Since 2015, the usage of hallucinogen drugs is on the rise throughout the country. A recent study conducted by the University of Cincinnati found that the use of LSD has risen 56% since 2015. With the disruption of COVID-19 causing mass quarantining and isolation, just as the rates of overall substance use and misuse has risen, so has the use and misuse of hallucinogens. Americans seem to be passing the time by tripping in quarantine.
What are Hallucinogens?
Hallucinogens are a class of drugs that alter a person’s awareness of their surroundings. These drugs also impact an individual’s thoughts and feelings. Some examples of the effects of hallucinogens are “seeing music”, altered perception of reality, seeing images that aren’t there, witnessing inanimate objects “move” or “breathe”, or feel strong sensations. Hallucinogens are commonly split into two distinct categories: classic hallucinogens and dissociative hallucinogen drugs. Some examples of classic hallucinogens are LSD, psilocybin (magic mushrooms), peyote or mescaline, dimethyltryptamine or DMT, or ayahuasca. Examples of dissociative hallucinogens are PCP, ketamine (or Special K), dextromethorphan (DXM) which is often used as a cough suppressant, or salvia.
Hallucinogens were very popular in the 1960s and 1970s, as counterculture and the hippie movement saw the rates of Americans using hallucinogens rise exponentially. During that time period, over 10% of high school seniors reported using the drug. In 2019, that number was 6%. However, as the current rates of hallucinogens rise, the ages of those Americans using these drugs are changing. While decades ago it was more common for teenagers and young adults to use drugs like LSD, the current numbers report that more Americans are using these drugs that fall into the category of being between the ages of 34-49. In fact, the increase in hallucinogens of Americans between the ages of 34-to-49 rose by 223%.
Why is Hallucinogen Use on the Rise?
Researchers identified some reasons as to why the use of hallucinogens is increasing. In the last year, the rising rates of depression and anxiety, coupled with the isolation due to the coronavirus pandemic, is certainly one reason. Additional reasons are the increase in Electric Dance Music (EDM) festivals and raves, the societal movement to support therapeutic microdosing in the treatment of depression, and additional scientific and media discussion towards the decriminalization and/or legalization of drugs. Similar to marijuana, there is a presiding thought process from many Americans that hallucinogens are more harmless than say, other Schedule 1 drugs such as cocaine or heroin. In fact, with the scourge and impact of the opioid crisis, many Americans believe that prescription narcotics offer more danger to an individual than hallucinogens like LSD.
However, an interesting point is that many individuals who are using hallucinogens are not simply using them alone. While many people experimented with LSD and other hallucinogens in the 1960s and 1970s in order to “expand their minds”, users of today are looking to feel the effects of these drugs, get high, or relieve psychiatric suffering like depression. Additionally, many users fall into the category of polysubstance abuse or polysubstance use disorder, meaning that they are taking more than one substance or struggling with multiple substance use. The hallucinogen users of today are also experimenting or using other substances, such as heroin or other opioids, cocaine, Xanax, or alcohol. This dangerous combination can cause the risk of addiction, overdose, or fatal overdose for the user.
As the numbers of Americans suffering from mental health concerns like anxiety, depression, or trauma continue to climb, most likely so will the numbers of individuals using hallucinogens.
While it is important to distinguish these drugs for the good they can offer or therapeutic benefits they may have, it is also important for those users of hallucinogens to seek help if they find these drugs having a negative impact or destructive effect on their lives and their emotional well-being.
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