To Treat or Not to Treat? High-Potency Benzodiazepine Use in a Case of Comorbid Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder and Alcohol Use Disorder

Julie A. Christensen, David C. Fipps, J. Michael Bostwick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD) is characterized by visual disturbances that resemble psychedelic intoxication and linger after use has ceased. The most common substances precipitating HPPD, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and psilocybin, are posited to do so via damage to serotonergic neurons involved in vision. Mr. N is a 37-year-old with a history of alcohol, cannabis, LSD, cocaine, and nicotine use disorders who described visual distortions that resolved when he drank heavily or received benzodiazepines for withdrawal. He did not appear psychotic. Over 20 years after his last LSD use, he continued to experience illusions of halos around objects, moving walls, and figures appearing cartoonish. He understood that his perceptual disturbances were not reality based. During hospitalization for suicidal ideation, laboratory tests, head computed tomography (CT), and electroencephalogram (EEG) studies offered no explanation for his visual disturbances other than HPPD. The visual distortions remitted with scheduled clonazepam treatment, although chemical dependency treatment programs were hesitant to accept him while on a benzodiazepine. This case emphasizes the importance of diagnostic clarification when patients present with perceptual disturbances that do not fit typical psychotic presentations. Our discussion will distinguish misperceptions from hallucinations and review the pathophysiology of HPPD. Last, we will discuss management strategies for patients with co-occurring HPPD and substance use disorders. It is necessary to discern the correct cause of visual disturbances in order to provide proper treatment. The risks and benefits of long-term benzodiazepine use must be weighed when deciding whether to prescribe them for patients with comorbid HPPD and alcohol use disorder.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalExperimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2022

Keywords

  • Hallucination
  • Hallucinogen
  • Pathophysiology
  • Psychopharmacology
  • Substance use

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)

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