Hallucinogens are one of the most commonly abused but least understood classifications of drugs. While they may not be stigmatized in the same way as many other illicit drugs, hallucinogens can be incredibly dangerous and addictive if used repeatedly.
Hallucinogens are a class of drugs that affect how users perceive the reality around them. Different hallucinogens can affect people in different ways, but commonly some level of a person’s thoughts, feelings, or senses are altered in unusual ways. Hallucinogens get their name because many of them often cause users to experience hallucinations or sensations of things that are not there. Hallucinations can be either visual or auditory.
There are two categories of hallucinogens, being classic hallucinogens and dissociative drugs. While both types are defined by the ability to alter a person’s sense of reality and may cause hallucinations, dissociative drugs have other effects that make them unique. Dissociative drugs cause users to feel disconnected from their bodies in some way or make them feel a loss of control over their own being.
Hallucinogens can be either artificial or based on chemical compounds found in nature. Most hallucinogens are either illegal or highly-regulated, although some naturally-occurring ones are handled differently from state to state. While some users do not see hallucinogens as dangerous as other illicit drugs, they can be habit-forming and severely impact a person’s health.
The term hallucinogen encompasses a wide array of different drugs that are all incredibly different in their origins, uses, and effects. Some of the most common hallucinogens include:
Mushrooms are commonly referred to as “magic mushrooms” or “shrooms,” They refer to certain species of mushrooms containing the chemical psilocybin. Psilocybin is a potent chemical that causes hallucinogenic effects. While not all mushrooms contain psilocybin, several species do, notably ones that commonly grow in South America, Mexico, and southern regions of the United States.
The effects of psilocybin are often closely compared to LSD. Users who ingest psychedelic mushrooms may experience a sense of euphoria or relaxation. Others may often feel paranoid or anxious, similarly to the effects of marijuana. The calming effects that psilocybin can have often lead users to think that mushrooms can have a meditative or spiritual impact.
Mushrooms are harvested and then either used fresh or dried out. Most commonly, mushrooms are eaten to achieve the desired effects. At times, a potent tea can be brewed from mushrooms and ingested to get high as well.
LSD is a human-made chemical compound with strong hallucinogenic effects. Considered one of the most potent hallucinogens sold on the street, LSD has been one of the most commonly abused hallucinogens for decades. LSD is made in small, illegal labs by synthesizing a specific chemical found in certain fungi.
LSD is commonly seen as a powder or liquid and is referred to as acid on the streets. LSD has no taste or smell, and the liquid is completely clear. LSD can be ingested directly in its liquid form but is most commonly used by soaking small strips of paper in the liquid. Users then dissolve the paper on their tongues to get high.
PCP is a human-made dissociative drug. Initially, PCP was created for purely medical practices. Intended to serve as an anesthetic, PCP was discovered to be a potent hallucinogenic drug. Now, PCP is one of the most dangerous and commonly abused drugs on the street.
PCP is most often sold in the form of a white powder, commonly referred to as angel dust. Users can take PCP directly to get high, but many combine it with other illicit drugs such as marijuana to enhance both drugs’ effects. PCP can be incredibly dangerous when combined with other substances. Many illegal drugs sold on the street are laced with PCP without the knowledge and consent of the person ingesting it.
Ketamine is a dissociative drug that is both used within the medical community and commonly abused. When used correctly, ketamine is an effective tranquilizer and anesthetic in the medical community that can work for humans but is especially common in the veterinary industry. However, ketamine is also a common “club drug”, or an illicit drug most commonly used at raves or parties.
Similar to PCP, ketamine can both be used on its own or combined with other drugs. Due to its status as a “club drug”, ketamine is often combined with various other substances. The combination of ketamine combined with other illicit drugs has proven to be fatal in certain circumstances.
DMT is a naturally occurring chemical found in a specific species of Amazonian plant. It can also be fully synthesized in small, illicit labs and is often considered one of the most potent hallucinogenic drugs due to its ability to cause “true hallucinations”. A “true hallucination” is defined by an experience of sensation that is a complete departure from any sense of reality.
DMT is commonly seen in the form of a white powder that is then snorted or smoked. A specific concoction of tea can be brewed from the plants containing DMT, called ayahuasca. Ayahuasca is a potent hallucinogen itself and used in religious ceremonies and for healing purposes in the Amazon.
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The truth is that scientists still do not fully understand all how hallucinogens and dissociative drugs affect the human mind and body. Classic hallucinogens work partially by disrupting the communication between the brain and the spinal cord and alter the amount of serotonin in a person’s brain. The long-term effects of taking hallucinogens are still not fully understood, in part because the total marks of the drug remain a mystery.
While research still hasn’t fully answered how hallucinogens affect a person’s brain and body, they are least considered habit-forming. As someone continues to take hallucinogens over time, they will need to increase the amount they take to achieve their desired effects, which is one of the defining characteristics of addiction.
Users who have been taking hallucinogens for an extended period will begin to develop a psychological dependence on them. This makes it increasingly difficult to stop taking the drugs even if the person wants to. A person is likely to experience some level of withdrawal if they stop taking hallucinogens after developing a dependence on them.
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