Hallucinogens, also known as psychedelics, are a category of drugs that can alter an individual’s perception of reality that may include hallucinations, heightened sensory experiences, and distorted thinking. Some hallucinogens may also cause individuals to experience dissociative feelings, a detachment from their bodies and minds.
Hallucinogens can be present in naturally occurring substances in some plants and mushrooms, and have been used for thousands of years in many different cultures to produce mystical visions and enlightening experiences. Synthesized hallucinogens were manufactured and used for the purposes of recreation, education, and enlightenment.
Although hallucinogens are not considered addictive, using them often can create tolerance in an individual’s body.
Clinically Reviewed by: Charee Marquez, LMFT
Review Date: 3/1/2023
Hallucinogens are further classified into two subclasses:
Classic hallucinogens are a category of chemicals that causes a distortion in one’s perception of reality. Some people report experiencing an expansion of consciousness, and an altered sense of time and space. Visual and sensory hallucinations are common side effects.
Some common classic hallucinogens:
LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) is a drug manufactured from a certain type of fungus, and can produce powerful mood alterations and visual hallucinations. Sometimes using LSD can also produce “bad trips” resulting in intense anxiety and depressive states.
DMT (Dimethyltryptamine) is a chemical that is naturally produced in a plant, but it is also manufactured in labs. DMT is also a naturally occurring chemical in the human brain in trace quantities. DMT is only known to cause intense intoxication but no long term negative effects have been reported.
Ayahuasca is a type of tea brewed from specific plants containing DMT.
Psilocybin (4-phosphoryloxy-N, N-dimethyltryptamine) is another naturally occurring chemical present in some varieties of mushrooms, or shrooms. Consumed in the form of tea, psilocybin can create hallucinations, and spiritual experiences, however side effects may include panic, paranoia and nausea. Accidental ingestion of poisonous mushrooms also carries the risk of death.
This category of hallucinogens are known to affect an individual’s perception of sight and sound causing visual and auditory hallucinations. Another major effect created by this class of drugs is an experience of dissociation from one’s self.
Some common dissociative hallucinogens:
Ketamine (Special K) is a type of chemical that is used in anesthetic medications, particularly in trauma patients. However, when abused this drug can produce powerful dissociative experiences such as near-death experiences, out-of-body experiences, and other experiences sometimes referred to as spiritual.
PCP (Phencyclidine) is another drug that was initially designed to be used as an anesthetic, but can create powerful side effects causing hallucinations, amnesia, paranoia, and a distorted sense of perception. Long-term use of PCP may cause respiratory issues, heart attack, brain hemorrhage, kidney failure and other risks.
Although it is not proven through research, classic hallucinogens are thought to disrupt the neural circuits of the brain that use serotonin as a neurotransmitter, which affects the prefrontal cortex area of the brain that regulates moods and responses to stress.
Dissociative drugs are thought to disrupt the brain’s glutamate system that affects learning, memory and emotions.
Although most hallucinogens are not considered addictive, long-term use and overdosing may sometimes cause adverse reactions needing immediate attention.
Some hallucinogens, such as PCP are known to be addictive and treatment should include detox, rehab and prevention of relapsing.
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