 to 18 hours.  Effects of high doses may last for several days.  PCP has an overall anesthetic effect, reducing users’ perceptions of pain and of their surrounding.  It has some of the properties both of central nervous system depressants and of central nervous system stimulants.  It can produce euphoria, relaxation, memory problems, feelings of dissociation from one’s surroundings, and hallucinations.  PCP alters perceptions and thought processes in ways similar to LSD.  PCP can also have traumatic psychological effects.  Users experience disordered thought processes and intense feelings of alienation, along with paranoid symptoms.  These symptoms and the accompanying delirium can lead to bizarre or violent behaviour and toxic psychosis.  Bad trips are more common with PCP than with other drugs. Furthermore, an overdose can cause disorders in muscle metabolism, such as rhabdomyolysis, leading to kidney blockage from the accumulated metabolic waste. Overdose can also cause seizures, coma and death.  Accidental death can result from drug-induced confusion. PCP stimulates the brain’s pleasure and reward centres.

Long-Term Effects

Flashbacks may occur.  Other effects include persistent speech problems, depression, anxiety or more severe psychological consequences, including toxic psychosis, similar to amphetamine psychosis or acute schizophrenia.

Tolerance and Dependence

Psychological dependence is seen in some habitual users.  They become obsessed with the desire to take PCP and experience its effects, and they have trouble giving it up despite the harm it can do to them.  Physical dependence on PCP is rare in human beings.

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Ketamine - Description

Ketamine is a veterinary anesthetic developed in 1962.  Ketamine is often used to achieve “out of body” and “near-death” experiences. 

Short-Term Effects

Ketamine’s hallucinogenic effects are shorter and less intense than PCP’s.  They last about an hour.  Ketamine is often taken together with stimulants, to mimic the combined stimulating and hallucinogenic effects of ecstasy.  Ketamine also has anesthetic and analgesic properties.  When used recreationally, ketamine is dangerious because of its side effects, which include, loss of consciousness accompanied by vomiting, with the resulting risk of suffocation from breating vomit into the lungs; psychological problems (anxiety, panic attacks), neurological problems (temporary paralysis), and psychiatric problems (toxic psychosis); and digestive problems (nausea, vomiting).  If a user has an overdose, there is a risk that he or she will stop breathing and that his or her heart will stop beating.

Tolerance and Dependence

If taken regularly, ketamine produces a very strong tolerance and can lead to physical and psychological dependence.

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Inhalants

Inhalants are a highly varied group of substances whose common trait is that sniffing their fumes produces psychoactice effects.  These substances include household, industrial, and medical products.  They are grouped into three main categories: volatile solvents; nitrites, commonly known as poppers or rush; and volatile general anesthetics, of which the main ones are nitrous oxide (also known as laughing gas).

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Volatile Solvents

Volatile solvents are powerful psychoactive substances.  They are inexpensive and readily available.  They are found in various glues, lacquers, varnishes, spray paints, paint thinners, correction fluid, gasoline, charcoal lighter, non-stick cooking sprays, refrigerants, certain cleaning fluids, and many other household and industrial products.

Short-Term Effects

The effects of volatile solvents are like instantaneous alcohol intoxication.  Solvent abuse poses very serious health risks and can lead to various mental-health problems, as well as disorders of the blood, the liver, and the neuromotor, cardivoscular, and respiratory systems. 

Withdrawal

The symptoms of withdrawal from solvents are similar to those of other central nervous system depressants.

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Poppers - Description

The two main chemicals known as poppers are amyl nitrite and butyl nitrite, both of which come in the form of volatile liquids.  Medically, they are used to dilate blood vessels in order to treat certain heart conditions.  On the street, users sniff the fumes of these chemicals to get high.

Short-Term Effects

The effects of poppers are almost immediate: a sudden exhilarating “rush”.  Users experience euphoria that lasts just two to three minutes.  By making the peripheral blood vessels dilate, poppers reduce the amount of blood reaching the brain, thus depriving it of oxygen.  This effect seems to contribute to the aphrodisiac sensations experienced with poppers, which are used to enhance sexual pleasure and facilitate certain practices.  The immediate undesirable effects most often experienced with poppers include dizziness, headaches, buzzing in the ears, increased pressure inside the eyes, sensitivity to light, and a characteristic unpleasant aftertaste.  In high doses, poppers can cause extreme dizziness, fainting, loss of consciousness, and depressed breathing.

Tolerance and Dependence

Regular use of nitrites leads to psychological dependence, but does not usually lead to physical dependence.

Withdrawal

No withdrawal symptoms are typically seen when use is stopped.

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Nitrous Oxide – Description

Nitrous oxide, also know as laughing gas, is a self-pressurizing liquefied gas that is stored in metal cylinders.  It can be used as a pressurizing gas, as an aerosol propellant for food products, or as a general anesthetic for surgery.

Short-Term Effects

Nitrous oxide causes euphoria, often accompanied by uncontrollable fits of laughter.  It also acts as a sedative and can cause headaches, altered consciousness, distorted vision and hearing, agitation, anxiety, nausea, vomiting, and muscle weakness.  Nitrous oxide poses both immediate and long-term health risks.  Immediate multiple uses of nitrous oxide can result in suffocation, either from a lack of oxygen or from inhaling their own vomit.  If they use nitrous oxide together with other substances, such as alcohol, cannabis, or ecstasy, the risks are even worse. 

Long-Term Effects

When nitrous oxide is used chronically (every day, for example), it can lead to nervous-system disorders associated with vitamin B12 deficiency, such as trembling and poor coordination.  Chronic use can also cause one to fall, sometimes resulting in serious injuries.

Tolerance and Dependence

There is no evidence to support any physical dependence on nitrous oxide, but psychological dependence can develop with regular use, because of the euphoria and pleasant sensations that this substance produces.

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