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Hallucinogens are psychoactive drugs that cause major distortions in a person’s perception and senses. This diverse group of drugs can change a person’s awareness of the world and also induce changes in their own feelings, thoughts, moods, and actions. They have been around for centuries. Some hallucinogens have been used in small doses for religious rituals and spiritual purposes. These days, there is a lot of controversy surrounding the use of hallucinogens to treat mood disorders and other psychological problems.

Hallucinogens are being considered for use in a medical setting, and the class of drugs includes many different substances. So, there is a lot of confusion and misinformation about the question: “What are hallucinogens?” As a result, many people feel less concerned about taking hallucinogens — especially teenagers. Studies have shown that about 8% of American high school students in grades 9 to 12 have tried hallucinogenic drugs at least once. This is problematic because, although hallucinogen-related substance use disorders are not as prevalent as those with other substances, hallucinogen use is still very risky and can lead to health problems and dependency.

Read on to find out: “What are hallucinogens?” as well as what effects they have and what the risks are of abusing them.

What Are Hallucinogens?

Hallucinogens come in many forms. The drug class is usually broken down into two groups: classic hallucinogens and dissociative hallucinogens. Both types of drugs can cause altered perceptions and hallucinations — sensations and images that seem real even though they are not. They are very similar in their general effects, but dissociative drugs also cause some people to lose control of their bodies and senses and feel disconnected from the environment. While under the influence of any kind of hallucinogen, users experience distorted perceptions of reality. This might include seeing images, hearing sounds, and feeling things that aren’t based on any actual sensory experience.

Almost all hallucinogens contain nitrogen in their makeup and qualify as alkaloids. Hallucinogens can be found in a more natural form, extracted from plants or mushrooms, or in a synthetic form made by humans. All forms of hallucinogens can disrupt a person’s ability to think and communicate rationally and to recognize and organize reality. These disruptions can result in erratic and often dangerous behavior. Hallucinogens target specific centers of the brain to cause alterations in the way people process sensory input.

Many hallucinogens are classified as Schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act, which means they have a high potential for abuse, have no currently accepted medical use in the United States, and are not safe to use under medical supervision.

Classic Hallucinogens

Scientists believe that classic hallucinogens work by affecting neural circuits in the brain involving serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of pleasure and happiness. The National Institute on Drug Abuse1 reports that the affected regions of the brain control mood, sensory perception, sleep, hunger, body temperature, sexual behavior, and muscle control.

Classic hallucinogens include the following.


Also known as acid, LSD (D-lysergic acid diethylamide) is one of the most potent hallucinogenics. Swiss chemist Albert Hoffman originally synthesized it in 1938 while conducting experiments for a pharmaceutical company. It is a clear or white, odorless material made from ergot, a fungus that grows on rye and other grains. It has been the subject of much research and controversy about its use as a treatment for different disorders. LSD is classified by the DEA as a Schedule I substance, so as of now it has no accepted medical uses and a high risk of abuse.


Psilocybin (4-phosphoryloxy-N, N-dimethyltryptamine) is derived from certain types of mushrooms that grow primarily in South America, Mexico, and the United States. These mushrooms grow in tropical and subtropical regions and are harvested and sold as “magic mushrooms” or “shrooms.” It is a natural substance, but in large enough doses, it can induce effects much like that of the more powerful LSD. People can ingest mushrooms either fresh or dried, and they are typically mixed with edibles or brewed and consumed like tea.


Often called the N-Bomb or 251, this is a synthetic hallucinogen that is similar to LSD and MDMA in structure — but it is much more potent. It was originally developed for use in doing research on the brain, but more recently, people have acquired and sold it illegally. Because it isn’t regulated, it is often cut with other drugs.


Mescaline is a natural substance found in the small, spineless peyote cactus. The top of the cactus has small disc shapes that people call “buttons,” which contain high quantities of mescaline. Users take dried-out buttons and either chew them or brew them like a tea to drink. There is also a synthetic form of mescaline.


DMT (N-dimethyltryptamine), also called Dimitri, has gained popularity in the past decade because of its euphoric, hallucinatory effects. It can be found naturally in various places, such as a plant species in the Amazon jungle, and can also be made from chemicals. When the plant Virola is brewed into tea, it is known as Ayahuasca, which has historically been consumed during religious or ceremonial events. DMT is available in powder form as well, which users smoke, snort, or inject.


Marijuana has an active ingredient called delta-09 tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which influences a number of areas of the brain and can cause paranoia, anxiety, and hallucinations. Besides THC, marijuana has over 400 different active substances that affect the brain. It is more widely used than other hallucinogens and has become legal in many states in the U.S. and other countries around the world.

Dissociative Hallucinogens

Dissociative drugs also cause hallucinations but work on the brain slightly differently than classic hallucinogens. They interact with N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors in the brain to produce an excess or prevent reuptake of the neurotransmitter glutamate. Glutamate is an excitatory substance naturally produced by the brain that helps with cognition, emotion, and pain perception.

Dissociative drugs include the following.

Dextromethorphan (DXM)

DXM is the chemical ingredient found in many over-the-counter cough suppressants and cold medicines. It can be found in the form of syrups, tablets, and gel capsules. When enough of the substance is consumed, the user can have hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, and psychosis. It is known for its potential for misuse and addiction.


Often called Special K, ketamine is sometimes used as a surgery anesthetic for humans and animals. Because veterinary offices keep it in stock, it finds a way onto the streets for illegal sale and is widely misused. Depending on the amount taken, it can produce euphoria, temporary paralysis, extreme dissociative effects, and hallucinations. Along with MDMA, it is often used as an illicit nightclub drug. Lately and with controversy, much research has gone into studying the use of ketamine for mood disorders and other psychological disturbances.

Phencyclidine (PCP)

Also known as Angel Dust, PCP was originally developed in the 1950s as a surgical anesthetic. It worked well because it created intense euphoria and an out-of-body experience. But its use was discontinued in the medical world because it produced significant negative side effects, such as hallucination. It is available as a tablet, capsule, powder, or liquid, and users can consume it through smoking, snorting, swallowing, or injecting. It is a very dangerous and sometimes lethal drug, known for putting people at risk of brain damage, violent behavior, overdose, and addiction.

What Are the Effects of Hallucinogens?

Although many of these substances have been studied at length, much remains unknown about how they each work on the brain. Classic hallucinogens work, at least in part, by interrupting communication between a variety of chemical systems in the brain as well as the spinal cord. Other hallucinogens act on the neurotransmitter serotonin. This can end up affecting the regulation of mood, sleep, hunger, body temperature, sexual behavior, muscle control, and sensory perception.

Dissociative hallucinogenic drugs mess up the action of the neurotransmitter glutamate. This interferes with the brain’s regulation of pain perception, environmental responses, emotions, and memory.

Short-Term Effects of Hallucinogens

Classic hallucinogens can have many short-term effects, and they vary depending on the person, the drug ingested, and the amount ingested. Generally, they can cause people to see, hear, and feel things that do not really exist. Some users report experiencing synesthesia, a crossing of sensations, such as “hearing color.” These drugs usually start to take effect within 30 minutes to 90 minutes after consumption. Some can last as long as 12 hours, such as LSD, or some under 30 minutes, such as DMT. Sometimes people will report pleasurable experiences, called “trips,” while many people report extremely unpleasant experiences, known as “bad trips.”

Hallucinations are one of the main short-term effects. Other short-term effects include increased heart rate, stomach upset and GI issues, intense sensory experiences, disorientation, changes in sense of time, and visual perception. Users also report effects on blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature. Other effects include loss of appetite, insomnia, lack of coordination, nausea, vomiting, dry mouth, panic, excessive sweating, paranoid thoughts, psychosis, and violent behaviors.

Dissociative drugs can last anywhere from 30 minutes up to 48 hours in rare cases with drugs like PCP. These drugs can cause effects such as panic, disorientation, psychosis, lack of coordination, increased heart rate, high blood pressure, neuralgia, fainting, immobility, fear, anxiety, depression, and seizures.

Long-Term Effects of Hallucinogens

Ingesting a large amount of hallucinogens or using them repeatedly can lead to developing a tolerance. Psychopharmacologic studies have shown that people develop a high tolerance for LSD very quickly, after only a couple of uses. Because of the increased tolerance, users will take more and more of the drug to get the same effects, which can increase the chance of risky behaviors, overdose, addiction, and death. If a user builds a tolerance to one type of hallucinogen, they will also build tolerances for all other drugs in the same class. If a person discontinues use of the drug or drugs for some time, the tolerance will disappear.

People who use hallucinogens regularly don’t tend to experience physical withdrawal symptoms upon stopping use of the drug, unlike substances such as cocaine, heroin, and alcohol. But there is still a strong risk of psychological dependency. Users can experience harmful long-term effects after even just a single exposure to hallucinogenic drugs. Dissociative drugs can cause long-term speech problems, memory loss, weight loss, respiratory depression, and heart rate abnormalities too. Regular use of ketamine can lead to chronic stomach pain, bladder irritation, liver injury, and memory loss over time.

The most serious long-term effects of hallucinogenic substances are repeated or persistent psychosis and flashbacks. Flashbacks that continue to happen over time are known as a condition called hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD). Persistent psychosis is an extremely unpleasant and often dangerous condition that includes effects such as disorganized thinking, paranoia, mood swings, visual and auditory disturbances, and detachment from reality. HPPD has symptoms like hallucinations, seeing halos or trails on moving objects, strokes, and other symptoms that can mimic a stroke or brain tumor.

What Happens in a “Bad Trip”?

If a person has a prolonged unpleasant experience using hallucinogens, it is often called a “bad trip.” These experiences can be extremely uncomfortable and frightening and are disconcerting even for a person who is a regular user of hallucinogens. There is no way to determine whether using a certain drug will result in a bad trip or not.

Hallucinogen users have no way to counter how highly unpredictable the drugs are. Every trip depends on the type of drug, the amount ingested, the user’s personality and tolerance, their mood, the surroundings, the company, and the person’s expectations. Bad trips can cause terrifying thoughts and feelings of anxiety and despair, as well as fears of losing control, going insane, or dying. Avoiding very high doses and remaining with trusted friends in a safe environment can help reduce the risk of having a dangerous or risky bad trip.

Is It Possible to Overdose on Hallucinogens?

Yes. Not all drugs have a risk of overdose, but some of them do. An overdose happens when a user ingests enough of a drug to cause serious, life-threatening symptoms or death. Most classic hallucinogens can lead to a bad trip or otherwise extremely unpleasant experiences. These can lead to negative symptoms and sometimes long-lasting psychological effects, but they are not usually life-threatening.

Other drugs, such as 251-NBOMe, can lead to serious medical emergencies and deaths. Dissociative drugs also have more likelihood of overdose. High doses of PCP and DXM can lead to seizure, coma, or death. Mixing PCP with alcohol or other depressants can result in a coma or death. Ketamine use can also be fatal.

Both classic and dissociative drugs can also pose a great risk simply due to the altered perception they cause. Users might engage in risky behaviors, like jumping off a roof or stepping in front of a car. They could also experience suicidal thoughts or ideation. There is also a risk of ingesting contaminants mixed in with the drug, which can lead to poisoning.

Can a Person Become Addicted to Hallucinogens?

Like with so many other drugs, it is possible to develop a psychological dependence on hallucinogens and feel that life without regular drug use is impossible or not worthwhile. It is not common to become physically dependent on hallucinogens, but regular, prolonged use of any drug in this drug class can lead to problematic, compulsive use. These drugs can cause significant physical and psychological problems that can wreak havoc on a person’s overall well-being.

Some hallucinogens, like PCP, can be addictive. Addictive hallucinogens can cause withdrawal symptoms when a regular user stops or reduces the amount of use. These symptoms can include headaches, sweating, drug cravings, depression, anxiety, and other effects that can cause a person to use again.

Benefits of Quitting

If a person has been using hallucinogens regularly, it is probably starting to interfere with their lives. With the right help from Windward Way Recovery, an individual can stop using substances like this and regain complete control of their lives. There are so many benefits to ending substance use, including the following.

Improved Health

Prolonged use of hallucinogens can cause unwanted health problems. A person might experience speech problems, weight loss, respiratory depression, and heart rate abnormalities. Others can cause chronic stomach pain, bladder irritation, and liver injury over time. Stopping the use of hallucinogens can reduce the chances of experiencing issues like this.

Enhanced Well-Being

You will also experience better psychological health after quitting hallucinogens. It will reduce your chances of having prolonged anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. These drugs also cause long-term psychotic symptoms like paranoia, hallucinations, and psychosis. Quitting reduces your chances of having to deal with these adverse effects.

More Free Time

Drug abusers spend an enormous amount of time attempting to seek out and use the drug. Often, it is the only thing a person makes time to do. Even with extra time, those dealing with addiction usually spend less time doing things they enjoy or spending time with loved ones. Quitting hallucinogens means having more time back to spend with loved ones and take part in activities that feel good and are good for you.

Better Relationships

Drug addiction can destroy good relationships. Those who are using drugs might lie, steal, cause fights, and engage in other behaviors that make relationships suffer. With the help of a treatment center and a qualified therapist, individuals can start to repair the relationships in their lives.

Seeking Treatment

Getting treatment for drug abuse is the first and most important step in the recovery journey. In addition to attending a treatment program, it is also important to take other steps to improve your life. Here are some tips to aid in your recovery.

Take Up New Activities

Having more time on your hands allows you to pursue new activities. It is important to do so in order to remain sober. New hobbies and activities are a great way to make friends, improve your self-esteem, and have fun! Many people in new sobriety like to play sports, play an instrument, garden, etc.


Exercise has tons of great benefits for everyone, not just recovering addicts. It can improve your physical health, give you a sense of well-being, and help you make friends. Exercise takes up time in the day and helps add structure to your schedule. It’s also very therapeutic to work up a sweat and produce healthy brain chemicals!

Ask for Help

Without support, individuals are at higher risk of having a relapse at some point. If you don’t feel comfortable asking for help from friends and family, you can look to qualified treatment providers. Programs like AA and NA can help you link up with people who can be supportive and non-judgemental.

Understand Your Triggers

Certain things in your lifestyle and environment might trigger a sudden urge to use. These can include old friends you used to use with, places you used to get high, life stressors, and more. Know what these are and take measures to avoid them or deal with them in a healthier way.

If you or someone you know is struggling with hallucinogen addiction, Windward Way Recovery can help. We have a staff of addiction and mental health experts who can help you come up with the right treatment plan.

Inpatient care at our treatment center helps you or your loved one address substance abuse, as well as the underlying causes. We want to help you understand your desire to use substances. Our program also helps you handle stress and avoid situations and experiences that trigger the desire to use. We also help you develop new, healthy coping skills. This makes it possible to improve your quality of life and navigate life’s problems without returning to substance use.

If you’re ready to seek help, reach out to Windward Way Recovery today.

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