Hallucinogen Drugs: Effects, Risks, & Addiction
What Are Hallucinogens?
Hallucinogens are drugs that cause distortions in a person’s perception of reality. This means they often cause someone to see or hear things that aren’t there and feel an extreme range of emotions. They may also have heightened experiences with their senses.1
Types of Hallucinogens
There are several types of hallucinogens, each with varying effects. Each drug has its own profile of common effects, dangers, and methods of interaction with the body.
“Classic hallucinogens”—sometimes called psychedelics—include:1,2
- Psilocybin (mushrooms). Psilocybin is the active chemical in “Magic mushrooms,” or “shrooms.” Fungi containing this chemical may be dried and eaten alone, added to food, or brewed into tea.
- LSD (d-lysergic acid diethylamide). Also known as “acid,” this powerful hallucinogen is usually ingested orally, either in its liquid form or after being absorbed by a small piece of paper, sugar cube, or another small object.
- DMT (Dimethyltryptamine). DMT can be synthesized in a lab but is also found naturally in certain plants. These plants are brewed into tea (Ayahuasca) and consumed as part of a religious tradition in some cultures. When manmade, DMT is a powder that is usually smoked but can also be snorted or dissolved in liquid and injected intravenously.3
- Mescaline/Peyote. Mescaline is found in several species of cacti and may cause euphoria and powerful hallucinations. Mescaline may be dried and eaten, taken in a capsule, or mixed with water and drunk.
Dissociative drugs share similar symptomology with hallucinogens. Dissociative drugs can cause someone to feel detached from themselves or their surroundings like an “out of body” experience. Dissociative drugs include:1,2,4
- Ketamine. “Special K” or “K” is commonly sold as a liquid or powder, which can be smoked, snorted, or injected.5
- PCP (Phencyclidine). Also known as “angel dust,” PCP is typically smoked—often after being added to marijuana or cigarettes—but may also be snorted or injected.6
- DXM (Dextromethorphan). DXM is a cough suppressant sold over the counter that can have dissociative effects in high doses.7
- Salvia. Chewing, smoking, or vaporizing the leaves of the Salvia divinorum plant causes effects that mimic psychosis.
How Do Hallucinogens & Dissociatives Work?
Each hallucinogenic drug works in a unique way and may vary in its potency. But general mechanisms of classic hallucinogens and dissociatives have been identified.1 Psychedelics primarily influence serotonin receptors in the brain.1 These drugs are most active in the brain areas that involve mood, cognition, and perception.2
Most dissociative hallucinogens generate their effects through the disruption of glutamate, a chemical that plays a large role in emotions, learning and memory, and pain perception.1
MDMA may activate or disrupt multiple brain receptors to bring about its effects.1
Effects of Hallucinogenic Drugs
Depending on the drug itself, biological and personal factors, or the presence of contaminants, a person may experience a wide variety of effects when taking a psychedelic or dissociative drug.1 Some effects commonly experienced include: 1
- Visual distortions.
- Altered hearing, including hearing sounds that are not real.
- Strong emotions, such as intense happiness and connectedness or severe fear, anxiety, or confusion.
- Visual hallucinations that may involve vibrant shapes, colors, or scenes.
- Changes in heart rate.
- Unusual or uncharacteristic behaviors.
Dissociative drugs are particularly known for making someone feel “detached,” like they are floating or outside their own body.1
Dangers of Hallucinogen Use
Though hallucinogens rarely cause physically life-threatening side effects, there are risks.1 Hallucinogen use is associated with the following adverse effects:1
- High blood pressure.
- Elevated heart rate.
- Abdominal pain.
- Extreme fear, anxiety, or panic.
- Vomiting or diarrhea.
- Injuries secondary to impaired thought or perception.
- Worsening of preexisting mental health disorders.
- Persistent hallucinations, e.g., hallucinogen persisting perception disorder.
Hallucinogen overdose occurs when a person takes enough of a drug to cause serious or life-threatening effects. Though fatal overdoses are rare, they can occur with very high doses or when engaging in polysubstance use.1
The use of illegally manufactured drugs always presents a risk of them containing dangerous adulterants like fentanyl. The presence of even a small amount of fentanyl drastically increases the risk of overdose.1
Are Hallucinogens Addictive?
The chronic use of hallucinogens can lead to , a diagnosis recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual on Mental Disorders (5th edition) (DSM-5).1,9
Whether someone gets addicted to a hallucinogen depends on many factors, including, but not limited to:10
- The drug or drugs they use.
- How much they take and how often.
- A person’s genetics, environment, and upbringing.
H3: Signs of Hallucinogen Addiction
Diagnosis of any substance use disorder should be made by a medical professional; however, it can be beneficial to know the signs.9 As outlined in the DSM-5, the 10 criteria that are used for diagnosis include:9
- Taking more of the drug or taking the drug for a longer period than originally intended.
- A persistent desire or multiple attempts to cease or control hallucinogen use, but inability to follow through.
- Significant amounts of time are spent obtaining, using, or recovering from hallucinogen use.
- Experiencing cravings or strong desire to use a hallucinogen.
- Hallucinogen use that results in a failure to fulfill responsibilities at work, school, or home.
- Continuing to use hallucinogens despite it causing social or relational problems.
- Giving up activities that were previously important due to hallucinogen use.
- Using hallucinogens in physically dangerous situations.
- Continuing to use hallucinogens despite knowing that they have caused or worsened physical or psychological problems.
- Developing a tolerance (either needing higher doses of hallucinogens to achieve the same effect or using the same amount and having a markedly diminished effect).
Exhibiting 2 or more of the above within 12 months would result in a diagnosis of hallucinogen use disorder.9
Treatment for Hallucinogen Misuse in Texas
Professional addiction treatment may help someone stop using hallucinogens. There is no medication approved to treat hallucinogen use disorder;4 however, behavioral therapy, peer support, and treatment for co-occurring disorders may give someone the strength and skills to get sober and remain in long-term recovery.11
Greenhouse inpatient rehab facility in the Dallas metro area and outpatient treatment center in Arlington provide quality, evidence-based treatment for hallucinogen use disorder. Offering multiple types of rehab care and a caring and accredited staff, Greenhouse could be the first step toward a new life.
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- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2023, April). Psychedelic and dissociative drugs.
- National Institutes of Health. (2020). Commonly used drugs charts.
- Drug Enforcement Administration. (2022, December). N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT).
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019, April). Hallucinogens drug facts.
- U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Diversion Control Division. (2019). Ketamine.
- Drug Enforcement Administration. (2023, April). Phencyclidine.
- Drug Enforcement Administration. (2019, December).
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, June 15). MDMA (ecstasy/molly) drugfacts.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2022). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed. Text revision). Washington, D.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2023, May 30). Drugs, brains, and behavior: the science of addiction.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, January). Principles of drug addiction treatment: A research-based guide (Third Edition).