Hallucinogen Misuse: Effects, Risks & Addiction

According to the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2.6% of Americans 12 or older reported using hallucinogens in the past year.1 In this article, we will define hallucinogens, describe their effect on the brain and body, and explore the health risks posed by hallucinogen use. Finally, we will discuss treatment for hallucinogen addiction.
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What Are Hallucinogens?

Hallucinogens are drugs that alter the user’s mood, feelings, and perception of their surroundings. Historically, they have been used as part of religious or healing rituals, though they are also popular recreational drugs.2,3

Some hallucinogens come from plants and fungi, while others are created synthetically in laboratories.2,3

Common Hallucinogenic Drugs

Hallucinogens include:

  • LSD, a potent hallucinogen that is usually sold as a liquid or dropped onto small pieces of paper called “tabs” or “hits.” The drug is usually swallowed or absorbed through the mouth.4
  • DMT (N,N-Dimethyltryptamine). DMT is a naturally occurring powerful hallucinogen that is sometimes brewed in a tea known as Ayahuasca and consumed orally; however, the drug can also be synthesized. DMT—when made in a lab—is usually a crystalline powder that is smoked or vaporized.4,5
  • “Magic” mushrooms. This is a naturally occurring fungus containing the psychoactive chemical psilocybin that is dried and consumed orally. Sometimes mushrooms are added to foods or brewed into tea.4
  • MDMA—also known as ecstasy or “Molly.” Ecstasy is a hallucinogen that also acts as a stimulant, producing an energizing, pleasurable effect and distorting senses.4,6
  • Mescaline, which is a psychedelic drug found in cacti like peyote or created synthetically that induces vivid hallucinations, enhances perception, and euphoria.3,4

Dissociatives are a different class of drugs that share similar symptomology with the hallucinogens listed above; dissociatives can make a person who uses them feel disconnected from their body and surroundings.2,3 These drugs include:

  • Salvia: Salvia divinorum is an herb belonging to the mint family that can cause brief but powerful hallucinogenic effects that mimic psychosis by smoking, chewing, or vaporizing its dried leaves.2,4
  • Ketamine: Ketamine distorts someone’s perception of sight and sound and can induce a dreamlike state. The drug is usually sold as a crystalline powder that is snorted in small lines called “bumps” but it can also be a liquid that is injected, sprayed on smokable material, or consumed in drinks.2,7
  • PCP (phencyclidine): PCP is a powerful illicit drug used to induce visual and auditory distortions and a feeling of detachment from reality. It is commonly smoked, but may also be swallowed or snorted.8
  • DXM (dextromethorphan): DXM is a cough suppressant that is found in many over-the-counter medicines. When used in high doses it may cause dissociation, hallucinations, and euphoria.9

How Do Hallucinogens Work?

Exactly how hallucinogens cause their effects is not yet clearly understood.2 However, various substances have been observed affecting different receptors and neurotransmitters.3

Studies suggest that psychedelic drugs like LSD and DMT mainly affect receptors in the brain that are typically activated by the neurotransmitter serotonin.3 Serotonin is involved in controlling mood, attention, sensory perception, sexuality, and other physiological processes.10

Dissociative drugs—like ketamine or PCP—affect the neurotransmitter glutamate. 3 Glutamate is a brain chemical involved in cognition, memory, and mood regulation.11

MDMA and salvia act on a variety of brain functions to produce their effects.3

Effects & Risks

Effects of Hallucinogenic Drugs

The effects of hallucinogenic drugs can vary widely depending on several factors, including the drug itself, a person’s age, sex, general health, and more.3 Effects of hallucinogens on the mind and body may include:3

  • Temporarily alteration of thought patterns, mood, or perceptions of reality.
  • Feeling strong emotions, ranging from intense happiness or closeness to others and fear or anxiety.
  • Seeing vibrant shapes, colors, or scenes.
  • Reliving vivid memories.

Dissociative drugs can cause effects that include:

  • Visual and auditory distortions.
  • Feeling detached from one’s own body.

Health Risks & Dangers of Hallucinogens

Health risks may include:3

  • Headache.
  • Nausea.
  • Changes in heart rate.
  • Adverse psychological effects, such as overwhelming fear or anxiety.
  • Impaired thought processes and perceptions leading to erratic behavior and potential injuries.
  • When mixed or laced with other drugs, hallucinogens may cause accidental overdose or death.

Hallucinogen Overdose

Overdose on hallucinogens is rare; however, high doses of dissociatives like PCP and ketamine have caused death.7,8 In addition, death by injury or suicide is a significant danger while on any hallucinogen.2

Because most hallucinogens are sold illicitly, they may contain dangerous adulterants. For example, there are many reports of ecstasy and other drugs being cut with the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl, which is lethal in very small doses.12

If such an opioid is involved in an overdose, quick administration of Narcan (nasal spray version of naloxone) may save the person’s life. Narcan is a nasal spray device that can reverse the effects of opioids, restoring breathing and buying time for emergency services to arrive. This opioid antagonist has no effect on someone that has not taken opioids and minimal side effects, so it is safe to use on someone if you are unsure what they have taken. Narcan is available for purchase over-the-counter and legal to carry in all states without a prescription.13

Hallucinogen Addiction

Are Hallucinogens Addictive?

One can become addicted to hallucinogens; however, it may depend on many factors, such as the specific hallucinogen itself, the person’s genetics, environment, upbringing, and more.3,14

The clinical term for addiction as defined in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) is “hallucinogen use disorder.” Addiction to PCP has its own separate classification known as phencyclidine use disorder.15

Signs of Hallucinogen Addiction

Hallucinogen use disorder is defined as a pattern of continued hallucinogen use despite it causing significant impairment or distress in someone’s life.15

Only a medical professional can diagnose a substance use disorder but it can help to be aware of the criteria used in diagnosis. The criteria for a hallucinogen use disorder include the following:15

  1. Taking more of the hallucinogen or for a longer period than originally intended.
  2. There is a persistent desire or multiple unsuccessful attempts were made to cut back or quit using hallucinogens.
  3. Spending a lot of time trying to get the hallucinogen, using it, or recovering from its effects.
  4. Having cravings or urges to use the hallucinogen.
  5. Failing to fulfill regular roles and responsibilities at work, school, or home, due to hallucinogen use.
  6. Continuing to use hallucinogens despite them causing interpersonal problems.
  7. Giving up enjoyable social, recreational, or work activities because of hallucinogen use.
  8. Using hallucinogens in situations that are physically dangerous.
  9. Using hallucinogens despite knowing they have caused or worsened a physical or mental health problem.
  10. Developing a tolerance for the hallucinogen, meaning either more of the drug is needed to produce the same effects or experiencing a markedly diminished effect using the same amount as before.

Exhibiting 2 or more of the above within 12 months would result in a positive diagnosis of hallucinogen use disorder.15

Treatment for Hallucinogen Misuse in Florida

Treatment for hallucinogen addiction typically involves:16

Currently, there are no FDA medications approved for treating hallucinogen use disorder.2

If you are seeking treatment for hallucinogen addiction, River Oaks—our Tampa metro area inpatient drug & alcohol rehab—offers comprehensive treatment for substance use disorders across multiple rehab levels of care.

Reach out today for a free, private phone consultation with our rehab admissions team. River Oaks staff can help you review rehab payment options, including using insurance to pay for rehab and self-payment plans. Help is available today.

  1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2022). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (HHS Publication No. PEP22-07-01-005, NSDUH Series H-57). Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019, April). Hallucinogens drug facts.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2023, April). Research topics: Psychedelic and dissociative drugs.
  4. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, August 20). Commonly used drug charts.
  5. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2022, December). N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT).
  6. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, June 15). MDMA (ecstasy/molly) drugfacts.
  7. S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Diversion Control Division. (2019). Ketamine.
  8. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2023, April). Phencyclidine.
  9. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2019, December). Dextromethorphan.
  10. Berger M., Gray J.A., & Roth B.L. The expanded biology of serotonin. Annu Rev Med. 2009;60:355-66.
  11. Pal, M. M. (2021). Glutamate: The Master Neurotransmitter and Its Implications in Chronic Stress and Mood Disorders. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 15, 722323.
  12. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021, June 1). Fentanyl drugfacts.
  13. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2022, January 11). Naloxone drugfacts.
  14. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2023, May 30). Drugs, brains, and behavior: the science of addiction.
  15. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, Fifth edition (DSM-5). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association.
  16. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, January). Principles of drug addiction treatment: A research-based guide (Third Edition).
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