Stimulant psychosis is a psychotic disorder that occurs in some people who use stimulant drugs. Stimulant psychosis commonly occurs in people who abuse stimulants, but it also occurs in some patients taking therapeutic doses of stimulant drugs such as methylphenidate under medical supervision.
Signs and symptoms
The symptoms of stimulant psychosis may vary slightly depending on the drug ingested but generally include the symptoms of organic psychosis including external hallucinations, delusions, thought disorder, environmental alterations, object activation, and, in extreme cases, autonomous entities such as shadow people and catatonia.
In cases of stimulant psychosis, not organic psychosis, patients tend to also present with the physical symptoms of prolonged stimulant abuse or acute overdose. These additional symptoms may include aggression, arrhythmia, dilated pupils, diarrhea, hypertension, hyperthermia, nausea, rapid breathing, restlessness, seizures, sleep deprivation, tremor, and vomiting.
The following stimulants are known to cause psychosis.
Drugs in the class of amphetamines are known to induce "amphetamine psychosis" typically when chronically abused or used in high doses. Common examples include DOM, ephedrine, MDMA, and methamphetamine.
The symptoms of amphetamine psychosis include auditory and visuals, delusions of persecution and delusions of reference concurrent with both clear consciousness and prominent extreme agitation. A Japanese study of recovery from methamphetamine psychosis reported a 64% recovery rate within 10 days rising to an 82% recovery rate at 30 days after methamphetamine cessation. However, it has been suggested that around 5–15% of users fail to make a complete recovery in the long-term. Furthermore, even at a small dose, the psychosis can be quickly re-established.
Symptoms of acute amphetamine psychosis are very similar to those of the acute phase of schizophrenia although in amphetamine psychosis visual hallucinations are more common and thought disorder is rare. Amphetamine psychosis may be purely related to high drug usage, or high drug usage may trigger an underlying vulnerability to schizophrenia. There is some evidence that vulnerability to amphetamine psychosis and schizophrenia may be genetically related. Relatives of methamphetamine users with a history of amphetamine psychosis are five times more likely to have been diagnosed with schizophrenia than relatives of methamphetamine users without a history of amphetamine psychosis. The disorders are often distinguished by a rapid resolution of symptoms in amphetamine psychosis, while schizophrenia is more likely to follow a chronic course.
Although rare and not formally recognized, a condition known as Amphetamine Withdrawal Psychosis (AWP) may occur upon cessation of substituted amphetamine use and, as the name implies, involves psychosis that appears on withdrawal from substituted amphetamines. However, unlike similar disorders, in AWP, substituted amphetamines reduce rather than increase symptoms, and the psychosis or mania resolves with resumption of the previous dosing schedule.
Cocaine has a similar potential to induce temporary psychosis with more than half of cocaine abusers reporting at least some psychotic symptoms at some point. Typical symptoms of sufferers include paranoid delusions that they are being followed and that their drug use is being watched accompanied by hallucinations that support the delusional beliefs. Delusional parasitosis with formication ("cocaine bugs") is also a fairly common symptom.
Cocaine-induced psychosis shows sensitization toward the psychotic effects of the drug. This means that psychosis becomes more severe with repeated intermittent use.
Chronic abuse of methylphenidate can also lead to psychosis. The safety profile of short-term methylphenidate therapy has been well-established, with short-term clinical trials revealing a very low incidence (0.1%) of methylphenidate-induced psychosis at therapeutic dose levels. Psychotic symptoms from methylphenidate can include hearing voices, visual hallucinations, urges to harm oneself, severe anxiety, mania, grandiosity, paranoid delusions, confusion, increased aggression, and irritability.
There is limited evidence that caffeine, in high doses or when chronically abused, may induce psychosis in normal individuals and worsen pre-existing psychosis in those diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Treatment consists of supportive care during the acute intoxication phase: maintaining hydration, body temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate at acceptable levels until the drug is sufficiently metabolized to allow vital signs to return to baseline. Typical and atypical antipsychotics have been shown to be helpful in the early stages of treatment. This is followed by abstinence from psychostimulants supported with counseling or medication designed to assist the individual preventing a relapse and the resumption of a psychotic state.
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