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Breaking Down Hallucinogen Addiction

Hallucinogens can be chemically synthesized, such as LSD, or may occur naturally, such as psilocybin mushrooms and peyote. These substances can produce visual and auditory hallucinations, feelings of detachment from one’s environment and oneself, and distortions in time and perception.

What are hallucinogens?

Hallucinogens are a diverse group of drugs that alter perception (awareness of surrounding objects and conditions), thoughts, and feelings. They cause hallucinations--sensations, sounds, and images that seem real though they are not. Hallucinogens can be found in some plants and mushrooms (or their extracts) or can be made in laboratories. People have used hallucinogens for centuries, mostly for religious rituals. (NIDA) 

The most common hallucinogens include:

  • Ayahuasca: A tea made from an Amazonian plant containing dimethyltryptamine (DMT), the primary mind-altering ingredient.

  • DMT: A chemical found in some Amazonian plants that can also be manufactured in a lab. Its most common form is a white crystalline powder. Also called: Dimitri.

  • Peyote (mescaline): A small, spineless cactus with mescaline as its main ingredient. Peyote can also be synthetic. Also called: Buttons, Cactus, Mesc.

  • D-lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD): One of the most powerful mood-changing chemicals. It is a clear or white odorless material made from lysergic acid, which is found in a fungus that grows on rye and other grains. Also called: Acid, Blotter.

  • Dextromethorphan (DXM): A cough suppressant and mucus-clearing ingredient in some over-the-counter cold and cough medicines. Also called: Robo.

  • Ketamine: A surgery anesthetic for humans and animals. Much of the ketamine sold on the streets comes from veterinary offices. While available as an injectable liquid, manufacturers mostly sell it as a powder or as pills. Also called: K, Special K, Cat Valium.

  • Phencyclidine (PCP): Developed in the 1950s as a general anesthetic for surgery but no longer used for this purpose due to serious side effects. Liquid and white crystal powder are the most common forms. Also called: Angel Dust, Hog, Love Boat, Peace Pill.

  • Salvia divinorum (salvia): A plant common to southern Mexico and Central and South America containing the active ingredient salvinorin A. Also called: Diviner's Sage, Maria Pastora, Sally-D, Magic Mint.

How are they used?

Hallucinogens are used in a wide variety of ways including smoking, snorting, and absorbing through the lining in the mouth. The effects of hallucinogens can begin within 20 to 90 minutes and can last as long as six to 12 hours. Experiences brought on by hallucinogen use are commonly called "trips.”

Short-Term Effects

Research suggests that hallucinogens temporarily disrupt chemical communications throughout the brain and spinal cord. Some hallucinogens interfere with actions of the brain chemical serotonin, which regulates mood, sensory perception, sleep, hunger, body temperature, sexual behavior, and muscle control.

Other hallucinogens interfere with the brain chemical glutamate, which regulates pain perception, responses to the environment, emotion, learning and memory, among other functions.

Short-term effects include:

  • increased heart rate

  • nausea

  • intensified feelings and sensory experiences

  • changes in sense of time (for example, the sensation of time passing by abnormally slowly)

  • increased blood pressure, breathing rate, or body temperature

  • loss of appetite

  • dry mouth

  • sleep problems

  • mixed senses (such as "seeing" sounds or "hearing" colors)

  • spiritual experiences

  • feelings of relaxation or detachment from self/environment

  • uncoordinated movements

  • excessive sweating

  • panic

  • paranoia—extreme and unreasonable distrust of others

  • psychosis—disordered thinking detached from reality

Long-Term Health Consequences

Little is known about the long-term effects of hallucinogens. Researchers have found that ketamine users may develop ulcers in the bladder, kidney problems, and poor memory. Repeated use of PCP can result in long-term effects that may continue for a year or more after hallucinogen use stops. These effects can include speech problems, memory loss, weight loss, anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts.

Though rare, long-term effects of some hallucinogens can include persistent psychosis and flashbacks (recurrences of certain drug experiences that often happen without warning and may occur even years after drug use).

Hallucinogen Use Disorder Treatments

There are no approved medications to treat addiction to hallucinogens. While inpatient and/or behavioral treatments can be helpful for patients with a variety of substance use disorders, more research is needed to find out if behavioral therapies are effective for the treatment of hallucinogen use disorder.


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