Hallucinogens are a broad class of drugs that can be classified primarily by their influence on serotonin
in the brain, and their characteristic ability to induce hallucinations and altered states of consciousness.
Hallucinogens use is common in the U.S and abroad, particularly with younger people, with National
Survey on Drug Use and Health reporting 229,000 Americans using hallucinogenic drugs.
primary danger comes from its unpredictability and complex neurological effects. Hallucinogens are
perhaps most infamous for “bad trips”, or trips that become deeply unpleasant and often traumatic due
to internal or external circumstances, which can result in various physical and mental conditions,
including hallucinogen persisting perception disorder and psychosis. The manner in which hallucinogens
work on the brain is varied and little understood, but many hallucinogenic substances such as LSD work
strongly on serotonin pathways in the brain, altering normal neurological functioning in complex ways.
Although hallucinogens addiction is uncommon when compared to other drugs, some drugs such as
ketamine do have the potential for physical addiction, and many hallucinogens can become mentally
addictive. Hallucinogens exhibit short-term effects such as euphoria, sensory distortion, calmness,
hallucinations, paranoia, and disorientation. Long term abuse of hallucinogens can lead to a variety of
physiological and mental ailments including depression, anxiety, HPPD, and insomnia. There are
currently no effective pharmaceutical treatments for hallucinogen abuse, but there are many
therapeutic options available to help manage dangerous and addictive behaviors, and rehabilitation
facilities offer extensive resources for recovering from drug abuse in a safe, stable, and comfortable
What Are Hallucinogens?
Hallucinogens are a broad class of drugs both recreational and pharmaceutical that are all linked by their
effect on sensory input in the brain. Hallucinogens include common synthesized drugs such as LSD and
DMT, natural and entheogenic substances such as mushrooms and mescaline, and a wide variety of little
researched pharmaceutical and research chemicals such as 25-I-NBOMe. It can be difficult to trace the
history of hallucinogenic substances, as these include entheogens that have been used by native
populations for thousands of years, as well as chemicals that have been first synthesized within the past
few years. Despite this difficulty, many say that the 1960s was when hallucinogenic substances began to
gain widespread notoriety due to the various countercultural movements of the 1960s, of which
psychedelic hallucinogens were a primary characteristic. Although deaths from hallucinogens abuse are
uncommon, there have been reported cases of overdose, and it can often be fatal when mixed with
other similar drugs such as GHB, alcohol, and barbiturates. Deaths from hallucinogens are generally a
rare occurrence, and many hallucinogens are not capable of being overdosed on under ordinary
circumstances. Despite this, some substances that are not strictly hallucinogenic, such as PCP (a
dissociative drug) are responsible for deaths. Even though immediate death is not common,
hallucinogens are still considered dangerous substances and are not safe for ingestion. Hallucinogens’
primary danger comes from their severe and unpredictable effects on the brain. So-called “bad trips”
are relatively common and can result in psychological damage, or even physical damage and death
caused by self-harm during the trip. In addition, hallucinogens are known to have a danger effect in
those with pre-existing mental illness or a predisposition for mental illness, and some substances have
been linked to early onset of these illnesses in certain individuals. Hallucinogens can be found at nearly
all classes of drugs created by the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), including schedule I drugs such as
LSD that are strictly prohibited and considered to have no medical usage, as well as substances such as
salvia which remains legal and unscheduled in the United States in certain states.
How Do Hallucinogens Work?
Hallucinogens function in a wide variety of ways, and many hallucinogenic drugs are still little
researched or understood. In general, hallucinogenic drugs tend to work on serotonin in the
brain. To see an example of this functioning, we can look at lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD),
which has been researched to a greater degree than many other hallucinogens. LSD mimics
serotonin in the brain to the degree that it functions almost exclusively in serotonin pathways.
Because of the variety of serotonin functioning and locations, as well as LSD’s unique ability to
work as both a serotonin agonist and antagonist, LSD produces a complex and unpredictable set
of effects and in a wide variety of manners. Many of the effected serotonin receptors are
located in the Locus Coeruleus, a sector of the brain responsible for stress, adrenaline, panic
response, and wakefulness.
Short and Long Term Effects
Hallucinogens can be taken through nearly all manners of ingestion, such as orally via blotting
paper, smoked, injected, or snorted. Effects vary both with the drug and method of ingestion
and the high can vary between only a few minutes as with salvia to upwards of 10 hours as with
With most psychedelics, users report short-term mental effects such as feelings of:
Sensory and visual distortion
Dramatic shifts in perspective and consciousness
Repeated long-term use of hallucinogens can lead to physical and mental side effects such as:
Memory Impairment – Hallucinogens has been found to induce irreversible neurological
damage. While infrequent usage of hallucinogens is generally safe in terms of
neurological damage, frequent use has been shown to induce varying levels of memory
impairment in individuals, as well as impair other essential neurological functions such
as neuron development and upkeep.
Insomnia – Due to hallucinogens’ effect on neurological functioning as well as frequent
interruptions in ordinary circadian activity, hallucinogen users often experience
worsening sleeping problems that can develop into insomnia.
Depression – A relatively common symptoms of extended hallucinogen usage is
depression. This can come from either hormonal or chemical imbalances that develop
through extended use of hallucinogens, or through the psychological effects of a
hallucinogen high. Many users feel that they have gone through enlightening and mindexpanding
experiences, which may breed feelings of discontentment with the normal
world and develop into depression.
Flashbacks – A relatively serious risk of many hallucinogenic substances, particularly at
high doses, is flashbacks. Flashbacks refer to strong sometimes crippling episodes in
which the user suddenly experiences feelings or even sensory distortion long after a
hallucinogenic trip has taken place.
Anxiety – Anxiety is a frequent symptom of drug abuse in general, and is common in
hallucinogen abuse due to internal factors from the psychological and physical effect of
the drug itself, as well as external factors such as pressure family, friends, and work that
may all be affected by frequent use. This can compound and develop into chronic
Other risks posed by Hallucinogens abuse include:
Extended hallucinations – At doses used for medicinal anesthetic, some patients have
reported sensory distortion, hallucinations, and delirium that can extend up to a full day
after the dose has been administered.
HPPD – Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder, also known as HPPD, is a
neurological disorder characterized by persistent and sometimes permanent visual
distortions. These can include distortions such as seeing auras around objects, constant
movement on still object, loss of color perception, visual trails, the appearance of
shapes floating in one’s vision, a constant overlay of static noise (often called visual
snow), among many others. This can diminish the quality of life of many who develop
HPPD as a constant disturbance in regular neurological functioning.
Interactions with preexisting mental illness – Users with preexisting mental illness or a
disposition toward mental illness may have negative interactions with hallucinogens
that may trigger symptoms, or even the onset of the condition itself.
Unlike most other drugs, hallucinogens generally have no physical addictiveness, and thus have
comparatively minor withdrawal symptoms. Despite this, there are some symptoms associated
with the expulsion of hallucinogenic substances including:
Loss of concentration
Methods of Treatment
Because chemical dependency on hallucinogens is uncommon, there are no pharmaceutical treatments
currently available for hallucinogen abuse.
Other forms of treatment for beer addiction come in the form of psychological and behavioral therapies.
These treatments focus on the behaviors and habits that led to addiction in the first place in an attempt
to remove the root of addiction. Amongst these forms of treatment, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
is one of the most common, and is growing in support from the scientific and clinical communities all the
time. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy sees substance abuse such as beer addict as a symptom of a greater
psychological issue, and not a cause in and of itself. By utilizing reflective and analytic techniques, an
addict is better able to understand what led them to addiction in the first place, change bad habits, and
avoid behaviors that may trigger cravings. The twelve-step program is also available as a longestablished
method of treating drug and alcohol addiction. The twelve-step program works as a gradual
method of guiding principles and pragmatic steps that can be taken to go from the depths of addiction
and unhealthy habits to sobriety. These twelve steps are aimed at effectively recovering from
compulsive and addictive behaviors, and addressing mental and behavioral problems that led to
addiction in the first place. These twelve steps include both internal and external actions aimed at
making amends for past mistakes, accepting responsibility for the actions that led to addiction, and
moving forward to establish healthy habits and a positive mindset.
Rehabilitation for hallucinogens alone is generally uncommon, but may be beneficial for those who
abuse hallucinogens frequently and have difficulty stopping dangerous behaviors that lead to its usage.
There are two main types of rehabilitation: inpatient and outpatient. Inpatient rehabilitation refers to
programs that require patients to check themselves into a facility where they will undergo all
rehabilitation treatment. Although inpatient rehabilitation requires a greater level of commitment, the
facilities, environment, and support offered by these facilities are conducive to a stable and effective
recovery. Inpatient facilities generally offer services such as psychiatrists, counselors, group therapy, and
all of the living facilities necessary for a comfortable stay. The extensive support offered by these
facilities, combined with an environment that is focused on self-improvement and wellness is a great
combination for providing the motivation to push through the difficulties of withdrawal and to establish
good healthy habits to prevent relapsing once you leave. This form of rehabilitation is effective for those
who would benefit from a stricter more scheduled recovery in which the outside distractions and
temptations of life won’t get in the way of focusing on recovery.
Outpatient rehabilitation is based on the principle of spending only part of your time in recovery
programs while offering you the freedom to continue daily living on your own. Generally these programs
will require ten to twelve hours of commitment per week spent in a treatment facility participating in
similar activities to those done in an inpatient facility such as group therapy, counseling, and even detox.
While this does offer easier access to drugs, some may find being able to maintain their normal daily
schedule more beneficial. This form of rehabilitation is effective for those who require more freedom
and contact with friends and family.
Both forms of rehabilitation may be effective solutions at combatting hallucinogen abuse, and there is a
variety of different types of both inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation to suit the personal needs of
1. Abuse, National Institute on Drug. “How Widespread Is the Abuse of Hallucinogens and
Dissociative Drugs?” NIDA, NIH, Feb. 2015, www.drugabuse.gov/publications/researchreports/hallucinogens-dissociative-drugs/why-do-people-take-hallucinogens.