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Psychedelics: A User's Guide (with Safety Warnings)

An individual's perception of reality can be profoundly altered by hallucinogens, also known as psychedelics, along with their thoughts and emotions. The list of hallucinogens includes LSD, peyote, PCP, and psilocybin. Due to the risks associated with hallucinogen use, the vast majority are prohibited by law.

What Are Hallucinogens?

Psychedelics, or hallucinogens, are substances that profoundly alter a person's perception of reality and their emotional state. Hallucinations can occur when individuals experience sensations and images that seem real but aren't. Synthetic compounds and natural compounds found in plants and fungi can both be used to make hallucinogens.

Effects of Hallucinogens

In general, hallucinogens affect the senses, thoughts, and mood of their users. As a result of these substances, individuals may experience either positive ("good trips") or negative ("bad trips") states. 

The use of hallucinogens in religious and healing rituals has been around for centuries. In recent years, psychedelic drugs have gained attention as a treatment for addiction, anxiety, major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and end-of-life care. There is, however, a need for more research before it can be universally accepted.

How Hallucinogens Work

Hallucinogens interfere with neurotransmitters such as glutamate and serotonin in the brain, disrupting communication between chemical networks. In addition to regulating sleep, mood, and sensory perception, these neurotransmitters play an important role in many bodily functions.

Types of Hallucinogens

  • LSD (Lysergic Acid Diethylamide): In its most basic form, LSD is a powerful hallucinogen derived from lysergic acid. There can be profound alterations in perception caused by it, as well as mystical experiences that can last up to twelve hours.

  • Peyote: Mescaline, a naturally occurring hallucinogenic compound, is found in peyote, a spineless cactus. As a potent inducer of vivid mental images and perception changes, peyote has traditionally been used by Native Americans for religious ceremonies.

  • Psilocybin: Some species of mushrooms, commonly known as magic mushrooms, contain psilocybin. In addition to heightened sensory awareness, it can cause frightening hallucinations.

  • PCP (Phencyclidine): Angel dust, or PCP, was originally developed as an anesthetic, but its use was discontinued because of its severe side effects. When taken in high doses, it can cause out-of-body experiences and lead to dangerous behaviors.

  • Ketamine: As an anesthetic, ketamine is used both in human medicine and in veterinary medicine. The drug can cause individuals to feel detached from their bodies, causing them to feel dissociative.

  • Salvia: Salvia divinorum, or sage, is native to Mexico, Central and South America. It causes hallucinations and distorts perceptions of time and space.

  • DMT (Dimethyltryptamine): The chemical compound DMT is found in certain plants and is also synthesized in laboratories. In many ayahuasca ceremonies, it is consumed as part of deep spiritual experiences.

What are the Health Effects of Hallucinogens?

Due to their abundance of psychoactive compounds, hallucinogens are often associated with unpleasant adverse effects. As a result of the dose consumed, the following effects can occur:

  • Dilated pupils (mydriasis)

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Increased body temperature

  • Elevated heart rate and blood pressure

  • Excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis) and flushing

  • Lack of coordination (ataxia)

  • Muscle relaxation or weakness

  • Loss of appetite

  • Insomnia

  • Drowsiness

  • Dry mouth (xerostomia)

There are a variety of adverse effects associated with PCP usage, in particular. When taken at lower to moderate doses, individuals may experience an increase in breathing rate, blood pressure, and pulse rate. Further, they may experience symptoms such as shallow breathing (tachypnea), excessive sweating, and numbness in their extremities.

If PCP is used at higher doses, it can lead to further complications, including decreased blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration, alongside symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, eye movements, drooling, dizziness, and loss of balance. As a result of overdose or PCP's profound psychological effects, PCP intoxication often results in emergency room visits, resulting in suicidal or violent behavior.

PCP can also precipitate seizures, comas, and even death, with fatalities most commonly resulting from accidental injuries or suicide during intoxication. As PCP has sedative effects, interactions with other central nervous system depressants, such as alcohol, can result in comas.

Is it Possible to Use Hallucinogens as Medicines?

In recent years, there has been a growing interest in using hallucinogens for medicinal purposes. Science is finally catching up with psychedelic research after it was excluded from mainstream studies for a long time. 

Psilocybin, for example, may be able to treat depression and anxiety, according to clinical studies. Additionally, psilocybin may help treat chronic pain, phantom limb pain, and cluster headaches.

Treatment Options

It is common for people to seek treatment for hallucinogen intoxication when they are experiencing "bad trips," which may result in them inadvertently harming themselves.

Typically, healthcare providers create a tranquil environment with minimal sensory stimulation during treatment with supportive care. To manage severe agitation or seizures, medications such as benzodiazepines (e.g., Xanax®) may be prescribed.

Individuals struggling with substance use disorders (SUDs) related to hallucinogens may find valuable support through inpatient and behavioral therapies.

A Word of Caution

Although hallucinogenic drugs can be enticing, it's vital to know the risks. In addition to being illegal, these substances can have negative health effects, both physically and mentally. Additionally, hallucinogens can be hazardous to your health and the health of others.

Seeking Help

It's possible to get help if you're concerned about substances or considering hallucinogens. Get in touch with your doctor or a healthcare professional. As well as providing guidance, they can also provide support. 

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