As the name implies, hallucinogens cause people to think and sense things that are not real. Hallucinogens have been used for centuries. They can be found in nature and can also be produced synthetically. Today, they are often called psychedelics and are popular throughout the world as recreational drugs. People use hallucinogens to enhance routine experiences, emotions or social interactions. However, these are powerful and dangerous substances that can produce dangerous, sometimes fatal, side effects.
Different types of hallucinogens
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Hallucinogens are a diverse group of drugs that alter perception (awareness of surrounding objects and conditions), thoughts, and feelings.” Types of hallucinogens that someone can use or even abuse can include the following:
Mushrooms: One of the naturally occurring hallucinogens that someone might use includes hallucinogenic mushrooms, known as psilocybin, which are native to North America. Historically, they have been used by native peoples in religious ceremonies such as vision quests. The mushrooms may be chewed or brewed into a tea.
Peyote or Mescaline: A powerful hallucinogen that is a member of the cactus family and has been used ritualistically by native peoples for centuries. Native Americans found that the dreamlike hallucinations produced by these substances gave them spiritual insights. They are still part of religious ceremonies practiced by some native peoples today. Mescaline is the main active psychedelic ingredient in peyote. Peyote can be eaten or used to form a liquid, which can be ingested, or a powder that can be rolled into a leaf and smoked.
LSD: In the 20th century, people began synthesizing hallucinogenic compounds. Albert Hoffman was a Swiss chemist who discovered the psychedelic drug lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) in 1938. Hoffman hoped the compound would be useful in treating certain psychiatric disorders but the substance instead became a popular recreational drug in the 1960s. More commonly known as Acid, LSD is a liquid that may be put onto a sugar cube that is then eaten or put onto a piece of paper which is placed on the tongue. (For that reason, LSD is commonly referred to as blotter.) LSD is known to cause visual and auditory hallucinations.
MDMA: Commonly known as Ecstasy, this substance is both a stimulant and a hallucinogen. MDMA is especially popular among high school and college students. It is most frequently taken in capsule or powder form, but it can also be swallowed as a liquid or snorted as a powder.
PCP: More commonly known as Angel Dust, PCP is another powerful synthetic hallucinogen. It was originally developed as an anesthetic but because of its dangerous side effects its use was discontinued. PCP causes slurred speech, numbness in the extremities and hallucinations. In higher doses, it can cause seizures and coma, and can even be lethal. Repeated use of PCP can have long-term consequences — including memory loss, speech impediments and unpredictable flashbacks.
Symptoms of hallucinogen abuse
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that the “effects of hallucinogens can begin within 20 to 90 minutes and can last as long as 6 to 12 hours.” Some of the effects of different types of hallucinogens include:
- Increased heart rate
- Altered visual perceptions
- A false sense of reality
- Acute psychosis
- Enhanced emotions
Treatment options for hallucinogens
Some hallucinogens, like PCP, can cause hallucinogens addiction. Others, like LSD, can result in a tolerance, meaning that users need to take higher doses of the drug to achieve the same effects. Withdrawal symptoms of hallucinogens include cravings, fatigue, irritability and a reduced ability to experience pleasure.
There is no medical treatment for intoxication or withdrawal of hallucinogens. Treatment options for hallucinogens focus on providing a calming and safe environment. Placing patients in a dimly lit, quiet room can help ease anxiety caused by the substance they used. If they appear to be a danger to themselves or others, then physical or chemical restraints such as haloperidol can be used as a temporary measure. If symptoms do not resolve, then admission to a psychiatric hospital may be required.