We live in an era in which addiction no longer focuses on a single substance of abuse, but instead involves a kind of ‘migration’ from one drug to another of the user.

Today, addiction to hallucinogens (LSD) is quite widespread

Hallucinogens are substances of natural (mescaline) or synthetic (LSD or MDMA) origin.

They are substances that cause hallucinations and profound distortions in the perception of reality.

Hallucinogens interfere in the interactions between nerve cells and serotonin (a neurotransmitter present in the central nervous system and involved in the control of behaviour, the perceptual system and the regulation of mood, hunger, body temperature, sexual behaviour, muscle control and sensory perception).

LSD is the drug most commonly identified with the term ‘hallucinogen’ and is the most widely used in this class of substances, so that LSD addiction is quite common.

The characteristics of its action and effects also apply to other hallucinogens such as mescaline, psilocybin and ibogaine.

The effects of this drug are unpredictable and can vary depending on the amount ingested, the subject’s personality, mood, expectations and environment: an LSD user may have experienced physiological effects such as increased blood pressure and heart rate, dizziness, loss of appetite, dry mouth, sweating, nausea, numbness and tremors, and effects on the emotions and senses (emotions may have swung rapidly from fear to euphoria, or may have felt like experiencing many simultaneously).

LSD also has effects on the senses: colours, smells, sounds and other sensations may seem heightened

Hallucinations distort or transform shapes and movements; they may also generate the perception that time is passing very slowly or that the body is changing shape.

In some ‘trips’, one can experience sensations that are pleasurable, that stimulate the mind and produce a sense of heightened capacity for understanding. ‘Bad trips’, on the other hand, can induce terrifying thoughts, anxiety and nightmarish despair, with fear of madness, death or loss of control.

Those addicted to LSD quickly develop a high degree of tolerance to the drug’s effects and after repeated use need increasing doses to produce the same effects.

Tolerance to LSD is short-lived and disappears if the drug is stopped for several days

There is no evidence that LSD generates withdrawal symptoms if chronic use is discontinued.

There are two long-term effects associated with this drug: hallucinogen-induced psychotic disorder and persistent perceptual disturbance from hallucinogen dependence.

Drugs such as PCP (phencyclidine) and ketamine, initially used as general anaesthetics in surgery, produce feelings of detachment from the environment and from oneself that are not true hallucinations, so PCP and ketamine are more properly termed ‘dissociative anaesthetics’.

Dissociative drugs affect pain perception, responses to external stimuli, and memory.

PCP is considered the typical dissociative drug

The description of its action and effects also applies to ketamine and dextromethorphan.

Snorted or smoked, PCP passes rapidly to the brain where it interferes with the function of NMDA receptors (receptors for the neurotransmitter glutamate).

These receptors play a role in pain perception, cognitive activities – including learning and memory – and emotions.

At low doses (5 mg or less), the physical effects of PCP include shallow and rapid breathing, increased blood pressure and heart rate, and increased body temperature.

Doses of 10 mg or higher cause dangerous alterations in blood pressure, heart rate and breathing, often accompanied by nausea, blurred vision, dizziness and reduced awareness of pain.

Muscle contractions can cause uncoordinated movements and bizarre postures. In severe cases, muscle contractions may result in bone fracture or kidney failure.

Very high doses can cause convulsions, coma, hyperthermia and death.

The effects of PCP are unpredictable.

They are typically felt a few minutes after ingestion and last for several hours.

A single episode of taking the drug may produce feelings of detachment from reality, including distortions of space, time and body image, while other episodes may produce hallucinations, panic and fear.

In some cases, feelings of invulnerability and ‘superhuman’ physical strength are reported.

PCP addicts may become severely disoriented, violent or suicidal.

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