Hallucinogens are drugs that cause hallucinations – profound distortions in a person’s perceptions of reality. Under the influence of hallucinogens, people see images, hear sounds, and feel sensations that seem real but do not exist. Some hallucinogens also produce rapid, intense emotional swings.
What are Hallucinogens?
Hallucinogens cause their effects by disrupting the interaction of nerve cells and the neurotransmitter serotonin. Distributed throughout the brain and spinal cord, the serotonin system is involved in the control of behavioral, perceptual, and regulatory systems, including mood, hunger, body temperature, sexual behavior, muscle control, and sensory perception.
LSD (an abbreviation for “Lysergic Acid Diethylamide”) is the drug most commonly identified with the term “hallucinogen” and the most widely used in this class of drugs. It is considered the typical hallucinogen, and the characteristics of its action and effects described in this Research Report apply to the other hallucinogens, including mescaline, psilocybin, and ibogaine.
What are Dissociative Drugs?
Drugs such as PCP (phencyclidine) and ketamine, which were initially developed as general anesthetics for surgery, distort perceptions of sight and sound and produce feelings of detachment – dissociation – from the environment and self. But these mind-altering effects are not hallucinations. PCP and ketamine are therefore more properly known as “dissociative anesthetics.” Dextromethorphan, a widely available cough suppressant, when taken in high doses can produce effects similar to those of PCP and ketamine.
The dissociative drugs act by altering distribution of the neurotransmitter glutamate throughout the brain. Glutamate is involved in perception of pain, responses to the environment, and memory. PCP is considered the typical dissociative drug, and the description of PCP’s actions and effects in this Research Report largely applies to ketamine and dextromethorphan as well.
Street Names of Hallucinogens & Dissociative Drugs
- Blooter Acid
- Paper Acid
- Sugar Cubes
- Window Glass
- Window Pane
- Cat Valium
- Honey Oil
- Special K
- Special la Coke
- Super Acid
- Super C
- Vitamin K
- Angel Dust
- Dummy Dust
- Love Boat
The precise mechanism by which LSD alters perceptions is still unclear. Evidence from laboratory studies suggests that LSD, like hallucinogenic plants, acts on certain groups of serotonin receptors designated the 5-HT2 receptors, and that its effects are most prominent in two brain regions: One is the cerebral cortex, an area involved in mood, cognition, and perception; the other is the locus ceruleus, which receives sensory signals from all areas of the body and has been described as the brain’s “novelty detector” for important external stimuli.
LSD’s effects typically begin within 30 to 90 minutes of ingestion and may last as long as 12 hours. Users refer to LSD and other hallucinogenic experiences as “trips” and to the acute adverse experiences as “bad trips.” Although most LSD trips include both pleasant and unpleasant aspects, the drug’s effects are unpredictable and may vary with the amount ingested and the user’s personality, mood, expectations, and surroundings.
Users of LSD may experience some physiological effects, such as increased blood pressure and heart rate, dizziness, loss of appetite, dry mouth, sweating, nausea, numbness, and tremors; but the drug’s major effects are emotional and sensory. The user’s emotions may shift rapidly through a range from fear to euphoria, with transitions so rapid that the user may seem to experience several emotions simultaneously.
LSD also has dramatic effects on the senses. Colors, smells, sounds, and other sensations seem highly intensified. In some cases, sensory perceptions may blend in a phenomenon known as synesthesia, in which a person seems to hear or feel colors and see sounds.
Hallucinations distort or transform shapes and movements, and they may give rise to a perception that time is moving very slowly or that the user’s body is changing shape. On some trips, users experience sensations that are enjoyable and mentally stimulating and that produce a sense of heightened understanding. Bad trips, however, include terrifying thoughts and nightmarish feelings of anxiety and despair that include fears of insanity, death, or losing control.
LSD users quickly develop a high degree of tolerance for the drug’s effects: After repeated use, they need increasingly larger doses to produce similar effects. LSD use also produces tolerance for other hallucinogenic drugs such as psilocybin and mescaline, but not to drugs such as marijuana, amphetamines, and PCP, which do not act directly on the serotonin receptors affected by LSD. Tolerance for LSD is short-lived it is lost if the user stops taking the drug for several days. There is no evidence that LSD produces physical withdrawal symptoms when chronic use is stopped.
Two long-term effects, persistent psychosis and hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD), more commonly referred to as “flashbacks”, have been associated with use of LSD. The causes of these effects, which in some users occur after a single experience with the drug, are not known.