LSD and Natural Hallucinogens

By Dr. Mohamed Isa Abdul Majid
The Sun, September 28, 1996

HALLUCINOGENIC DRUGS ARE substances that distort the perception of objective reality.The world hallucinogen described drugs that, in small doses, could alter perception, thought and mood, creating illusions in the mind of the user.

These drugs induce a state of excitation of the central nervous system, manifested by alterations of mood, usually euphoric, but sometimes severely depressive.

Hallucinogens, at present, can be said to be relatively unknown among drug abusers in Malaysia. Nevertheless, the emergence of a rave culture together with the extra purchasing ability, especially among Malaysian teenagers, seem to promote the increasing use of hallucinogens in the country. The lastest abuse incident of a hallucinogen, Ecstasy, as an example, has been said to give the abusers the stamina to dance for lengthy periods to rave music.

Under the influence of hallucinogens, the pupils dilate and body temperature and blood pressure rise. The senses of direction, distance and time become disoriented. A user may speak of "seeing" sounds and "hearing" colors. Occasionally, de-personalisation and depression are so severe that suicide is possible.

However, the most common danger is impaired judgement, leading to rash decisions and accidents. Persons in hallucinogenic states should therefore be closely supervised and not to be distressed to keep them from harming themselves and others. Acute anxiety, restlessness, and sleeplessness are common until the drug wears off.

Include in this groups of substances are LSD, morning glory seeds, peyote or mescaline, phencyclidine, marijuana, synthetic amphetamine derivatives, nutmeg mace, certain mushrooms and synthetic tryptamines.

Long after hallucinogens have been eliminated from the body, users may experience flashbacks - fragmentary recurrences of psychedelic effects - such as the intensification of a perceived colour, the apparent motion of a fixed object or the mistaking of one object for another.

Recurrent use hallucinogens produces tolerance which tends to encourage the user to resort to greater amounts of the drug. Although no evidence of physical dependence is detectable when the drugs are withdrawn, recurrent use tends to produce psychic dependence varying according to the drug, the dose and the individual user. It should be stressed that the hallucinogens are unpredictable in their effects each time they are used.

LSD is an abbreviation of the German expression for the lysergic acid diethylamide. It is produce from lysergic acid, a substance derived from the ergot fungus, Claviceps purpurea, which grows on rye or from lysergic acid, a chemical found in morning glory seeds.

LSD was first synthesised in 1938 by Drs Hofmann and Stoll of Sandoz Pharmaceutical Company. Its hallucinogenic effects were discovered in 1942 when a chemist accidentally took some LSD. He experienced the effects now known as a "trip" which lasted for about two hours.

Because of the extremely high potency of LSD and its structural relationship to a chemical which is present in the brain and its similarity in effects to certain aspects of psychosis, LSD was used initially as a tool of research to study the mechanism of mental illness. Eventually, upon its widespread use and the discovery of its psychotherapeutic effects in the 1950s and 1960s, illicit use began to spread rapidly.

LSD is nearly always administered orally. The average effective oral dose is from 30 mg to 50 mg, but the amount per dosage unit varies greatly. LSD is usually sold in the form of tablets, thin squares of gelatin or impregnated paper. Higher doses usually give effects for 10 to 12 hours.

LSD often produces an initial burst of activity characterised by flushing, tremor, dilated pupil, flushed face, chilliness, a rise in body temperature, an increase in heart rate, goose bumps, salivation, perspiration, rapid development of tolerance but no addiction.

As the initial stage progresses, the individual may begin to experience euphoria, which is usually accompanied or followed by a range of psychedelic effects. These include emotional instability, time distortions including perception of rapid ageing, visual and auditory illusions and synaesthesia (a mixing of sensory input so that the abuser may see sounds or smells and hear or feel colours).

The person may also feel that he can "step outside" himself and look at his body (de-personalisation). He can experience two feelings at the same time (happy and sad, elated and depressed), the arm and legs feel heavy as lead, minutes seems like hours, while consciousness is retained and the person can think logically up to a point of great understanding, a sense of re-birth with new insights.

LSD is also said to be widely abused in events which often have mystic, religious or philosophical overtones.

One of the primary areas of psychotherapeutic research with LSD was its effect on alcoholics. It was expected that LSD would provide insights to alcoholics, allowing them to step outside themselves and look at their illness, and thus be persuaded to change their drinking habits. Unfortunately, LSD has only been slightly effective in helping alcoholics and it has not developed into a significant therapeutic agent in this area.

Similarly, the used of LSD in autistic children, epileptics, depressives and schizophrenics has been only moderately successful in some cases. There have been accounts of highly successful individual cases, such as a narcotic addict, a sexually, maladjusted person or a criminal.

In general, the use of LSD in psychotherapy is very limited. LSD has been used in terminal cancer patients who experience persistent pain. Such persons get pain relief during LSD therapy and afterward, do not seem to mind the pain as much as before. It is just less important to them. Of all the areas of LSD use, this seems to be the most rewarding, althought it is limited in its use.

Tolerance to the effects of LSD develops very quickly. Thus, it cannot be used continually. As few as three daily doses can induce tolerance and three or more days of abstinence may be required to overcome it. Tolerance does not develop with occasional use.

Flashbacks have been found to occur in a very small percentage of people who have taken LSD. In this phenomenon, the user spontaneously re-experiences LSD-like symptoms weeks or months after he or she stopped taking the drug. In very few cases, the inability to escape the recurrent panic of flashback has caused the person to commit suicide.

While only LSD was originally decribed as a hallucinogen, humans have been aware of the hallucnogenic effects of dozens of natural drugs for thousands of years. A few of these ancient mind-altering drugs are as follows:

Ololiuqui

This is derived from the seeds of the morning glory, Rivea corymbosa. This is the ancient Aztec concoction used by native priests to commune with their gods and "receive messages" from them. Thousands of visions and sanatic hallucinations appeared after the use of this vine-like plant.

Hoffmann, the discoverer of LSD, discovered the presence of a lysergic acid derivative (the simple amide) in ololiuqui, probably accounting for some of its hallucinogenic effects.

Cohoba

Haitians were inhaling this pulverised seed using special bifurcated tubes when Columbus discovered the New World. They become intoxicated, had visions, and were inclined to prophesise under the influence of cohoba. It was also to induce bravery before battle.

It was hown that the major constituent of Cohoba was bufotenine, which is responsible for the action of Cohoba. Another constituent of Cohoba, dimethyl-tryptamine (DMT), is today made synthetically and appears on the streets as a hallucinogenic drug.

Harmala Alkaloids

This is found in plants used by the tribes of Peru, Ecuador, Columbia and Brazil as a hallucinogen. One of the many psychic uses of harmine, a harmala alkaloid, was for guidance in choosing a new spouse. These same harmala alkaloids are found in a plant that grows throughout the Mediterrenean area and was first noted by the botanist Dioscorides. During World War II, the Nazis used harmine as a truth serum.

Scopolamine

This is found in the famous plant Datura stramonium (jimson weed) in henbane and in the arboreal beauty, Methisticodendron amnesium.

Hyoscyamine and atropine are often found in combination with scopolamine in plant sources. Datura plants have been used for thousands of years because of their effects on the mind.

Scopolamine is still legally being used as an active ingredient in some over-the-counter OTC sleep aids.

High doses of scopolamine, instead of sedating, can cause hallucinations. Scopolamine combined with morphine can be used for inducing twilight sleep, a form felt but are not remembered afterwards.

Peyote and Mescaline

The primary active ingredient of the peyote cactus is the hallucinogen, mescaline. It is derived from the fleshy parts or buttons of this plant, which has been employed by Indians in Norhtern Mexico from the earliest recorded time as part of traditional religious rites. Usually grounded into a powder, peyote is taken orally. Mescaline can also be produced synthetically, but much of what is sold under these names on the illicit market consist of other chemical compounds.

Nutmeg

Nutmeg is abundantly found in Malaysia and throughout South East Asia. The intact seeds are normally egg-shaped, corrugated and red-brownish in colour. The hallucinogenic effects have been reported with the use of about one to three whole nutmeg seeds, with the effects beginning three to six hours after ingestion. The effects of ingestion may last up to 24 hours or even longer in certain cases. The individual may show increased heart rate, a slight increase in blood pressure, flushing, vomiting and signs of brain over-activity. These effects may wane with complete recovery usually within 24 hours.

The nature of the hallucnogenic ingredients in nutmeg is controversial. Some researchers have proposed that the active component, myristicin, is responsible for the effects. Unfortunately, other studies have demonstrated that the euphoric and hallucination effects has not been due to it. Due to this, other volatile principles such as eugenol may be responsible for the psychic effects.

While it can be said that the problems of hallucinogen abuse in Malaysia at present is less important compared to cannabis and opiates, the experience in the United States has shown that the abuse of hallucinogens reached peak popularity among all other drugs of abuse in the late 1960s. Due to the alarming increase in the number of new drug addicts, aggressive awareness and educational campaigns on their hazardous effects were launched which subsequently led to the delining number of new addicts.

The re-emergence of chemically synthesised hallucinofens such as Ecstasy in Malaysia does indicate, to a certain degree, the comeback of hallucinogens and it is hoped that a proper awareness campaign would be initiated to overcome the problems.

In the next issue, a full description of the hazardous effects of chemically synthesised hallucinogens would be highlighted.

The writer is a pharmacist and Head of the Toxicology Laboratory at the National Poison Centre, Universiti Sains Malaysia.


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