Hallucinogens are a diverse drug group that alters perception (awareness of surrounding objects and conditions), thoughts, and feelings. They cause hallucinations, or sensations and images that seem real though they are not. Hallucinogens can be found in some plants and mushrooms (or their extracts) or can be human-made. People have used hallucinogens for centuries, primarily for religious rituals.
People use hallucinogens in a wide variety of ways, as shown in the following chart:
Research suggests that hallucinogens work partially by temporarily disrupting communication between brain chemical systems throughout the brain and spinal cord. Some hallucinogens interfere with the action of the brain chemical serotonin, which regulates:
Other hallucinogens interfere with the action of the brain chemical glutamate, which regulates:
The effects of hallucinogens can begin within 20 to 90 minutes and last as long as 6 to 12 hours. Salvia’s effects are more short-lived, appearing in less than 1 minute and lasting less than 30 minutes. Hallucinogen users refer to the experiences brought on by these drugs as “trips,” calling the unpleasant experiences “bad trips.”
Along with hallucinations, other short-term general effects include:
Specific short-term effects of some hallucinogens include:
Little is known about the long-term effects of hallucinogens. Researchers know ketamine users may develop symptoms that include ulcers in the bladder, kidney problems, and poor memory. Repeated use of PCP can result in long-term effects that may continue for a year or more after use stops, such as:
Though rare, the long-term effects of some hallucinogens include the following:
Evidence indicates that certain hallucinogens can be addictive or that people can develop a tolerance to them. The use of some hallucinogens also produces tolerance to other similar drugs.
For example, LSD is not considered an addictive drug because it doesn’t cause uncontrollable drug-seeking behavior. However, LSD does produce tolerance, so some users who take the drug repeatedly must take higher doses to achieve the same effect. This is an extremely dangerous practice, given the unpredictability of the drug. In addition, LSD produces tolerance to other hallucinogens, including psilocybin.
On the other hand, PCP is a hallucinogen that can be addictive. People who stop repeated use of PCP experience drug cravings, headaches, and sweating as common withdrawal symptoms. Scientists need more research into the tolerance or addiction potential of hallucinogens.
There are no government-approved medications to treat addiction to hallucinogens. While inpatient and/or behavioral treatments can be helpful for patients with various addictions, scientists need more research to find out if behavioral therapies are effective for addiction to hallucinogens.
For more information about hallucinogens, please visit: www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/hallucinogens and www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/commonly-abused-drugs-charts
Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.