Hallucinogens are drugs that cause hallucinations and produce euphoria. People have used hallucinogens for centuries for religious rituals or for recreational purposes.
These substances create a drug-induced experience, called tripping, that can be mentally stimulating or severely distressing. Hallucinogens comprise two subcategories: classic hallucinogens and dissociative drugs. Both types of hallucinogens can lead to adverse health effects and dangerous situations.
More research is needed to determine the potential for hallucinogens to cause tolerance or addiction. Evidence shows that certain hallucinogens, such as PCP and ecstasy, can be addictive.
Classic hallucinogens include LSD, psilocybin mushrooms and a range of other psychedelic drugs. Many of these substances derive from plants, but some are made synthetically.
Ayahuasca is a tea made by mixing several Amazonian plants containing the psychedelic compound DMT. The substance is primarily used for ritual and therapeutic purposes in the northwestern Amazon, but its use has expanded to the United States and other countries. The tea can cause anxiety and psychotic episodes.
DMT is a psychedelic ingredient found naturally in various Amazonian plants and animals. Known as the “spirit molecule,” DMT produces extreme hallucinations. People may see alien lifeforms or past-life versions of themselves. The drug can be snorted, smoked, injected or brewed into ayahuasca.
Popular among young adults, LSD causes rapid mood swings and visual hallucinations. It can also lead to a blending of the senses called synesthesia, which causes a person to hear colors or see sounds. People often take the drug by swallowing or chewing blotter paper infused with the substance.
Peyote is a small, spineless cactus containing the hallucinogenic ingredient mescaline. Also called “buttons” and “mesc,” the substance can be chewed, swallowed or smoked with marijuana or tobacco. It can alter perceptions of space and time.
Psilocybin is a chemical compound found in certain mushrooms or produced synthetically in labs. These hallucinogenic mushrooms can cause confusion, disordered thinking and anxiety.
All classic hallucinogens produce psychedelic effects. But they can also cause behaviors that compromise safety or lead to an accidental death. These substances are Schedule I drugs, which means they are illegal in the United States.
Other hallucinogenic drugs have gained popularity in recent years. These substances include:
Ecstasy, or MDMA, has stimulant and hallucinogenic properties. The drug alters mood and perceptions, but it also increases energy and emotional warmth. Like classic hallucinogens, MDMA is also a Schedule I substance.
Dissociative drugs are a subclass of hallucinogens that cause people to feel disconnected from their body and environment. These substances can also cause hallucinations, delusion, incoherence and paranoia.
Dextromethorphan, or DXM, is an over-the-counter cough suppressant and anti-mucus ingredient often found in cold medicines. Abusing DXM can lead to euphoria and visual and auditory hallucinations. Despite its potential for abuse, DXM is not a controlled substance.
Developed in 1962, ketamine is a surgery anesthetic for humans and animals. When misused, the drug can cause flashbacks, aggressive behavior and delirium. Because the substance has the potential for dependence, ketamine is a Schedule III drug.
Like ketamine, PCP is a surgery anesthetic. In its purest form, it is a white crystalline powder that can be easily dissolved in water or alcohol. The drug can impair motor skills and cause anxiety and a distorted sense of time.
Salvia is a hallucinogenic plant found in southern Mexico. The effects of salvia, which generally last for up to 30 minutes, include changes in mood, body sensations and vision. Driving under the influence of the drug is dangerous.
When used in high doses, dissociative drugs can cause dangerous changes to blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature. The drugs can lead to fatal respiratory problems when combined with high doses of alcohol or other central nervous system depressants.
Hallucinogens affect the brain and body. They cause people to see, hear and feel things that seem real but do not exist. Some people experience intense trips that result in anxiety, despair and terrifying thoughts.
The effects of hallucinogens include:
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the long-term psychological and cognitive effects of hallucinogens vary by drug. These substances can lead to persistent psychosis or hallucinogen persisting perception disorder, a condition where people continue to experience spontaneous hallucinogenic episodes after the effects of the drug wear off.
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Most hallucinogens do not cause addiction, a brain disease that can linger for a lifetime. For example, people can develop a tolerance to LSD, which requires them to take increasingly large doses to experience the desired high. But the drug does not cause physical cravings or compulsive drug-seeking behavior.
Much of the research about the addictiveness of hallucinogens is conflicting. Some outlets report that dependence is the same as addiction, but a person can be dependent on a drug and not display any physical or behavioral signs of drug addiction.
However, research shows that certain hallucinogens can be addictive. A 2013 report by the University at Buffalo states that MDMA is addictive because it acts on the same neurotransmitters in the brain that other addictive drugs also affect.
NIDA states that PCP is addictive. People who stop using PCP after repeated use can experience withdrawal symptoms such as physical cravings, headaches and sweating. Many people who abuse hallucinogens also have a mental illness, such as depression.
People who are high on hallucinogens should receive a psychological evaluation. If they are exhibiting volatile behaviors, doctors can administer benzodiazepines to control anxiety and increase sedation. Antidepressant medications can help reduce depressive symptoms.
However, the Food and Drug Administration has not approved any medications to treat hallucinogen abuse. Behavioral treatments, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, can help people change their thoughts and feelings associated with hallucinogen use.
Other treatment options for hallucinogen abuse include:
Rehab facilities offer behavioral treatments and other resources for people experiencing hallucinogen abuse or addiction. These facilities offer evidence-based therapy and teach people ways to overcome their substance abuse problems.