Hallucinogenic Drug Use: Effects, Dangers & Addiction

In this article, we will explain what hallucinogenic drugs are, the different types of hallucinogens, how they work on the brain, the side effects and risks, hallucinogen addiction, and treatment.

What Are Hallucinogenic Drugs?

Hallucinogens are drugs that alter a person’s mood, thoughts, and perceptions of reality.1

People on hallucinogens may feel strong emotions ranging from happiness and connectedness to fear or anxiety.1

Types of Hallucinogenic Drugs

Hallucinogenic drugs (also known as psychedelics) include:2,3

  • LSD (d-lysergic acid diethylamide): Also known as acid, blotter, doses, hits, microdots, sugar cubes, trips, tabs, or windowpanes, this hallucinogen is usually swallowed or absorbed through the mouth.
  • Psilocybin (4-phosphoryl oxy-N, N-dimethyl-tryptamine): Psilocybin is the active chemical in “magic mushrooms;” also known as shrooms, boomers, or little smoke. These mushrooms are usually taken orally; either dried and eaten by themselves, added to food, or brewed into tea.
  • Mescaline: Found in peyote and other cacti, this drug induces powerful, vivid hallucinations and euphoria. This drug is also known as buttons, cactus, and mesc.
  • DMT (Dimethyltryptamine): DMT is a chemical that occurs naturally but can also be synthesized in a lab. It is one active ingredient of Ayahuasca tea (hoasca, aya, and yage), which is consumed orally. The synthetic version of DMT is usually smoked or injected intravenously.4

Dissociatives are a subclass of hallucinogenic drugs as they share similar properties including alterations in perceptions; however, they differ in that they also cause the person who uses them to feel disconnected from their body and surroundings.1,6 Dissociative drugs include:1,2

  • PCP (Phencyclidine): Also known as ozone, rocket fuel, love boat, hog, embalming fluid, or superweed, PCP is usually smoked but may also be snorted or swallowed.7
  • Ketamine: Also known as K, Special K, or cat Valium, ketamine is usually sold as a powder or liquid. The powder is often snorted in small lines or “bumps” but may also be swallowed or injected in its liquid form.8
  • DXM (Dextromethorphan): DXM is a chemical found in many over-the-counter cough-suppressant medicines. When used in high doses it may cause dissociation, euphoria, and hallucinations.9
  • Salvia divinorum: Also known as diviner’s sage, Maria Pastora, Sally-D, magic mint, smoking, chewing, or vaporizing its leaves can cause effects that mimic the symptoms of psychosis.6

How Do Hallucinogens Work?

Hallucinogens work on various receptors in the brain to cause their effects.1

Psychedelic (hallucinogens) drugs work on the 5-HT2A receptors that activate the neurotransmitter serotonin. The prominent effects of psychedelic drugs come from activity in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is involved in mood, cognition, and perception.1

Most dissociative drugs work by disrupting the actions of glutamate at the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor. Glutamate’s role in the brain is in learning and memory, emotion, and perception of pain. This disruption of glutamate leads to the feeling of being disconnected from one’s body or environment.1

MDMA increases the activity of dopamine and norepinephrine, leading to mind-altering effects. Dopamine and norepinephrine also play a role in mood and attention.1

Who Uses Hallucinogens?

Hallucinogens have a history of use in religious rituals to provide insight and communicate with a higher power. However, hallucinogens are mostly now used for social or recreational purposes, like having fun or reducing stress. Some people may also use them to try to enter an enlightened sense of thinking.2

According to data compiled in 2021, 2.6% of Americans aged 12 or older had used hallucinogens in the past year. Hallucinogen use is widespread among young adults, with an estimated 8% of people between 19 and 30 using them in the same period.1

Effects & Dangers

Effects and Dangers of Hallucinogenic Drugs

People using psychedelics may experience:2

  • Hallucinations
  • Intense feelings or sensory perceptions.
  • Having mixed senses (i.e., “seeing” sound or “hearing” colors).
  • Changes in the perception of time.
  • Increase in energy and heart rate.
  • Raised heart rate and energy levels.
  • Nausea.

Dissociative drugs may cause:2

  • Hallucinations.
  • Detachment from one’s own body or surroundings.
  • Increase in blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, and body temperature.
  • Numbness.
  • Disorientation.
  • Loss of coordination.
  • Dizziness.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Memory loss.
  • Feelings of panic, fear, anxiety, paranoia, invulnerability, or exaggerated strength.
  • Aggression.

Due to the effects on perception and judgment, hallucinogens and dissociatives may lead to injuries or fatalities from auto crashes, physical fights, or self-injury.10

The effects of hallucinogens and dissociatives are hard to predict; many factors may play a role in how the drug affects the brain. These factors include not only the strength of the drug and the amount taken but also the person’s:1

  • Age.
  • Biological makeup.
  • Sex.
  • Personality.
  • History of drug use.
  • Mood.
  • Expectations and mindset.
  • Surroundings while on the drug.

Hallucinogen Overdose

Fatal overdoses from hallucinogens are rare and usually occur from extremely high doses or polysubstance use.1

However, hallucinogens may contain fentanyl or other dangerous contaminants that can cause fatal overdoses in minimal doses.1

Addiction to Hallucinogens

Are Hallucinogens Addictive?

It is possible for someone to develop an addiction to hallucinogens.9 The potential for addiction depends on several factors, including the specific hallucinogen itself, the person’s genetics, environment, upbringing, and more.11

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) defines hallucinogen use disorder—the clinical term for addiction—as continued hallucinogen use despite significant negative consequences in someone’s life. PCP addiction has its own separate classification known as phencyclidine use disorder.10

Signs of Hallucinogen Addiction

The criteria for other hallucinogen use disorder includes the following:10

  1. Hallucinogens are taken in larger amounts or for a longer period than initially intended.
  2. There is a persistent desire—or unsuccessful efforts are made—to reduce or control hallucinogen use.
  3. A lot of time is spent trying to get, use, or recover from hallucinogens.
  4. Experiencing cravings for hallucinogens.
  5. The use of hallucinogens results in failure to fulfill roles at work, school, or home.
  6. Hallucinogen use is continued even when their use causes recurrent social or interpersonal problems.
  7. Important activities (social, occupational, or recreational) are given up due to hallucinogen use.
  8. Hallucinogen use is continued even in physically hazardous situations (e.g., driving).
  9. Hallucinogen use is continued even with the knowledge that physical and psychological problems are caused or exacerbated by the use.
  10. A tolerance to the hallucinogen has developed. In other words, someone must take higher doses to experience the desired effects, or taking the same dose results in diminished effects.

Exhibiting 2 or more of the above in a 12-month period may result in a medical professional delivering a positive diagnosis for hallucinogen use disorder.10


Treatment for Hallucinogen Use in California

Currently, there are no FDA-approved medications to treat addiction to hallucinogens.6 However, evidence-based behavioral therapy treatments, like cognitive-behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, contingency management, and more may help someone achieve long-term sobriety.6,12

Laguna is an inpatient rehab in Orange County, CA, that offers multiple, levels of care. including medical detox, residential addiction treatment, and aftercare planning for continued recovery.

Reach out to a compassionate admissions navigator at to begin the admissions process, verify insurance coverage, explore payment options, and learn what to expect in treatment. You can also verify your insurance using the confidential .

  1. National Institutes of Health. (2023). Psychedelic and dissociative drugs.
  2. National Institutes of Health. (2015). Hallucinogens and dissociative drugs: Research report series.
  3. National Institutes of Health. (2020). Commonly used drugs charts.
  4. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2022, December). N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT).
  5. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, June 15). MDMA (ecstasy/molly) drugfacts.
  6. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019, April). Hallucinogens drug facts.
  7. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2023, April). Phencyclidine.
  8. U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Diversion Control Division. (2019). Ketamine.
  9. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2019, December). Dextromethorphan.
  10. American Psychiatric Association. (2022). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed. Text revision). Washington, D.
  11. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2023, May 30). Drugs, brains, and behavior: the science of addiction.
  12. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, January). Principles of drug addiction treatment: A research-based guide (Third Edition).
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