Hallucinogens are mind-altering drugs that are used to enhance or alter your mood or perception. Hallucinogens alter sights, sounds and other sensations. Common hallucinogens include lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), salvia, peyote, phencyclidine (PCP), ketamine and psilocybin (mushrooms). Hallucinogens are common recreational drugs of abuse.
Can I Overdose on Hallucinogens? At high doses, most classic hallucinogens can produce exceedingly unpleasant experiences, although the effects are not necessarily life-threatening. Many of these unpleasant side effects can result in a visit to the emergency room. Overdose is most common from dissociative drugs such as ketamine. However, high doses of PCP can cause seizures, coma and death. According to SAMHSA.gov, in 2014, approximately 1.2 million people over the age of 12 reported being current users of hallucinogenic drugs. Teenagers and young adults are at the highest risk for hallucinogen abuse, and these psychoactive drugs are the reason for thousands of emergency room visits each year. Some individuals will experience intense hallucinogen “trips” that cause terrifying thoughts and heightened anxiety. These “trips” can lead to reckless behaviors, endangering the user and others around them.
Common Types of Hallucinogens
- LSD: Lysergic acid diethylamide is one of the most potent mind-altering chemicals. It is an odorless white chemical that grows on fungus grains. It is made into crystal form in illegal laboratories and then converted into a liquid and sold on the street. LSD is sold in small tablets, gelatin squares or as absorbent paper called acid, white lighting, sugar cubes or blotter. An LSD “trip” usually lasts for 12 hours, and a “bad trip” occurs when an individual experiences sadness, confusion and threatening images. A bad trip can happen with your first use, and you may have flashbacks later in which the feelings of a bad trip even after the LSD wears off.
- Ketamine: This is a dissociative anesthetic that is used in surgery for both humans and animals, causing individuals to have an “out of body” experience. Ketamine is currently being used in the psychiatry world as a medication for severe treatment-resistant depression. In March 2019, the medicine esketamine (called “Spravato” by the manufacturer) was approved by the FDA as a treatment for severe depression in patients that do not respond to other therapies. Ketamine is commonly known as Special K and cat valium. It is sold illegally on the street as a powder or pill but can also be sold as an injectable liquid.
- PCP: Phencyclidine, commonly sold on the street as angel dust, can be found in liquid, white crystal powder, tablets or capsules. Individuals under the influence of PCP can have exaggerated strength and can become overly aggressive. Other individuals may become excessively anxious or empathetic. The unpredictable and varying experiences associated with PCP intoxication is what makes this drug of abuse extremely dangerous.
- Peyote/Mescaline: This is a spineless cactus plant that is brewed into tea, liquefied and swallowed, smoked or eaten raw. Mescaline is the actual hallucinogen that is found in the peyote cactus. It has been used for centuries among the Native American population for traditional and religious ceremonies. Peyote abuse can result in high blood pressure, vomiting and symptoms of psychosis. Common street names include cactus, mesc, buttons and peyoto.
- Psilocybin: Psilocybin is a psychoactive substance contained in over 100 species of mushrooms. Commonly referred to as magic mushrooms or shrooms, these hallucinogens are usually eaten or brewed into tea.
Signs and Symptoms of Acute Hallucinogen Intoxication
Depending on the specific hallucinogen, symptoms can vary. On average, hallucinogens produce effects within 30 minutes of ingestion, and these effects can last anywhere from 30 minutes to 12 hours, depending on the specific drug and the dosage.
- Mixed-sensory experiences, such as hearing colors or seeing sounds
- Intensified feelings and sensations
- Changes in the sense of time
- Altered mood
- Altered thoughts, emotions and perceptions
- Uncoordinated movements
- Loss of appetite
- Psychosis (disordered thinking that is detached from reality)
- Bizarre behaviors
- Dry mouth
- Blurred vision
- Intense emotions
- Increased heart rate
- Increased blood pressure
- Sleep disturbances
Long-Term Effects from Hallucinogen Addiction
- Persistent psychosis including visual disturbances, disorganized thinking and paranoia
- Mood changes
- Memory problems
- Emotional dysregulation
- Persistent speech difficulties
- Suicidal thoughts
- Social withdrawal
- Severe flashbacks
Hallucinogen Persistent Perception Disorder
When individuals have adverse reactions and experiences for over 12 hours while under the influence of hallucinogens, it is known as a “bad trip.” However, these bad trips can come back and haunt you over the long-term. Recurrences of specific hallucinogen experiences, such as delusions or hallucinations, are the telltale signs of hallucinogen persistent perception disorder. They can also appear as bad dreams or disturbing thoughts. These flashbacks often happen without warning and may occur within a few days or more than a year after hallucinogen use. These symptoms can be mistaken for medical disorders such as a brain tumor or a stroke.
Not all hallucinogens will cause a physical withdrawal; however, withdrawal symptoms are possible for some hallucinogens. Because many of these hallucinogens do not cause physical withdrawals, their risk for physical dependence is very low. With this said, hallucinogen use disorder does create long-term effects on the brain, and therefore this class of drugs is deemed psychological addiction. PCP is explicitly known to have withdrawal
effects, which include headaches, sweating and severe cravings. The following are general withdrawal side effects that can occur:
Seeking Help for Hallucinogen Addiction
There are currently no FDA-approved medications to treat hallucinogen withdrawal symptoms. Individuals need to enter a treatment facility where the staff is trained in providing treatment and care for individuals who are exhibiting psychosis and false perceptions of reality that are associated with hallucinogen addiction. Treatment aims at keeping the individual in a calm and safe environment while providing behavioral therapy techniques for long-term success. Individuals with hallucinogen use disorder may also have an underlying mental health condition such as schizophrenia, anxiety or depression.