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Short-Term and Long-Term Effects of Hallucinogens

Hallucinogens make up a class of drugs that 1.2 million Americans were currently using at the time of the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health(NSDUH). These drugs cause individuals to experience distortions of sensory perceptions, time, space, the environment, and their bodies. Common hallucinogenic drugs, their street names, and origins include the following:

  • 3,4-methalynedioxy methamphetamine or MDMA (ecstasy, Molly, love drug, X, XTC): MDMA is synthesized in clandestine laboratories into capsule, tablet, powder, or liquid form that is then ingested or snorted.
  • D-lysergic acid diethylamide or LSD (acid, yellow sunshine, dots, blotter): Synthesized from a fungus, LSD is soaked onto blotter paper that is cut into squares and sucked on, made into tablets, gelatin squares, or a liquid that is usually ingested.
  • PCP (angel dust, hog, horse tranquilizer, embalming fluid, peace pill, rocket fuel, dippers): An illegal drug synthesized into a white powder in clandestine labs and then distributed as a brown or tan powder in foil packets; in liquid form; as tablets or capsules; on plant material like mint, oregano, or parsley; or “dipped” on tobacco or marijuana cigarettes.
  • Psilocybin mushrooms (Magic Mushrooms, Shrooms, Boomers, Little Smoke, Purple Passion): These mushrooms are native to tropical and subtropical regions of South America, Mexico, and the United States. They have tall and skinny white stems, brown and white caps, and dark ridges underneath that are typically eaten or brewed into tea or mixed with food to mask their bitter taste.
  • Peyote or mescaline (mesc, cactus, buttons): This drug comes in the form of a spiny cactus that is usually chewed and swallowed or brewed into tea.
  • Dimethyltryptamine or DMT (Dimitri): This is a chemical, naturally occurring in many plants from the Amazon region, that can be extracted or synthesized in a lab to then be made into a white powder that is ingested, snorted, or smoked.
  • Ayahuasca (aya, yage, hoasca): This drug is made from plants containing DMT. It is a tea that is brewed and then drunk.
  • Dextromethorphan or DXM (robo, skittles, CCC, dex, triple C, rojo, velvet): Contained in cough or cold medications, DXM is often is abused by ingesting medicines containing the substance in large amounts.
  • Salvia divinorum or salvia (diviner’s sage, Sally-D, magic mint, Maria Pastora): Salvia comes from a plant common to Southern Mexico and South and Central America.
  • Ketamine (special K, kit kat, cat valium, K): A veterinary tranquilizer and surgical antithetic drug, ketamine is often illicitly distributed as a powder, in pill form, or sometimes in an injectable liquid formulation.

Short-Term Effects of Hallucinogens

Hallucinogenic drugs are believed to act on the communication network in the brain, disrupting its chemical messengers and affecting mood, the senses, body temperature, sex drive, muscle control, sleep functions, and appetite. Pain sensations, learning and memory functions, and response to the environment can also be impacted by hallucinogenic drugs, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) warns. These drugs typically take effect within a few minutes, and the experiences, or “trips” may last several hours or even up to a full day in some cases. General side effects of hallucinogens include:

  • Sweating
  • Euphoria
  • Impaired or heightened sensory perceptions or mixing of senses, like the ability to “see” sounds or “hear” colors
  • Distorted sense of time
  • Feelings of detachment from the body and environment
  • Hallucinations
  • Relaxation
  • Enhanced sexual feelings and desires
  • Dry mouth
  • Lack of appetite
  • Sleep issues
  • Spiritual “awakening”
  • Uncoordinated movements

Not all trips are good. Psychosis, anxiety, paranoia, panic, fear, seizures, amnesia, aggressive and violent outbursts, self-mutilating or suicidal ideations, extremely high body temperature, and elevated heart rate, respiration, and blood pressure can occur from hallucinogenic drug use. In 2011, over 100,000 people sought emergency medical treatment for a negative reaction to the abuse of a hallucinogenic drug, according to the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN). Bizarre behavior, accidents, injuries, and out-of-character actions can accompany hallucinogenic drug use, making these drugs unpredictable and dangerous.

These drugs may be mixed with other substances, sometimes without the user being aware, which can increase the potential risks. Individuals may also take the wrong thing, thinking it is something else with disastrous consequences, like ingesting a similar but more toxic mushroom than a psilocybin mushroom, which can be deadly. Also, overdose on some of these drugs, like PCP for example, can cause seizures, coma, or even death.

Potential Long-Term Risks of Hallucinogenic Drugs

Flashbacks are typical side effects of taking a hallucinogenic drug. A flashback is the reemergence of the drug’s intoxication experience that can pop up at random. About 5-50 percent of individuals who use hallucinogenic drugs are believed to suffer at least one flashback, the journal Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology reports.

Sometimes, these flashbacks persist and disrupt everyday functioning in a disorder called hallucinogenic persisting perception disorder, or HPPD. Visual disturbances, such as halos or trails following lights, are common symptoms of HPPD that can occur without warning and continually.
effects-of-hallucinogensPersistent psychosis is another disorder that can be a long-term side effect of hallucinogenic drug use. With persistent psychosis, individuals suffer from disturbed moods, disorganized thoughts, paranoia, and visual disturbances. PCP can cause individuals to suffer from symptoms similar to those of schizophrenia. They can also suffer memory loss, trouble thinking, speech difficulties, weight loss, and depression for up to year after stopping use of the drug, the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) warns.

Some hallucinogenic drugs can cause physical and/or physiological dependence when used regularly. When this occurs, withdrawal side effects, like anxiety, agitation, depression, sleep issues, nausea and vomiting, headaches, and dizziness, may occur when the drug wears off. Individuals may suffer intense cravings for the drug and have difficulty stopping use.

When a person is no longer able to control their drug use and suffers behavioral, emotional, physical, and social consequences from it, addiction is likely the result. Addiction is chronic disease that requires specialized treatment.


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