Are Psychedelics Addictive?

Psilocybin mushrooms, commonly known as magic mushrooms, mushrooms or shrooms being grown in a home based incubator.

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Psychedelics are hallucinogenic substances that lead to changes in perceptions, sensations, moods, and cognitions. These drugs can have various effects, including feelings of euphoria, changes in perception and cognition, and visual hallucinations.

Evidence suggests that psychedelics are generally not addictive. However, some psychedelics may lead to tolerance. They can also have other health risks.

This article discusses whether any psychedelics pose the risk for addiction, how these substances work, and why they may have some potential in treating mental health conditions. It also covers other potential health risks.

Are Psychedelics Addictive?

Psychedelics are generally not considered addictive. This means that people do not become physically dependent on them and do not engage in compulsive drug-seeking behavior. They also do not experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop using psychedelics.

What Is Addiction?

The "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" (DSM-5-TR) defines addiction as a chronic and relapsing condition characterized by compulsive drug seeking, continued use despite adverse consequences, and long-lasting changes to the brain.

However, some psychedelics, such as LSD, can produce tolerance. Tolerance means that a person has to keep taking higher doses of a substance to experience the same effects.

LSD produces tolerance. This can be potentially dangerous because the effects of the drug can be unpredictable.

LSD also creates a cross-tolerance to some other psychedelics, including psilocybin and mescaline. This means that if a person took LSD one day, they would experience decreased effects if they took magic mushrooms the next day.

What Do Psychedelics Do?

When people take psychedelic substances, they experience visual hallucinations. Changes in thinking and perception accompany these hallucinations. Euphoric moods, an altered sense of time, feelings of introspection, and spiritual experiences are also common.

Types of Psychedelics

  • LSD: This psychedelic is clear or white and made from lysergic acid. It can cause profound changes in perception, mood, and cognition that can last as long as 12 hours.
  • Psilocybin: This substance is found in certain types of hallucinogenic mushrooms.
  • Mescaline: This psychedelic is found in certain types of cactus, including peyote.
  • DMT: This is a naturally-occurring psychedelic found in the nuts and barks of certain types of trees.

The therapeutic uses of psychedelics were an early interest in the 1950s and 1960s, but research on their effects was halted with the passage of the Controlled Substances Act in 1970. These substances are still classified as Schedule I drugs, which indicates that they have a high potential for misuse. There has recently been a resurgence of interest in their therapeutic potential. 

Research suggests that psychedelics may be effective in the treatment of a variety of conditions, including:

  • Anxiety disorders: Studies have found that psychedelics may help relieve anxiety symptoms and other mood disorders.
  • Depression: Ongoing research has shown that psychedelic therapy has promise in treating depression.
  • Alcohol and substance use disorders: Emerging research indicates that psychedelics might be helpful for people recovering from substance use disorders.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Research indicates that MDMA, also known as ecstasy or molly, may be beneficial for people with treatment-resistant PTSD. While MDMA is not a classic psychedelic drug, it does have psychedelic effects.

How Do Psychedelics Work?

Psychedelic drugs impact the neural circuits in the brain that utilize the neurotransmitter serotonin, particularly those in the prefrontal cortex. Their action in this area of the brain leads to mood, perception, and cognition changes.

Psychedelics act as agonists or partial agonists on serotonin 5-hydroxytryptamine 2A receptors in the brain.

In addition to affecting serotonin receptors, psychedelics also impact areas of the brain that play a role in regulating arousal and stress responses. 

Potential Side Effects

While psychedelics are not addictive, they can produce short-term and long-term effects. Shortly after taking a psychedelic substance, people begin to experience hallucinations. Such effects begin within 90 minutes of ingesting the substance and can last as long as 12 hours.

In addition to these psychedelic effects, people may also experience side effects such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Despair
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Increased heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature
  • Impulsiveness
  • Panic
  • Paranoia
  • Rapid changes in emotion
  • Sleeplessness
  • Tremors or weakness

Combining psychedelics with other substances that affect serotonin levels may increase the risk of developing serotonin syndrome. This condition occurs when there is too much serotonin in the body, leading to symptoms such as muscle spasms, confusion, tremors, nausea, and rapid heartbeat.

Other Risks to Consider

The effects of psychedelics can be highly variable and unpredictable. Factors such as the substance used, the quantity ingested, mood, expectations, personality, and setting can all play a part in how a psychedelic experience takes place. In some instances, people may experience what is known as a "bad trip," where they have intense feelings of panic and frightening thoughts.

While it is possible to overdose on psychedelics, it is rare. An overdose that results in death is also unlikely. 

According to NIDA, other serious effects may include persistent psychosis and hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD). Persistent psychosis is marked by visual and mood disturbances, disorganized thinking, and paranoia. HPPD is marked by hallucinations, visual disturbances, and symptoms often mistaken for neurological symptoms.

These two side effects are rare but serious. A history of psychological problems may increase the risk of experiencing these effects, but they can also occur following a single use.

However, other research has found no link between LSD and other psychedelics and psychosis. Based on population surveys of people who had used LSD, psilocybin, and peyote (mescaline), researchers found no increased risk for mental health problems, including schizophrenia, psychosis, anxiety disorder, depression, or suicide attempts.

Summary

Psychedelics can lead to intense hallucinogenic experiences, but they are not addictive since they do not lead to compulsive use. However, people can develop a tolerance, meaning they will need to take more of the drug to achieve the same psychedelic effects.

While they are not addictive, they have risks, including the possibility of a bad trip. Research into their use in treating mental health conditions including anxiety, depression, PTSD, and substance use disorders is ongoing.

A Word From Verywell

Psychedelics are not considered addictive, but this does not mean they are safe or without side effects. While these substances show promise in treating various mental health conditions, this does not mean you should use them on your own for such purposes. If you are interested in psychedelic therapy, your best bet at this time is to sign up for an ongoing research trial. after consulting with your primary care doctor.

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Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.