Psychedelic drugs like LSD, magic mushrooms, mescaline, and DMT are rarely associated with the horror stories of addiction that surround opioids and stimulants. Does this mean that they’re safer to use without the risk of dependency? Even if they aren’t addictive, do psychedelics carry other dangers that may eventually lead a person to need treatment? Is that friend telling you the truth when he says that a “bad trip” can cause you to become permanently stuck thinking that you’re a glass of orange juice?
Psychedelics and Addiction
The short answer is no: you generally can’t become physiologically addicted to psychedelic drugs. By some standards, they are the safest drugs to affect the Central Nervous System. It is important to note that some psychedelics, including LSD, produce tolerance relatively quickly to themselves and other drugs in the same category. That tolerance causes a user to need increasing amounts of the same drug to achieve the desired effect, which can quickly lead to intensely unpleasant psychological experiences at higher doses.
Can You Overdose on Psychedelics?
An overdose occurs when a person takes more of a drug than their body can healthily or safely process. As a rule, while psychedelic drugs taken at high doses will produce exceedingly unpleasant effects, they are virtually never life-threatening. These effects are sometimes referred to as a bad trip, in which the mind can perceive surrounding people, objects, and environments as negative, scary, or dangerous. At overdose levels, this mental state can evolve into full-fledged paranoia, panic, and psychosis.
The Glass of Orange Juice and Other Psychedelic Cautionary Tales
Over the years, LSD and other psychedelics have been the subject of dozens of cautionary tales, urban legends, and other stories intended to scare away potential users. Among the most famous is the tale of the man who takes an excessive quantity of LSD–varying versions differ on whether he does so intentionally–and spends the rest of his life believing that he has been transformed into a glass of orange juice (or, according to some, an orange).
Other such stories include stickers dosed with LSD being handed out at a children’s school. Other claims include the false “fact” that taking LSD more than seven times allows one to declare themselves legally insane and the claim that most psychedelic drugs contain trace amounts of the toxin strychnine.
Researchers and fact-checkers have proven this brand of urban legend to be just that. It’s critical to be aware of the dangers involved when taking any drug; it’s equally important to be aware of the factual limits to those dangers.
How Safe Are Psychedelics?
Just because psychedelics generally aren’t addictive and are not exceedingly likely to drive you to instantaneous insanity doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous. As noted in a thorough 2016 review via the National Institute of Health:
Although the classic psychedelics have not been directly responsible for causing death, the judgment of users is certainly impaired while under the influence of these drugs. This is a particular concern when hallucinogens are used in unsupervised settings. Users may believe that they are invincible or possess superpowers and may do things they would not normally consider, such as believing they can fly, jumping from buildings, or incurring severe ocular damage by prolonged staring at the sun.
In addition to the previously-mentioned psychological dangers of overdose, long-term psychedelic drug use can lead to a general detachment from reality.
Can Psychedelic Drug Use Lead to the Need for Treatment?
Some people experience flashbacks–or recurring symptoms of active psychedelic use even when the drug is not in their system. Flashbacks most commonly involve visual and auditory hallucinations and distortion of reality. The occasional recreational user may have flashbacks for months or longer after their last dose.
For a smaller subset of the population, psychedelic drug use can pose more serious risks. Psychedelics can give rise to dormant mental illnesses like schizophrenia in people who are already predisposed. A relatively rare minority of users undergo a condition called persistent psychosis, which entails long-term symptoms, including mood swings, paranoia, and visual disturbances.
In short, despite not bearing the traditional warning signs of addiction and withdrawal that surround other substances, psychedelics come with their own form of dangers and should be treated accordingly. No matter what other people say, if your experience of psychedelic drug use negatively impacts your mental health, it’s important to reach out for professional help to prevent it from getting any worse.
No, taking LSD probably won’t cause you to think you can fly and leap out an open window; at the same time, no drug is without its risks, and each person handles psychoactive stimuli differently. There is little way to predict how these complex drugs can affect you. While psychedelics are not addictive or habit-forming in the traditional sense, it’s still important to avoid letting substance abuse impact your ability to function. Long-term use of psychedelics can seriously influence your mental health. If you or a loved one are struggling or questioning the effects of substance use on your life, reach out to our compassionate and expert staff at Cornerstone Healing Center in Scottsdale, Arizona. Our mission is to help you overcome your obstacles, regain control over your life, and access your full potential. Find social support in a tight-knit community that goes above and beyond to be there for you throughout the crucial first year of sobriety. Call (800) 643-2108 to learn more.