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Hallucinogenic Drug Abuse

Hallucinogens refer to the group of drugs classified as alkaloids. The common kinds of hallucinogens include LSD (d-lysergic acid diethylamide), peyote, Psilocybin (4-phosphoryloxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine) and PCP (phencyclidine). The chemical structures of most hallucinogens are similar to that of acetylcholine-serotonin and other natural neurotransmitters. Not much is known about how hallucinogens work but from the information gathered so far, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has found that hallucinogenic compounds works in two ways: It can temporarily interfere with the action of neurotransmitters or bind to its receptor sites.

LSD, a compound manufactured from fungus growing on grains, was discovered in 1938. It is a chemical that changes mood. Since it is available in capsules, tablets and sometimes in liquid form, LSD is often taken by mouth. One LSD experience is called a “trip” and can last for about 12 hours.

LSD does not cause addiction and many users voluntarily taper down or stop their use completely. However, it does cause drug tolerance which prompts users to take higher doses which can be very dangerous since the effects of LSD are not predictable. The moods and sensations of LSD users change very rapidly when under the influence of the drug. When taken in large amounts, LSD brings about delusions and visual hallucinations. In extreme cases, they experience feelings of despair and exhibit various fears, such as fear of insanity, fear of losing control and fear of death. Another detrimental side effect of LSD use is flashbacks which can happen as late as a year after a person has used LSD. This condition is known as hallucinogen-induced persisting perceptual disorder or HPPD. This can disrupt the addict’s ability to do his job or impair with his relationships.

The physical effects of LSD include excessive sweating, dilated pupils, appetite loss, dry mouth, sleeplessness and tremors. It can also lead to increased body temperature, heart rate and blood pressure.

Another hallucinogen is psilocybin. It comes from some kinds of mushrooms that are native to the tropical and subtropical parts of Mexico, South America and the United States. These are usually taken orally, typically in tea preparation or added to other foods so that their bitter taste is not apparent. The effects of psilocybin usually appear within 20 minutes after it has been ingested. The effects of psilocybin include muscle weakness, nausea, ataxia, excessive dilation of pupils, drowsiness and vomiting.

Peyote, a spineless cactus, is another type of hallucinogenic drug which produces mescaline through chemical synthesis. Commonly used in religious ceremonies by natives in northern Mexico, the intoxicating dose of the drug can be had by chewing the cactus crowns or soaking them in water and drinking them. Its hallucinogenic effects can last for as long as 12 hours and are similar to that experienced by LSD users. Pregnant women shouldn’t use peyote as mescaline has been associated to abnormalities in the fetus in one study cited by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

Another hallucinogen used to be developed as an intravenous anesthetic in the 1950s is PCP. However, it has not anymore been used since 1965 because of the serious side effects encountered which included agitations, delusions and irrational behavior. Now, the white crystalline powder is available in tablet, capsule and colored powder forms. They are typically smoked, snorted or taken in orally.

No specific treatments have yet been established for addiction to hallucinogenic drugs. However, most addicts brought in for treatment need to be attended to because they have hurt themselves. In these cases, supportive treatment is provided. When the patient exhibits seizures or is agitated, benzodiapzepine is given to address it. Behavioral treatments are also helpful for those with PCP addiction although no particular approach has been given for this type of addiction.

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