Hallucinations occur for several reasons, from mental health issues to substance use. They can happen as a result of the effects of a psychoactive substance or sometimes during withdrawal from psychoactive substances. Even a drug as seemingly innocent as coffee can induce hallucinations in some people. They are a sign that brain functioning is not happening as it should, and medical advice should be sought in the event of any type of hallucination.
What Are Hallucinations?
Hallucinations are the perception of an event or object, through any of the five senses, in the absence of any external stimulus. They can be explained as disturbances in brain structure, disturbances in the balance of neurotransmitters or when a crossover between consciousness and unconsciousness happens. There is no single area of the brain responsible for hallucinations; they happen as a result of any combination of the aforementioned factors.
Hallucinations can present themselves as someone seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling or tasting things that aren’t there. They can make the person experiencing them feel frightened, paranoid and nervous. The word hallucination is derived from the Latin word meaning ‘to wander mentally’.
Types of Hallucinations
- Gustatory: This is when a person can taste something in their mouth that isn’t there. This is the rarest type of hallucination but can be brought on by certain drugs or health conditions.
- Tactile: These are hallucinations that relate to touch. The most common ways people experience them is a feeling of being tickled or the sense that bugs are crawling on their skin.
- Olfactory: If a person can smell something that has no physical source and cannot be perceived by anyone else, they are experiencing an olfactory hallucination. Simple conditions such as nasal infections or dental issues can cause these.
- Auditory: This is often described as hearing voices and occurs when a person can hear something with no source. These are the most common types of hallucinations in people with a mental health condition.
- Visual: Visual hallucinations are the most common type in drug-induced cases. They can include abstract shapes or flashing lights or take the full form of a person, animal or place. The most common types of visual hallucinations are alterations in the physical space around the person.
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Causes of Hallucinations
Several areas of the brain are responsible for different types of hallucinations. The cortical centres govern visual processing, and irritations of these can cause visual hallucinations. A simple lack of visual stimuli can be a cause of hallucinations. Also, because hallucinations are more likely to be present in drowsy individuals, the reticular activating system is thought to play a role in some cases. The reticular activating system is responsible for mediating consciousness.
Symptoms of Hallucinations
- Hearing voices
- Being told to do things by an invisible force
- Being told to do things by an entity that isn’t real
- Seeing patterns or warping in surroundings
- Seeing objects, people or animals that aren’t real
- Smelling something no one else can smell
- Feeling sensations brought on with the influence of external stimuli
- Tasting something with no source
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