What are Hallucinogens?

Hallucinogens are psychoactive drugs, many of which have been used for centuries for religious healing rituals. More recently, hallucinogens have been used for recreational purposes including to have fun, relieve stress, or experience a spiritual awakening.

Hallucinogens are categorized as Schedule I drugs by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which means they are not currently accepted for medical use and have a high potential for abuse. According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 17 percent of Americans ages 18 to 25 have used hallucinogens in their lifetime, and about 7 percent used a hallucinogen in the past year.

Hallucinogen use induces auditory, sensory, visual hallucinations. Hallucinogens can be grouped into two categories: classic hallucinogens and dissociative drugs. Classic hallucinogens, such as LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, peyote, or DMT are known to cause visual, auditory, and sensory hallucinations. Dissociative drugs, such as PCP, also cause these types of hallucinations but also generate a sense of detachment from the body. Many dissociative drug users report an “out of body” experience.

Hallucinogens disrupt the communication of chemicals in the brain to produce an altered perception of reality. Hallucinogens’ effects are very unpredictable and can vary from person to person and from use to use.

Different Types of Hallucinogens

There are many different types of hallucinogens. They are separated into two groups: classic and dissociative. While they all produce hallucinations, each drug has a different chemical makeup and effects on the brain.


LSD, commonly referred to as acid, is a semi-synthetic hallucinogen made from lysergic acid. This chemical compound is in liquid form and placed on sheets of absorbent paper to be taken orally.

Street names include acid, electric kool-aid, lucy, or purple haze.

Psilocybin Mushrooms

Known as “magic mushrooms”, psilocybin is found in certain mushrooms grown in the United States, Mexico, and South America. Mushrooms are ingested orally and may be mixed into tea or other foods.


Peyote is a psychoactive drug derived from a cactus plant that contains mescaline, a psychedelic compound. Peyote can be chewed or smoked.


Dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, is known as a “spiritual molecule” and users report having a spiritual awakening. DMT is a hallucinogenic chemical compound that is found naturally in the human brain. DMT can be snorted, smoked, or injected. Oftentimes DMT is mixed with herbal tea, a method referred to as ayahuasca.


Phencyclidine, or PCP, is considered to be a synthetic, dissociative drug. PCP was introduced in the 1950s as an anesthetic for surgical procedures. It is now an illegal hallucinogenic drug with sedative properties. PCP is available in tablet, crystal, liquid, or capsule forms.

The street name for PCP is angel dust.

Effects of Hallucinogens Use

Hallucinogens are unpredictable and their effects vary from use to use. A negative hallucinogen experience- referred to as a “bad trip”- can lead to raised anxiety, panic attacks, and extreme paranoia. Because of the altered perception of reality, hallucinogen users can become violent.

Significant physical effects of hallucinogen use include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Excessive sweating
  • Dilated pupils
  • Nausea
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased body temperature
  • Body tremors
  • Numbness
  • Increased blood pressure

Hallucinogens can have a significant impact on the brain and body. The short-term effects of hallucinogens can last anywhere from 15 minutes to 12+ hours. It is important to understand the effects of hallucinogen use in order to avoid the risks.

Risks of Abusing Hallucinogens

Prolonged misuse of hallucinogens can lead to severe psychological issues including anxiety, weight loss, and speech problems. A long-term side effect of hallucinogen use is Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD). HPPD is a chronic disorder characterized by spontaneous hallucinations days, months, or even years after the drug has worn off. Some people may suffer from flashbacks and relive the hallucinations of a previous hallucinogenic experience where their perception of time and reality is altered.

Dissociative drugs such as PCP may become addictive. Dissociative drugs also present some long-term effects such as speech difficulties, memory loss, or suicidal thoughts. Other risks include disorganized thinking, mood changes, and paranoia. Those who mix dissociative drugs with alcohol may suffer from fatal respiratory problems.