Can Psychedelics Cause Psychosis?
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 develop?
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.
Trips 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?
Well, researchers 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?
In conclusion, 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.