What are Hallucinogens_ Addiction, Risks & Treatment

Clinically Reviewed by Linda Whiteside, LPCC

Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson, MD

What are Hallucinogens? Addiction, Risks & Treatment

Table of Contents

Hallucinogens have been used for centuries by different cultures and religions for spiritual and healing purposes. However, they can also have negative consequences like addiction, psychological distress, and physical harm.

What are Hallucinogens?

Hallucinogens are a group of drugs that alter perception, mood, and cognition. They are also known as psychedelic drugs or mind-altering drugs.

These drugs can cause people to see, hear, feel, or smell things that are not there or experience distorted or enhanced sensory input.

Hallucinogens like psilocybin-containing mushrooms and peyote have been used for centuries by different cultures and religious rituals for spiritual and healing purposes.

However, they can also have negative consequences, such as addiction, psychological distress, and dangerous behavior.

Types of Hallucinogens

There are two main types of hallucinogens: classic hallucinogens and dissociative hallucinogens.

Common Classic Hallucinogens

Classic hallucinogens affect the brain’s chemical systems involving serotonin, which is involved in mood, sensory perception, sleep, and other functions.

Hallucinogens can temporarily disrupt communication between different parts of the brain and spinal cord, causing sensory distortions and hallucinations.

Some of the most common classic hallucinogens are:

  • LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide) is a synthetic drug that produces vivid visual and auditory hallucinations, an altered perception of time and reality, and emotional changes. LSD is usually taken orally as a tablet, capsule, or liquid.
  • Psilocybin (Magic Mushrooms) are natural substances found in certain mushrooms that cause similar effects to lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), but usually less intense and shorter lasting. Psilocybin is typically eaten or brewed as a tea.
  • Ecstasy (MDMA/Molly) refers to synthetic mind-altering drugs acting as both stimulants and hallucinogens. Ecstasy produces feelings of euphoria, empathy, increased energy, and distortions in sensory perception and time. Ecstasy is usually taken orally as a pill or capsule.
  • Peyote/Mescaline is a natural substance derived from a cactus plant that causes visual and auditory hallucinations, altered perceptions of space and body image, and spiritual experiences. Peyote is usually eaten or smoked.
  • DMT (Dimethyltryptamine) is a natural substance in some plants and animals that causes intense and brief psychedelic effects, such as geometric patterns, bright colors, and out-of-body experiences. DMT is usually smoked or injected.
  • Marijuana (Cannabis) is a natural substance derived from the cannabis plant that causes mild to moderate altered perception, mood, memory, and cognition. Marijuana is usually smoked or eaten.

Common Dissociative Hallucinogens

Dissociative drugs affect the brain’s chemical glutamate, which is involved in memory, learning, emotion, and pain perception.

Some of the most common dissociative drugs are:

  • Phencyclidine (PCP) is a synthetic drug that produces feelings of detachment from reality and oneself, numbness, and loss of coordination. PCP can also cause paranoia, aggression, and violent behavior. PCP is usually smoked, snorted, or injected.
  • Ketamine is a synthetic drug used as an anesthetic in medical settings. Ketamine can cause dissociation, hallucinations, and near-death experiences. Ketamine is usually snorted or injected.
  • Dextromethorphan (DXM) is a synthetic drug usually found in some cough and cold medicines. DXM can cause dissociation, distorted sensory perception, and euphoria. DXM is generally taken orally as a syrup or tablet.
  • Salvia is a natural substance derived from a plant that causes short-lived but intense hallucinations, such as feeling like being in another place or time or merging with objects or people. Salvia is usually smoked or chewed.

Common Dissociative Hallucinogens

What are the Effects of Hallucinogens?

Hallucinogenic substances can affect aspects of a person’s physical and mental health, sometimes with lasting consequences.

Short-Term Effects of Hallucinogens

The effects of hallucinogenic drugs depend on the user’s type, dose, and individual factors. However, some common short-term effects include:

Physical Effects

Hallucinogens can cause changes in heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, muscle control, appetite, and sleep. Some hallucinogens can also cause nausea, vomiting, tremors, and seizures.

These effects can vary depending on the type and dose of the drug, as well as the individual’s physical and mental state.

Psychological Effects

Hallucinogens can affect a person’s mood, emotions, thoughts, and sense of self. They can induce euphoria, relaxation, anxiety, paranoia, panic, confusion, and psychosis.

Some hallucinogens can also cause flashbacks or the re-experiencing of a hallucination after the drug has worn off.

Sensory Effects

Hallucinogens can alter a person’s perception of time, space, reality, and identity. They can cause visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, and gustatory hallucinations.

These psychoactive drugs can also distort or enhance sensory input, such as colors, sounds, shapes, textures, smells, and tastes.

Long-Term Effects of Hallucinogens

The long-term effects of hallucinogens are not fully understood, but some research suggests that they may adversely affect the user’s physical and mental health.

Some possible long-term effects include:

Physical Health Risks

Hallucinogens may damage the brain and other organs over time. For example, PCP and ketamine can cause brain lesions or atrophy, impairing cognitive functions such as memory, learning, and attention. These changes may be irreversible and worsen over time.

Meanwhile, LSD and psilocybin can cause inflammation or damage to the liver, kidneys, heart, or lungs. These adverse effects can increase the risk of developing chronic diseases or organ failure.

Some hallucinogens, such as DMT and peyote, can expose users to harmful bacteria, fungi, or viruses that can cause infections or diseases. These risks are higher if the drugs are injected or consumed in unsanitary conditions.

They may also interact with other substances or medications a person takes, causing adverse reactions or complications.

Mental Health Risks

Hallucinogens may trigger or worsen mental disorders like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

They may also cause new mental disorders, such as persistent psychosis or persisting perception disorder (PPD). Persistent psychosis is when a person experiences psychotic symptoms after stopping hallucinogen use.

PPD is when a person experiences recurring flashbacks or perceptual disturbances after stopping hallucinogen use.

Mental Health Risks

Are Hallucinogens Addictive?

Hallucinogens are not considered physically addictive, meaning you may not experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop using them.

However, some people may develop a psychological dependence on hallucinogens, meaning they crave and use the drug despite adverse consequences.

Some people may also develop a tolerance to hallucinogens, meaning they need higher doses to achieve the same effects. This can increase the risk of overdose, poisoning, or dangerous behavior.

Hallucinogen use disorder is a substance use disorder where a person has a problematic pattern of hallucinogen use that causes significant impairment or distress.

Hallucinogen addiction can be treated with behavioral therapy, which helps people change their thoughts and behaviors related to drug use. There are no medications approved for hallucinogen abuse/addiction treatment programs.

Signs of Hallucinogen Addiction

Hallucinogen-related substance use disorder isn’t defined by physical dependence or withdrawal symptoms, as with other substances.

However, some users may develop a psychological dependence on hallucinogenic drugs and may use them compulsively or in very high doses.

Behavioral Indicators

Some of the behavioral indicators of hallucinogenic addiction are:

  • Using hallucinogens more frequently or in larger amounts than intended
  • Spending a lot of time and money to obtain, use, or recover from hallucinogens
  • Neglecting personal, social, or professional responsibilities due to hallucinogen use
  • Continuing to use psychedelic drugs despite adverse effects, such as legal problems, health issues, or interpersonal conflicts
  • Experiencing cravings or urges to use psychedelic drugs
  • Having difficulty stopping or reducing hallucinogen use
  • Engaging in risky behavior while under the influence of hallucinogens, such as driving, having unprotected sex, or mixing with other drugs

Physical Symptoms

Some of the physical symptoms of hallucinogen abuse are:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Increased heart rate and high blood pressure
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness and loss of coordination
  • Tremors and muscle spasms
  • Sweating and chills
  • Blurred vision and distorted senses
  • Weight loss and poor appetite

Psychological Signs

Some of the psychological signs of hallucinogen abuse and addiction are:

  • Anxiety and paranoia
  • Depression and mood swings
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Impaired memory and concentration
  • Difficulty sleeping and nightmares
  • Flashbacks or re-experiencing hallucinations after the effects wear off
  • Psychosis or losing touch with reality

Psychological Signs

Treatment for Hallucinogen Use Disorder

People with a problematic pattern of hallucinogen use that causes significant impairment or distress require professional treatment.

The treatment for hallucinogen-related substance use disorder depends on the specific substance, the severity of the problem, and the individual’s needs and preferences.

Some of the standard components of addiction treatment are:


Detox is the process of eliminating the drug from the body.

Detoxification from hallucinogens is usually not medically dangerous, but it can be psychologically distressing. Therefore, it’s recommended that hallucinogen users undergo detoxification in a supervised medical setting to receive emotional support and medication if needed.

Behavioral Therapies

These interventions aim to change the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors contributing to hallucinogen abuse.

Some examples of behavioral therapies are cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational interviewing (MI), contingency management (CM), and family therapy.

These therapies can help hallucinogen users identify and cope with triggers, develop alternative coping skills, enhance motivation to change and improve interpersonal relationships.

Support Groups and Counseling

Support groups and counseling provide peer support and professional guidance for people recovering from hallucinogen abuse.

These services can help users maintain sobriety, prevent relapse, and address underlying mental health issues.


No specific medications are approved for treating hallucinogen use disorder. However, some medications may be prescribed to treat co-occurring conditions, such as depression, anxiety, or psychosis.

Some medications may also be used to manage acute symptoms during detoxification or withdrawal, such as anti-nausea drugs, anticonvulsants, or antipsychotics.

Get Help for Hallucinogen Addiction at NuView Treatment Center

If you or someone you love is struggling with hallucinogen addiction, you may feel hopeless, scared, or alone. But you don’t have to suffer in silence.

There is a way out of the cycle of drug abuse and its devastating consequences.

At NuView Treatment Center, we understand the challenges and complexities of addiction.

We offer a range of evidence-based and holistic treatment programs and services to help you or your loved one overcome your dependence on psychedelic drugs and restore your physical, mental, and emotional health.

  • Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP): We offer a flexible and affordable level of care for people who can live at home or in a sober living facility while receiving treatment. Our IOP program includes therapy sessions, educational workshops, and aftercare planning.
  • Outpatient Program (OP): We offer a low-intensity level of care for people who need ongoing support and accountability after completing higher levels of treatment. Our OP program includes weekly therapy sessions and drug testing.
  • Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP): This step-down level of care allows you to transition from residential treatment to a less intensive program. You will attend daily therapy sessions, medication management, and case management.

Get the help you need immediately.

Contact us today to speak with one of our compassionate and knowledgeable admissions counselors.

We will answer all your questions, verify your insurance benefits, and guide you through the admissions process.

Frequently Asked Questions

Hallucinogens differ from other drugs in that they produce neither a high nor a low but rather a reality distortion.

They can temporarily disrupt the communication between the brain and the spinal cord, leading to altered sensory experiences, such as seeing colors or hearing sounds that are not there.

Hallucinogens can also affect one's sense of time, space, and self.

Some hallucinogens, such as ketamine and psilocybin, have been studied for their potential to treat mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

However, these drugs are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for medical use and are considered controlled substances. More research is needed to determine the safety and effectiveness of these drugs for therapeutic purposes.

Hallucinogens can interact with other medications or substances in unpredictable and potentially dangerous ways.

For example, taking hallucinogens with antidepressants can increase the risk of serotonin syndrome. This condition causes high fever, agitation, confusion, and muscle spasms.

Taking hallucinogens with stimulants, such as cocaine or methamphetamine, can increase the risk of elevated blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature. Taking hallucinogens with alcohol or other depressants can increase the risk of respiratory depression, coma, and death.

In some cases, hallucinogens can lead to overdose, especially when taken in very high doses or mixed with other drugs. Overdose symptoms vary depending on the type of hallucinogen but may include nausea, vomiting, seizures, paranoia, psychosis, and cardiac arrest.

Some hallucinogens, such as PCP and LSD, can cause long-term psychological effects, such as flashbacks, memory loss, mood swings, and schizophrenia-like symptoms.

There are no legal hallucinogens in the United States. All hallucinogens are classified as Schedule I drugs under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), meaning they have no accepted medical use and have a high potential for abuse.

Possession, distribution, or manufacture of these drugs is illegal and legally punishable.

The duration of hallucinogens in the system depends on several factors, such as the type and amount of drug taken, the method of administration, the user's metabolism, and the presence of other substances in the body.

Generally speaking, most hallucinogens can be detected in urine for up to 3 days after use. Some hallucinogens, such as PCP and LSD, can be detected in the hair for up to 90 days after use.

Some hallucinogens are derived from natural sources, such as plants or fungi. For example, psilocybin is found in certain mushrooms; mescaline in peyote cactus; DMT in ayahuasca vine; and salvinorin A in the salvia divinorum plant.

However, these natural sources are not safer than synthetic ones. They can still cause harmful effects on the body and mind.

According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an estimated 5.6 million people aged 12 or older reported using hallucinogens in 2019. The highest rate of hallucinogen use was among young adults aged 18 to 25 (6.6%), followed by adolescents aged 12 to 17 (1%).

“2019 National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) Releases.” 2019 National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) Releases, www.samhsa.gov/data/release/2019-national-survey-drug-use-and-health-nsduh-releases.

Doblin, Richard E., et al. “The Past and Future of Psychedelic Science: An Introduction to This Issue.” Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, vol. 51, no. 2, Informa UK Limited, Mar. 2019, pp. 93–97. Crossref, https://doi.org/10.1080/02791072.2019.1606472.

López-Giménez, Juan F., and Javier González-Maeso. “Hallucinogens and Serotonin 5-HT2A Receptor-Mediated Signaling Pathways.” Behavioral Neurobiology of Psychedelic Drugs, Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2017, pp. 45–73. Crossref, https://doi.org/10.1007/7854_2017_478.

“MDMA (Ecstasy/Molly) | National Institute on Drug Abuse.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, nida.nih.gov/research-topics/mdma-ecstasy molly.

Nichols, David E. “Psychedelics.” Pharmacological Reviews, edited by Eric L. Barker, vol. 68, no. 2, American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET), Feb. 2016, pp. 264–355. Crossref, https://doi.org/10.1124/pr.115.011478.

Rosenbaum, Steven B., et al. “Ketamine – StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf.” Ketamine – StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf, 26 May 2023, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470357.

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Written By: Linda Whiteside

Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who has been providing mental health services for over 10 years.

Medically reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson

Went to medical school at The George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

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