Effects of Hallucinogens

Hallucinogens are a class of drugs that produce alterations in a person’s perceptions, cognitions, and mood.1

In 2021 there were an estimated 7.4 million people (2.6%) in the United States aged 12 and older who used hallucinogens in the past year.2

Continue reading to learn more about hallucinogens, their effects, and potential health risks.

What Are Hallucinogens?

Hallucinogens are a class of psychoactive substances that alter a person’s sensations, perceptions, mood, and feelings.3

Hallucinogens can be derived from natural sources, such as plants and fungi, while others are completely synthetic.3 Hallucinogens can come in many different forms, such as tablets/pills, blotter paper, or powders.3,4

There are two distinct types of hallucinogens: classic hallucinogens and dissociative anesthetics.3

Classic hallucinogens exert their effects primarily on receptors for the brain chemical serotonin. Some common classic hallucinogens (sometimes called psychedelics) include: 1,3

  • Psilocybin, or “magic mushrooms”.
  • LSD (D-lysergic acid diethylamide).
  • DMT (N, N-dimethyltryptamine).
  • Mescaline (found in the peyote plant but can also be synthetic).

Dissociative anesthetics are drugs that share some similar effects as classic hallucinogens but are pharmacologically distinct. Rather than affecting serotonin receptors, dissociative drugs primarily exert their effects on receptors for the brain chemical glutamate.1 Dissociative drugs less frequently include visual hallucinogens with vivid colors compared with hallucinogens and are more likely to produce feelings of being detached from reality or from one’s own body and the environment.3,5

Some common dissociative drugs include:3

  • Ketamine.
  • Phencyclidine (PCP).
  • Dextromethorphan (DXM).

Effects of Hallucinogenic Drugs

Classic hallucinogens and dissociative drugs can produce a wide range of effects. The duration and intensity of effects can vary based on several factors, including characteristics of the person taking the drug (such as age and sex), the context or setting in which the drug is taken, the dosage taken, and the potency of the drug.1

Classic hallucinogens can cause intense visions, change a person’s sense of self, and cause intense feelings of enlightenment and connection.1

Common effects of classic hallucinogens may include:1,3

  • Relaxation.
  • Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not there).
  • Altered perceptions, such as feeling that time has slowed down.
  • Spiritual experiences.
  • Intense sensory experiences, for example, people perceive colors as brighter.
  • Re-experiencing vivid memories.

While dissociative drugs can also cause hallucinations, they are less common and often less vivid than those produced by classic hallucinogens. Rather, dissociative drugs lead to a person feeling disconnected from their body and surroundings.1 They may also cause numbness and loss of coordination. 3

Side Effects & Potential Dangers of Hallucinogens

People may experience a range of side effects that, rarely, require medical intervention.1

Side effects of hallucinogens and dissociatives may include:1,3

  • Sleep problems.
  • Fast heart rate.
  • Elevated blood pressure.
  • Sweating.
  • Nausea.
  • Extreme emotions, such as panic or anxiety.

Although rare, some people may experience a condition known as hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD), where they experience “flashbacks” and alterations in perception similar to what was experienced when intoxicated by psychedelics or dissociative drugs, despite no longer being under their influence.1

Also, some research suggests that hallucinogens can induce psychosis and other schizophrenia-like symptoms; however, it is likely that in these cases, there is a predisposition to experiencing symptoms of psychosis or schizophrenia.1

Other potential health risks of hallucinogens or dissociatives may include:

  • Injury to oneself or others due to engaging in dangerous behaviors while on the drug.1
  • Overdose from hallucinogens or dissociatives is rare, and even more rarely fatal. Overdose is typically associated with taking high doses or using combinations of drugs, particularly combining them with alcohol.1,7

Hallucinogen Addiction Treatment

Although much less common than other substance use disorders, it is possible to develop a hallucinogen use disorder, which is marked by the chronic, uncontrollable use of hallucinogens or dissociative drugs despite significant negative consequences.6 Currently, there are no FDA-approved medications to treat hallucinogen addiction; however, behavioral treatments often used in treating people with different types of substance use disorders may be helpful.3,7

Behavioral therapy, peer support, psychoeducation, and more are key elements of the evidence-based treatment provided in medical detox and residential care at Laguna.

If you or a loved one are struggling with hallucinogen addiction, Laguna is here to help. Our admissions navigators are available 24/7 to answer any questions you have and help you start addiction treatment. Call to learn more about this rehab facility in Orange County, the levels of substance use treatment offered, using insurance to pay for rehab, and other payment options.

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