Hallucinogens are commonly used by addicts. These drugs are used to create an alteration in the addict’s current state of awareness. Some people explain the experience as feeling like they disconnect from their own bodies. There are both natural and synthetic versions of hallucinogens. Certain types of mushrooms, for example, are commonly consumed as a way of experiencing hallucinogenic effects.
There are also some illicit drugs that are known to cause similar effects as these hallucinogens, even though they do not fall in the same category of chemicals. Methamphetamine is one drug that is often under the spotlight. Many people have wondered whether or not meth is actually a hallucinogen.
In this post, we take a closer look at the effects of meth on the brain and mind. We consider whether meth is a hallucinogen and consider its specific classification.
What Are Hallucinogens?
Before taking a closer look at whether there is any connection between hallucinogens and methamphetamine, we should consider what a hallucinogen is. This is a term used to describe quite a large range of drugs that are generally used for illicit purposes.
Hallucinogens are divided into two major categories1. Each category has specific drugs that fall into it. The two categories include:
- Classic hallucinogens
- Dissociative drugs
Dissociative drugs tend to have a more potent effect. A classic hallucinogen will cause a person to experience hallucinations. LSD is a typical example of a classic hallucinogen. When the individual rather turns to dissociative drugs, additional effects will be experienced. These drugs tend to cause hallucinations, as well as a loss of control. The person generally feels as if they are not connected to their own body while under the influence of a dissociative drug. Some also explain that they feel disconnected from their entire environment.
Here are a few examples of classic hallucinogens that people use:
- D-lysergic acid diethylamide, more commonly known as LSD
- 4-phosphoryloxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine, also known as Psilocybin
- Mescaline, also called Peyote
- N,N-dimethyltryptamine, or DMT
People also often use these dissociative drugs as hallucinogens:
- Phencyclidine, or PCP
- Salvia divinorum, often simply referred to as Salvia
- DXM, which goes by the street name “Robo.”
Hallucinogens can be made either from natural resources or from synthetic elements.
Man-made hallucinogens are classified as synthetic. Natural hallucinogens are generally made from chemicals extracted from certain mushrooms. There are also a few plants that contain chemicals that can cause hallucinations – these are also used to create certain types of hallucinogens.
Is Methamphetamine Classified As A Hallucinogen?
Some of the effects that people experience when they use a hallucinogen have been noted among meth users too. This has raised questions about a potential link between the two types of drugs. A common question is whether or not methamphetamine is actually a type of hallucinogen.
When asking this question, it is important to consider the fact that some drugs can have effects that are associated with substances in a different class. This does not necessarily mean the substance is part of this drug class. As an example, meth can affect opioid receptors, yet it is not classified as an opioid.
The same goes for the question about a link between hallucinogens and methamphetamine.
To answer the question – no, meth is not a hallucinogen.
Still, there are effects of meth that may seem like it should be in a similar category of drugs.
Methamphetamine is primarily a stimulant. This is a term used to describe a relatively broad range of drugs – some of which hold medicinal value, and others used for recreational purposes. The primary action of a drug in this category will be an effect on the central nervous system2.
There are medical uses for certain stimulants. They are sometimes used to assist in the treatment of obesity, for example. Some stimulants have also been shown as potential therapeutic agents in the treatment of hypotension, narcolepsy, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, asthma, and sinus congestion. Today, however, there is a common concern regarding the abuse of stimulants.
Methamphetamine is a potent stimulant.
It is also one of the most widely abused stimulants that currently exist. It is part of the amphetamine drug family3 and is highly regulated in most areas of the country. A prescription is needed by patients who would like to use it for medicinal purposes.
How Does Methamphetamine Affect The Brain
In medical settings, methamphetamine, along with similar drugs in its class, is used as a treatment for certain conditions. Since the early 1900s, methamphetamine became a popular anti-obesity drug. The stimulant effect produced by the drug leads to a suppression of appetite. Among obese individuals, a high-calorie intake makes it hard to lose weight. By introducing a stimulant to the body, there is usually a reduction in calorie consumption.
Our focus here, however, is on the effects that methamphetamine has when it is abused. The primary reason why people turn to methamphetamine as a recreational drug is due to the euphoria that is created. This is due to changes in brain chemicals induced by the active chemicals found in meth.
Methamphetamine, similar to amphetamines, its main drug class, causes catecholamine induction. This essentially means the drug causes the balance of certain neurotransmitters in the brain to change. In particular, there are two neurotransmitters affected by methamphetamine. These include dopamine and norepinephrine4.
This is why people generally experience a euphoria effect when they use methamphetamine. The higher dopamine and norepinephrine chemicals in the brain make the person experience a burst in energy, their libido is elevated, and cognition tends to be enhanced too.
Long-term use of amphetamines, such as methamphetamine, causes adverse effects. These effects can sometimes be serious – even leading to life-threatening complications.
Studies have shown both structural and functional changes in the brain associated with chronic and long-term exposure to methamphetamine5.
Neurotoxicity is reported as a major concern in methamphetamine abuse.
Abuse of methamphetamine can affect more than the addict themselves. One research paper6 describes the dangers that are held by methamphetamine use among pregnant and breastfeeding women. The chemicals found in methamphetamine can affect an unborn baby, as well as infiltrate breast milk – which means a breastfeeding baby can be exposed to the drug.
We mentioned previously that methamphetamine users sometimes experience effects generally associated with hallucinogens. This is the primary reason why questions about meth being a hallucinogen are raised.
It is important to note that even though the effects may be comparable by some people, they are not the same. Methamphetamine can cause hallucinations – both auditory and visual – but this is not caused by the same pathways as a hallucinogen, such as LSD.
This is also where psychosis comes into play among meth users. Meth-induced psychosis refers to psychosis as a side-effect and complication caused by exposure to methamphetamine.
Studies have considered this potential adverse effect that meth users may experience and confirmed a link. In one study, it is estimated that up to 40% of frequent meth users may develop psychosis as an adverse effect7.
What Is Psychosis?
Psychosis is generally described as a disconnection from reality. The person who experiences psychosis will generally find that they feel like they lose their connection to their own reality. Previous studies8 have shown that up to 3.5% of the population will, at some point, reach a point where they experience symptoms diagnosable as psychosis.
What Causes Psychosis In Meth Users?
Dopamine, a transmitter produced in the brain, is the primary chemical associated with the development of psychosis.
This is also one of the neurotransmitters that are altered by exposure to methamphetamine. When a person uses methamphetamine over a long period of time, dopamine production may be affected. This effect can then lead to the development of psychosis as an adverse reaction.
Symptoms Of Meth-Induced Psychosis
There are a few symptoms that may signal psychosis induced by the use of methamphetamine. Loved ones will usually be able to tell when a meth user experiences psychosis. It is crucial for family members to be able to recognize the symptoms – this ensures appropriate action can be taken.
It is important to realize that symptoms can differ from one patient to the next. Every person perceives the effects of psychosis in their own way. Still, there are certain symptoms that should be noted, including:
- Compulsion behavior
- Being secretive
Any combination of these symptoms may develop when a person experiences meth-induced psychosis.
How Long Does Meth-Induced Psychosis Last?
The duration of psychosis depends on a couple of factors. The severity of the meth addiction and the doses used may affect the psychosis. A more severe level of psychosis may develop when the person uses high doses of meth.
Transient psychosis is generally the first sign of these adverse effects. Sometimes, this comes in an episode lasting only a couple of hours. An episode of transient psychosis can, however, last an entire week at once.
This can eventually lead to what is known as persistent psychosis. In such a case, the effects of psychosis may seem almost permanent – it can last as long as half a year, even after the person stopped using methamphetamine completely.
Current Treatments For Meth-Induced Psychosis
There are treatment options for psychosis induced by meth. These treatments will generally form part of a more comprehensive addiction treatment program.
The first step is to help the patient stop using methamphetamine. The drug can cause lasting damage to the brain. Getting the person off the drug can help to prevent further damage and helps to reduce the risk of the psychosis escalating even further.
Residential addiction treatment is essential for people who need to recover from meth addiction. This is especially important in the presence of meth-induced psychosis.
Withdrawal symptoms usually start to develop about one day after the last dose of meth that the person took. These symptoms can include anxiety, depression, itching, sleep disturbances, and fatigue. It is also possible for additional psychotic symptoms, including hallucinations and paranoia, to develop at this time.
Close supervision, along with appropriate treatments, is provided during this time. The detoxification period will usually last until the worst withdrawal symptoms start to subside. The patient will still be closely monitored in a residential addiction treatment setting. Medicated treatments for psychosis may be provided if this is a complication the patient had experienced due to the meth use.
The duration of treatment depends on factors like whether the patient has psychosis as an adverse effect. This will often mean the patient requires longer in-patient treatment to help with their recovery.
Where Patients Can Find Effective Treatment
Self-treatment for methamphetamine addiction is generally ineffective. While some patients are able to discontinue the use of meth, they may soon find themselves at a point of failure. A relapse is experienced, as the patient is unsure how to cope with the withdrawal symptoms that set in soon after cessation of meth use.
Seeking help from a professional facility with trained staff can offer a less inconvenient method of recovering from meth addiction. A methamphetamine abuse treatment program in Texas can be used to provide the patient access to the services they need during recovery. A majority of patients will be required to undergo a 24/7 medical detox for meth abuse near Fort Worth, Texas, such as the program offered by Stonegate Center. This detoxification period is critical, as it provides the patient with support while they are experiencing withdrawal from methamphetamine.
Continued support can then be offered through outpatient or residential treatment protocols. Patients will be analyzed on an individual basis by an intake counselor, ensuring a personalized program can be developed for them.
1 National Institute on Drug Abuse. Hallucinogens DrugFacts. [online] Available at: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/hallucinogens
2 StatPearls. (2020) Stimulants. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK539896/#:~:text=The%20term%20stimulants%20cover%20a,medical%20benefits%2C%20and%20recreational%20purposes.
3 Journal of Psychopharmacology. (2013) Amphetamine, past and present – a pharmacological and clinical perspective. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3666194/
4 The Journal of Neuroscience. (2013) Amphetamine Mechanisms and Actions at the Dopamine Terminal Revisited. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3753078/
5 Brain Sciences. (2012) Functional and Structural Brain Changes Associated with Methamphetamine Abuse. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4061807/
6 Journal of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine. (2017) Two Case Studies Illustrating a Shared Decision-Making Approach to Illicit Methamphetamine Use and Breastfeeding. [online] Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28530453/
7 HHS Public Access. (2016) Methamphetamine Psychosis: Epidemiology and Management. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5027896/
8 StatPearls. (2020) Psychosis. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK546579/
John Eckelbarger is a Business Development Representative for Stonegate Center. With a BSA in Chemistry from the University of Texas at Austin, he has an interest in the neurobiology of addiction & pharmacology of drugs. He hopes to bolster Stonegate Center to the forefront of addiction medicine through bold, innovative content. He is currently pursuing his MBA in Finance from Texas Christian University.