How Do Hallucinogens Affect The Brain?

Even though they’re often used at festivals, parties, and concerts, the way hallucinogens affect the brain isn’t fun and exciting.

Hallucinogens distort reality. Despite this, these drugs are some of the most popular recreational substances today. Even though they’re often used at festivals, parties, and concerts, the way hallucinogens affect the brain isn’t fun and exciting. Hallucinogens distort the perception of reality, causing people to see and believe things that aren’t real. Hallucinogens can also have long-term effects on the brain that can cause memory problems, paranoia, and impaired judgment.

What Are Hallucinogens?

Hallucinogens are a group of drugs that alter a person’s awareness of their surroundings as well as their thoughts and feelings. When people use hallucinogens, they tend to see images, hear sounds, and feel sensations that appear to be real but are not. Hallucinogens can be found in some plants and mushrooms, but they can also be man-made. Generally, hallucinogens fall into one of two categories: classic hallucinogens and dissociative drugs. Even though both types of drugs can cause hallucinations, dissociative drugs can make people feel disconnected from their bodies and the environment.

Common classic hallucinogens include:

  • LSD (D-lysergic acid diethylamide). This clear or white odorless material is made from ergot, a fungus that grows on rye and other grains. LSD is one of the most powerful mind-altering chemicals. The drug causes hallucinations, altered moods, and changes the ways individuals perceive reality. Visual distortions are the most common type of sensory distortions caused by LSD. People who take the drug report seeing sounds, hearing colors, and feeling smells.
  • Psilocybin (4-phosphoryloxy-N, N-dimethyltryptamine). This drug, which comes from mushrooms found in tropical and subtropical regions of South America, Mexico, and the United States, produces effects similar to LSD. People consume psilocybin, also known as “shrooms,” in fresh, dried, edible, or tea forms.
  • Peyote (mescaline). Peyote is a small cactus that has disc-shaped “buttons” that contain mescaline. People who use mescaline dry the buttons out and chew them or soak them in liquid to create an intoxicating drink. Mescaline can also be chemically produced in a lab. When consumed, mescaline produces an altered state of consciousness that causes visual hallucinations.
  • DMT (N, N-dimethyltryptamine). This chemical is naturally found in some Amazonian plants, but it can also be made in a lab. The effects include vivid hallucinations, depersonalization, and an altered sense of time. Ayahuasca also called “hoasca,” “aya,” and “yage” is made from plants containing DMT and is usually consumed like tea.
  • 251-NBOMe. This synthetic hallucinogen has similar effects to LSD and MDMA, but it is much more potent. People who consume 251-NBOMe also called “N-Bomb,” experience unusual body sensations, distorted color, sounds, objects, and time perception.
  • THC (Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol). THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, affects brain regions that influence coordination, memory, appetite, and pleasure. Even though marijuana can be used medically, THC can also cause paranoia, anxiety, hallucinations, and a distorted perception of time when used regularly.

Common dissociative hallucinogens include:

  • Ketamine. Even though this drug is commonly used as a surgery anesthetic for humans and animals, individuals can illegally consume ketamine in the form of a powder, pill, or injectable liquid. When consumed, ketamine can cause visual disturbances, confusion, disorientation, and dissociative effects. Because of this, ketamine is sometimes added to drinks as a date-rape drug.
  • PCP (Phencyclidine). Like ketamine, PCP was developed as a general anesthetic for surgery, but because of the side effects, the substance is no longer used for the purpose. Today, PCP is an illegal street drug that’s snorted, smoked, swallowed, or injected into the veins. When consumed, PCP produces “out-of-body” sensations.
  • Dextromethorphan (DXM). This cough suppressant and mucus-clearing ingredient in some over-the-counter medicines can cause a range of psychological and physical effects. Large doses of DXM can produce hallucinations, dissociation, and loss of motor coordination.

All these drugs, whether hallucinogens or dissociative substances, affect the brain.

How Do Hallucinogens Affect The Brain?

Even though scientists and researchers don’t fully understand how hallucinogens affect the brain, they do know that:

Hallucinogens Can Interfere With Activity In The Prefrontal Cortex

The prefrontal cortex helps us process complicated thoughts, set and achieve goals, focus our attention, deal with uncertainty, manage emotional reactions, process information, predict consequences, and plan for the future. When hallucinogens interfere with this part of the brain, individuals struggle to focus, process information, and pay attention to certain things. Instead of being able to accurately focus their attention on a blank wall, for example, individuals taking hallucinogens may interpret the blank wall as moving and swirling, or perhaps, covered in insects. Cognition levels decline, which causes individuals to remain trapped in a hallucinatory state of mind until the effects of the drug wear off.

Hallucinogens Can Interfere With Neural Circuits In The Brain That Use Serotonin

Neural circuits are groups of neurons that work together to carry out specific functions in the brain. When hallucinogens interfere with neural circuits that use serotonin, they start to affect normal functions that rely on that chemical messenger. When this happens, an individual’s mood, appetite, and need for sleep may change. Their body temperature can fluctuate drastically and they may have trouble controlling their muscle movements. In addition, their sensory perception may decline. When this happens, individuals may find themselves experiencing:

  • Delusions
  • Nightmares
  • Hallucinations
  • Visual disturbances
  • Illusions that aren’t real

Hallucinogens Can Disturb Glutamate Levels

Dissociative hallucinogens tend to interfere with glutamate, a brain chemical that helps regulate emotions, learning, memory, responses to the environment, and pain perception. When hallucinogens interfere with glutamate levels, individuals have abnormal responses to environmental stimuli. These abnormal responses are typically responsible for the dissociative effects that individuals experience. Some individuals, for example, feel like they are floating after taking dissociative hallucinogens, while others feel like they are being pulled down beneath the ground.

Hallucinogens can also have long-term effects on the brain.

Long-Term Effects of Hallucinogens

Even though these effects are rare, heavy and persistent use of hallucinogens can cause:

  • Persistent Psychosis, a mental disorder that causes visual disturbances, disorganized thinking, paranoia, and sudden mood changes.
  • Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD), a recurrence of certain drug experiences characterized by hallucinations, visual disturbances, and flashbacks. These flashbacks happen without warning and can occur within a few days or more than a year after drug use.

Even though neither ailment is common, they can occur unexpectedly and simultaneously.

Brain-Focused Care You Can Trust

Here at StoneRidge Centers, we know that hallucinogens affect the brain. We also know that thanks to neuroplasticity, the brain can rewire itself to function more optimally. That’s why we incorporate brain science into our addiction treatment programs. Let us help you overcome an addiction to hallucinogens and heal your brain. We want to help you live a healthy, thriving, and productive life. Contact us today to learn more.

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