in this article
- What is Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD)?
- Symptoms of HPPD
- Causes of HPPD
- Diagnosis of HPPD
- Treatment Options for HPPD
- Understanding the Impact of HPPD
- HPPD and Co-occurring Conditions
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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Chemical Collective or any associated parties.
Here at Chemical Collective we usually focus on the positive aspects of psychedelics and their potential for great change, individually, and on society as a whole. It has been near unanimously confirmed by an ever increasing body of scientific research that hallucinogens have huge potential to increase mental well-being, and even cure those suffering from issues such as PTSD, drug addiction, depression and anxiety. However, we aim to provide valuable information and insights into various topics related to psychedelics and their usage.
This cannot be pure propaganda for the glorious “psychedelic renaissance” and must always be tempered with a focus on harm reduction.
Unfortunately this means occasionally it is necessary to mention potential risks and serious problems which people suffer from as a direct result of their use (and abuse) of these powerful compounds – though in this case in particular I do feel the illegality and lack of widespread education could be cited as a direct cause of this condition, or at least a reason which it is exacerbated.
In this article, I will explore Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD), its symptoms, causes, diagnoses, and potential treatment options.
Many people feel that HPPD is just another myth created by the (failed) War on Drugs. But the data does not lie. HPPD is not something to be ignored, or swept under the rug, no matter how positive I am about psychedelics personally.
It is important to note that the condition is rare, and is believed to affect somewhere between 0.12 to 4.2 percent of psychedelic users. But if you’re someone who consumes these substances, it’s important to know about all the potential risks that come with using any psychedelic.
My goal here is to offer an unbiased and thorough understanding of this disorder and provide you with the knowledge you need to understand this phenomenon.
Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD) is a condition characterized by the persistence of visual disturbances or sensory abnormalities which continue after the use of hallucinogenic substances has ceased. These hallucinogens can include lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), psilocybin mushrooms, mescaline, and other similar substances. HPPD is the scientifically accepted definition/explanation for the well-known, often LSD related, “flashbacks” due to the recurring nature of these disturbances. Boston-based Dr. Henry Abraham was the first to raise awareness of HPPD in 1983 through his research paper titled:
This study examined 123 individuals who had used LSD and experienced ongoing hallucinations following their psychedelic trips.
However, modern research into HPPD highlights the distinction between these previously named “flashbacks” and Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD) itself. While flashbacks are temporary and transient experiences, HPPD is a lifelong condition that sufferers live with continuously.
Individuals experiencing HPPD may encounter a range of distressing visual disturbances. These symptoms can vary in intensity and duration, impacting daily life and overall well-being. Some common symptoms of HPPD include:
. Visual Snow: The perception of tiny, flickering dots or static in the visual field. This phenomenon is often compared to looking at a television screen with poor reception.
. Trails or Afterimages: Prolonged images or trails left behind moving objects. For example, when a person waves their hand, the individual with HPPD may continue to see the hand’s trail for an extended period.
. Halos or Auras: The appearance of a glowing or colored halo around objects. This visual distortion can make objects appear as if they are emitting light or surrounded by a colorful aura.
. Geometric Patterns: Seeing intricate and repetitive patterns overlaying surfaces or in the environment. These patterns can manifest as grids, fractals, or complex shapes.
. Flashes of Color: Sudden bursts of vibrant colors appearing spontaneously. These flashes can be brief but can be distracting and disruptive to visual perception.
. Micropsia/Macropsia: Objects appearing smaller or larger than their actual size. This distortion in size perception can be disorienting and affect depth perception.
. Difficulty with Night Vision: Impaired vision in low-light conditions. Individuals with HPPD may struggle to adapt to darkness and experience heightened visual disturbances in these situations.
. Depersonalization or Derealization: A sense of detachment from oneself or the surroundings. This symptom can contribute to feelings of unreality and can be distressing for individuals experiencing HPPD.
It is important to note that individuals with HPPD may experience a combination of these symptoms, which can persist for an extended period. The severity of symptoms can vary from mild and tolerable to severe and significantly impairing.
The exact cause of Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder is not yet fully understood. However, research suggests that the prolonged effects of hallucinogens on the brain’s visual processing centers may contribute to the development of this disorder. Hallucinogens, such as LSD and psilocybin, interact with serotonin receptors in the brain, leading to alterations in neural activity. Some hypotheses propose that HPPD may arise due to alterations in the serotonin system or the disruption of neural pathways responsible for visual processing.
Another contributing factor could be individual susceptibility. Some individuals may have a predisposition to developing HPPD due to their unique neurobiology or genetic makeup. Further research is needed to fully elucidate the causes of HPPD and the factors that contribute to its development. A study published in the Journal of Addiction Disorders that examined 26 HPPD patients from North America, Europe, and South America discovered that the majority of HPPD patients were male (73%) and white (92%), with a median age of 24.5 years. The duration of HPPD varied from less than one year to over 10 years.
All patients reported a history of preexisting mood disorders, and previous use of hallucinogenic drugs, including lysergic acid, was also noted.
Diagnosing HPPD can be challenging, as there are as of yet no specific laboratory tests or imaging techniques available which can categorically confirm its presence. Medical professionals rely on a comprehensive assessment of the individual’s symptoms, medical history, and substance use patterns. It is essential to rule out other potential causes for visual disturbances, such as ocular disorders, mental health conditions, or substance-induced psychosis.
During the diagnostic process, the healthcare provider will conduct a thorough evaluation that includes:
. Clinical Interview: The healthcare provider will engage in a detailed conversation with the individual to gather information about their symptoms, medical history, and substance use. They will inquire about the specific nature of visual disturbances and any associated distress or impairment.
. Physical Examination: A physical examination may be performed to assess overall health and rule out any other medical conditions that could account for the symptoms.
. Psychological Evaluation: The healthcare provider may conduct a psychological assessment to evaluate the individual’s mental health and screen for any co-occurring conditions, such as anxiety or depression.
. Diagnostic Criteria: The healthcare provider will refer to established diagnostic criteria, such as those outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), to determine if the individual meets the criteria for HPPD.
It is crucial for individuals experiencing persistent visual disturbances after hallucinogen use to seek professional help for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate management.
Managing HPPD involves a combination of therapeutic approaches tailored to the individual’s specific needs. While there is no known cure for HPPD, the following strategies may help alleviate symptoms and improve overall quality of life:
. Psychotherapy: Engaging in talk therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), can help individuals cope with the distressing symptoms and develop effective strategies for managing anxiety or other associated psychological issues. CBT can assist individuals in reframing their thoughts and reactions to visual disturbances, reducing the distress and impact on daily functioning.
. Medication: In some cases, medications may be prescribed to target specific symptoms or comorbid conditions. For example, benzodiazepines may be prescribed to alleviate anxiety or help with sleep disturbances. Anticonvulsants, such as lamotrigine, have also shown some promise in reducing visual symptoms in HPPD. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may be considered if co-occurring anxiety or depression is present.
. Lifestyle Modifications: Adopting a healthy lifestyle can play a crucial role in managing HPPD symptoms. Strategies such as stress reduction techniques (e.g., meditation, yoga), regular exercise, and maintaining a balanced diet can contribute to overall well-being and potentially alleviate the intensity of visual disturbances. It is also important to avoid the use of hallucinogenic substances, as continued exposure can exacerbate symptoms and prolong the duration of HPPD.
. Support Groups: Joining support groups or seeking counseling can provide individuals with HPPD a sense of community and understanding. Interacting with others who share similar experiences can offer emotional support and valuable coping strategies. Online communities and forums can also be helpful resources for connecting with others and sharing experiences.
. Education and Self-Care: Learning more about HPPD and understanding the nature of the condition can empower individuals to better manage their symptoms. Engaging in self-care practices, such as practicing good sleep hygiene, managing stress, and engaging in activities that promote relaxation and well-being, can also contribute to symptom management.
It is important to note that treatment approaches may vary depending on the individual and the severity of symptoms.
A multidisciplinary approach involving collaboration between healthcare providers, psychologists, and other mental health professionals may be beneficial in developing a comprehensive treatment plan.
HPPD can significantly impact an individual’s daily life, causing distress, anxiety, and impaired visual perception. These persistent visual disturbances can interfere with work, social interactions, and overall quality of life. Individuals with HPPD may experience difficulties in focusing or concentrating due to the distracting nature of the visuals. Tasks that require visual precision or attention to detail may become challenging.
The distress caused by HPPD can lead to feelings of frustration, hopelessness, and isolation. It is not uncommon for individuals to experience anxiety or depression as a result of their ongoing condition and the impact they have on daily functioning. In some cases, HPPD may even contribute to changes in lifestyle, such as avoiding certain environments or activities that trigger or worsen symptoms.
The Perception Restoration Foundation (PRF), which was launched in 2021 to address the neglect of HPPD in researchn aims to provide support and resources for individuals struggling with HPPD, as many of them face challenges in finding help and understanding.
Research has indicated a potential correlation between HPPD and other mental health conditions. Conditions such as anxiety disorders, depression, and substance use disorders may co-occur with HPPD. It is crucial for healthcare providers to conduct a thorough evaluation to identify and address any additional underlying conditions that may require specific treatment approaches.
The presence of co-occurring mental health conditions can further complicate the management of HPPD. It may be necessary to tailor the treatment approach to address both the HPPD symptoms and the associated mental health issues. Integrated treatment plans that address the individual’s overall well-being are essential in achieving optimal outcomes.
In conclusion, Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD) is a rare condition characterized by persistent visual disturbances following the use of hallucinogenic substances. The symptoms of HPPD can range from visual snow and geometric patterns to depersonalization and difficulty with night vision. While there is no known cure for HPPD, various treatment options, including psychotherapy, medication, and lifestyle modifications, can help individuals manage the symptoms and improve their quality of life.
Remember, if you or someone you know is experiencing HPPD or any other mental health condition, it is essential to seek professional help and support.
Here are several easily available support groups available online, as well as re-linking to PRF:
David Blackbourn | Community Blogger at Chemical Collective
David is one of our community bloggers here at Chemical Collective. If you’re interested in joining our blogging team and getting paid to write about subjects you’re passionate about, please reach out to David via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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