Hallucinogen Addiction & Its Effects
Hallucinogens encompass a variety of drugs that cause hallucinations and alter the user’s perception.1 Since hallucinogens may cause detrimental health effects, such as side effects and overdose, it is strongly recommended that people who are struggling with hallucinogen use explore treatment options under the guidance of a qualified medical professional.
What Are Hallucinogens?
Hallucinogens, also called psychedelic drugs, have many street names, including acid, blotter, blotter acid, shrooms, special K, X, XTC, and fry.1
People have traditionally used them in religious rituals, but in recent times, users have been taking hallucinogens for recreational purposes. Many common hallucinogens are listed in Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act, which means they have a high potential for abuse and are not accepted for medical use in the United States.1
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in a 2012 research that looked at 36 nations, the United States had the highest percentage of high school students who used LSD or another hallucinogen.2 In the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 229,000 Americans aged 12 or older said they had used LSD in the month before and 33,000 reported ongoing PCP use.2
What Are Hallucinogens Made Of?
If they are of natural origin, hallucinogens come from plants or fungi, while other hallucinogens are synthesized in labs illegally. Some naturally-occurring hallucinogens are psilocybin mushrooms, peyote, and Salvia divinorum. Ecstasy and LSD are examples of man-made hallucinogens. They come in many different forms, including tablets, impregnated paper, and powder.1
How Do Hallucinogens Work?
Hallucinogens cause their awareness-altering impact by affecting neural circuits in the brain that use the neurotransmitter serotonin. They have the largest impact on the prefrontal cortex, a structure located at the front of the brain which regulates cognitive processes, perception, and mood.3
What Are the Different Types of Hallucinogens?
Hallucinogens are often divided into two groups: classic hallucinogens and dissociative drugs.While all hallucinogens cause hallucinations and altered perception, dissociative drugs also produce the sensation of detachment from your body.3
- LSD, also known as acid, is commonly sold in the form of small impregnated paper squares which feature colorful printed images. It is taken orally. LSD, ecstasy, and ketamine are commonly abused by young people in nightclubs.
- Ecstasy/MDMA comes in the form of colorful tablets with imprinted logos. Users usually take ecstasy tablets orally although they also sometimes crush and snort or smoke them.
- Ketamine is produced either as a white powder (typically packed in a small glass vial) or as a liquid. Users usually snort ketamine powder or smoke it in tobacco or marijuana cigarettes.
- Peyote is a cactus that contains the hallucinogen mescaline. Users chew on the top part of the peyote plant or consume the drug in capsule form.
- Psilocybin is a psychoactive substance that is found in certain types of mushrooms. Users may buy them dried or fresh and consume them orally.
Dissociative drugs are a group of drugs that falls under the broader category of hallucinogens. Some examples are:3
- Dextromethorphan (DXM) is a substance found in some over-the-counter cough and cold medications. People abuse them by taking larger doses than those that are therapeutically recommended.
- Phencyclidine (PCP) was originally used as a general anesthetic. It comes in tablet, capsule, liquid, or powder form.
- Salvia Divinorum is a plant that people have historically used for ritual divination. Users chew or smoke it.
How Do Hallucinogens Affect the Nervous System?
A user will typically feel the impact of hallucinogens 20 to 90 minutes after taking them.4 Each user’s experience of hallucinogen intoxication, also called “a trip”, is individual. Hallucinogen effects may vary from intensely pleasant (“good trip”) to extremely unsettling (“bad trip”), depending on the dose taken as well as the user’s mood, character traits, and environment.4
Some of the sensations commonly associated with hallucinogen use are:
- Hallucinations, which are auditory, visual, olfactory, and tactile sensations that appear real but don’t actually exist.4
- A distortion of the perception of time (time may appear to stand still or go slowly).1
- Heightened senses, such as seeing brighter colors or hearing louder noises.4
- Synesthesia, which is the blending of the senses, such as hearing smells and seeing sounds.4
- Reduced inhibitions.1
- A possibility of experiencing frightening thoughts, intense anxiety, and a fear of dying or losing one’s mind.4
The duration of the effects of hallucinogen abuse will vary depending on the drug taken. For example, the effects of ketamine might last for 30 to 60 minutes while the impact of MDMA may last for 3 to 6 hours.1,5
What Do Hallucinogens Do to the Body?
There are many different, type-specific physical effects of hallucinogens. Generally, some of the common physical manifestations of hallucinogen use include:4
- A surge of energy.
- A rapid heartbeat.
- Dilated pupils.
What Are the Side Effects of Hallucinogens?
Hallucinogens are a versatile group of drugs, so there is a wide range of possible hallucinogen side effects on the body. These include short-term and long-term consequences.
Some of the short-term side effects of hallucinogens are:
LSD side effects:4
- Elevated heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature
- Decreased appetite
- Profuse sweating
- Shaking and weakness
Ecstasy/MDMA side effects:5
- Muscle cramps
- Teeth clenching
- Blurred vision
- Increased sweating
Ketamine side effects:6
- Increased salivation
- Tear secretion
- Muscle stiffening
Peyote side effects:4
- High heart rate and body temperature
- Ataxia (difficulties with coordination)
- Profuse sweating
- Redness of the face
Psilocybin side effects:7
- Nausea and vomiting
- Muscle weakness
- Impaired coordination
All hallucinogens tend to impair the user’s ability to think clearly, which may lead to hazardous behavior and increases the risk of injury.1 They may also cause profoundly terrifying sensations, including paranoia, panic, and psychosis (bizarre thinking and behaviors).3
- Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD): This disorder involves recurrent episodes or “flashbacks” of some elements of the hallucinogen experience. They may occur days or even months after the last hallucinogen use.
- Persistent psychosis: This mental health disorder is characterized by delusions, paranoia, and disorganized thinking.
The long-term effects of hallucinogens are more likely to happen if the user has a history of mental illness. However, any user can experience them, even if they only used the drug one time.3
What Is Hallucinogen Addiction Treatment?
Currently, more research into hallucinogen use is needed and the FDA hasn’t approved any medications for hallucinogen addiction treatment yet. However, behavioral treatment for addiction may be effective for people with a range of addictions, including individuals who require hallucinogen treatment.3 If a person is struggling with hallucinogen abuse, therapy could help them cope with the effects of their drug use and support them on their path to recovery.
Frequently Asked Questions
Research suggests that hallucinogens are less likely to cause addiction than certain other drugs, like cocaine.5 However, evidence points to the possibility of users becoming tolerant or addicted to some hallucinogens.3
MDMA, LSD, and psilocybin mushrooms are some of the most frequently abused hallucinogens, especially by younger people.1 While LSD, for example, doesn’t seem to lead to cravings and drug-seeking behavior usually associated with addiction, users can develop a tolerance to it.3 Tolerance builds up quickly, meaning that the user needs to take increasingly higher doses of the drug to experience the desired effect. This is potentially harmful because this hallucinogen’s adverse effects may be unpredictable, especially if the user abuses other drugs simultaneously.
Other hallucinogens, like PCP, can in fact cause addiction, characterized by withdrawal symptoms, like headaches, and uncontrollable drug cravings, if drug use is stopped.3
- Like with most drugs, there may be an increased risk of adverse effects if a user combines hallucinogens with other drugs. For example, the combination of DXM and antidepressants is potentially lethal.1 Also, mixing LSD and alcohol is highly unpredictable. The dangers include:8
- The decreased perceived experience of both substances, which may lead to drinking too much alcohol and even alcohol poisoning.
- The comedown from the two substances may be particularly unpleasant, involving nausea and vomiting.
- Alcohol increases the chances of a user having a negative experience on LSD, including aggression and hostile behavior.
Hallucinogens, like ketamine, DXM, MDMA, and LSD, may also have potentially bad interactions with each other.8
- The symptoms of withdrawal from hallucinogens may vary based on the types of hallucinogens that the user takes. For example, according to the Institute on Drug Abuse, research doesn’t provide conclusive results as to the addictiveness of MDMA but some users do experience the symptoms of withdrawal: 5
- Decreased appetite
- Concentration issues
- Overdose may occur if a user takes a dangerously high dose of the drug. Here are some of the possible symptoms of a hallucinogen overdose:1
- Taking a high dose of hallucinogens may exacerbate the symptoms of common side effects.
- An LSD overdose can produce extremely intense bad “trips”, psychosis, and death.
- High doses of MDMA may lead to a dangerously high body temperature, leading to kidney, liver, and cardiovascular failure.
A hallucinogen overdose is very rarely lethal. Deaths under the influence of hallucinogens typically happen due to accidents or suicide, as the users are often disinhibited, uncoordinated, and their perception of their surroundings is distorted.1 There are also chances of users of psilocybin mushrooms accidentally ingesting a poisonous mushroom. However, a ketamine or PCP overdose can be potentially fatal because it may cause:1
- Difficulty breathing, which may ultimately lead to death.
Users experiencing the symptoms of a hallucinogen overdose should seek immediate medical attention.
1. U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration. (2017). Drugs of Abuse: A DEA Resource Guide.
2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2015). How Widespread Is the Abuse of Hallucinogens and Dissociative Drugs?
3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Hallucinogens DrugFacts.
4. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2015). How Do Hallucinogens (LSD, Psilocybin, Peyote, DMT, and Ayahuasca) Affect the Brain and Body?
5. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). MDMA (Ecstasy/Molly) DrugFacts.
6. U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration. (2020). Ketamine.