Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder

What is Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder?

Light affects the way people see the world and in part, the way their eyes react. Brain cells have been the backbone of this process. From human senses, these cells capture information and decipher the data for the human consciousness of the images.

In the midst of this process, some drugs commandeer this connection altogether. The result is an entirely different perspective of the world. It is usually a mixture of fantastic and frightful feelings of the subject. Most times, these changes persist, leaving a severe effect of emotional or physical distress. This is referred to as hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD).

What exactly is hallucinogen persisting perception disorder?

Sometimes, flashes or flashbacks are experienced as the result of certain types of drugs used by the subject. Under the influence of the chemical substance, they briefly relive occurrences they once had. The wind of change follows; one time they feel better, another time they feel altered.

Types of hallucinogens:

  • LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide)
  • PCP (Phencyclidine)
  • Peyote
  • Psilocybin
  • Salvia Divinorum

Without basic knowledge of the substance, thousands of people use hallucinogens every day. Hallucinogens come from the natural sources of fungi’s chemical derivatives. For so many experts, hallucinogens are predictably unpredictable!

It is not clear yet how many people experience typical flashbacks in HPPD. This is because people with recreational drug use history may feel uncomfortable admitting this to their physicians. At the same time, it is difficult for the doctors to be aware of the condition despite its official recognition in diagnostic manuals and medical curriculum.

A long studied phenomenon, research is still quite limited since very few people have been diagnosed with HPPD.

Medically, there are three conditions that succinctly define HPPD:

  1. While the subject is not under the influence of any drug, there is an experience of drug-like sensory disturbances.
  2. Mental or physical conditions like visual epilepsy, dementia, lesions, etc., which accounts for the disturbances, are not shown.
  3. School, work, social settings, and other areas are interfered by the unrest.

A claim that HPPD is different from flashbacks postulates that:

  1. HPPD is recurrent or persistent
  2. There is a clear visual slant in HPPD, meaning that subjects experience complete reality testing.

The claim is that flashbacks with HPPD are not comprehensive. There is a visual disruption in the flashback experience as everything else remains the same. The more familiar these flashbacks, the more they become frustrating, even encumbering.

Symptoms of Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder

HPPD subjects undergo an extensive range of visual disturbances. This is due to how their visual information is processed by the brain. Though normal visual disturbances such as seeing shapes in clouds or points of light are present in healthy people, the medical condition of HPPD is different because of the severity of these effects. The sufficient frequency of these effects interferes with the ability for individuals with HPPD to function well in their daily lives.

Though a psychiatric disorder, HPPD is different from the medical term – palinopsia. Subjects with HPPD typically find it hard to differentiate colors and their names, as colors seem to be changing over time. Studies also claim the reduction in the ability of the eyes to recognize similar colors’ intensity, therefore, failing to identify the exact color of a particular object.

Other symptoms HPPD include:

Afterimages

The subject looks at a particular image for a while, moves away and sees a positive or negative visualization of the model. This also occurs when reading.

Appearances of false or fake images within another picture

There may be visuals on a window which are completely non-existent.

Visualization of geometric patterns

Seeing a particular image in various shapes, sizes, and designs.

The reduction in color discrimination

Reduction in brightness, making it hard to set similar colors apart.

Static or snow

Seeing static over monochromatic surfaces, especially at night.

Halos around objects

Seeing a bright rim around an object.

Reading complexity

Seeing the words on screen or pages shaking or moving.

Uncomfortable feelings

Feeling depressed or nervous during an HPPD episode.

Trailers

Seeing lingering outlines of an object through vision.

Though symptoms of HPPD can occur without warning, a given situation can aggravate the condition. Fatigue or stress are some of the common causes of these symptoms. Others are related to mental illnesses like schizophrenia, anxiety or mood disorder. Symptoms can also be triggered by drug experiences from the past.

Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder Causes

HPPD is not caused by:

  1. HPPD is not another mental disorder or as a result of brain damage.
  2. Some people may have HPPD first after a bad trip, but not all subjects with the sickness experience this. In another word, the lingering symptoms are not connected to the bad trip.
  3. The symptoms are not associated with the release of harmful drugs after being stored in the subject’s body. It is a persistent myth which is far from true.
  4. The disorder is not connected to current intoxication as most subjects experience symptoms of HPPD perhaps an extended period after use of the drugs.

Though the real cause of HPPD is still not clear, medical experts believe that the disorder may be due to the use of medications. This contradicts the theory that defines the cause of HPPD to be generic. The cause is due to the intake of LSD and the use of other psychedelics that are species of mushrooms.

Some subjects experience HPPD after their first intake of the substance, while others continue to use the drug for a longer period before experiencing symptoms.

HPPD subjects fall into two broad categories. The majority of these classes got HPPD fairly early when experimenting with hallucinogens. They are also connected to getting the severe cases of the disorder. Some medical experts believe that this is the case with their theory that HPPD has genetic origins.

The second category is those who got HPPD through long-term experimentation of the drugs. They are reported to have the disorder through a wide range of narcotics. Since some of these long-term subjects also use LSD, it becomes difficult actually to distinguish what drugs are responsible for HPPD in these cases. There are cases of long-term users with a big trip of non-LSD drugs that immediately leads to symptoms of HPPD.

Any recreational drug that alters sensory perception and interferes with mental processes is susceptible potentially to cause HPPD. Natural hallucinogens, synthetic drugs, and other over-the-counter medication can be the cause of recurrent hallucination or flashbacks.

Treatments of Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder

HPPD is hard to treat. Most doctors and psychiatrists have no knowledge of it. Due to its association with illicit drugs, many patients receive minimal sympathy from medical professionals. There seems to be a dangerous belief that HPPD problems are the appropriate punishment for those that experiment with prescribed drugs. Medical treatments of the disorder can only be well handled by qualified psychiatrists or physicians.

Those with HPPD may turn to different DIY techniques and treatments to deal with their discomfort.

Some make use of glasses, indoors or out, to forestall bright lights that can trigger the symptoms. Others resist the use of computers as flickering light of the system can worsen the symptoms. Another technique by others is to reduce severe attacks by paying attention to fatigue. When they are tired, they take a rest and work when they feel energized.

Finding a means to ease the visual disturbances and treat related physical symptoms of HPPD may take a bit of trial and error. Some people may not even need treatment as symptoms may disappear in a matter of weeks or months.

Some anecdotal but limited theory suggests particular medicine that may be beneficial. Epilepsy or an anti-seizure medication like Klonopin (clonazepam) and Lamictal (lamotrigine) can sometimes be prescribed. Bottom line, what works for one may not work for another.

In particular cases, antidepressant medications can also be helpful. This drug tends to improve the mood of the patient over time. Also, to ease the psychotic symptoms associated with HPPD, antipsychotic medications are sometimes prescribed. It is vital that these drugs are used with the prescription of the physician and in their appropriate prescribed doses.

Also for the patient to cope with the fear of experiencing another episode of flashbacks, psychotherapy is essential. Patients can learn to retrain themselves to behave in a way that is more beneficial to their overall health.

Herbs and supplements are also used to alleviate the symptoms of HPPD. The reports on this have been with varying degree of success by some patients. Some other non-medical treatments of HPPD include joining excellent online support groups where the patient can get help and advice to cope. Other such treatments are to avoid worrying about the symptoms by taking a warm bath, relax, and avoid caffeine.

Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder Prevention

Of course, the best way to prevent HPPD is to steer clear of starting the condition in the first place. It is also imperative to get help immediately so they can stop their abuse and use of the drug for good.

The same class of flu-like retreat symptoms seen with other drugs may not happen with hallucinogens. Still, they can result in psychological addictions that can make it hard for users to leave the drug behind without any help. Some are determined to get the kind of highs they have once felt while others crave the changes the drug can bring about.

As stated above, the only surefire way to prevent any long-term HPPD is not to take hallucinogens. As it is, most of these drugs are Schedule I substances.

Using hallucinogens often can be dangerous because of the severe effects they can cause.

Another important aspect of preventing HPPD is not to abuse such drugs as LSD, PCP, psilocybin mushrooms, and other types of hallucinogens. They are also not suitable for recreational use. Though many of them are not addictive, people believe they don’t have long-term effects. Unfortunately, they can cause many enduring issues for those that abuse them.

Seeking help in case of ill-treatment of hallucinogens is useful to prevent more serious side effects. Even in the case of partial addiction, it can be immensely preventable to attend a rehab program in a professional treatment facility.

Also, people with underlying mental health disorders must know the kind of work to do. They must know that to heal, and they must learn how to handle brain changes that come with situations like depression and anxiety. For those that take to at-home care, they must follow the guide by their physicians so it can have a profound impact on their lives.

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Last Reviewed:
September 18, 2017
Last Updated:
December 29, 2017
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