Are Psychedelic Drugs Addictive?

Are Psychedelic Drugs Addictive?

The psychedelics industry is in the spotlight as the demand for psychedelic treatments continues to rise. New research appears to be vouching for the case of using psychedelic drugs to treat mental health issues.

report from research and markets projected that the Psychedelic Drugs Market size would reach USD 10.75 Billion by 2027, up from USD 4.75 Bn in 2020.

A study published in the journal Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology demonstrated hallucinogens' therapeutic potential, which needs further investigation. Therapeutic psychedelics include Ayahuasca (DMT), LSD, Psilocybin, Mescaline, Ketamine, and MDMA.

Even with all the potential benefits, these substances can still cause harmful short- and long-term health problems. However, the risks of psychedelic use are largely undefined by science. Considering that these compounds are still classified under the Controlled Substances Act, many have questioned their safety especially following long-term use.

So, Are psychedelics addictive?

This article seeks to answer this question comprehensively, citing research. But before we get there, let's first explore the benefits and risks of psychedelics.

Psychedelics Recreational Uses

Psychedelics can be recreationally for different purposes. People may use psychedelics to unwind after a long tiring day. When consumed in high doses, psychedelics will trigger euphoria, which many users enjoy. This is often referred to as a psychedelic trip. It commences with heightened sensations and culminates in a state of nirvana. The user may feel interconnected with the universe or in sync with their true self. Recreational users crave such experiences from psychedelics.

Spiritual Pursuits

Psychedelics may also be used in spiritual pursuits. Users have reported experiencing mystical "visions" or simply feeling in contact with mythical beings. This is very common in Shamanic religious practices.

Artistic Inspiration

Artists such as musicians, poets, painters, and others often turn to psychedelics to fuel creative inspiration.

Psychedelics Therapeutic Uses

​​​​What Is Psychedelic Therapy?

Clinicians are becoming increasingly cognizant of the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs, especially in mental health. Earlier studies from the 1950s and 60s showed the potential of these compounds in treating mood, anxiety, and addictive disorders. More recent research seems to corroborate the suggestion that treatments involving psychedelic drugs may effectively alleviate a range of mental health problems.

Two studies that were published in 2020 showed psilocybin's potential in alleviating treatment-resistant depression symptoms. This study demonstrated that psilocybin did not cause significant side effects like those caused by conventional antidepressants. The latter usually cause apathy or emotional blunting, among other symptoms.

Another study investigated the potential of Ayahuasca in treating mental health disorders. The researchers concluded that this psychedelic "may be a safe and promising treatment" for mental health problems.

A new technique of using psychedelics to improve their mental health and general well-being is referred to as microdosing. This involves taking only a fraction of a dose that is required to have a full-blown psychedelic experience, or "trip." In this case, the user can enjoy the full benefits of the psychedelic without experiencing adverse events.

Psychedelics for Substance Abuse Rehabilitation

Several studies have suggested that psychedelics have potential applications in the treatment of drug addictions. They do this through several therapeutic mechanisms. Psychedelics (in moderate doses) may also reduce anxiety which is known to fuel relapse. Psychedelics linked to the treatment of substance abuse rehabilitation include ketamine, LSD, MDMA, and psilocybin. Ayahuasca (DMT) has also been implicated in substance abuse rehabilitation.

Do Psychedelics Cause Addiction?

MDMA Risks: Addiction, Neurotoxicity and Overdose

Research suggests that psychedelics have a wider safety margin compared to the common addictive drugs. Let us look at the details below.

Most (not all) psychedelic drugs are not addictive. This means that they will not cause physical dependence where a user experiences severe (even life-threatening) adverse effects when they attempt to stop using them. That said, the abuse or misuse of psychedelics may cause the following risks:

  • Psychological dependence leading to abuse
  • Persisting Perception Disorder after long-term abuse
  • Speech problems
  • Weight loss
  • Depression and suicidal tendencies

Psychedelics such as LSD may cause tolerance. In this case, the user will require increasingly higher doses to achieve their desired effect. As much as this is not chemical dependence (addiction), the individual will be compelled to use the drug at an increasing frequency.

Cross-tolerance may also occur when psilocybin and LSD are combined. In this case, when users consume LSD on day one, they may need a higher dose of psilocybin mushrooms the next day because the effects will be diminished.

PCP, on the other hand, can be addictive in higher doses. When PCP is abruptly stopped, the user may experience severe cravings and other withdrawal symptoms.

The addictive properties of other psychedelics have not been ascertained. Further research will help to elucidate the addiction potential of different psychedelics.

The Way Forward

Understanding the Off-Label Use of Ketamine

Despite the therapeutic potential of psychedelics, it's essential to understand the inherent dangers of consuming them. Substance addiction is a higher center function and is influenced by different factors such as genetics and one's mental state. That said, some psychedelics have a higher risk for addiction than others.

As mentioned above, PCP has a high risk for addiction and should be approached with caution. LSD may not be chemically addictive, but it causes tolerance.

Currently, the FDA has not approved any drug for the treatment of addiction to psychedelics. Hence, addiction to psychedelics may pose a significant challenge.

The addictive properties of psychedelics need further scrutiny. As we move to embrace psychedelic therapy for major depressive disorders and substance addiction, we need to rethink psychedelic addiction and the appropriate treatment modalities.

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