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Hallucinogens

Potential effects, signs of misuse, and how to start on a path to recovery

Hallucinogens are mind-altering drugs. Some common examples include LSD, psychedelic mushrooms, ketamine, and PCP.

You or a loved one may use hallucinogens to intensify sensory experiences and promote relaxation. But they can also lead to dangerous hallucinations that can cause you to see, hear, or feel that something is real when it is not. They can distort your understanding of risk. And the “dissociative” category of these drugs may cause you to feel detached from your surroundings and even your body.

Hallucinogens can be dangerous if not used as prescribed by a doctor for therapeutic treatment under controlled conditions. You or a loved one can become dependent and even overdose on certain hallucinogens.

However, recovery from hallucinogen misuse is possible.

Signs and effects of hallucinogen misuse

Hallucinogens are a group of naturally occurring and synthetic chemicals. The following are examples of natural hallucinogens:

  • Dimethyltryptamine (known as DMT) comes from plant sources in the Amazon. A tea made from these plants is called ayahuasca or aya, hoasca, or yagé. DMT created synthetically often comes as a white powder that can be smoked.
  • Mescaline (peyote) is derived from a variety of cactus and also can be made synthetically. It can be drunk as a liquid or tea or eaten raw or dry.
  • Psilocybin is a chemical that comes from certain mushrooms (aka “magic mushrooms” or “shrooms”). These psychedelic mushrooms can be consumed raw or dried or brewed into tea.
  • Salvia divinorum (salvia) leaves, from plants native to Mexico, are chewed, brewed, or smoked; juiced into a drink; or vaporized and inhaled.

The following are synthetic hallucinogens, which include both classical (e.g., LSD) and dissociative varieties (e.g., PCP):

  • 251-NBOMe, sometimes called N Bomb or 251, is a dangerous psychedelic compound that can be taken by mouth in blotter form, inhaled in powder form or as a nasal spray, injected, smoked, or absorbed through other parts of the body.
  • Dextromethorphan (DXM), an ingredient in over-the-counter cough and cold medicines, can be smoked, vaped, or brewed in a tea.
  • Ketamine (aka “Special K,” “Cat Valium,” or “Kit Kat”), originally used as a surgical anesthetic, is sold as powder, pills, or a liquid injectable.
  • Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD, or “acid”) is derived from a fungus found on grains such as rye. Clear or white and odorless, LSD can be taken in pill or liquid form or absorbed in the mouth through blotter paper.
  • Phencyclidine (PCP, or “angel dust”) comes in liquid, powder, pill, or capsule form and can be injected, smoked, snorted through the nose, or swallowed.

Hallucinogens such as DMT, LSD, and peyote can cause lingering mental health issues, accidental harm, or poisoning from contaminants. People who use hallucinogens repeatedly can develop a tolerance so that they have to take higher or more frequent doses to feel the same effect.

Repeated use of hallucinogens such as DXM, ketamine, and PCP can cause withdrawal symptoms such as cravings for the drug and can lead to dependency. Taking 251-NBOMe is particularly dangerous, as it comes with a higher risk of seizures, comas, and death.

Hallucinogen misuse can also cause:

  • Anxiety or depression.
  • Dangerous behaviors, like jumping out a window or wandering into traffic.
  • Feelings of detachment from your body and surroundings.
  • Feelings that you are strong or incapable of being injured or killed.
  • Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder, in which someone experiences flashbacks of a drug’s effects (e.g., seeing colors or lights) after stopping use of the drug.
  • Impaired judgment, which increases your risk of a serious accident or injury.
  • Impaired sensations of pain.
  • Mood changes.
  • Numbness, slurred speech, and lack of coordination.
  • Panic (due to hallucinations that are frightening or disturbing).
  • Paranoia.
  • Physical changes such as blurry vision, nausea, or increased heart or breathing rate.
  • Psychosis.
  • Suicidal or violent behaviors.

If you think you’re in danger from using a hallucinogen, call 911.

Hallucinogen withdrawal symptoms

Symptoms of withdrawal from hallucinogens that cause dependency (e.g., PCP) include cravings, headaches, and sweating.

Negative effects of hallucinogens on the brain: Serotonin is a chemical in the brain that regulates hunger, intestinal muscles, mood, perception of sensory input, sexual behaviors, sleep, and temperature. Hallucinogens temporarily interfere with serotonin’s ability to perform these regulatory functions. Dissociative hallucinogens also affect the functioning of glutamate in the brain, altering your emotions, learning ability, memories, perceptions of pain, and responses to your environment. With repeated use of certain hallucinogens, your brain may depend on the hallucinogens to function normally because your neurons have adapted to prolonged exposure to these chemicals.

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Treatment for hallucinogen misuse

Recovery from hallucinogen misuse is possible. To safely stop misuse of hallucinogens, you or your loved one can seek out a licensed medical professional who can help develop a treatment plan.

Therapy: There are several therapy options to treat hallucinogen misuse. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help people avoid relapse after stopping hallucinogen use. Medical providers may also suggest group therapy, 12-step and other support groups, or out- and inpatient residential treatment programs.

Medication: There is not yet an approved medicine to treat dependency on hallucinogens.

Recovery: Other ways to promote your recovery could involve complementary and alternative activities such as acupuncture, meditation, spiritual exercises, yoga, and therapies involving art or music. Some communities also offer support services, including career counseling and legal support.

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