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Understanding What Hallucinogens Do to the Brain

on Tuesday, 21 October 2014. Posted in Breaking News

Hallucinogenic drugs like LSD create an immediate effect on the brain and when used frequently enough can also cause long term problems. Hallucinogens work by altering a person's perception of reality at times causing hallucinations or other alterations of the senses.

Drugs classified as hallucinogens include LSD, psilocin, mescaline, DOM and DMT. What makes these types of drugs hallucinogens is the fact that they share common side effects such as distortion of sensory perception and other psychic and somatic effects.

Like many drugs, hallucinogens can cause tolerance in users the more frequently they are taken and they even cause cross-tolerance meaning an addict will become immune to the effects of any form of hallucinogen over time. People often take hallucinogens recreationally because of their brain's immediate response and the experience of an altered reality. Some may not be aware, however, of the damage these drugs can cause over time.

Altered Reality of Hallucinogens

Hallucinogens work by acting on neural circuits in the brain that use the neurotransmitter serotonin. Some of the most prominent effects occur in the prefrontal cortex which is the area involved in mood, cognition and perception but the drugs can act on other regions of the brain which regulate arousal and physiological responses to stress and panic.

Once a person ingests a hallucinogen drug such as LSD, after about 20 to 90 minutes they will begin to see images, hear sounds and feel sensations that seem real but do not really exist. The type of images, sounds and experiences vary depending on the user's mood, expectations and surroundings as well as the amount of ingested.

The effects of hallucinogens are essentially a kind of drug-induced psychosis which distorts or disorganizes their capacity to recognize reality, think rationally or communicate with others. These kinds of drugs caused intensified feelings and heightened sensory experiences which can either be enjoyable and mentally stimulating or nightmarish and terrifying depending on the individual.

Potential Conditions with Long-term Use

People often take hallucinogenic drugs recreationally and are not fully aware that these drugs can have serious long-term effects on the brain and body. It does not take long for a drug user who takes LSD on a regular basis to develop a tolerance to the effects of the hallucinogen.

Repeated use will eventually require increasingly large doses in order to have the same effect. Another danger of taking hallucinogens too frequently is the development of persistent psychosis and hallucinogen persisting perception disorder or HPPD.

The occurrence of these disorders are somewhat rare but they can happen more often than previously thought and can sometimes occur together in the same individual. Someone who develops persistent psychosis as a result of their drug use will experience visual disturbances, disorganized thinking, paranoia and mood disturbances even when they are not under the influence of a hallucinogen.

Individuals who develop HPPD will experience hallucinations, spontaneous flashbacks and other visual disturbances such as seeing halos or trails attached to moving objects.

While the exact causes of persistent psychosis and HPPD are not known, they often occur in users of hallucinogens with a history of psychological problems. However, these conditions are unpredictable and can happen to anyone even after only a single exposure to drugs.

Treatment for these conditions can include the use of antidepressants and antipsychotic drugs to help improve mood and treat psychosis. Patients may need psychotherapy to help cope with the fear and confusion associated with their visual disturbances and other consequences of long-term LSD use.

These type of consequences make frequent and long-term use of hallucinogens a dangerous and risky habit for users to have.

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