Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), mushrooms, 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), and Mescaline are just a few of the different psychedelic drugs available. Psychedelics are a category of drugs whose primary function is to alter cognition and perception of the individual. This can incite thought and visual/auditory changes as well as a heightened state of consciousness. This class of drug has been a favorite of recreational drug users of all ages for generations, as well as a staple in many religious or spiritual ceremonies for millennia.
As widespread and
long-lasting as their use has been, most people actually know very
little about these substances and their effects on the body. Beyond
providing a change in perception or “trip,” little else is understood
about these drugs. Many people have had a trip that seemed to last a
lifetime, but people question whether permanent trips are real. Can
psychedelics cause long-term damage to the brain and psychosis to
The Science Behind Trips
A trip is the slang term
used to describe the experience of an individual under the effects of a
psychedelic drug. Since psychedelics are used to alter a person’s
perception of the world around them, their mood, and other mental
processes, it’s no wonder that there’s an interesting science behind how trips actually work.
occur as a result of the hallucinogen affecting the brain’s cortex.
Here, the drugs activate receptors called 5-HT2A receptors or 2ARs.
These particular receptors are normally activated by the presence of the
neurotransmitter serotonin. Instead of the usual integration of
different signals, hallucinogens disrupt these processes so that sensory
perception is altered.
If a different non-hallucinogenic chemical
activates the same receptor, a non-hallucinogenic chain of events will
take place. A particular pattern of signals occurs depending on the
presence of a particular chemical, which is what makes hallucinogens
have their unique effect on the brain. They unlock a very specific
pattern of signals that result in the person experiencing their
hallucinations or trip.
So, what happens
when the trip doesn’t end? There are a remarkably high number of urban
legends that often feature an individual who takes a dose of a
hallucinogenic substance and experiences the trip that they expected,
and then the one that they didn’t. Their trip doesn’t seem to ever end
and they end up losing touch with reality. But how is this possible? Is
there any validity to this statement?
On the contrary to what you
may believe, yes, psychedelics, despite being viewed as one of the
“safer” types of illicit substances since they’re not physically
addictive, can have a substantial impact on their users.
Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder, or HPPD, is a disorder that is characterized by the continual presence of sensory disturbances. Mainly, these disturbances are of the visual variety. They are similar to those generated by the use of psychedelics. This is a disorder officially recognized by the DSM-5, but the exact number of those affected is unknown.
However, HPPD is not as intense as urban legends may make it out to be. People who suffer from HPPD usually do experience reminiscent symptoms of their psychedelic use, but not severe enough to cause a detachment from reality. It can cause disturbances in vision, but they are not hallucinations in the clinical sense. Rather, people can recognize the visuals to be illusory. It’s also important to note that symptoms of HPPD have even been found in people who have never even taken psychedelics.
So, Can Psychedelics Cause Psychosis?
It’s important to
understand there is a difference between HPPD and psychosis. Psychosis
is a severe mental disorder in which thought and emotions are so
impaired that contact is lost with external reality. HPPD is
experiencing residual effects of the hallucinogen, typically seeing
trails or halos around objects.
So, do psychedelics cause psychosis or other mental health issues? According to the recent findings of two studies, not exactly.
The first study,
conducted by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, used
data from the U.S. National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Out of
135,000 people who participated in the survey, 14 percent admitted to
using at least three types of classic psychedelics (LSD, mescaline, and
magic mushrooms) at some point in their lives.
The results of the study showed that these individuals were not at an increased risk of developing 11 indicators of mental health problems like psychosis, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety disorders, or suicide attempts. So, where does all of the fodder about the link between psychedelics and psychosis come from?
believe that because of the prevalence of mental health disorders among
the population (about 1 in every 50 people), a mistaken correlation was
drawn between hallucinogens and mental health disorders.
The second study
seemed to mirror the findings of the first. Conducted by Johns Hopkins
University, the study author Matthew Johnson, associate professor in the
Behavioral Pharmacology Research Unit, says that classic psychedelics
were not associated with adverse mental health outcomes. Their findings
even showed that people who had used LSD had a lower lifetime rate of
suicide than those who hadn’t.
Basically, the correlation drawn
between psychedelics and psychosis are “overstated.” Psychedelics do not
necessarily cause psychosis; the propensity to develop the condition
was already there.
Do You Need Help?
psychedelic drugs have the propensity to cause mental health issues like
permanent trips, but it is unlikely. Due to the prevalence of mental
health disorders among the general population, a case of mistaken
identity may be in part to blame for the long-term issues associated
with psychedelic use. However, their potential to impact a person’s life
in a negative way should not be downplayed.
While not physically
addictive, many people can develop a psychological addiction to
psychedelics. Many people who struggle with addiction disorders may also
engage in taking hallucinogens as well.