- What are Hallucinogens?
- Types of Hallucinogens
- Examples of Hallucinogens
- How Do Hallucinogens Work?
- Are Hallucinogens Addictive?
- Statistical Overview of Prevalence of Abuse
- The History of Hallucinogens
- Physical and Neurological Effects of Hallucinogens
- Dissociatives Short-Term Effects
- Common Hallucinogens Combinations
- Negative Health Consequences
- Signs & Symptoms of Hallucinogens Abuse
- Hallucinogens Withdrawal Symptoms
- Treatment for Hallucinogen Addiction
- Detox Centers
- Inpatient (Residential)
- Key Sources
- Medical Disclaimer
From LSD to magic mushrooms, hallucinogens have been a popular drug of choice for years. While these substances were historically used for ceremonial and medicinal purposes in indigenous cultures, in modern times, nowadays hallucinogens are primarily taken as recreational drugs. Often associated with hippie culture in the West, hallucinogens are known for providing a visual, auditory, and sensorial “trip” that alters a person’s awareness of their surroundings.
In general, hallucinogens are less physically harmful than alcohol or other synthetic drugs. However, while they are considered less addictive, they still pose a risk for abuse. Individuals can also become psychologically addicted to hallucinogens if they find it difficult to function normally without them.
However, there is hope and treatment available for those who become addicted to hallucinogens. Before going into the treatment methods that are available for this type of addiction, this article will provide an outline of what hallucinogens are, as well as their long-term effects.
What are Hallucinogens?
Hallucinogens are a group of psychoactive substances that can elicit auditory or visual hallucinations. People who take these substances will often see or hear things that sober people cannot — this is otherwise known as “tripping.” Also, because hallucinations can be distressing, individuals can sometimes experience what is known as a “bad trip.”
Hallucinogens are derived from natural sources, like plants or mushrooms, and from synthetic, man-made sources. Historically, hallucinogens have been used in rituals or religious ceremonies, whereas modern usage is often recreational.
Types of Hallucinogens
Hallucinogens are usually split into two main categories — classic (e.g., LSD) and dissociative (e.g., ketamine). Deliriants like antihistamines can make up a third category, but these are less frequently used.
Classic Hallucinogens (Psychedelics)
Classic hallucinogens are perhaps the most well-known type, as they include the likes of mushrooms, LSD, and peyote. These drugs can cause euphoric and hallucinogenic effects. They can be produced synthetically or found naturally in certain plants.
Dissociative drugs can cause visual, auditory, or tactile hallucinations, as well as a strong sense of disconnection from one’s body. Common examples of dissociative drugs include PCP, ketamine, and salvia.
Examples of Hallucinogens
Hallucinogens come in a variety of shapes and forms. Below are the most common.
LSD (D-Lysergic Acid Diethylamide)
LSD is one of the most potent classic hallucinogens, and it can also provide the most intense trip. Composed of lysergic acid (found in fungus that grows on rye and other grains), LSD is a synthetic drug that is white and odorless. As a liquid, it is typically administered on square bits of paper or dropped onto sugar cubes. Common names for LSD are:
- Blotter acid
- Mellow Yellow
Psilocybin is a classic hallucinogenic compound found in mushrooms from the regions of South America, Mexico, and the U.S. Grown primarily in subtropical and tropical regions, psilocybin produces hallucinogenic effects that are like LSD. These can range from heightened sensory experiences to an inability to distinguish between reality and fantasy. Psilocybin mushrooms can be eaten whole or made into a tea. Common names for psilocybin are:
- Little Smoke
- Magic Mushrooms
Peyote is a small, spineless cactus that contains a classic hallucinogen known as mescaline. This substance is one of the oldest known psychedelic agents and has traditionally been used by Native American cultures. The effects of mescaline can vary greatly depending on the person, but they generally include vivid hallucinations, an altered sense of space and time, and a distorted sense of one’s body. Like psilocybin, peyote can be eaten whole or made into a tea. Common names for Peyote are:
Phencyclidine — known as PCP — is a dissociative synthetic hallucinogen that creates an out-of-body sensation. PCP is usually added to other street drugs, such as cannabis, LSD, and MDMA to enhance their psychedelic effects. Primarily administered as a powder, PCP is snorted, smoked, injected, or swallowed. Common names for PCP are:
- Angel Dust
- Embalming Fluid
- Killer Weed
- Super Grass
DMT is a powerful classic hallucinogen that is found in some Amazonian plants. The effects of DMT are very intense and can cause vivid hallucinations, a distortion of colors and sounds, a feeling as though time is speeding up or slowing down, and an out-of-body experience. DMT can be mixed into a tea called “Ayahuasca,” or it can be smoked, snorted, or injected. A common name for DMT is “Dimitri.”
Known for being an animal tranquilizer, ketamine is a dissociative hallucinogen that creates a distortion in sights and sounds. Often used as a party drug, ketamine can also create an out-of-body experience and a physical feeling of being unable to move. At high doses, individuals can enter what is known as a “K hole,” a state where one’s state of consciousness is so distorted that they are unable to interact with the world around them. As a synthetic compound, ketamine is snorted, smoked, swallowed, or injected. Common names for ketamine are:
- Special K
- Kit Kat
- Cat Valium
- Vitamin K
How Do Hallucinogens Work?
Classic hallucinogens act on the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is responsible for mood, perception, and cognition. It is thought that these substances affect the prefrontal cortex and other regions that regulate arousal and physiological responses to stress. It is this activation and influence over serotonin that causes hallucinations and distortions of time and bodily perception.
When it comes to dissociatives like ketamine and PCP, these substances affect glutamate, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in cognition, emotion, and pain perception. Dissociatives disrupt glutamate at certain types of receptors in the brain, which is what causes feelings of disconnection and out-of-body experiences. PCP also activates dopamine, the pleasure chemical in the brain which is responsible for the “rush” experienced when taking most drugs.
Are Hallucinogens Addictive?
PCP is one of the only hallucinogens that is considered physically addictive. People who stop using PCP have reported drug cravings, headaches, and sweating as common withdrawal symptoms.
In general, though, hallucinogens are not physically addictive; however, individuals can develop a tolerance and a psychological dependence on these drugs. LSD is also known to produce tolerance which leads people to take higher doses to achieve the same effects. DMT, on the other hand, is not known to cause tolerance.
Hallucinogens can also become psychologically addictive if individuals find it difficult to cope with changes in mood and perception once they stop taking the drug. Some individuals are addicted to the feelings of psychedelic escapism and may use it to cope with other mental health issues.
Statistical Overview of Prevalence of Abuse
Below are some statistics surrounding hallucinogen use in the U.S.:
- A 2008 study indicated that roughly 3.1 million people aged 12 to 25 said they had used LSD.
- According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an estimated 1.2 million people aged 12 and above were using hallucinogens in 2015.
- Other studies revealed that 32 million people reported lifetime psychedelic use in 2010. 17% of those were aged 21 to 64, with 22% of them being males, and 12% being females.
- According to the “Monitoring the Future” study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) , 1.2% of 8th graders, 1.9% of 10th graders, and 2.6% of 12th graders had reported abusing LSD at least once in the year prior to being surveyed.
- The “National Household Survey on Drug Abuse” study revealed that 13.2 million Americans reported using LSD at least once in 1993, compared with only 8.1 million in 1985 (an increase of more than 60%).
The History of Hallucinogens
As one of the oldest drugs used by humankind, hallucinogens have a long history of association with magic, folklore, and healing in Western and Indigenous culture. Tobacco, for example, is a deliriant that has been used ceremoniously and religiously by Native American tribes. Other substances like peyote and ayahuasca have been used for medicinal purposes and to commune with spirits. While some cultures support the use of hallucinogens for religious and healing purposes, other countries have banned them. In the U.S., for example, hallucinogens are an illegal, Schedule 1 Drug.
However, since World War II, there has been increased scientific research into hallucinogens and their potential for psychiatric use, particularly for conditions like depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance addiction, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). This has led to a heightened use of hallucinogens among the general population and a gradual loosening of some laws around their use for medicinal and religious purposes.
Physical and Neurological Effects of Hallucinogens
Hallucinogens influence brain chemicals that are responsible for perception, cognition, and mood. Below are some of the main effects.
Classic Hallucinogens Short-Term Effects
- Increased heart rate
- Intensified feelings and sensory experiences (seeing brighter colors)
- Changes in sense of time
- Increased blood pressure, breathing rate, or body temperature
- Loss of appetite
- Dry mouth
- Sleep problems
- Spiritual experiences
- Feelings of relaxation
- Uncoordinated movements
- Excessive sweating
- Bizarre behaviors
Dissociatives Short-Term Effects
- Disorientation and loss of coordination
- Increased blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature
In high doses, dissociative drugs can cause the following:
- Memory loss
- Panic and anxiety
- Psychotic symptoms (losing touch with reality)
- An inability to move
- Mood swings
- Trouble breathing
- Muscle rigidity
- Respiratory issues
- Flashbacks of hallucinations
Common Hallucinogens Combinations
While hallucinogens are usually taken on their own, some individuals use other substances to enhance the experience or minimize the effects when the drug wears off. Some common combinations are below:
Alcohol is sometimes used to enhance or improve the visual effects of hallucinogens. However, some combinations — particularly with LSD — can be dangerous because LSD decreases the effects of alcohol. This can lead people to drink more than they would normally, increasing their risk of alcohol poisoning. Also, impaired judgment can lead to an overdose of hallucinogens (i.e., when a person mistakenly thinks they are more sober than they actually are).
Benzodiazepines like Xanax are sometimes taken to help induce sleep and minimize effects like anxiety once the hallucinogen wears off. However, while this can work in some instances, people have reported that Xanax can make a trip start up again, triggering hallucinations and panic. Others have reported that Xanax either completely stops the trip or makes the sensations more uncomfortable. In more severe cases, mixing drugs like PCP and Xanax and result in coma.
While anti-depressants aren’t normally mixed to enhance the high, individuals who are taking these medications for depression are at risk if they experiment with hallucinogens. This is especially the case with DMT because of its intense effects on serotonin receptors. A huge flood of serotonin combined with anti-depressants that also act on this neurotransmitter can result in a serious condition known as serotonin syndrome. Symptoms include:
- Seizures and extensive muscle breakdown
- Respiratory arrest and coma
- Elevated body temperature
- Overactive reflexes
- Dilated pupils
Negative Health Consequences
While hallucinogens are not as toxic as other substances, they can lead to mental health consequences if taken in excess and for long periods. Two conditions unique to long-term hallucinogenic use are:
The condition is characterized by a break from reality consisting of persistent mental issues, such as visual disturbances, disorganized thinking, paranoia, and mood changes.
Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD)
This is a condition where a person continues to have recurring visual hallucinations, even though they are no longer high. These flashbacks can happen without warning and may last for a few days or up to a year.
Long-Term Effects of Dissociatives
Dissociatives also come with a risk of health consequences over time. These include:
- Speech problems
- Memory loss
- Weight loss
- Suicidal thoughts
Overdose is less common with hallucinogens when compared with other drugs. However, high doses of PCP can cause seizures, coma, and death. Additionally, taking PCP with depressants such as alcohol or benzodiazepines can also lead to coma. Generally, though, hallucinogens are not as physically toxic as substances like alcohol or cocaine. High doses of hallucinogens will typically result in psychological and mental health disturbances such as anxiety, panic, and hallucinations.
Signs & Symptoms of Hallucinogens Abuse
While hallucinogens are said to non-addictive, there is a risk of abuse. The signs and symptoms of abuse can vary from person to person, depending on how much they take and long they’ve used it.
Physical Signs of Abuse
Individuals who regularly take hallucinogens for long periods can exhibit physical signs of abuse, such as:
- Increased heart rate
- Dry mouth
- Excessive sweating
- Loss of appetite
- Increased body temperature
- Mixed senses, like seeing colors or hearing shapes
Sudden changes in behavior can be clear indicators of a problem. Some of the behavioral signs of hallucinogen abuse also apply to other drug dependencies, and may include:
- Visible psychiatric symptoms like paranoia, anxiety, and hallucinations
- Mood swings
- Neglecting relationships and responsibilities
- Poor attendance and performance at work
- Social isolation and withdrawal from family and friends
- Continuing to use hallucinogens despite their negative side-effects
- Spending a great deal of time using, obtaining, or recovering from hallucinogenic use
- Being secretive or lying about their whereabouts
- Losing interest in activities and hobbies
- Using multiple drugs and/or substances
- Financial problems
Hallucinogens Withdrawal Symptoms
Most hallucinogens do not cause physical withdrawal symptoms. This means quitting these drugs can be easier than with other substances. However, there are a few withdrawal symptoms to note for certain hallucinogens.
Classic Hallucinogen Withdrawal
- Changes in mood
- Disorganized thoughts
- Long-term visual distortions
Dissociative Withdrawal Symptoms
Dissociatives are more likely to cause physiological addiction and withdrawal symptoms. This varies depending on the drug, as seen below:
- Seizures and muscle breakdown
- Elevated body temperature
- Weight loss
- Speech impairment
- Impaired thinking
- Memory loss
- Irregular heartbeat
Treatment for Hallucinogen Addiction
If you find yourself addicted to hallucinogens, there is help available. Below are traditional treatment methods for substance abuse that may also work well with hallucinogens. These are accessible through a doctor or by speaking directly to a rehab facility.
Stop On Your Own
Like other drugs, many health professionals advise against quitting cold turkey on your own. While it’s possible to do so, it’s important to bear in mind that doing it this way can worsen withdrawal symptoms for some hallucinogens and lead to a relapse.
Detox centers are an excellent way to wean off substances while receiving medical support. These clinics are usually staffed with a team of doctors and nurses who have experience with addiction and drug withdrawal. A detox center will place you in comfortable surroundings where you can be assured of help in case of emergencies.
Inpatient or residential centers are ideal for individuals who need intensive support for their addiction. These programs typically start with medical detox and are followed by a program of addiction treatment such as therapy or counseling, ranging from 30 days to 12 months. These facilities also provide 24-hour medical support and are often led by a team of counselors, clinicians, and doctors.
Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP)
PHP consists of hospital treatment 5 to 7 days a week and is ideal for individuals who require intensive addiction treatment but still prefer to live at home. Like inpatient treatment, clinical staff are on hand to assist with detox, medication management, and withdrawal symptoms. PHP also involves individual and group therapy, as well as specialized services that focus on skill-building, relapse prevention, and employment assistance.
Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP)
Intensive outpatient programs are less involved than PHP and typically take place at a treatment center or outpatient clinic. Clients receiving intensive outpatient treatment will usually visit the center 2 to 5 days per week for 2 to 4 hours per day. IOP is well suited to clients who have just completed inpatient rehab or for those who wish to receive intense treatment while living off site.
Programs often involve a mixture of individual and group therapy, case management, 12-Step programs, experiential therapies, cognitive-behavioral therapies (CBT), and services that cover topics like skill-building, goal setting, and relapse prevention.
Standard Outpatient Programs
Standard outpatient is ideal for people who may be juggling other responsibilities, such as work or school. Individuals typically report to a treatment center or clinic 1 or 2 days per week. These programs can include counseling, group therapy, 12-Step groups, skills development, goal setting, and relapse prevention training.
If you or a loved one are struggling with hallucinogen abuse or addiction, you are not alone. Treatment and support are readily available. Contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment.
You can also find a list of treatment centers near you on our website to help get you on the path to recovery.
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National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). What are Hallucinogens? Drugabuse.gov. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/hallucinogens.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). What Are Hallucinogens and Dissociative Drugs? Drugabuse.gov. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/hallucinogens-dissociative-drugs/what-are-hallucinogens.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration. (2016). Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/report/key-substance-use-and-mental-health-indicators-united-states-results-2015-national-survey-0.
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