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What are Hallucinogens?

Hallucinogens are named after the types of effects they’re most known for: hallucinations. Bryn Mawr College lists the following drugs as the most commonly used hallucinogens:

  • LSD or lysergic acid dethylamide
  • DOM or 2,5-dimethoxy-4-methylamphetime
  • DMT or N-dimethyltrptamine
  • Psilocin
  • Mescaline
  • Ecstasy or MDMA
  • PCP or phencyclidine
  • Peyote
  • Certain varieties of mushrooms
  • PMA or paramethoxyamphetamine

Street names for hallucinogens include cubes, blotter, boomers, magic mushrooms and acid.

Hallucinogens have no accepted medicinal uses, which makes all forms of the drug illegal within the United States. Many hallucinogens consist of synthetic or man-made ingredients, while others, such as peyote and mushrooms come from actual raw plant materials.

How Do Hallucinogens Work?


Drugs that produce hallucinogenic effects are hallucinogens. These effects can be dangerous and lead to self harm, or to harming others.

Regardless of the type of drug used, hallucinogens produce the same effects across the board. According to the Institute for Substance Abuse Treatment Evaluation, these drugs work by altering brain neurotransmitter functions and triggering chemical secretions at receptor cell sites. In effect, hallucinogens disrupt neurotransmissions between nerve cells, which changes how these cells communicate with each other.

When ingesting a hallucinogen, the drug normally takes anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes to take effect. A person may start to see random colors, hear random sounds and smell random scents. Visual perceptions change to the point where physical objects start to take on distorted shapes, sizes and movements. A person may start to see his or her own body changing shape. Time also seems to go slower.

Most users anticipate the mental stimulation and pleasant sensations brought on by the “high” effect, though it’s not uncommon for these effects to take a bad turn or become “bad trips.” Someone on a “bad trip” may experience:

  • Overwhelming feelings of anxiety
  • An unusually dark despair
  • Fears of going insane
  • Terrifying thoughts

“Bad trips” can last as long as five to six hours after which time the drug’s effects start to subside over a two hour period. A person may still experience residual effects from a “bad trip” for several days after.

How Are Hallucinogens Abused?

The type of drug abused typically determines how a user will ingest it. Some hallucinogens can be converted from crystalline powder form to tablets or made into a solution and applied to paper. The popular “blotter acid” sheets use sheets of paper soaked in LSD. The sheets are then cut up in ¼-inch squares. Users place these squares on the tongue and let them dissolve.

Synthetic-made types, such as PMA typically come in powder form, which can be ingested as a capsule, inhaled or injected. Nature-based hallucinogens like peyote can be eaten, brewed into a tea solution or converted into powder form and placed in capsules.

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Hallucinogen Effects

The effects of hallucinogens on brain communication pathways can happen in different ways for different people. The disruption of brain processing functions works to short-circuit normal communications in any number of different ways. This makes for unpredictable effects overall, not only from person to person but from dosage to dosage.

Effects can vary based on:

  • The amount of drugs ingested
  • The user’s personality
  • The user’s mood at time of use
  • The user’s expectations at time of use
  • Whether a person uses alone or in a group
  • Whether other drugs are used along with hallucinogens

Psychological effects may have users experiencing a series of different moods in rapid succession to the point where several emotions are felt all at once. Physical effects may bring on an increase in heart rate, increased blood pressure as well as seizures and convulsions. Other common physical effects include:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Itching
  • Dilated pupils
  • Trembling
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Inability to sleep
  • Headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • Tremors
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sweating
  • Memory loss
  • Nausea

As all hallucinogens affect brain functions in the same way, users can develop what’s known as a cross-tolerance meaning a person’s tolerance level remains the same regardless of the type of hallucinogen drug being used. Tolerance levels continue to increase the more a person uses. Also, the shorter the time span between doses the faster a person’s tolerance level will rise.

Long-Term Effects

While users can quickly develop a high tolerance for hallucinogens, these drugs are not considered addictive as users don’t tend to engage in the compulsive drug-seeking behaviors that come with addiction. Nonetheless, the long-term effects of ongoing use can cause serious mental problems.

Hallucinogens can trigger paranoia, delusions, persistent psychosis and schizophrenic-like symptoms in people who have underlying psychological disorders. A condition known as hallucinogen persisting perception disorder or HPPD can also result from long-term use. HPPD manifests as distortion in perception for months or years at a time.

It’s not uncommon for long-term users to experience ongoing flashbacks in which a person relives past life experiences or relives a previous drug trip. Flashbacks can occur at any time with no warning. Ultimately, the types of long-term effects caused by hallucinogens are indicative of how ongoing use can warp normal brain communications and actually alter the physiological structure of the brain itself.

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Treatment Options

As with most any long-term drug use habit, the withdrawal effects experienced when trying to stop using drive many people to start using again. Though not technically addicting, reducing or stopping hallucinogens can still bring on withdrawal effects, some of which include:

  • Muscle spasms
  • A trance or dazed state
  • Depression
  • Diarrhea
  • Hot flashes
  • Aggression
  • Rapid heart rate

Addiction treatment options for hallucinogen abuse offer different levels of treatment in the form of detoxification, inpatient care and outpatient care. For someone trying to stop using, detoxification treatment facilities use medication therapies to help make withdrawal effects easier to bear. As hallucinogen drug use often involves the use of other drugs, treatment facilities can help a person break any existing addictions to other substances.

Considering the long-term effects of hallucinogen use, recovering users may very well have developed psychological disorders. Both inpatient and outpatient programs are designed to treat concurring conditions as part of the recovery process. Psychotherapy treatment and 12-step group work offer recovering users ongoing support and guidance for eliminating destructive drug abuse habits from their lives.

To learn more about hallucinogen abuse treatment options, or to find a facility near you, call our helpline at (800) 407-7195(Who Answers?)

the Take-Away

Hallucinogens are a group of drugs that produce hallucinations in users. All forms of hallucinogens are illegal in the United States and have potentially dangerous qualities.