Hallucinogen Drugs Overview
What is a Hallucinogen?
Hallucinogens are mind-altering drugs that can change one’s perception of reality. The drugs’ psychoactive properties may cause users to have auditory or visual hallucinations, seeing or hearing things that are not there. This effect is commonly known as tripping. Hallucinogens may be created synthetically or found in nature as is the case with mushrooms. These natural substances have been used for centuries recreationally or for religious and spiritual purposes.
Because hallucinogens can create confusion and distrust in one’s own perception, users may have distressing episodes, also known as a “bad trip.” Users having a bad trip may have intense anxiety as a result of the things they are hallucinating, leading to panic attacks. They may also become aggressive or violent. Hallucinogens are not typically addictive, but their intense effects may have unintended health or psychological consequences that endure long after the drug has worn off.
What Are Synthetic Hallucinogens?Unlike mushrooms and other plants, which can grow in nature with hallucinogenic properties, synthetic hallucinogens are designed in illicit laboratories. There is an increased danger with the use of synthetic hallucinogens because they may have varying potency or may be cut with unexpected substances to enhance their effects. Some well-known synthetic hallucinogens include LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) and synthetic DMT (N,N-Dimethyltryptamine).
Examples of Hallucinogens
LSDLSD, or lysergic acid diethylamide, was first designed to be used in psychiatric therapy before its use was discontinued. It’s synthesized from lysergic acid which is found on some grains. This powerful hallucinogen acts on the serotonin neurotransmitter in the brain, leading the user to see and hear things that are not actually there.
PsilocybinPsilocybin is more commonly known as shrooms or mushrooms because it is derived from some mushroom plants native to North and South America. The plants containing psilocybin are typically dried and eaten or brewed in tea, having similar psychedelic effects as LSD.
PCPPCP or phencyclidine is a dissociative synthetic that causes an “out of body” experience wherein the user experiences a feeling of separation or dissociation from reality. PCP is commonly used in the production of other illicit drugs such as methamphetamine and marijuana. PCP is known by street names angel dust, killer weed, and zoom among others.
PeyotePeyote is a substance derived from a cactus plant found in Mexico and the southwestern US. Peyote has a long history of use among religious and spiritual groups as part of rituals meant to awaken the senses and enhance perception. It can affect perception of bodily sensations as well as perception of time.
DMTDimethyltryptamine or DMT for short is a hallucinogen found in some plants in the Amazon, though it can also be created synthetically in a lab. DMT causes users to experience a sense of euphoria along with altered perceptions of reality. It can be smoked or brewed into a tea, such as Ayahuasca.
KetamineKetamine is a dissociative drug that is still used medically as a surgical anesthetic. The drug has potent sedating effects which may make the user feel detached from reality. It is popular in the club scene where it is known by street names such as Special K and Kit Kat.
Salvia divinorumKetamine is a dissociative drug that is still used medically as a surgical anesthetic. The drug has potent sedating effects which may make the user feel detached from reality. It is popular in the club scene where it is known by street names such as Special K and Kit Kat.
GHBGHB (Gamma-hydroxybutyric acid) is a naturally occurring psychoactive drug that has a depressing effect on the central nervous system. This can lead to a sense of sedation, europhoria, and loss of consciousness. It’s known as the date rape drug because it is often used to incapacitate victims of sexual assault so they can’t resist.
Types of HallucinogensHallucinogens are generally categorized according to their effects.
Classic Hallucinogens (Psychedelics)Classic hallucinogens or psychedelics may be found in nature or created synthetically. They cause vivid hallucinations and feelings of euphoria. Commonly used psychedelics include LSD and mushrooms.
Dissociative HallucinogensDissociative hallucinogens are set apart by the sensation they cause that one is disconnected from their body or reality. They produce a feeling of detachment along which may be accompanied by delusions or paranoia. Examples of dissociative hallucinogens include salvia divinorum, PCP, and ketamine.
DeliriantsDeliriants’ primary effect is a sense of delirium or a state of acute confusion. Unlike many other hallucinogens which act on serotonin, deliriants inhibit the function of acetylcholine. In addition to a feeling of stupor or confabulation, deliriants may cause dream-like hallucinations. Mandrake and belladonna are examples of plants that contain deliriant properties, though the effect can also be achieved with high doses of medications such as Benadryl.
Short-Term Effects of Hallucinogens
Hallucinogens often act on the brain for up to 12 hours depending on the drug, extending the duration of their short-term effects. The short-term primary psychedelic effects are distinct from various physical and psychological effects that result from hallucinogen use. Psychedelic effects can include:
- Hallucinations that cause people to hear or see things that aren’t there
- Distortions of time
- Intense perception of senses, such as seeing colors as more vivid or tactile sensations as more powerful
- The feeling that senses are mixed, like being able to taste colors
In addition to these primary effects on perception, hallucinogen use can have varying effects on the body and mental state. These short-term effects include:
- Elevated heart rate and blood pressure
- Excessive sweating
- Flushing Nausea and vomiting
- Dilated pupils
- Loss of appetite
- Dry mouth
- Anxiety and panic
- Difficulty coordinating movements
- Difficulty sleeping
Long-Term Effects of Hallucinogens
Hallucinogen use is linked to recurring episodes of perceptual abnormalities called flashbacks. This is also known as hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPDD). During a flashback, users may re-experience sensations or hallucinations felt while under the effect of the substance. These can persist for months or years, occurring intermittently and spontaneously. HPDD can cause visual disturbances such as flashes of color, false perceptions of movement, or trails of color. Other effects include paranoia, irritability, and foggy or disorganized thought.
In addition to HPDD, people who regularly use hallucinogens may develop other physical and psychological issues, depending on the type of drug used. For example, ketamine can negatively affect a person’s memory and sociability over time. Long-term users may also develop depression, anxiety disorders, or speech problems as a result of repeated use. In severe cases, individuals may develop persistent schizophrenic behavior. Weight loss is a common physical side effect.
Are hallucinogens addictive?
Hallucinogens do not generally cause physical dependence or withdrawal. This means that users are unlikely to experience intense cravings or compulsive drug use behaviors seen in other types of substance abuse. However, it is possible to develop tolerance with increased use, wherein a person requires higher and higher doses to experience the same intensity. This increases the likelihood of developing HPDD or psychosis.
Despite the fact that most hallucinogens don’t carry the risk of dependence, it is still possible to develop a pattern of problematic and habitual use. With increased use, individuals may take dangerous amounts of the drug or mix it with other drugs that may be more dangerous. As such, problematic hallucinogen use should be treated like other types of addiction to reduce its detrimental effects.
Hallucinogens and Other Drugs
The interaction of hallucinogens and other drugs is dangerous due to its unpredictability. Because hallucinogens can change one’s own bodily perceptions, it’s possible to be unaware of dangerous signs like slowed breathing or increased heart rate. Hallucinogens like LSD may obscure the effects of alcohol, which can lead to drinking dangerous amounts without feeling drunk. This is why when hallucinogens are mixed with depressants like alcohol or benzodiazepines, individuals are more susceptible to overdose.
Mixing other drugs can further impair reasoning and motor coordination, which may lead to accidents or other bodily harm. It may also increase the likelihood of a “bad trip” due to changes in brain chemistry occurring at once.
If you or someone you know is experiencing increased hallucinogen use, drug abuse and addiction treatment may be helpful. Treatment may also be recommended with co-occurring drug use disorders or other mental disorders. In a treatment program, individuals can begin to address issues related to maladaptive drug use under the supervision of a team of licensed counselors and medical professionals.