What are Hallucinogens?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines hallucinogens as “a diverse group of drugs that alter a person’s awareness of their surroundings as well as their own thoughts and feelings.” Some hallucinogens come from plants or mushrooms, and some are synthetic (man-made). In the past, people have used hallucinogens for religious or healing ceremonies. However, more recently people have been using these drugs for recreational or social purposes. This includes dealing with stress, having a spiritual experience, or just to have fun.

There are two categories of hallucinogens:

Classic Hallucinogens

The effects of hallucinogens can start within 20 to 90 minutes of taking them and include: 

  • Nausea
  • Hallucinations (sensations and images that seem real though they aren’t)
  • Increased heart rate
  • Intensified feelings and senses
  • Changes in sense of time

Dissociative Drugs

These can cause users to feel like they’re out of control or even disconnected from their body and environment. The effects of hallucinogens can begin within minutes and can last several hours. Effects include:

  • Numbness
  • Disorientation and loss of coordination
  • Hallucinations
  • Increased blood pressure, heart rate, and temperature

How Do Hallucinogens Affect the Brain?

Classic Hallucinogens

Because many hallucinogens have chemical structures similar to those of natural neurotransmitters, research suggests that classic hallucinogens work partially by temporarily disturbing the chemical communication between your brain’s chemical systems throughout the brain and spinal cord. Some hallucinogens hamper the action of the brain chemical serotonin, which in turn regulates:

  • Mood
  • Sensory perception
  • Sleep
  • Hunger
  • Body temperature
  • Sexual behavior
  • Intestinal muscle control

Dissociative Hallucinogens

These drugs tamper with the action of the brain chemical glutamate which regulates:

  • Pain perception
  • Responses to the environment
  • Emotion
  • Memory and learning

Different Kinds of Hallucinogens

Classic Hallucinogens 

  • LSD (D-lysergic acid diethylamide) is a powerful mind-altering chemical. It’s a white or clear material made from lysergic acid, which is itself found in a fungus that grows on rye and other grains. There are many street names for LSD including:
  • Acid
  • Blotter acid
  • Dots
  • Mellow yellow
  • Psilocybin (4-phosphoryloxy.N, N-dimethyltryptamine) comes from certain mushrooms that can be found in tropical and subtropical regions of South America, Mexico, and the U.S. Common names include:
  • Little smoke
  • Magic mushrooms
  • Shrooms
  • Peyote (mescaline) is a small, spineless cactus made up of mescaline as its prime ingredient. Peyote can also be synthetic. Common names are:
  • Buttons
  • Cactus
  • Mesc
  • DMT (N, N-dimethyltryptamine) is a strong chemical found in some Amazonian plants. Ayahuasca is a tea made from those plants and when used this way is also known as:
  • Hoasca
  • Aya
  • Yage

DMT can also be made synthetically in a lab and it usually is in the form of a white crystalline powder that is smoked.  A common name for synthetic DMT is Dimitri.

  • 251-NBOMe is a synthetic hallucinogen that is similar to both LSD and MDMA but much more powerful. It was developed for use in brain research and when sold on the street it is sometimes called:
  • N-Bomb
  • 251

Dissociative Hallucinogenic Drugs

  • PCP (Phencyclidine) was developed during the 1950s to be used as an anesthetic for surgery. However, it’s not used for this anymore due to the serious side effects. It can be found in several forms including tablets or capsules. Liquid and white crystal powder are the most common forms. PCP has several slang names such as:
  • Angel dust
  • Hog
  • Love boat
  • Peace pill
  • Ketamine is used as an anesthetic in animal and human surgery. A large proportion of the ketamine sold on the streets comes from veterinary offices. It is sold mostly as a powder or as pills, but it can also be available as an injectable liquid. Ketamine is sometimes snorted or added to drinks as a date-rape drug. Slang names include:
  • Special K
  • Cat valium
  • Dextromethorphan (DXM) is a cough suppressant and mucus-clearing ingredient in cold and cough medicines. It comes in syrup, tablet, and gel capsule forms. A common slang name is Robo.
  • Salvia (Salvia divinorum) is a plant that is common in southern Mexico and Central and South America. It’s typically used by chewing fresh leaves or by drinking an extract made from the leaves. Dried leaves can also be smoked or vaporized and inhaled. Popular names are:
  • Diviner’s sage
  • Maria Pastora
  • Sally-D
  • Magic mint

Are Hallucinogens Addictive?

There are some cases where evidence shows that certain hallucinogens can be addictive. Also, people can build up a tolerance for them. Using LSD as an example, it’s not considered an addictive drug because it doesn’t cause uncontrollable drug-seeking behavior. 

However, it does produce tolerance. This means that some users who take the drug repeatedly must take higher doses to achieve the same effect. Taking higher and higher doses is extremely dangerous due to the unpredictability of the drug. Plus, LSD produces tolerance to other hallucinogens, including psilocybin.

The possibility for misuse and addiction to DMT is not known at this time. But, unlike other hallucinogens, DMT doesn’t appear to lead to tolerance. Also, there is not much evidence that taking it in the form of ayahuasca tea can lead to addiction either.

On the other hand, PCP is a hallucinogen that can be addictive. When people stop repeated use of PCP, they may experience common withdrawal symptoms such as cravings, headaches, and sweating.

Effects of Hallucinogens

Classic — Long-Term Effects

There are two long-term effects that have been associated with classic hallucinogens, but these effects are rare:

  • Persistent psychosis: This is a group of continuing mental problems that consist of:
    • Visual disturbances
    • Disorganized thinking
    • Paranoia
    • Mood changes
  • Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD): This consists of repetition of certain drug experiences such as hallucinations and other visual disturbances known as “flashbacks.” They can happen without warning and may occur within a few days to more than a year after using the drug. Unfortunately, these symptoms are occasionally mistaken for other disorders such as a stroke or a brain tumor.

Both of these conditions occur more often in people who have a history of mental illness. But they can happen to anyone. 

Dissociative — Long-Term Effects

Although more research is needed on the long-term use of dissociative drugs, PCP has shown that it can result in addiction. And other long-term effects may go on for a year or more after using stops including:

  • Speech problems
  • Memory loss
  • Weight loss
  • Anxiety
  • Depression and suicidal thoughts

Can You Overdose on Hallucinogens?

Once again, it depends on the drug. Whenever a person uses enough of a drug to cause serious negative effects, life-threatening symptoms, or death, an overdose has occurred. Most classic hallucinogens can produce extremely unpleasant experiences when used in high doses, but the effects are not typically life-threatening. Nevertheless, serious medical emergencies and several deaths have been reported from 251-NBOMe.

Dissociative drugs carry a higher likelihood of overdose. High doses of PCP may cause seizures, coma, and death. Also, taking PCP with depressants such as alcohol or benzodiazepines can cause a coma. (Benzodiazepines such as Xanax are prescribed to promote sleep and relieve anxiety.)

Other Risks

Still, users of classic and dissociative hallucinogens risk serious harm because of the extreme changes in perception and mood these drugs cause. Risks include:

  • Users might do things they would not ordinarily do, like jump out of a window or off a roof. Or they may have intense suicidal feelings and act on them.
  • As with all drugs, there is a risk of accidental poisoning from contaminants or other substances mixed with the drug.
  • Psilocybin users have the risk of accidentally consuming poisonous mushrooms that look like psilocybin. Taking poisonous mushrooms can cause severe illness or even death.

Current Popularity

We have all heard of the hippies of the 1960s and 1970s experimenting with hallucinogens, or psychedelic drugs. But a recent study shows that about 32 million people in the U.S. have used LSD, psilocybin, or mescaline at some time, many fairly recently.

According to a study done by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the highest rate of psychedelic use is among people ages 30 to 34. In this age group, men had higher rates of use than women. Interestingly, it was found that the people more likely to have used LSD and mescaline were older adults. And younger adults were more likely to have used “magic mushrooms.”

Although it’s difficult to predict future trends, the use of magic mushrooms has increased in the United States and around the world. It is thought that this is due to the spreading of information about home growing techniques and effects and methods of psilocybin mushroom use.

Treatment Options for Hallucinogen Addiction

As previously discussed, most of the classic hallucinogens are not considered addictive while other hallucinogenic substances like PCP are. Any addiction is a serious disorder and requires the brain and the body. Similar to chronic physical conditions like diabetes, people with an addiction can learn to control their condition and live normal lives. Unfortunately, there are no FDA-approved medications for hallucinogen addiction.

Behavioral Treatment 

Treatment should include behavioral changes to help manage triggers and cravings. An addiction to any type of hallucinogen should include counseling and behavioral therapies meant to discover why the individual felt the need to start taking drugs. 

Outpatient treatment is usually successful. However, this is only effective if the person sticks to their counseling sessions at the treatment center. Another option is inpatient or residential treatment where the person stays at the rehab facility for the duration of the program.

Treatment for Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD)

However, treatment for HPDD may include:

  • Stress reduction
  • Treatment of co-occurring disorders such as depression or anxiety 
  • Abstinence from the hallucinogen and any other substance being abused

Although there is no clinically established medication for HPPD, some drugs can be prescribed off-label (not their intended use) to reduce symptoms. Some studies have found that symptoms have been successfully treated through the use of medications such as: 

  • Naltrexone, commonly used to treat alcohol and opioid dependence,
  • Clonidine, typically used to treat anxiety and hypertension,
  • Lamotrigine, used to treat epilepsy and bipolar disorder.
  • Certain antidepressant and antipsychotic medications can also be used. These can be used to improve mood and treat psychosis.

Danger of Misdiagnosis

Because HPPD symptoms can be mistaken for other disorders such as stroke or brain tumors, it may be necessary to consult several medical professionals before getting an accurate diagnosis. The aim of treatment for hallucinogen addiction is to provide a safe and calm environment for the addicted person while providing behavioral therapy. Behavioral therapies may help individuals cope with fear or confusion linked to visual disturbances. 

Have You Seen the Effects of Hallucinogens?

Have you seen the effects of hallucinogens in yourself or someone you care about? At CNV Detox, we have seen it too. We provide personal attention and treatment programs designed for each patient’s needs. One size does not fit all. Our professional staff will create a path to recovery for you or your loved one. This is what we do. It is all we do. Contact us now. Take the next step to a fulfilling life.