Hallucinogen Use Among Teenagers

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Hallucinogen Use Among Teenagers

Kaleidoscope perspective, strange sounds, indescribable feeling of love and admiration towards others, life in slow motion, and the feeling of floating in air outside one’s body — these are just some of the things that can be experienced in the world of hallucination, a dream world that is marked by a deep state of unreality or imaginary perceptions. Many people today, most especially the youth, are discovering ways in which they can visit this dreamlike state without the sleeping process: by indulging into a special kind of illicit substance known as hallucinogen (Harmon, 2009).

Because of hallucinogen’s capability to alter an individual’s perception, more and more teenagers are becoming hooked into this form of drug without taking into consideration its impact on their health and well-being. Although it has been widely acknowledged that illicit hallucinogen use significantly decreased during the latter parts of 1990’s, recent studies showed that teenagers are having a renewed interest in using this form of drug due to its availability, the perception of reduced risk, and higher peer support upon its usage.

Various researches even revealed that a teenager as young as 12 years old has easier access obtaining hallucinogenic drug alongside other illicit substances. As such, parents and school administrators alike have a growing concern over the increasing number of teenage hallucinogen users. With the re-emergence of the use of hallucinogen among the youth, it is therefore imperative to take into perspective and analyze the impact of the pertained drug among its users, the factors that contribute to teenagers’ indulgence in this form of drug, and the drug’s level of accessibility among this group.

Hallucinogen: An Overview To give depth to the subject being discussed, it is highly important to understand its origin and nature. Hallucinogens, also commonly referred to as “psychedelics,” are a diversified group of drugs that have the capacity to alter an individual’s mood, thoughts, and perception. As they are heterogeneous in nature, hallucinogens are notorious for their varying chemical contents, mechanism of actions, as well as adverse effects on the users.

While hallucination is perceived as the instantaneous effect of using such drug, hallucinogens are also known for changing moods and thoughts as they disrupt the normal functioning of a person’s serotonin system, which is responsible for controlling pain perceptions, moods, and sleep-wake cycle of humans (Richards, 2006). The proliferation of hallucinogen is not a new phenomenon as it has been used by humans for thousands of years for the purpose of both religious and mystical experiences.

In the Hindu holy book, “Rig Veda,” the use of a substance known as “soma,” which is said to be capable of inducing high levels of consciousness, has been mentioned. This substance is extracted from the juice of a hallucinogenic mushroom known as Amanita Mascaria. Meanwhile, in the pre-Columbian era Mexico, Aztecs used “teotlaqualli,” a paste from “ololiuqui,” a hallucinogenic flower, during their religious ceremonies. Aztec priests and soldiers rub the hallucinogenic substance on their skin as it is believed to reduce fear and induce proper mental state needed while servicing the Aztec gods.

Similar to this, aboriginals from Mexico were also noted for their long history of “peyote” usage, a hallucinogen containing mescaline that is also used for religious ceremonies. In Salem, Massachusetts, it was once believed that hallucinogens are the main cause of unlikely behaviors of the alleged witches during trials (Richards, 2006). Basically, there are two types of hallucinogens: the natural, which can be obtained from raw plants, and the synthetic varieties or man-made. Natural hallucinogens come from plants that grow in the wild or in “drug farms. ” These varieties may include some forms of mushrooms and the cactus plant, peyote.

Some flowers such as morning glories are also known for producing hallucinogenic chemicals. Marijuana, which comes from cannabis plants, is also identified as a comparatively weak form of hallucinogen. Technically, all of these are not considered as drugs as they are naturally occurring substances that contain hallucinogenic chemicals (Harmon, 2009). In contrast with natural hallucinogens, synthetic varieties of the said drug are produced in laboratories with variations of other substances to further enhance its effects.

The very first form of synthetic hallucinogen is Lysergic Acid Diethylamide 25 (LSD), discovered by Dr. Albert Hoffman of Sandoz Laboratories in Basel, Switzerland during 1938. LSD was accidentally discovered while Hoffman was experimenting on drugs that have medical purposes. The doctor did not realize the drug’s mind-altering effects until 1943 when he accidentally consumed the drug and experienced hallucination. Interest in LSD did not receive the attention of many until 1960’s when Timothy Leary and his colleagues at Harvard University began experimenting the drug to themselves and advocating its use due to the alleged heightened feeling of intra- and interpersonal understanding, spirituality, and increased level of productivity it brings.

As such, academics, artists, and students alike were swayed to use LSD. Also included in this group of psychedelics are phencyclidine (PCP) or “angel dust,” which is considered as the most dangerous form of hallucinogen that can be in powder, tablet, capsule, or beverage form; Foxy Methoxy; Dextromethorpan (DXM) or “robo,” a cough-suppressing ingredient found in over-the-counter cough and cold medications; and Ecstasy (MDMA) and Special K (ketamine hydrochloride), two other hallucinogenic drugs that are becoming increasingly popular among teenagers, to name a few (Harmon, 2009).

Teenage Hallucinogen Use Figures Abuse of drugs has been a major public concern since the 1960’s, and it cannot be denied that it is still an ongoing societal issue. For the most part, teenagers played a significant role in the rise of drug abuse, as they are easily persuaded to engage in such activity. Perhaps, a few other points in history have been strongly related with hallucinogen use other than 1960’s. For one, rampant experimentation with hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD, psilocybin, and peyote became an important part of the American pop culture, influencing aspects such as music, clothing, language, and art.

Likewise, the said practive also served as a catalyst for the establishment of the counterculture known as the “hippie era. ” Notable in this period of hallucinogen experimentation was the participation of teenagers who tried psychedelic drugs at an unprecedented rate. The first National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA) in 1972 reported that 5 percent of Americans, most of whom are under 18 years of age, admittedly used psychedelics at least once. By 1980’s, the use of psychedelic drugs dramatically declined due to the introduction of cocaine.

However, in the early 1990’s, the interest in hallucinogen resurfaced and was distributed even in the most unexpected places such as schools, targeting the student population (Travis, 1997). While a vast number of resources indicated that the figures have dropped during the mid-1990’s, recent studies have shown that the illicit use of hallucinogens is once again reemerging. Alarmingly, the rates are much higher compared to the teenage active users during the 1960’s and mid-1990’s, and worse, these teenage hallucinogen users are much younger than expected.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) in 2007, about 34. 2 million Americans at the age of 12 or older reported that they have tried using hallucinogen at least once in their lifetime, which can be translated to 13. 8% of the said age group’s overall population. Similarly, in the 2008 survey carried out by “Monitoring the future,” it was indicated that “3. 3% of eight graders, 5. 5% of tenth graders, and 8. 7% of twelfth graders” admitted to a lifetime usage of hallucinogens.

These figures are levels higher compared to the 2007 percentages of “3. 1%, 6. 4%, and 8. 4%” of the respective grades. In this respect, the statistics significantly reported a higher increase in the numbers of teenage hallucinogen users (Monitoring the future, 2008 cited in Office of National Drug Control Policy [ONDCP], 2009). Hallucinogen Drug Sources: The Internet and Club-Drug Scenes With the given figures above, one may wonder how the teenagers manage to gain access to these hallucinogenic drugs. There are various means that can be adopted in order to obtain such forms of illicit drugs that can bypass the traditional channels of doing so.

The Internet as well as the urban club scene is identified as two of the major sources where hallucinogenic substances can be obtained. Internet: A New Vast Source of Illicit Drug Information The reemergence of illicit hallucinogen is prevalent among teenagers; it has been identified that this same societal group is also the heavy users of the World Wide Web or Internet. The Internet is known as a powerful tool that can provide unlimited access to various kinds of information.

Due to such capability, the Internet is also considered as a breeding ground for the rise of unlawful practices that are within the reach of young individuals. In a 2001 study carried out by John Halpern and Harrison Pope Junior, they have concluded that by using the Internet, potential hallucinogen users can learn in great detail how to obtain hallucinogenic drugs. During the time of their research, Halpern and Pope, through the use of standard Internet search techniques, located 81 hallucinogen-related sites and categorized the information found on the said sources.

Some of the sites they have found explain to its users how wild plants containing hallucinogenic substances can be identified. Some provided information where hallucinogenic plants are commercially available, while some sell strains of hallucinogenic plants that can be grown. They have also located sites that provide chemical recipes for synthesizing all of the hallucinogenic substances that are categorized in the Schedule I list and other non-schedule hallucinogen analogs.

Additional sites that sell hallucinogenic plant materials were also located. They have also uncovered Internet travel industry that offers tours to countries where hallucinogenic potions can be ingested in the context of traditional rituals. Finally, the researchers also came across myriads of sites that are carrying hallucinogen-related information which include keyword-searchable database that offer information regarding personal hallucinogenic experiences, street pricing, scientific articles, and paper clippings related to hallucinogen drugs.

Contrary to the thousands of pages available for underground hallucinogen information, limited linked sites were directed towards government agencies that caution users against the dangers of using hallucinogen drugs. Likewise, only few Internet users visit these federally funded databases which are in deep disparity with the number of visits that underground sites receive (Halpern & Pope, 2001). With the constantly evolving nature of the Internet, the sources found by Halpern and Pope (2001) represent only a small margin of the overall hallucinogenic-related sites found over the Internet.

However, this study only proves that teenagers, being the frequent users of the World Wide Web, can come across pools of hallucinogen-related information just by typing in keywords at the appropriate prompt. Automatically, links after links of sites that supply detailed information concerning botanical and synthetic hallucinogens can be followed by the teenagers. Most of the information found on these sites are unchecked for accuracy and have yet to be described in present addiction and psychiatry textbooks, clinicians as well as the legislative authorities (Senay, 1998; Miller, 1998; cited in Halpern & Pope, 2001).

In addition to this, as the Internet can serve as a ground for the perpetration of unlawful practices, phony prescriptions can be used by teenagers in order to avail of prescribed drugs that contain certain amount of hallucinogenic substances. Although many reputable online pharmacies require authentic prescriptions before giving out drugs, it cannot be discounted that with today’s experienced online users, the authenticity of such prescriptions can be altered.

In some instances, there are Internet sites that are made to look both legal and official when in reality, they are not. These sites provide teens with easy-to-fill-out online questionnaire and ask for money; within days, the teen can already receive the drug that he or she purchased online (Hutchinson, 2006). Club-Drug Scenes Adolescence is the period where young individuals usually go out and meet people of their same age to socialize.

Various places have been created in order to cater to their needs, and these are the places where they can usually hang-out together and enjoy their lives away from the sight of their parents. Clubs are the most common hang-out for teenagers and adults; these are the venue where they can release their energy and at the same time meet various people. As the number of teenagers who patronize such environment continuously grows, so is the number of these clubs. Hence, the number of club-drug venues and the use of addictive substances have been notably increasing as well.

The term club-drug commonly refers to the specific drugs used by teens or even young adults who frequently visit music or dance clubs that are especially geared for their age group. Hallucinogens are often reported as the most common form of substance used in club-drug venues, specifically LSD, Nexus, Ketamine, and Ecstasy. These hallucinogenic drugs are frequently used in a gathering known as “rave,” a large-scale party carried out in a temporary location that allows participants to dance in trance-like tunes, experience light shows and other special effects, and take drugs.

The attendance and participation in these events serve as the affirmation of the individual’s involvement in club drugs (Golub, Johnson, Sifaneck, Chesluk, & Parker, 2001). Unlike other social events that use traditional media to advertise their future affairs, the promoters of raves do not use such medium in order to market their events to people. Instead, they use underground and semi-spontaneous advertisements, such as word-of-mouth, recorded phone messages, handbills, and the Internet, that are directed towards their desired clientele.

As police intervention serves as a serious threat to this event, one technique used by promoters to avoid issues with the authority is to notify the participants about the date and time of the rave through the Internet, and phone numbers are given out for further information (Golub et al. , 2001). Once inside these venues, participants are then welcomed with a special genre of music that enables participants to release their restrictions.

Such trance-like experience is further enhanced through the use of psychedelic drugs, which more often than not combine memories, associations, and hallucinations altogether, making the participant feel a sense of enlightenment (Golub et al. , 2001). Although present-day rave music and activities do not come in parallel with that of the hallucinogenic culture during the 1960’s, there are still aspects of that period that manifest itself in the raves of today, such as the emphasis on attaining personal enlightenment and the promotion of non-violence through the use of hallucinogenic drugs (Travis, 1997).

In addition to this, raves and other events where hallucinogen drugs can be easily obtained such as trance parties and dance clubs are appealing to teenagers because they often serve as a gateway for escaping the stifling apathy of mainstream society by offering a time-out through illegal yet leisurely activities (Golub et al. , 2001). Teenage Vulnerability to Hallucinogen Use One may wonder what makes these illicit drugs so attractive to teens. There are myriads of reasons that can be derived to address this simple question.

First, teenagers are very susceptible to use hallucinogenic drugs due to their inquisitive nature as well as their inclination with experimentation. More often than not, the cycle of addiction begins with a mere curiosity. In order to give in to the call of their curious minds, teenagers would then experiment by taking in small amount of the hallucinogenic drug just enough to get them high. As a hallucinogenic substance gives a short-term psychedelic trip that is initially pleasant or more often euphoric, these sensations provide teenagers the false feelings of worry-free life or nirvana.

Over time, they will then need more amount of the hallucinogenic drug in order to acquire the same effect and to get the same high as the ones they felt before, thereby launching the cycle of hallucinogen addiction (Hutchinson, 2006). Another reason for the vulnerability of teenagers to hallucinogen drug intake may be attributed to their perception of reduced risk. Because of the so called “mind expansion” capability of psychedelics that can be bought at a cheaper price compared to other drug counterparts, teenagers tend to overlook the adverse effects of such drugs.

Various evidences showed that more and more teenagers consider both Ecstasy and LSD harmless, which perhaps explains the increase experimentation of young people with the said forms of hallucinogenic drugs. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not seen any therapeutic use for hallucinogenic drugs. Likewise, a variety of studies reported that current available psychedelics posit unpredictable effects and substantial risks that may harm the life of its users (Abraham et al., 1996 cited in Hanson, Venturilli, & Fleckenstein, 2005).

Similar to this is the fact that little media coverage has been devoted to hallucinogen use, and fewer opportunities exist in order to present the adverse effects of the said drugs, thereby contributing to the “generational forgetting” of teenagers about hallucinogen to the extent that it has even penetrated the school grounds (Johnston, O’Malley, & Bachman, 1995, p. 12 cited in Travis, 1997, n. p. ).

Peer pressure also plays a significant role in a teenager’s indulgence in hallucinogenic substances. As the need for acceptance is very much appealing for a teen who does not feel that he or she fits in and does not have high self-esteem, other teens can introduce the use of hallucinogen as a form of welcoming the other teenager. As such, in order to fit into the “cool” crowd, the teenager would eventually give in to the temptation so as to feel the belongingness that he or she is looking for.

Conclusion Based on the facts and information presented in this paper, it is apparent that the illicit use of hallucinogenic drugs is a reemerging public health problem that could greatly affect teenagers. Because of the relatively inexpensive pricing and noncompetitive network of distribution of the hallucinogenic drug as seen in its availability over the Internet and club venues, more and more teenagers are swayed to take such drugs without taking into consideration its adverse health effects.

Other factors that affect the consumption of hallucinogenic drugs among teenagers may be attributed to the perception of reduced risks that these drugs pose as well as peer pressure. While it may be true that the off-shoot in the number of teenagers using hallucinogen may not severely threaten law enforcement at this point, if this trend of hallucinogenic use among teenagers will persist, various issues may arise that could affect not only the individual user but the community as a whole. Concerns for public safety are deeply related to the use of hallucinogen.

Such can be perceived with the upsurge of income-generating crimes and crimes of violence. It should also not be overlooked that the continuous existence of hallucinogenic drugs presents a great threat on the health and safety of these young individuals. As such, it is therefore critical to place stricter law enforcement efforts in disrupting the production and distribution of hallucinogens so as to avoid their adverse effects not only on the teenage users but the whole societal system as well.


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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 6 September 2016

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