Hallucinogens have been part of human culture for tens of thousands of years. Native American tribes consume mescaline, coming from the peyote cactus, while South American tribes drink the ayahuasca tea in ceremonies. But what are these drugs, and where do they come from?
Like any drug, hallucinogens have a history of addiction and abuse. Read on to learn more about the fact and fiction of psychedelics.
What Are Hallucinogens?
Hallucinogens have a wide variety of symptoms, not just hallucinations, despite their name. But they are most notable for their ability to induce sensations of unreal people and things.
Hallucinogens are psychoactive substances that can induce visual and auditory hallucinations, experiences that appear real but are not. They are often found in mushrooms and plants like reedgrass, or they can be made in a lab.
Since the mid-20th century, hallucinogen use has seen an upward trend in pop culture and medicine. Their effect spreads throughout the brain and the spinal cord, increasing activity and affecting judgment, mood, hunger, sleep, and so on.
These have extremely diverse effects, but they can be treated as one because they produce more than just a “high” feeling. Some common hallucinogenic drugs include:
- LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide)
- Magic mushrooms (psilocybin)
- DMT (n,n-dimethyltryptamine)
- Salvia divinorum
- Ayahuasca (from the Banisteriopsis caapi)
- MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine)
- Peyote (mescaline)
How Are They Taken?
Because the structures of these drugs vary, they are all taken different ways. Psilocybe mushrooms, for example, are active orally, while LSD often comes in the form of a “blotter,” a small tab with a dosage of 5-250 micrograms. Nonetheless, LSD can still be taken intravenously or orally.
DMT, on the other hand, is often vaporized, smoked, or brewed into a tea as ayahuasca.
MDMA and related drugs are often pressed into “ecstasy” pills or “molly.” This is dangerous because other substances like fentanyl, heroin, or methamphetamine are found in the pills. Users also snort it or take it intravenously.
Who Takes Them?
The Journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence has shown that marijuana users are more likely to consume hallucinogens in their lifetime. Early exposure to hallucinogens increases the likelihood that they’ll be consumed again.
People of all ages consume hallucinogens for various purposes. Recreational use is often indicative of abuse, as users are subject to “bad trips.” According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, these experiences can be “acutely traumatic“.
Brief History of Hallucinogens
A rising trend is the use of hallucinogens among young people. LSD’s perception as a “party drug” arose during the ’50s and ’60s, and persists today.
For this reason, some consider hallucinogens part of “hippie culture.” A popular example of this is Nevada’s Burning Man, a week-long event geared towards psychedelic culture and use.
On the other hand, the FDA is in the process of studying these drugs for their use as medicine. There’s evidence to show that, when administered by professionals, psychedelics like MDMA and magic mushrooms can treat mental illnesses like PTSD, depression, and anxiety.
Hallucinogens Effects on the Body
It’s difficult to compare the experiences of each hallucinogen, although they affect the nervous system in similar ways. All the same, each drug interacts with the brain differently, so each has its own niche.
“Entheogens” are a class of hallucinogens whose historic use has been spiritual and cultural. “Entactogens” (literally “touching within”) or phenethylamines, on the other hand, they’re known for increasing social and motor activity.
There are many ways to classify these drugs. Although Alexander Shulgin famously discovered hundreds of them, scientists are discovering more and more every day.
This can be dangerous, as there isn’t much data on these research chemicals. Unwitting abusers may try the drugs to “get high,” and end up having a bad experience.
That said, here’s what we know about a number of these drugs.
Effects on the Mind and Body
The duration of these drugs vary. LSD, for example, takes about 12-14 hours to fully metabolize, while mushrooms may last 6-8 hours. DMT, on the other hand, usually lasts about 15 minutes.
All of them trick the mind into seeing, hearing, and feeling things that seem real but aren’t. Emotions intensify and perception distorts, while the body works to digest the substance. After consuming psychedelics, patients are likely to have trouble sleeping and eating.
It’s known that drugs like LSD and mushrooms can decrease stratification across the hemispheres of the brain and increase connectivity, creating new neural pathways. This may lead to synesthesia — the effect of blending senses together.
Long-Term and Short-Term Health Effects
The short-term effects of hallucinogens include:
- Mood intensification
- A sense of peace or mental clarity
- Illusions and distortions, including color variability and elaborate patterns
- Time dilation
- Ego death (usually entheogens)
- Confusion, disorientation
- Increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature
- Loss of appetite
- Abnormal sensations
- A feeling of reduced inhibitions
- Synesthesia (“seeing sounds” or “hearing smells”)
- Out-of-body experiences
- Drowsiness (ketamine)
- Anesthesia (ketamine)
- Stroke or death (ketamine and MDMA)
The long-term effects of hallucinogens include:
- HPPD (persisting hallucinations)
- Impaired memory and concentration
- Prolonged bad trips
Both LSD and psilocybe mushrooms are serotonergic psychedelics — a group including DMT and mescaline. The parallels between these drugs are remarkable, despite their distinct chemical structures.
Like LSD, ketamine is psychoactive in extremely small amounts. For this reason, users are more susceptible to overdose, especially with prolonged use.
Using Hallucinogens with Other Drugs
While some hallucinogens like LSD and psilocybe mushrooms have no reported fatalities, mixing two or more of them can be neurotoxic or fatal.
There is evidence that MDMA is neurotoxic in and of itself, as well as ketamine. These effects are heightened when combined with other drugs like alcohol. They can also lead to heart problems or kidney failure.
Not only that, there is little research on the combined effects of these drugs beyond their physiological damage. So it’s hard to know how these mixtures could affect users mentally.
What Common Drugs Are Used with Hallucinogens?
One popular trend is “candyflipping.” This is the act of taking LSD (“acid”) and MDMA (“ecstasy”) simultaneously.
If this isn’t unpredictable enough, some take it a step further to go “jedi flipping.” This is the consumption of LSD, mushrooms, and ecstasy all at once.
The effects of these party habits might be:
- Disturbing illusions
- Long-lasting dissociation
Preventing Hallucinogen Abuse
Misuse of hallucinogens is prevalent in people of all ages. A drug-filled lifestyle is a romantic one in today’s culture.
Education and sensible use is the way to prevent drug addiction. It’s important to know the right steps towards intervention.
If you think that you or a loved one are experiencing addiction to hallucinogens or other drugs, get on the road to recovery with us today.