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Hallucinogens are among the oldest known group of drugs used for their ability to alter human perception and mood. For centuries, many of the naturally occurring hallucinogens found in plants and fungi have been used for a variety of shamanistic practices. In more recent years, a number of synthetic hallucinogens have been produced, some of which are much more potent than their naturally occurring counterparts.

The biochemical, pharmacological, or physiological basis for hallucinogenic activity is not well understood. Even the name for this class of drugs is not ideal, since hallucinogens do not always produce hallucinations. Also, there are many drugs that more properly fit in other categories but whose effects at certain dosages resemble the effects of drugs in this class.

Drug Name Street Names Chemical Classification Forms
LSD LSD, Acid, Microdot, White lightning, Blue heaven, and Sugar Cubes, Orange Sunshine(obs.), Purple Haze(obs.)
(lysergic acid diethylamide)
synthetic hallucinogen Colored tablets, blotter paper, clear liquid, thin squares of gelatin
Mescaline Mesc, Buttons, and Cactus 3,4,5-Trimethoxybenzeneethanamine natural or synthesized hallucinogen Hard brown discs (cacti), tablets, capsules
Psilocybin Magic Mushrooms, 'shrooms 3-[2-(Dimethylamino)ethyl]-1H-indol-4-ol dihydrogen phosphate ester natural hallucinogen Fresh or dried mushrooms
DMT Trips N,N-Dimethyl-1H-indole-3-ethanamine natural or synthesized hallucinogen various plant leaves and seeds, powder

However, taken in non-toxic dosages, these substances produce changes in perception, thought, and mood. Physiological effects include elevated heart rate, increased blood pressure, and dilated pupils. Sensory effects include perceptual distortions that vary with dose, setting, and mood. Psychic effects include disorders of thought associated with time and space. Time may appear to stand still and forms and colors seem to change and take on new significance. This experience may be either pleasurable or extremely frightening. It needs to be stressed that the effects of hallucinogens are unpredictable each time they are used. Weeks or even months after some hallucinogens have been taken and all traces of the drug have left a user's system, the user may experience flashbacks--fragmentary recurrences of certain aspects of the drug experience in the absence of actually taking the drug. Although these flashbacks have been the focus of many studies their occurrences remain unpredictable. The occurrence of a flashback seems more likely when a person is experiencing anxiety or changes in light or similarly unassociated events or feelings. They seem to occur more frequently in younger individuals. With time, these episodes usually diminish and become less intense. The abuse of hallucinogens in the United States received much public attention in the 1960s and 1970s. A subsequent decline in their use in the 1980s may be attributed to real or perceived hazards associated with taking these drugs. However, a resurgence of the use of hallucinogens in the 1990s is cause for concern. By 1999, one out of every six college students (14.8 percent) reported some use of hallucinogens in their lifetime, and an estimated 900,000 Americans 12 years of age or older, were current users of hallucinogens. Hallucinogenic mushrooms, LSD, and MDMA are popular among junior and senior high school students who use hallucinogens. There is a considerable body of literature that links the use of some of the hallucinogenic substances to neuronal damage in animals, and recent data support that some hallucinogens are neurotoxic to humans. However, the most common danger of hallucinogen use is impaired judgment that often leads to rash decisions and accidents.


Updated August 18, 2008. ©Smart Choices, Binghamton University Alcohol & Other Drug Program
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Last Updated: 11/16/09