What Are Hallucinogens?
Hallucinogens are a type of drug that changes the way people perceive reality. Also called “psychedelic drugs,” hallucinogens make people see, feel, and hear things that aren’t real. Hallucinogens can distort reality so much that people can’t accurately interpret what’s going on around them. Being under the influence of a hallucinogen is called “tripping.”
Tripping can be a stimulating, stressful, or scary experience depending on the person using the drug. Some people experience euphoric effects after using a hallucinogen, while others feel confused, frightened, paranoid, and anxious. Sometimes, individuals experience all of those feelings at the same time. Most people describe tripping as being detached from their bodies and surroundings. Even though this seems exhilarating, being unable to determine reality from illusions can make individuals susceptible to injuries, falls, and other accidents.
Hallucinogens can be naturally occurring chemicals found in certain plants or manufactured in a lab. Despite these differences, all hallucinogens:
- Distort reality and the senses
- Alter emotions which can include extreme euphoria or debilitating terror
- Cause hallucinations that affect what individuals see, hear, think, and feel
- Affect how people think and perceive themselves
There are several different kinds of hallucinogenic drugs. Most of them fall into one of two categories: classic hallucinogen or dissociative. Hallucinogens, also known as psychedelics, cause visual, auditory, and sensory hallucinations. Dissociative drugs cause a sense of detachment as well as hallucinations.
Some of the most common classic hallucinogens include:
- LSD (D-lysergic acid diethylamide). This substance, also known as “Acid,” “Dots,” “Blotter acid,” “Window Pane,” and “Mellow Yellow,” is one of the most potent mood and perception-altering drugs. The odorless drug comes from ergot, a fungus that grows on rye and other grains. In addition to changing how individuals perceive reality, LSD can alter individuals’ moods and cause hallucinations. Visual distortions are the most common type of sensory distortions caused by LSD. This perception change often looks like seeing sounds, hearing colors, and feeling smells. Most people take LSD as a capsule or liquid, but people can also consume the drug via blotter paper dosed with LSD liquid. Even though a standard dose of LSD is equal to micro-milligrams, the drug’s effects can last up to 12 hours.
- Psilocybin (4-phosphoryloxy-N, N-dimethyltryptamine) is a substance extracted from certain mushrooms found in South America, Mexico, and the United States. More than 180 species of mushrooms contain psilocybin. The drug, known as “magic mushrooms,” can be eaten raw or fresh, mixed with food, or brewed as tea. Others dry the substance, mix it with tobacco or marijuana, and smoke it. When consumed, psilocybin produces effects similar to LSD. Other street names for psilocybin include “Shrooms,” Mushies,” “Blue Meanies,” Golden Tops,” or Liberty Caps.”
- Mescaline. This hallucinogenic drug comes from the peyote cactus, a small, spineless cactus with disc-shaped “buttons” that contain mescaline. People who use this substance typically dry the buttons out, chew them, or soak them in liquid to create an intoxicating drink. Drugmakers can also make mescaline in a lab. When consumed, mescaline, which is also known as “Buttons,” “Cactus,” “Mesc,” and “Peyoto,” can cause illusions, hallucinations, and an altered perception of space and time.
- DMT (Dimethyltryptamine). This hallucinogenic chemical naturally occurs in some Amazonian plant species but can also be chemically produced in a laboratory. DMT can look like a white crystalline powder in its pure form, a yellow, orange or pink powder, a brownish and green herbal mixture, or a brownish-red liquid. The substance, also known as “Dimitri,” can be smoked, snorted, or injected into the veins. Taking DMT can make individuals see and hear things that aren’t there, feel like time is speeding up or slowing down, have double vision, and feel like they have an out-of-body experience. Some people feel like they’re going through a near-death experience and can’t move after taking DMT.
- Ayahuasca. This hallucinogenic brew consists of Amazonian plants that contain DMT. People have used ayahuasca for healing and religious purposes in indigenous South American cultures for centuries. The psychedelic beverage can cause hallucinations, vomiting, diarrhea, paranoia, and panic.
- MDMA (methylenedioxymethamphetamine). This synthetic drug, also known as “Ecstasy,” or “Molly,” acts as a hallucinogen and stimulant. In addition to distorting reality, time, and the senses, MDMA can alter individuals’ moods and produce feelings of increased energy, pleasure, and emotional warmth. Most people consume MDMA as a tablet or capsule, but people also snort the drug and swallow it as a liquid. MDMA’s adverse effects include nausea, muscle cramps, teeth clenching, blurred vision, chills, and excessive sweating.
- THC (delta-9 Tetrahydrocannabinol). THC is one of the active ingredients in marijuana. In addition to causing hallucinations, THC can cause anxiety, paranoia, and time distortion. Consuming THC can also cause a general feeling of being high, increased heart rate, dry mouth, slower than average response times, red eyes, and memory loss. Large doses of THC can increase the risk of developing schizophrenia.
Some of the most common dissociative hallucinogens include:
- Ketamine. Even though ketamine began as an anesthetic for surgery, people now consume the drug illegally. Most of the ketamine sold on the street comes from veterinary offices. The drug, which is odorless and tasteless, is commonly used as a “date rape drug.” Ketamine can cause muscle paralysis, confusion, and disorientation. When used long-term, ketamine can cause memory loss, concentration problems, and an increased risk of mental health disorders such as major depressive disorder.
- PCP (Phencyclidine). Similar to ketamine, PCP is an anesthetic that can stop the feeling of pain. But because of the drug’s adverse effects, PCP is no longer used for that purpose. Today, PCP has become a popular street drug that’s snorted, smoked, swallowed, or injected into the veins. When consumed, PCP produces “out-of-body” sensations and hallucinations. The drug can also make individuals believe things that aren’t true, paranoid, aggressive, and violent.
- DXM (Dextromethorphan). DXM is an ingredient in many over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medicines. The substance can be extracted from cough syrup and made into a powder or capsule. When people take too much DXM, they can experience hallucinations, “out of body” sensations, blurred vision, dizziness, impaired judgment, slurred speech, and difficulty controlling their limbs. DXM can also cause vomiting, paranoia, confusion, belly pain, restlessness, and confusion. When used recreationally, DXM can be called “Candy,” “Robo,” “Dex,” “DM,” “Drex,” “Skittles,” “Tussin,” “Velvet,” and “Vitamin D.”
- Salvia divinorum is a fast-acting hallucinogenic herb that has become a popular recreational drug among teenagers and young adults. The substance is often sold as seeds, leaves, or liquid extract. When consumed, salvia can cause visual distortions, hallucinations, dissociation, disconnections from reality, disorientation, and dizziness. The plant, which is also called “Magic Mint,” “Sally-D,” “Seer’s Sage,” Purple Sticky,” and “Incense Special,” can also cause people to hear colors, smell sounds, and see cartoon-like imagery. Even though salvia divinorum isn’t illegal according to federal law, the Drug Enforcement Administration lists the substance as a high-risk drug of concern.
Short and Long-Term Effects of Hallucinogens
In addition to hallucinations, some general short-term effects include:
- An increased heart rate
- Intensified feelings and sensory experiences
- A distorted sense of time and direction
More specific short-term effects of hallucinogens can include:
- Increased blood pressure, breathing rate, or body temperature
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty sleeping
- Feelings of relaxation
- Loss of coordination
- Excessive sweating
- Paranoia, or an extreme and unreasonable distrust of others
- Psychosis, or disordered thinking not based on reality
- Feeling detached from the body
- Anxiety or panic
- Bizarre behavior
- Intensified sensory experiences and emotions
Two long-term effects associated with classic hallucinogens include:
- Persistent psychosis. A condition that causes a series of continuing mental problems such as:
- Visual disturbances
- Disorganized thinking
- Mood changes
- Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD). This disorder causes people to experience persistent visual hallucinations. These distortions, which often occur as flashbacks, can happen without warning and may occur within a few days or more than a year after drug use. The symptoms, which include flashes of color, trails of images of moving objects, and false perceptions of movement in the visual field, are sometimes mistaken for a stroke or brain tumor.
Even though behavioral health experts see these conditions more often in people who have a history of mental illness, they can happen to anyone using hallucinogens. These conditions can even develop after using hallucinogens once. Antidepressant and antipsychotic medications can help treat psychosis and improve individuals’ moods. Behavioral therapies can help people cope with fear and confusion after experiencing visual disturbances. It's important to consider hallucinogen addiction treatment if you believe you may be struggling with these effects.
How Do Hallucinogens Work?
Classic hallucinogens act on neural circuits in the brain that use serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical messenger in the brain that stabilizes mood and causes feelings of well-being and happiness. Serotonin also helps regulate the senses, sleep, appetite, and digestion.
When people consume hallucinogens, the drugs affect serotonin levels in brain areas that play a role in mood, cognition, perception, arousal, and physiological responses to stress and panic. One brain area significantly affected by classic hallucinogens is the prefrontal cortex, which helps individuals focus, pay attention, and control their impulses. When hallucinogens interact with the prefrontal cortex, individuals have difficulty controlling their actions and accurately perceiving their surroundings.
Dissociative hallucinogens appear to disrupt the actions of glutamate, a brain chemical that influences the reward system and regulates learning, memory, and pain perception. When this happens, individuals tend to experience euphoric feelings but have difficulty processing information and remembering what happened when they were under the influence.
How Does An Addiction To Hallucinogens Develop?
As we mentioned, these addictions can happen over night with this type of drug. Fortunately, hallucinogen addiction treatment is available. When individuals are addicted to hallucinogenic drugs, they display three distinct characteristics:
- Compulsive, drug-seeking behavior
- Loss of control
- Continuing to use hallucinogens despite negative consequences
They have irresistible urges to use hallucinogenic drugs. When they use hallucinogens, they lose track of how much they consume. They use more than they intended and remain under the influence longer than planned. And last, they don’t stop using hallucinogens, even when the drugs cause them problems at work, home, or school. Despite the negative physical, emotional, financial, and legal consequences, they keep using the substances. These dangerous habits don’t happen overnight. It's important to consider hallucinogen addiction treatment.
Addiction happens in stages. Even though addiction can be different for everyone, most substance use disorders include:
- Drug initiation. Initiation happens when an individual tries a hallucinogenic drug for the first time. Initiation can happen at any time during a person’s life. Still, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that most people with an addiction tried their drug of choice before they were 18 years old and had a substance use disorder by the time they were 20. But initiation doesn’t mean that someone has or will develop an addiction.
- Regular halluconigen use. At this stage, people start using hallucinogens more regularly. They may not use the drugs every day, but they have developed a pattern of use. Some common regular patterns of use can include using hallucinogens:
- Every weekend
- During periods of emotional distress
- When they’re lonely or bored
- During times of high stress
- Hallucinogen Abuse. Individuals may then start to abuse hallucinogens to experience the drug’s effects more often. At this stage, most individuals want to get high. Unfortunately, doing so can lead to adverse effects, tolerance, dependence, and, if left untreated, addiction. Some common signs of hallucinogen abuse include:
- Spending a lot of time getting, using, and recovering from hallucinogen abuse
- Attempting but failing to stop using hallucinogens
- Violent or aggressive behavior
- Delusions and hallucinations
- Social withdrawal
- Mood swings
- Hallucinogen Tolerance. Tolerance is an individual’s capacity to endure continued consumption of a particular substance. Once an individual’s brain becomes used to hallucinogens, the drugs won’t have the same effect. This lessened effect happens because the brain has become used to the original amount of consumed hallucinogens. To experience hallucinogens’ effects again, individuals need to use more hallucinogenic drugs. Unfortunately, when individuals increase the number of hallucinogens they use, they risk becoming dependent on the drug.
- Hallucinogen Dependence. People who become dependent on hallucinogens feel like they need to have a consistent drug supply to feel normal. They think this way because the brain and body have become accustomed to hallucinogens. When the body doesn’t have hallucinogens, it reacts negatively, which triggers withdrawal symptoms. Eventually, the brain thinks that hallucinogens are a physical and psychological need.
- Addiction to Hallucinogens. Individuals addicted to hallucinogens feel like they can’t stop using the substance. This happens because their brains have become hard-wired to seek out the drug. They may desire to quit, but without professional help, they will likely disappoint themselves and end up using hallucinogens again.
The good news is an addiction to hallucinogens can be treated. And we offer hallucinogen treatment right here at Meta.
How Is Hallucinogen Addiction Treated?
Here at Meta, we pride ourselves on offering real recovery for real people. We know that most people can’t stop their lives and go away for addiction treatment for months at a time. That’s why we offer outpatient addiction treatment, which allows people to keep their jobs and live at home or in sober housing while recovering from addiction challenges.
Our hallucinogen treatment programs, which begin after the detoxification process, include:
Even though our hallucinogen treatment programs vary in intensity and length of time required, all of our recovery programs include:
- Group and individual sessions with licensed clinicians
- 12-step program group sessions
- Life skills sessions
- Mindfulness-based meditation
- Psychoeducation groups
- Discussions about the family structure and roles
- Peer support groups
- Discussions about substance abuse and co-occurring disorders
Our clinical support services for hallucinogen addiction treatment include:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This type of therapy helps people change the way they think and behave. In CBT sessions, people learn to identify harmful behavior patterns and develop new, healthier ways to cope with stress and challenges, which can help them break the cycle of addiction.
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). DBT helps people understand, process, and manage difficult emotions. Participating in this type of therapy can help reduce risky behavior, improve stress management, and strengthen relationships with friends and family.
- Case Management helps people get the long-term support they need to stay sober. Our case management services include:
- Assistance with referrals to additional services
- Follow-up meetings during and after treatment
- Assistance with employment
- Help with continuing education
- Peer Support Meetings. Having the support of others in recovery can help people feel less isolated, alone, and anxious. Peer support groups can also help individuals build long-term, healthy, recovery relationships and practice key life skills they’ve learned while recovering.
Get Hallucinogen Treatment Now
Addiction can be extremely challenging to overcome. But there’s hope. Our flexible hallucinogen addiction treatment programs can help individuals overcome an addiction to hallucinogens while maintaining their careers and responsibilities at home. Don’t let hallucinogens continue to negatively affect your life or the life of someone you love. Reach out to a member of our team today if you or someone you know is ready to live a healthy, thriving, sober life.