Hallucinogen Withdrawal Symptoms
The difference between detox and withdrawal is important to understand in the context of hallucinogens:
- Detox refers to the metabolic process of eliminating a drug from the body. Detox may or may not be associated with symptoms of withdrawal.
- Withdrawal is the result of chemical dependence. Dependence describes a physical need for the presence of a drug, which makes people continue to use the drug over time. For drugs that are associated with dependence and addiction, withdrawal symptoms generally begin during the detox period.
Both classical and dissociative hallucinogens are associated with a detox period after someone takes them. Someone who is “coming down” off of a hallucinogenic drug may experience discomfort, fatigue or restlessness in the hours following the “trip.” These are not symptoms of withdrawal and typically do not require professional supervision or assistance.
People who use classical hallucinogens do not experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking the drugs. Dissociative hallucinogens, however, may be associated with withdrawal symptoms.
In particular, phencyclidine (PCP) is associated with withdrawal symptoms. Other dissociative hallucinogens may also have withdrawal symptoms, including:
The so-called “acid flashback” is related to hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD). HPPD is a rare and poorly understood consequence of hallucinogen use, and its symptoms include perceptual disturbances that are similar to a hallucinogenic trip. This is not believed to be caused by hallucinogen use in itself. Rather, evidence suggests that HPPD is related to the presence of pre-existing mental health conditions.
How Long Do Hallucinogens Stay in Your System?
The amount of time that a drug is detectable in your system depends on the drug’s half-life. A half-life is the amount of time required for the body to metabolize half of the drug. For example, if there are 10 units of a drug in a person’s system, the first half-life will metabolize 5 units. The second half-life will metabolize half of the 5 remaining units, leaving 2.5 units in the system. This continues until all of the drug is gone.
Generally, a drug will be completely metabolized within 5 half-lives. For a drug with a half-life of 1 day, it may be detectable in the system for 5 days after it was last used.
Most countries do not allow research on the effects of classical hallucinogens in humans. As a result, half-lives are often determined using animal studies, many of which are decades old. Precise half-lives for many hallucinogenic substances in humans remain unclear.
Typical half-lives and windows of detection for common hallucinogens are as follows:
- LSD: 3 hours (detectable for approximately 15 hours)
- Mescaline: 6 hours (detectable for approximately 30 hours)
- Ayahuasca: 1 hour (detectable for approximately 5 hours)
- PCP: 3 days (detectable for approximately 15 days)
- Ketamine: 45 minutes (detectable for approximately 3.75 hours)
- Dextromethorphan (DXM): 3 to 6 hours (detectable for approximately 15 to 30 hours)
As drugs are metabolized, they are broken into byproducts that often have different half-lives. If a drug test looks for a metabolic byproduct rather than the drug itself, the window of detection may be very different.