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Hallucinogens are drugs that act on the brain and nervous system to create altered states of reality and a heightened sensory experience. Drugs that cause hallucinations include both lab-created chemicals and naturally occurring substances. Around 5.6 million people aged 12 or older reported using hallucinogens in the past year, according to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Young people who abuse hallucinogens are more likely to have mental health issues and struggle with impulsiveness. People seek the effects of hallucinogens on the body because they desire a spiritual, mystical, or introspective experience. They may want to feel euphoric or high or escape reality. The problem is that these chemicals are unpredictable. A good “trip” the first time doesn’t guarantee one the next time. The extent of hallucinogens’ long-term effects are also somewhat of a wild card, since there’s not a lot of research on it.
Signs of hallucinogenic drugs in the system include:
- Interacting with visual or auditory hallucinations
- Freezing and staring into space
- Acting drunk
- Looking stunned or having high energy, but otherwise seeming normal
Hallucinogens may also cause people to appear terrified, angry, and violent. They may have convulsions, vomit, or pass out.
Types of Hallucinogens and Psychedelic Drugs
People have used psychedelic and hallucinogenic drugs since the beginning of time. There are two main types of hallucinogens: natural and synthetic. Naturally occurring chemicals have long been a part of spiritual practices all over the world. In modern times these chemicals are also abused for recreational reasons and manufactured in laboratories.
#1 Natural Psychedelics
Like the name implies, natural psychedelics are found in nature. The plants are often grown specifically for their intoxicating properties. Types of natural hallucinogens and psychedelics include:
Sometimes called “brew,” ayahuasca is a tea made from a plant native to South America. Amazon tribes have used it in religious rituals for thousands of years. Users brew the leaves of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine in hot water. Banisteriopsis caapi contains the chemical N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT). In its synthetic form, DMT is a Schedule I controlled substance in the United States. This classifies it as a drug with high potential for abuse and no known medical use.
Ayahuasca’s popularity increased in the West as people became more aware of the high it offers. Some small studies suggest health benefits of using it as well. People from the United States, Canada, and much of Europe have been known to travel to South America to obtain and use ayahuasca.
Ayahuasca Side Effects and Symptoms
Drinking ayahuasca tea causes psychedelic drug effects like:
- Dissociation from the body
- Visual hallucinations
- Auditory hallucinations
Hallucinogen effects begin between 20 and 60 minutes after drinking it. They tend to last for two to six hours.
Everyone reacts to ayahuasca differently. Many people experience pleasant body highs or hallucinations they say make them feel closer to the universe. Others have intense, anxious, or paranoid highs. Some research notes vomiting and increased blood pressure as common side effects of the hallucinogen.
Ayahuasca Long-Term Effects
There’s scarce information on this hallucinogen’s long-term effects. As with any substance of abuse, psychological dependence is a risk. Some case studies have found that ayahuasca puts people at risk for developing psychosis, especially if they already struggle with mental illness.
Is Ayahuasca Addictive?
Like most hallucinogens, when taken by itself, ayahuasca doesn’t have addictive qualities, but psychological addiction is always a risk for any substance abused for recreation.
Also called Jimson weed, datura is a flowering plant in the nightshade family. Nightshades are notoriously poisonous, but datura has some hallucinogenic effects too, leading to both intense and negative experiences while high. Datura can also cause poisoning.
Datura is native to North America. Reports of poisoning and substance abuse related to datura increase during the summer when it flowers. Since it’s a decorative plant, it’s legal to purchase datura seeds or the live plants and grow them in home gardens. The flowers are white or purple and trumpet-shaped, and the plant itself grows to between three and five feet tall.
Datura Side Effects and Symptoms
Datura can cause:
- Dry mouth
- Dilated pupils
- Blurred vision
- Trouble speaking or swallowing
- Excessive thirst
These hallucinogen effects may begin within one to four hours after ingestion, but they can last one to two days.
Long-Term Effects of Datura
Is Datura Addictive?
People can become addicted to the feeling datura gives them, but there is limited research on physical dependence.
Mescaline is an amphetamine found in peyote—a hallucinogenic drug made from the “buttons” of a spineless cactus native to Central America. It’s one of the oldest known hallucinogens. Rather than selling pure peyote, many drug dealers sell synthetic versions, like lab-created mescaline or PCP instead. Peyote and mescaline are both Schedule I substances, according to the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). There are exceptions specifically for indigenous groups using the compound in religious rituals.
The limited growing range of mescaline has curbed its abuse to some extent. Indigenous people use it carefully in spiritual rituals and rites, but with the increased popularity of recreational hallucinogen abuse in the United States, Canada, and other Western countries, demand for the substance continues to increase.
Mescaline/Peyote Signs and Symptoms
Effects from this hallucinogen drug include:
- Numbness or tingling
- Rapid reflexes
- Muscle twitches and weakness
- Impaired motor coordination
- Dizziness and trembling
- Dilation of the pupils
- Increased blood pressure and heart rate
- Chills and shivering
- Appetite suppression
- Anxiety and paranoia
- Nausea and vomiting
- Vivid, distorted visions and sounds
- Altered sense of space and time
Long-Term Effects of Mescaline/Peyote
Research on the long-term effects of mescaline are lacking. Older studies show no long-term effects on indigenous people who use the hallucinogen in rituals but haven’t evaluated people who use it for recreational purposes. There have been reports of poisoning from mescaline over the years.
Is Mescaline/Peyote Addictive?
Some research has found mescaline to be non-addictive.
Morning Glory Seeds
The morning glory plant (also called LSA) is an invasive species in many parts of North America. The seeds contain a chemical like LSD (D-lysergic acid diethylamide). Morning glory seeds may be sold legally at garden supply stores or on the street as an alternative to LSD.
Morning Glory Seeds Signs and Symptoms
The effects of morning glory seeds are reportedly not as significant as those of LSD. Eating the seeds can be toxic, as they may contain:
- Other poisonous chemicals
Abuse of morning glory seeds can be very harmful and lead to poisoning and hospitalization.
Long-Term Effects of Morning Glory Seeds
Some research suggests that morning glory seeds can contribute to kidney damage.
Are Morning Glory Seeds Addictive?
There is limited research on long-term effects of these hallucinogens. Psychological dependence can be a risk.
The chemicals in psilocybin and psilocyn are closely related. They’re both hallucinogenic compounds found in about 100 species of mushroom that are native to:
- South America
- Central America
- Pacific Northwest
The potency of each mushroom varies. Some contain enough of the hallucinogenic compounds that they are dried and either eaten or brewed into tea. This is better known as “shrooms” or “magic mushrooms.” In some cases, psilocybin is made synthetically and sold as a white powder.
Indigenous people in Central and South America have used these mushrooms for religious rituals for thousands of years, but the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration classifies psilocybin as a Schedule I substance.
Psilocybin/Psilocyn Signs and Symptoms
Psilocybin and psilocyn can cause effects similar to those of LSD or peyote. These may include:
- Auditory hallucinations
- Visual hallucinations
- Detachment from reality
- Sleep disturbances
- Mood effects
- Changes in muscle control
Long-Term Effects of Psilocybin/Psilocyn
Research has yet to find significant long-term effects of psilocybin/psilocyn.
Is Psilocybin/Psilocyn Addictive?
There is limited risk of physical dependence on psilocybin/psilocyn, but like any drug of abuse, it can become psychologically addictive.
Salvia is a plant considered to have low addiction potential, but it is toxic in larger doses. The Mazatec tribe has used salvia for religious rituals for thousands of years. Salvia leaves are brewed into a tea and then consumed so the shaman can have spiritual visions. The leaves may also be smoked or chewed.
Salvia Signs and Symptoms
The active ingredient is salvinor in A, a kappa opioid receptor (KOR) agonist. This chemical affects how much dopamine is released into the brain. Excess dopamine can cause intense euphoric feelings and hallucinations.
Effects of salvia may include:
- Distorted imagery
- Detached feeling
- Distortions of space and time
- Heightened visual experience
- Out-of-body experiences
Long-Term Effects of Salvia
The long-term effects of regularly abusing salvia as a psychoactive drug are unknown.
Is Salvia Addictive?
Taken by itself, salvia has low potential for addiction.
#2 Synthetic Hallucinogens
Chemicals in synthetic hallucinogens are often derived from natural sources, but they’re typically manufactured in a lab. Some of these synthetic psychedelics were derived or created for medicinal purposes, like:
Now, synthetic hallucinogens are more often abused to get high.
Types of synthetic hallucinogens and psychedelics include:
25I-NBOMe has stimulative and hallucinogenic effects. Typically, 25I-NBOMe is purchased online. It’s one of several compounds in the NBOMe family. The drug is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance by the DEA. This means it has no known medical use and is at high risk of being abused. Since 25I-NBOMe is a research chemical, there are animal studies comparing it to other psychoactive drugs like psilocybin. There are no human trials available, so information on the drug is based on illicit abuse.
25I-NBOMe Signs and Symptoms
Effects of 25I-NBOMe start and last for different durations, depending on how it is consumed. NBOMe effects can include:
- Feeling empathy and connection with others
- A general change in consciousness
- Swelling in the extremities
Long-Term Effects of 25I-NBOMe
There have been several non-fatal intoxications due to this drug and a small number of deaths due to overdose. While the drug is not widely abused, it is potent and dangerous.
Is 251-NBOMe Addictive?
There isn’t sufficient research to deem 251-NBOMe addictive.
DXM is found in many over-the-counter cold and flu treatments. It suppresses coughing and the production of mucous. DXM may also be in some prescription medications to treat:
- Sinus congestion
- Runny nose
Signs and Symptoms of DXM
When taken as directed, DXM has few adverse side effects. Abuse of the drug has increased as more people discover its hallucinogenic, dissociative, and intoxicating properties.
In large doses, DXM is a dissociative anesthetic. It can create powerful psychedelic effects similar to the effects of ketamine or PCP. DXM effects vary depending on the dose but may include:
- Hot flashes
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dizziness and lack of coordination
- Panic attacks
- Lethargy and slurred speech
- Feelings of floating
- Altered sense of time and space
- Tactile hallucinations
- Impaired judgment
Long-Term Effects of DXM Long-term effects of DXM may include symptoms like:
- Mood swings
- Weakened bones
- Muscle weakness and pain
- Toxic psychosis
Is DXM Addictive?
N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) is a hallucinogenic chemical found naturally in several plants and animals. Sometimes called the “spirit molecule” for the very specific and consistent hallucinations it produces, DMT is typically produced in an illegal laboratory.
DMT Signs and Symptoms
DMT effects are felt almost instantly, depending on how it’s taken. When smoked, effects occur in a minute or less and last for about 30 minutes. When consumed as a tea, effects take about 30 minutes to begin and last for 4 to 6 hours.
The hallucinations from DMT are similar for many people, and they include visual distortions. Sometimes this is called “the crystalline machine elves,” as the person feels like they’ve broken through into a different world with moving, machine-like parts.
After taking DMT, some people experience:
- Bad hallucinations
- Paranoid feelings
- Negative body sensations
Long-Term Effects of DMT
People who abuse DMT are at risk for serotonin syndrome, especially if they take antidepressants.
This is due to excessive serotonin and can lead to:
- High blood pressure
People who abuse DMT are also at risk for:
- Respiratory arrest
- Mental health issues
Is DMT Addictive?
While there’s limited research on the addictive qualities of DMT, people may develop a psychological dependence to its effects or to ward off adverse symptoms.
Ketamine is sometimes used as part of surgical anesthesia since it has pain-stopping properties. It’s also an alternative treatment for depression. Because ketamine has legitimate medical uses, the DEA classifies it as a Schedule III drug despite its potential for abuse.
Ketamine Signs and Symptoms
When used in large doses, ketamine can cause hallucinations. It’s also a dissociative anesthetic, so people may abuse it:
- For pain relief
- To feel far away from their bodies
- To feel euphoric
Ketamine is sold illicitly in powders, liquids, or tablets. It is smoked, snorted, or orally consumed.
Ketamine effects in lower doses include:
- Feelings of floating
Very large doses produce an effect called the “K-hole,” an out-of-body experience that is produced as the person is almost completely sedated. Some people describe it as feeling like they’re going to die.
Learn more about the signs of ketamine use here.
Long-Term Effects of Ketamine
Ketamine abuse puts people at risk for:
- Kidney disease
- Memory issues
Is Ketamine Addictive?
LSD: D-lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD)
LSD is one of the most famous and potent hallucinogens in the United States. It is synthesized from lysergic acid, which is derived from the ergot fungus. LSD became a psychiatric drug in the 1950s. It was widely abused by counterculture movements in the 1960s. LSD is now classified as a Schedule I drug by the DEA, which means it has high potential for abuse.
Signs and Symptoms of LSD
Effects of LSD include:
- Distorted perception of time
- Heightened visual experience
- Mood changes
- Sleep disturbances
It is also possible to have a bad trip. This may involve visual and auditory hallucinations that are disturbing.
Long-Term Effects of LSD
Abusing LSD may impact brain chemistry. Long-term effects may include psychosis or flashbacks.
Is LSD Addictive?
LSD is not considered physically addictive, but people may develop a psychological need for it.
PCP is also called “angel dust.” It was originally developed as a dissociative anesthetic in the 1950s, but medical use was discontinued due to negative reactions. The chemical often caused:
- Severe anxiety
While PCP is still occasionally used in veterinary medicine, it’s no longer used in humans for medical reasons. PCP is mostly made in illicit laboratories. PCP disrupts the brain’s glutamate receptors, which play a major role in:
- Perception of pain
PCP Signs and Symptoms
Some signs of PCP use include:
- Sense of calm
- Poor coordination
- Breathing issues
- High blood pressure
- Rapid heart rate
Long-Term Effects of PCP PCP abuse can lead to:
- Social withdrawal
- Memory problems
- Speech issues
- Suicidal thoughts
Is PCP Addictive?
A tolerance to PCP is possible over long-term use. This can create addictive behaviors around the drug.
Can Hallucinogens Be Used as Medicines?
Some hallucinogens are being researched for potential treatment in mental health disorders like depression. For example, Esketamine is approved by the FDA to treat depression when other approaches have been unsuccessful.
It’s important to know that unlike other drugs, hallucinogen effects are very unreliable, variable and unpredictable. They can affect people differently. Any use of hallucinogens for potential medical benefit should always be overseen by a medical professional.
Get Help for Hallucinogen Abuse
In some cases, hallucinogens can be addictive. It’s possible to develop a tolerance to them, needing more and more to get the same desired effect. There are yet no FDA-approved medicines to treat hallucinogen addiction. Behavioral therapy can be helpful in addressing the psychological addictive properties. Hallucinogen abuse may occur in combination with addictive substances like:
It’s important to find a detox program that understands psychedelic substances, so you can get the best medical support from doctors, nurses, and counselors. A rehabilitation program like those at Footprints to Recovery can help you understand triggers for substance abuse and how to manage them so you can sustain your sobriety. Contact us for a free, confidential consultation.
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