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Hallucinogen Addiction: Types & Effects of Mind-Altering Drugs

Hallucinogens are a group of perception- and mood-altering substances that can either occur naturally or be created synthetically. Hallucinogens are increasing in popularity in certain age groups.1 Hallucinogens hold the potential for abuse, however, hallucinogen-related substance use disorders are not as prevalent as those involving other substances of abuse, such as alcohol or opioids.2,4

This page will provide more information about hallucinogens, including information on their addictive potential, types of hallucinogens, their side effects or health risks, and how to treat hallucinogen abuse.

If you’re concerned about your hallucinogen use or someone you love’s hallucinogen use, call

What are Hallucinogens?

Hallucinogens are a diverse group of drugs that cause hallucinations, distort sensory perception, and alter mood.2,3 They are broadly classified into two groups: classic hallucinogens and dissociative drugs. Both classic hallucinogens and dissociative drugs may cause you to experience visual, tactile, and auditory hallucinations; in other words, seeing, hearing and the feeling of touching things that aren’t there. However, dissociative drugs can also cause users to have out-of-body experiences and feel disconnected from their body and self or detached from their surroundings.2,3

How Do Hallucinogens Work?

Hallucinogens each affect the brain in their own unique way. Classic hallucinogens work by disrupting neural circuits in the brain  involving serotonin, a brain chemical that is key in controlling mood, , how you perceive sensory input, and other physiological processes.3,4

Dissociative drugs work, in part, by disrupting activity of the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate, which also plays a role in cognition, emotion, and how you perceive pain.3,4 How much of a specific hallucinogen you consume, as well as your mood and the setting in which you consume the hallucinogen in, tend to influence your experience with these drugs.2

Hallucinogen History & Scheduling

Classic hallucinogens, sometimes called psychedelics, are one of the oldest classes of drugs, and some naturally occurring hallucinogens have been used historically by different groups for rituals for healing or spiritual enlightenment.3 Semi-synthetic and synthetic classic hallucinogens and dissociative drugs were developed more recently for a variety of purposes, including MDMA (ecstasy) in 1914, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) in 1938, and ketamine and PCP in the 1950s.5,6

Most classic hallucinogens and dissociative drugs are Schedule I drugs, meaning they aren’t approved for any medical purpose and carry a risk for abuse.2 However, dextromethorphan (DXM) is an over-the-counter cough and cold medication that’s not a controlled substance, and ketamine is a Schedule III drug currently used medically as an anesthetic for humans and animals.4 Ketamine and psilocybin are both currently being explored as a potential treatment for depression and other mental health issues, and researchers are investigating MDMA as a potential treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).4,7

Dangers

Taking hallucinogens can be dangerous and intoxication can lead to accidents, bizarre or risky behavior, or even acting on a suicidal impulse.2,4 Additionally, toxic plants can easily be mistaken for less harmful hallucinogenic plants.2,4 Overdoses on classic hallucinogens like LSD, psilocybin, or mescaline is relatively rare, but dissociative drugs like phencyclidine (PCP) or ketamine carry an increased risk of overdose.2,4 Taking DXM in high doses to cause hallucinatory effects can be especially harmful to the cardiovascular and nervous system.3,7

Are Hallucinogens Addictive?

Research suggests that at least some hallucinogens are addictive, however, hallucinogen use disorders involving classic hallucinogens like LSD are uncommon.3,4 However, any consistent use of classic hallucinogens or dissociative drugs can lead to the development of compulsive or otherwise problematic patterns of use and the health risks that accompany such use.8

Many of the dissociative drugs as well as MDMA have a more pronounced addictive potential, and can lead to physiological dependence.4,5  You can experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop using PCP, ketamine, or MDMA after using for a prolonged period of time.5,7 The way that these drugs work in the brain reinforces continued use, making a person more likely to develop an addiction to them, especially if you experience withdrawal symptoms.5

Common Classic Hallucinogens

Although hallucinogens tend to have similar effects, each drug has its own individual characteristics and works slightly differently.

LSD

LSD (acid) is one of the strongest hallucinogenic drugs there is, and comes in the form of pills, liquid, or small pieces of paper that are placed on the tongue.3,7 It strongly alters the mood and perceptions, causing powerful hallucinations and other sensory distortions.3,7

Psilocybin

Psilocybin-containing mushrooms, commonly known as “shrooms,” are eaten raw or dried, or brewed in tea.3,7 The effects it gives are much like those of LSD, including altered perceptions, sensory distortion, and hallucinations.3,7

Ecstasy (MDMA/Molly)

Ecstasy, called MDMA or Molly, is a synthetic drug commonly available as tablets.7 It has both hallucinogenic and stimulant properties, and enhances perception of sensory input, making it a popular drug of abuse at clubs and raves.7

Peyote/Mescaline

Peyote – also sometimes called mesc, cactus, or buttons – is a small cactus that grows in the Southwest United States as well as Northern Mexico. The active hallucinogen ingredient in peyote is mescaline. Peyote can cause various hallucinations, altered perceptions of space and time, and other cognitive affects.10

DMT

DMT is a type of hallucinogen that occurs naturally and has been used in ceremonial and ritualistic settings for thousands of years. However, you can also produce DMT synthetically. You may smoke DMT, snort it, or consume it through drinking it, such as in the case of Ayahuasca. This drug typically produces strong psychoactive effects which usually resolve within 30-45 minutes. Side effects of DMT may include depersonalization, hallucinations, altered sense of time, increased heart rate, and much more.11

Common Dissociative Drugs

The most common and well-known dissociative drugs include:

Phencyclidine (PCP)

PCP, or angel dust, is a lab-synthesized drug that typically comes as a liquid or powder, although it can be available as pills as well.3 It can be taken orally, snorted, injected, smoked by itself, or mixed with cigarettes or marijuana.3 This drug causes euphoria, and changes how the body perceives pain, but can lead to aggression and a perception of increased strength.3

Ketamine

Ketamine, sometimes called “special K,” is available as pills, liquid, or powder, which can be taken orally, snorted, or injected.3 It is sometimes used as a date-rape drug, since there is no smell or taste associated with it, and it can cause loss of memory.3 Ketamine changes how the body perceives pain, and can lead to feeling detachment from the body or reality.3

Dextromethorphan (DXM)

Dextromethorphan (DXM) – also sometimes referred to as CCC, Poor Man’s PCP, Robo, Dex, or simply DXM – is a cough suppressant ingredient found in over 100 over-the-counter cough and cold medications.12 In high doses, DXM makes people hallucinate and experience euphoria.12 The typical dosage for an adult ranges from 15mg to 30mg, but when abused, some people ingest anywhere from 250mg to1,500mg.12

Salvia

Salvia is an herb that is part of the mint family. It is native to Southern Mexico. Salvia’s main ingredient, salvinorin A, changes the way the neurons in the brain communicate, resulting in mood swings, sweating, feelings of detachment, intense hallucinations, and other symptoms. People can also lose touch with reality on this drug.13

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Take our free, 5-minute substance abuse self-assessment below if you think you or someone you love might be struggling with substance abuse. The evaluation consists of 11 yes or no questions that are intended to be used as an informational tool to assess the severity and probability of a substance use disorder. The test is free, confidential, and no personal information is needed to receive the result.

Short-Term Effects & Signs of Withdrawal

Hallucinogen use is associated with a range of short- and long-term side effects. Some side effects start a short time after the substance is taken and usually go away shortly after the drug wears off, while others can be long-lasting, and only begin several weeks or months after hallucinogen use.2,3

Long-Term Effects of Hallucinogen Use

Long-term side effects can also occur from hallucinogen use. One of the most concerning issues that can result from hallucinogen use is Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD), which affects young people more often.2 (p1) This condition involves experiencing sudden flashbacks or hallucinations, and it can occur after using hallucinogens even once.2 (p1), 4 (p6-7) HPPD can arise anytime from several days to over a year after use, and is more likely to occur in people who have had mental health issues in the past.3,4

Signs of Hallucinogen Addiction

If you are concerned that your hallucinogen use is a problem, there are some signs to watch for that indicate that you may have a hallucinogen use disorder. These include:5,7,9

  • Continuing to use hallucinogens even when you know they have contributed to or caused a physical or mental health problem.
  • Hallucinogen use gets in the way of your important tasks at home, school, or work.
  • Having cravings for hallucinogens.
  • Inability to control for how long or how much you use hallucinogens.
  • Inability to stop using hallucinogens even though use causes or worsens relationship issues with others.
  • Needing to take larger amounts of hallucinogens to get the effect you want.
  • Not being able to stop or cut back on hallucinogens, even if you want to.
  • Spending a lot of time getting, using, or recovering from hallucinogen use.
  • Stepping back from activities you enjoy because they get in the way of your hallucinogen use.
  • Using hallucinogens in situations that are physically risky.
  • Withdrawal symptoms occur if you stop using hallucinogens.

Treatment for Hallucinogen Use Disorder

Although there are no medications that are FDA-approved for use in hallucinogen abuse treatment, there are other types of treatments available.4 Counseling involving behavioral therapy is the most frequently used type of treatment, and can be highly effective at treating substance use issues.14 These techniques, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), contingency management, and motivational enhancement, can help you increase your motivation towards sobriety, improve your coping and communication skills, refine problem-solving skills, and increase your ability to function in various areas of your life while lowering the risk of relapse.14

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    • Sources

    1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2020). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (HHS Publication No. PEP20-07-01-001, NSDUH Series H-55). Rockville, MD: Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
    2. Department of Justice/Drug Enforcement Administration. (2020). Hallucinogens.
    3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2015). Hallucinogens and dissociative drugs research report.
    4. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021). Hallucinogens DrugFacts
    5. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). A Treatment Improvement Protocol: TIP 45. 
    6. Encyclopedia Britannica. (2022). Albert Hoffman.
    7. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Commonly used drugs charts.
    8. Miller, S. C., Fiellin, D. A., Rosenthal, R. N., & Saitz, R. (2019). The ASAM Principles of Addiction Medicine, Sixth Edition. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer.
    9. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Hallucinogens trends and statistics.
    10. Department of Justice/Drug Enforcement Administration. (2020). Peyote & Mescaline. 
    11. Department of Justice/Drug Enforcement Administration. (2020). N,N-DIMETHYLTRYPTAMINE.
    12. Department of Justice/Drug Enforcement Administration. (2020). DXM.
    13. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021). Salvia.
    14. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of drug addiction treatment: A research-based guide (Third edition).
Last Updated on March 16, 2022
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