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Hallucinogens and Dissociative Drugs

Hallucinogens and dissociative drugs distort a person’s sense of reality by changing the way they experience sensations and thoughts.1,2

In the United States, it was found that in 2021, 2.6% of individuals age 12 and older reported using hallucinogens in the past 12 months.2

This article will discuss the differences between hallucinogen and dissociative drugs, the effects of each, and how to receive treatment for drug misuse.

What Are Hallucinogens?

Hallucinogens are a class of drug that causes hallucinations that distort a person’s perception of reality.1 Some hallucinogens include LSD (d-lysergic acid diethylamide) and psilocybin (4-phosphoryloxy-N, N-dimethyltryptamine).1 Someone taking these drugs may see images, hear sounds, or feel sensations that seem real but are not.3

Hallucinogenic compounds found in plants and mushrooms have been used for centuries for their mind- and mood-altering effects, for recreation, and to induce emotional or spiritual experiences.2,3

Hallucinogens are unpredictable, and their effects can vary depending on how much a person ingests and the person’s personality, mood, expectations, and surroundings.1 Additionally, because hallucinogens impair your thought processes and perception, you may behave in unusual or dangerous ways that can lead to injuries or other safety issues.2

Types of Hallucinogen Drugs

Illegal in the U.S., LSD is one of the most potent mood-changing hallucinogens.3 It was discovered in 1938 and is manufactured from lysergic acid found in ergot, a fungus that grows on rye and other grains.3 LSD is sold as tablets, capsules, and in liquid form.3 Typically, it is added to an absorbent paper and taken orally.3 Experiences, or “trips,” on LSD last about 12 hours.3 Common street names for LSD may include acid, blotter, hits, microdots, sugar cubes, and window panes.1

Psilocybin is obtained from certain mushrooms found in tropical and subtropical regions of South America, Mexico, and the United States.3 These mushrooms are available fresh or dried.3 Typically, psilocybin is taken orally.3 Psilocybin cannot be inactivated by cooking or freezing, so they are often brewed as a tea or added to other foods.3 Effects of psilocybin usually appear about 20 minutes from ingestion and can last 6 hours.3 Common names for psilocybin include magic mushrooms, shrooms, boomers, or little smoke.1

In addition to LSD and psilocybin, hallucinogenic drugs include peyote. The hallucinogen peyote is derived from a small, spineless cactus with the active ingredient mescaline.3 This plant is native to northern Mexico and the southwestern United States, where it is typically used in religious ceremonies.3 The top of the peyote cactus contains disc-shaped buttons that are often cut from the cactus and dried.3 These buttons are chewed or soaked in water to produce an intoxicating liquid.3 Some prefer to prepare a tea by boiling the peyote cacti for several hours to eliminate the bitter taste.3

What Are Dissociative Drugs?

Dissociative drugs affect how people sense their reality by feeling disconnected from their bodies and the environment.2 They alter neurotransmitter glutamate by disrupting the actions of glutamate at the N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors on nerve cells throughout the brain.1 Dissociative drugs include phencyclidine (PCP), ketamine, dextromethorphan (DXM ), and salvia divinorum.1

Like hallucinogens, dissociative drugs have unpredictable effects that depend on the amount of drug taken.1 Additionally, like hallucinogens, these drugs impair thought processes and perceptions.2 This may cause someone who has taken these drugs to behave in unusual or dangerous ways that can lead to injury or other safety issues.2

Types of Dissociative Drugs

The dissociative drug PCP was developed in the 1950s as an intravenous anesthetic.3 Its use as an anesthetic has since been discontinued due to the serious adverse effects.3 PCP is a white crystalline powder that is soluble in water or alcohol.3 This makes it easy to mix with dyes.3 Often, PCP is sold on the illicit market as a tablet, capsule, or colored powder.3 It can be snorted, smoked, or ingested orally.3 Effects of PCP can last 4 to 6 hours.3 Common names for PCP include ozone, rocket fuel, love boat, hog, embalming fluid, and superweed.1  

Ketamine is a chemical compound used in prescription medications for anesthesia in humans and animals.2 Esketamine (a derivative of ketamine) is an FDA-approved medication for treatment-resistant depression.2 It can also be illegally manufactured as a liquid or an off-white powder.2 Ketamine is sometimes referred to as K, special K, and cat valium.1

DXM is often found as an ingredient in cough suppressants and expectorants sold as over-the-counter cold and cough medications.1 The most common source of misused DXM is found in extra strength cough syrup and pills or gel capsules.1 DXM also goes by Robo.1

Salvia divinorum is a psychoactive plant that grows in Southern Mexico and Central and South America.1 It is commonly ingested by chewing fresh leaves or drinking extracted juices from the leaves.1 Salvia has also been misused through smoking or vaporizing the dried leaves.1 Common names for salvia divinorum include diviner’s sage, maria pastora, sally-d, and magic mint.1 

Are Hallucinogens Addictive?

Most of the drugs listed as hallucinogens or dissociatives are not addictive, but people can experience negative effects when too much is used.2 Many illicitly manufactured or processed drugs may be found to contain contaminants that can result in overdose and even death.2 Fatal overdoses involving hallucinogens are typically associated with taking very high doses or using them in combination with other drugs.2

Effects of Hallucinogens and Dissociative Drug Use

The effects of hallucinogens and dissociative drugs are highly variable and unreliable.3 That means taking these drugs can cause different effects at different times.3 The effects of hallucinogens and dissociative drugs are similar overall.3

Effects of Classic Hallucinogens

Common short-term effects of classic hallucinogens include:1

  • Hallucinations.
  • Intensified feelings and sensory experiences.
  • Mixed senses, such as “seeing” sounds or “hearing” colors.
  • Changes in sense or perception of time.
  • Increased heart rate.
  • Nausea.

Long-term effects of classic hallucinogens may include:1

  • Visual disturbances.
  • Disorganized thinking.
  • Paranoia.
  • Mood disturbances.

The hallucinogens, LSD, psilocybin, and peyote, also have their own unique effects.3

LSD effects include:3

  • Dilated pupils.
  • Raised body temperature.
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Profuse sweating.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Sleepiness.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Tremors.

Psilocybin effects include:3

  • Muscle relaxation or weakness.
  • Uncoordinated movement.
  • Excessive pupil dilation.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Drowsiness.

The effects of peyote include:3

  • Increased body temperature and heart rate.
  • Uncoordinated movements.
  • Profuse sweating.
  • Flushing of the skin.

Effects of Dissociative Drugs

Dissociative drugs have similar effects as hallucinogens.1

Short-term effects of dissociative drugs may include:1

  • Numbness.
  • Loss of coordination.
  • Disorientation.
  • Confusion.
  • Dizziness.
  • Vomiting.
  • Nausea.
  • Changes in sensory perception.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Feeling detached from self or environment.
  • Increased body pressure, heart rate, respiration, and body temperature.

Long-term effects may include:1

  • Tolerance to dissociative drugs.
  • Development of substance use disorder.
  • Speech difficulties.
  • Memory loss.
  • Depression.
  • Suicidal thoughts.
  • Anxiety.
  • Social withdrawal.

PCP, ketamine, and salvia have their own unique effects.1

Effects of PCP may include:3

  • Increase in breathing rate.
  • Pronounced rise in blood pressure and pulse rate.
  • Shallow breathing.
  • Flushing and profuse sweating.
  • Generalized numbness of the extremities.
  • Loss of muscular coordination.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Drooling.
  • Loss of balance.
  • Dizziness.

Ketamine use may result in:1

  • Sedation.
  • Immobility.
  • Amnesia.

Salvia has intense but short-lived effects that include emotional mood swings.1

Hallucinogen Misuse, Dangers, and Treatment

Hallucinogen intoxication often begins with autonomic effects, such as nausea and vomiting, as well as mild increases in heart rate, body temperature, and slight elevation of systolic blood pressure.4 Other signs of hallucinogen intoxication may be dizziness, dilated pupils, and sensory distortions with illusions and hallucinations.4 Often, intoxication from hallucinogens is referred to as a “bad trip” and is characterized by anxiety, including panic attacks, paranoid reactions, anger, violence, and impulsivity.4

Some evidence suggests tolerance to psychedelic drugs may develop quickly.2 This means that a person must consume more and more of the drug to reach the same desired effect.2

“Bad trips” and acute intoxication can typically be managed by placing the person in a quiet, non-stimulating environment with immediate and direct supervision to make sure they do not harm themselves or others.4

Occasionally, a low dose of a short- or intermediate-acting benzodiazepine may be prescribed to control anxiety and promote sedation in those experiencing “bad trips” or intoxication.4 In those with chronic depressive-like reactions, antidepressant therapy may be needed.4

Where Can I Learn More about Hallucinogen Treatment?

If you or someone you love is struggling with hallucinogens or dissociative drug use, treatment is available. Addiction treatment is intended to help stop compulsive drug seeking and drug use.5 American Addiction Centers (AAC) offers treatment and rehabilitation for those struggling with hallucinogen or dissociative drug use.

To find inpatient or outpatient treatment near you, use the treatment directory. For more information on the different types of addiction treatment and how health insurance may be able to cover the cost of care, call an AAC admissions navigator at .

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