Hallucinogens

Hallucinogens are drugs that are used to profoundly change the way people perceive reality. This includes the person’s five senses and how he or she interacts with the world.


Hallucinogens are Classified as Schedule I Drug

LSD
LSD

Hallucinogens are classified as Schedule I drugs, which is the most restrictive class of drugs. This is because, unlike drugs like opioids, they seem to have no medical use and are considered simply recreational. Though people in the west became aware of hallucinogens in the 1960s as a result of the use of LSD, they’ve been used for centuries, often in religious ceremonies.

Though LSD is synthetic, there are a number of natural hallucinogens. Some are mushrooms and cacti that contain psilocybin or mescaline. Both of these plants were used as hallucinogens by the ancient Aztecs. Peyote cacti, which contain mescaline, are still used in some Native American rituals. The crushed seeds of the morning glory flower have lysergamide, which is a molecule very similar to LSD. Other hallucinogens are the leaves and seeds of the jimsonweed, PCP or phencyclidine, and even THC when taken in very large amounts. THC is the active ingredient in marijuana.

The most well-known hallucinogen is LSD, which was discovered in 1943.

How Hallucinogens Work

Researchers still don’t quite understand how hallucinogens produce the sort of effects they produce in people. Some believe that hallucinogens affect the serotonin 2A receptor. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that regulates sleep, hunger, mood, sensory processing, and other drives.

The serotonin 2A receptor is found in large quantities in the brain’s prefrontal cortex in neurons called pyramidal cells. These cells help integrate sensory information and allow them to make sense to the person.

Hallucinogens also seem to stimulate the serotonin receptors in other parts of the brain. These receptors are activated when the person is awake but go dormant when the person sleeps. These receptors are found in the thalamus, which helps the person figure out which sort of stimuli are important and should be paid attention to. Hallucinogens disrupt the jobs that all of these serotonin receptors do.

Along with this, a lot of what the user will experience when he or she takes a hallucinogen is dependent on the mindset of the user and even the circumstances under which the drug is taken. During experiments where the drug was supposed to produce a religious, mystical experience, it usually did. But when these drugs are used recreationally by a person who doesn’t understand their power and who has no supervision the effects can be wide-ranging and sometimes traumatic. These traumatic episodes are called “bad trips” and when occasioned by a drug like LSD can last as long as 12 hours. Moreover, the same person can have a bad trip during one episode of using the drug and ecstatic experience at another time. Indeed, he or she can have a good or bad experience during the course of one trip. People who have underlying mental disorders can suffer psychiatric repercussions that can last a very long time or even be permanent.

Dosage

Most people take hallucinogens orally, though there are two hallucinogens that need to be either smoked or snuffed. One is DMT and the other is 5-methoxy-DMT.

LSD is the most powerful hallucinogen and the first time user only needs to take .1 mm of it to get an effect that can last up to 12 hours. A user needs from 6 to 15 mm of psilocybin to have an effect that lasts for four to six hours. He or she will need 250 to 400 mm of mescaline to have an effect. Mescaline lasts about as long as LSD.

Effects

The effects of a hallucinogen are varied, but they can include bodily symptoms like: 

  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Nausea
  • Trembling
  • Tingling
  • Blurred vision

Perceptual symptoms can include:

  • Alteration in shapes and colors
  • Increased sense of hearing
  • Synesthesia, which means people can hear colors and taste sounds

Other symptoms are:

  • Mood swings
  • Altered perception of time
  • Dreamlike states
  • Hallucinations

Are Hallucinogens Addictive?

In a word, hallucinogens aren’t addictive in the way that opioids and other drugs are addictive. People don’t overdose on them and the amount that it takes for these drugs to have toxic side effects is much more than it takes to produce the effects that the user wants. However, a person will need to take increasing dosages of the hallucinogen to produce the desired effect. Eventually, after days of continuous use, the hallucinogen will stop working altogether. This phenomenon is called tachyphylaxis and is transferrable from one hallucinogen to another. In other words, if a person isn’t getting the effect he or she wants from psilocybin, he or she isn’t going to get it by switching to LSD. It takes about three days for the user to regain his or her sensitivity to the hallucinogen.

Why Inpatient Treatment?

Since hallucinogens aren’t addictive or toxic, why should someone want inpatient treatment to stop taking them? A few people develop a psychological dependence on hallucinogens and want to stop but can’t and shouldn't stop on their own. They need supportive, inpatient care, including cognitive behavior therapy in some cases, to help them resist taking the drug. This is especially helpful if they belong to a circle of friends who regularly take hallucinogens and want the user to continue. Other people might suffer from flashbacks that are distressing and need help in coping with these. Users might also want to stop their use of hallucinogens because it is simply not a productive use of their time or whatever money they spend on obtaining the drug.