What are psychedelics and how common are they in SA?

Psychedelics, which are also called hallucinogens, are a group of drugs that “alter a person’s awareness of their surroundings as well as their own thoughts and feelings”, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Generally, these drugs can cause hallucinations or sensations that seem real but are not. They include drugs like LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), magic mushrooms (psilocybin), DMT and PCP (phencyclidine). Reliable estimates on the extent of psychedelic use amongst South Africans do not exist. However, local users of hallucinogens post to drug forums indicating that these drugs are used domestically.

Pregnancy and LSD

Two studies from 1970 suggested an increase in the rate of miscarriages in pregnant women who used LSD but these results have not been confirmed in subsequent research.

Animal studies in rodents have shown LSD can compromise blood flow to the foetus. Another study in rats found that LSD elevated the risk of miscarriage. Research conducted many decades ago linked LSD use in pregnancy with birth defects such as eye abnormalities. One Australian case study in the scientific literature described a 20-year-old woman who delivered a stillborn baby and subsequently suffered from pregnancy-related high-blood pressure as well as seizures 24 hours after consuming LSD and MDMA .The authors argued that the use of these drugs could have caused these negative outcomes. Research on the impact of this drug on unborn babies is inconclusive but experts recommend pregnant women refrain from using LSD to prevent any potential risks.

Pregnancy and PCP

PCP, sometimes called ‘angel dust’, can cause a number of problems to newborns. A 1993 study on cocaine and PCP-exposed infants found that infants positive for PCP displayed neurobehavioural symptoms such as a high-pitched cry, poor tracking (controlling the gaze of their eyes) and decreased attention. Normal developmental growth was also affected. Almost 40% of infants exposed to PCP in the womb had a low birth weight. Babies with a low birth weight can be healthy but many are not. They are 20 times more likely to develop complications and die compared to babies of normal weight. A total of 12% of PCP-exposed infants had borderline microcephaly, which is when the head size or circumference is significantly smaller than other children. Children with microcephaly often have developmental issues including with speech and movement as well as intellectual delays. Another study found that babies exposed to PCP were more likely than nonexposed infants to have poor attention, hypertonia (too much muscle tone) and depressed neonatal reflexes. A 1989 study found that half of babies exposed to PCP in the womb displayed withdrawal symptoms and 14% of these babies had sleep problems.

Using hallucinogens or psychedelics during pregnancy is not recommended as it has not been proven to be safe. According to the small amount of research that does exist, using substances like LSD or PCP can cause harm to an unborn baby.

It may be very difficult for pregnant women who are using illicit substances to read this post but it is intended to educate, not to judge. We urge you to seek treatment sooner rather than later for the best outcomes for you and your baby.

Drug and alcohol use during pregnancy can affect the development of the baby in a number of ways. In this blog we will take an in-depth look at the ways in which illegal hallucinogenic drugs can affect an unborn foetus and a newborn baby as well as pregnant women.

Very little research exists on hallucinogens and pregnancy. However, in this blog we will summarise the small amount of evidence that does exist in relation to using LSD and PCP during pregnancy.