Updated on February 15, 2024
9 min read

What Are Hallucinogens?

Key Takeaways

What Are Hallucinogens?

Hallucinogens are a class of psychoactive drugs known for their ability to induce vivid mental imagery and experiences that can alter perception and consciousness. They're a diverse class of drugs that produce:

  • Visual and auditory hallucinations
  • Feelings of detachment from one's self and the environment
  • A distorted perception of time and space

People have used hallucinogens for religious or healing rituals for many years. More recently, people have been using them for social or recreational purposes.

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Why Do People Use Hallucinogens?

People use hallucinogens for various reasons. Knowing the risks and how to reduce them is crucial, no matter the reason.

Some people may be interested in psychedelics' spiritual or religious aspects, while others seek an altered state of consciousness.

Other people may be curious about how these drugs affect perception and mood. Furthermore, some people use them recreationally to enhance music, art, and other activities that involve creative thinking.

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What Are the Types of Hallucinogens?

Psychedelics come in two forms⁠—synthetic (human-made) and natural. LSD is an example of a synthetic hallucinogen. Shrooms and peyote are natural hallucinogens.

Synthetic hallucinogens are made inside labs. In contrast, naturally occurring psychedelics come from:

  • Trees
  • Vines
  • Leaves
  • Seeds
  • Fungi

Hallucinogens can have two categories: classic hallucinogens (like LSD) and dissociatives (like PCP). 

The Most Common Hallucinogens

The most common types of hallucinogens or psychedelics include:

LSD

LSD affects the interaction of serotonin and nerve cells to cause hallucinations, heightened senses, and other intense physical and mental effects. 

Users experience a distorted sense of reality and increased responsivity to external stimuli. LSD is a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substance Act.

AL-LAD

AL-LAD is a psychedelic drug with similar properties to LSD. Its first synthesis was in 1976, and it became popular in the 'research chemicals' and 'new psychoactive substances' market.

The Drug Enforcement Administration hasn’t scheduled it as a controlled substance. However, sales or possession with intent for human consumption may result in prosecution under the Federal Analogue Act.

Morning Glory Seeds

Morning glory seeds contain a hallucinogenic compound called lysergic acid amide (LSA). It's similar to the active ingredient in LSD. The effects of morning glory are milder than other psychedelics. 

However, they can still cause:

  • Visual and auditory hallucinations
  • Euphoria
  • Spiritual insight
  • Altered perceptions of reality 

Ayahuasca

Ayahuasca is a psychedelic drug made from plants native to the Amazon. Users brew it into tea, and shamans in South America have used it for centuries for spiritual and medicinal purposes. 

Ayahuasca can cause:

  • Vivid hallucinations
  • Intense emotions
  • Insomnia
  • Increased heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

DMT

DMT (N, N-Dimethyltryptamine) is a naturally occurring hallucinogenic compound. It's the primary component in ayahuasca, a tea-like brew you take orally. Users typically take it by smoking or inhaling it as vapor. 

DMT’s effects are intense and range from extreme anxiety and fear to complete peace of mind. 

Dissociatives

Dissociative drugs are a class of hallucinogens. These psychedelic drugs alter the user's perceptions of reality. Some dissociatives are illegal, but others have medical uses.

They may also cause:

  • Visual and auditory hallucinations
  • A sense of timelessness
  • Feelings of detachment 

Peyote Cactus

Peyote is a small, spineless cactus that grows in Mexico and the southwestern United States. It contains mescaline, a hallucinogenic compound. Native Americans have used peyote cacti for spiritual purposes for years. 

The effects of consuming peyote can last several hours and include:

  • Auditory and visual hallucinations
  • Altered perceptions of reality
  • Intense emotions

Shrooms

Shrooms are 'magic mushrooms' that contain the psychoactive ingredient psilocybin. This ingredient converts to psilocin in the body, affecting the central nervous system by altering the interaction of nerve cells and serotonin. 

Shrooms may cause:

  • Euphoria
  • Intense emotions
  • Visual and auditory hallucinations
  • A distorted sense of time 

Salvia Divinorum

Salvia divinorum is a plant with psychoactive features. You can ingest the leaves by chewing, smoking, or brewing it as tea.

The leaves contain opioid-like properties that produce hallucinations. People often describe a feeling of 'out-of-body' experiences when taking salvia. 

PCP Phencyclidine

Phencyclidine, or PCP, is an illegal, synthetic, psychoactive drug. It’s a dissociative hallucinogenic that produces feelings of detachment from the environment and self. 

It can also cause: 

  • Vivid, intense hallucinations 
  • Confusion
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia

The drug differs from class 1 hallucinogens, such as psilocybin, LSD, peyote, and DMT.

What Are the Effects of Hallucinogens? 

Hallucinogens can affect a user both immediately and in longer durations.

Short-Term Effects

Some common short-term effects of hallucinogens include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dry mouth
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased body temperature and breathing
  • Increased sweating
  • Poor coordination
  • Relaxation
  • Sleep issues
  • Strange behavior
  • Psychosis (detachment from reality)
  • Distorted sense of time
  • Panic
  • Paranoia
  • Vivid dreams or nightmares
  • Heightened sensitivity to colors and lights
  • Increased tendency to form spiritual connections

Long-Term Effects

When you consume them long-term, hallucinogens can affect your body in a few ways:

  • Persistent psychosis: Includes visual disturbances, disorganized thinking, paranoia, and mood changes
  • Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD): Involves spontaneous and recurring flashbacks that come without warning. They may occur within a few days or more than a year after drug use.

Clinical trials are ongoing to determine the safety and efficacy of psychedelics. These studies include healthy participants and those diagnosed with specific health conditions.

Bad Trips

A "bad trip" is an unpleasant experience that hallucinogens cause. It can involve:

  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Confusion
  • Paranoia

If you're with someone who has a bad trip, remain calm and reassuring while providing a safe environment for them to come down from the drug's effects. 

The effects of hallucinogens like LSD can be described as drug-induced psychosis—distortion or disorganization of a person’s capacity to recognize reality, think rationally, or communicate with others.

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How Long Do Hallucinogenic Effects Last?

Hallucinogenic drugs can induce sensory distortions, such as visual or auditory hallucinations. These mind-altering effects typically manifest within 90 minutes of ingestion, although they can begin as early as 20 minutes after consumption.

The duration of psychedelic experiences can extend up to 12 hours. However, the nature and intensity of hallucinatory encounters vary significantly among people.

How Do Hallucinogens Affect the Brain?

Hallucinogens can temporarily disrupt the communication between various brain chemical systems, including but not limited to serotonin, glutamate, and dopamine pathways in the central nervous system. 

Certain hallucinogenic drugs impact the brain chemical serotonin. Serotonin controls your:

  • Body temperature
  • Sexual desire
  • Appetite
  • Overall mood
  • Sensory perception
  • Sleep
  • Intestinal muscle control

Dissociatives affect the brain's chemical glutamate. Glutamate controls your:

  • Environmental response
  • Learning
  • Memory
  • Emotions
  • Pain perception

Are Hallucinogens Addictive?

Most hallucinogens don't cause physical addiction. However, users may develop psychological dependence, Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder, or hallucinogen use disorder.

Psychological Dependence 

Psychological dependence on hallucinogens is a form of mental or emotional addiction. It occurs when you feel compelled to take the drugs regularly. 

People with this dependency may find it hard to stop using hallucinogens, even if they don't experience physical withdrawal symptoms. 

They'll likely experience psychological withdrawals like depression, anxiety, and insomnia. They may also feel uncomfortable in social situations where they experience intense cravings or can't use the drugs.

Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD)

HPPD is a chronic neurological disorder that causes recurring flashbacks or hallucinations. This condition occurs when you take large amounts of hallucinogenic drugs for an extended period. It can take months or years to go away.

You can treat HPPD with medications like antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and antipsychotics. Mental health counseling and therapy can also help you learn how to cope with your symptoms.

Hallucinogen Use Disorder

Although no reports classify hallucinogens as addictive, users can develop a consistent use pattern resembling hallucinogen addiction. This is known as hallucinogen use disorder. 

Hallucinogen use disorder refers to a persistent, problematic pattern of hallucinogen use resulting in substantial distress. It typically lasts longer than 12 months.

This disorder encompasses consuming and misusing hallucinogenic substances that induce altered states of consciousness. It eventually leads to considerable psychological and social repercussions.

What Are the Signs of Hallucinogen Abuse?

While hallucinogens are non-addictive substances, users can still abuse them.

Symptoms of abuse include:

  • Neglecting responsibilities and hobbies to take hallucinogens
  • Spending a significant amount of time obtaining, using, and recovering from hallucinogen use
  • Sudden aggressive or violent behaviors
  • Attempting to stop abusing hallucinogens but failing to do so
  • Physical symptoms, like vision problems, nausea, dizziness, numbness, sweating, muscle spasms, respiratory depression, and increased heart rate
  • Cognitive symptoms like amnesia, poor focus, coordination problems, dissociation, hallucinations, and paranoia
  • Psychosocial symptoms, like agitation, mood swings, loss of interest in hobbies, social withdrawal, and irritability

Can You Overdose on Hallucinogens?

A typical dose of the hallucinogen lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), often referred to as a 'tab' or 'hit,' typically contains between 100 to 200 micrograms.14 

Research suggests that a dose of LSD ranging from 50 to 200 micrograms is non-toxic. It's also medically safe when you use it in a controlled setting. 

There have been no reported overdose deaths from LSD and other hallucinogens. LSD overdoses are rare and usually occur when users consume excessive amounts of the drug.

In one case, a 15-year-old accidentally took between 1,000 and 1,200 micrograms of LSD at a party and required overnight hospitalization. A 26-year-old woman who attended the same party accidentally took around 500 micrograms of LSD but didn’t require medical intervention.15

How Do You Treat Hallucinogen Use Disorder?

Treatment for hallucinogen use disorder typically includes a combination of evidence-based therapeutic modalities and lifestyle changes. The goal is to help users stop using drugs and develop healthy coping methods.

Treatment often involves:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to learn healthier ways to cope with stress, anxiety, or depression
  • Motivational interviewing (MI) to explore a user’s commitment to change
  • Peer support groups, such as 12-step programs, to build supportive relationships with other users.

In addition, medications like naltrexone or acamprosate can help reduce the physical and psychological cravings associated with hallucinogen use disorder. 

Treating "Bad Trips"

Treatment for a bad trip aims to provide comfort and safety. At the same time, the user experiences their environment differently and eventually comes down from their high.

The goal is to prevent the user from harming themselves or others due to their altered mental state. Therapists may use calming techniques, such as guided relaxation and breathing exercises. Doing so helps users relax and regain control.

Healthcare providers may also administer benzodiazepines. These drugs help reduce feelings of panic and agitation.

Treating "Flashbacks" or HPPD

There's no treatment for HPPD, but research suggests certain medications may be effective. These include anti-seizure medications, such as lamotrigine16 and clonazepam.

The other treatment options for hallucinogen use disorder include:

  • Mindfulness
  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Talk therapy

Summary

Hallucinogens cause visual and auditory hallucinations, altered perceptions of reality, and intense emotions. Several hallucinogens exist, including synthetic drugs like LSD and natural psychedelics like shrooms.

Some have a spiritual or religious purpose, while others are for creative pursuits or used just out of curiosity. Regardless of use, you can develop a tolerance to psychedelics. You can also experience adverse effects from hallucinogens.

If you want something to help with mental health issues or just to help you cope, consider talking to a professional before trying psychedelics. Therapists and psychiatrists can recommend evidence-based treatments safer than drugs that come with risks when consumed.

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Updated on February 15, 2024
15 sources cited
Updated on February 15, 2024
  1. McLellan, A. “Substance Misuse and Substance use Disorders: Why do they Matter in Healthcare?.” Transactions of the American Clinical and Climatological Association, 2017.

  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Service. "Common Comorbidities with Substance Use Disorders Research Report." National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2021.

  3. "Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders." Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2023.

  4. Agrawal et al. "DSM-IV to DSM-5: the impact of proposed revisions on diagnosis of alcohol use disorders." Addiction, 2011.

  5. Garcia-Romeu et al. “Hallucinogen-Related Disorders.” Johns Hopkins Psychiatry Guide, 2017.

  6. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "Substance Use and Co-Occurring Mental Disorders," National Institute of Mental Health, 2023.

  7. U.S. Department of Justice. “Drugs of Abuse.” Drug Enforcement Administration, 2017.

  8. Johnson et al. “Psilocybin Dose-Dependently Causes Delayed, Transient Headaches in Healthy Volunteers.” Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 2012.

  9. Studerus et al. “Acute, subacute and long-term subjective effects of psilocybin in healthy humans: a pooled analysis of experimental studies.” Journal of Psychopharmacology, 2011.

  10. Krebs, T.S., and Johansen, P. "Psychedelics and Mental Health: A Population Study." PLoS ONE, 2013.

  11. U.S. Department of Health and Human Service. “Psychedelic and Dissociative Drugs.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2023.

  12. U.S. Department of Health and Human Service.“Drug Facts: Hallucinogens” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2019.

  13. Nichols, D., and Grob, C. “Is LSD toxic?” Forensic Science International, 2018.

  14. Haden, M., and Woods, B. “LSD Overdoses: Three Case Reports.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 2020.

  15. Hermle et al. “Hallucinogen-persisting perception disorder.” Therapeutic Advances In Psychopharmacology, 2012.

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