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HIV/AIDS Drug Produces Effects Like LSD

Popular antiretroviral drug Efavirenz is found to make users hallucinate.

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Will efavirenz send patients on a trip?
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By McCarton Ackerman

04/25/13

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A drug commonly used to treat the effects of HIV and AIDS could have the same psychedelic effects as LSD, according to researchers at the University of North Texas Health Science Center. Efavirenz is a popular antiretroviral drug (marketed as Sustiva) that is often used in conjunction with other drugs as a cocktail to fight type one HIV. Researchers say some of its side effects include paranoia, psychosis and delusional hallucinations—all similar side effects to LSD. Although both LSD and efavirenz produced similar behavior (such as uncontrollable twitching) when tested on mice, lead researcher John Schetz says it's impossible to determine whether similar effects would take place in humans. "We expect there would be some similarities, [however] controlled studies in humans simulating the practice of those who abuse efavirenz have not yet been performed," he says, "Further, most drugs have multiple sites of action leading to multiple, mixed effects, which might influence the overall subjective effect experienced by a user." Schetz said he strongly recommends not using the efavirenz for anything other than its prescribed use, but even those who take the drug as medically prescribed are subject to its hallucinatory effects. In a 2004 issue of HIV/AIDS magazine POV, Joe Westmoreland writes: "My usual nightcap of five meds includes Sustiva, which often makes me hallucinate before I drift off—my bedside radio once morphed into a dollhouse—and gives me disruptive dreams."

Efavirenz has been used recreationally for years in South Africa, where users will crush the pills and mix them with marijuana or other drugs and then smoke the mixture, known as "whoonga." Abuse of whoonga has led to a deficit of the essential drug for HIV patients (18% of adults in the country are HIV+), as well as created immunity in many users who may need the drug for treatment. To prevent the drug from being abused in the US, Schetz says his team is now "devising ways to prevent both adverse neuropsychiatric side effects and abuse potential for a very efficacious HIV antiretroviral drug".

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