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What are Hallucinogens?

Hallucinogens Abuse Treatment

Hallucinogens are a group of drugs that can alter perception, thoughts, and feelings. Hallucinogens can be taken in a variety of ways: ingested, smoked and inhaled.

Although use is not as prevalent in the United States compared to alcohol or opioids, hallucinogens are often paired with other substances and can contribute to drug addiction. Evidence shows that people can become addicted to them.

What are Hallucinogens?

Common hallucinogens include ayahuasca, DMT, LSD, Peyote, and psilocybin. These tend to cause auditory or visual hallucinations.

Some hallucinogens also cause users to feel out of control or disconnected from their body and environment. These are often referred to as “disassociates”. Common examples include dextromethorphan (DXM), Ketamine (K, Special K), Phencyclidine (PCP), and Salvia.

Hallucinogens and the Brain

Hallucinogens are thought to temporarily disrupt communication between chemical systems throughout the brain and spinal cord. Some hallucinogens interfere with the action of the brain chemical serotonin and some hallucinogens interfere with the action of the brain chemical glutamate.


Hallucinogens and Serotonin

The brain chemical serotonin, regulates:

  • Mood
  • Sensory perception
  • Sleep
  • Hunger
  • Body temperature
  • Sexual behavior
  • Muscle control


Hallucinogens and Glutamate

The brain chemical glutamate regulates:

  • Pain perception
  • Responses to the environment
  • Emotion
  • Learning and memory

General Short-term Effects of Hallucinogens

The effects of hallucinogens can begin within 20 to 90 minutes and can last as long as 6 to 12 hours. Salvia’s effects are more short-lived, appearing in less than 1 minute and lasting less than 30 minutes. Hallucinogen users refer to the experiences brought on by these drugs as “trips,” calling the unpleasant experiences “bad trips.”

  • Panic
  • Nausea
  • Dry mouth
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sleep problems
  • Excessive sweating
  • Spiritual experiences
  • Increased heart rate
  • Uncoordinated movements
  • Intensified feelings and sensory experiences
  • Changes in sense of time (for example, time is perceived as passing slowly)
  • Increased blood pressure, breathing rate, or body temperature
  • Mixed senses (such as “seeing” sounds or “hearing” colors)
  • Feelings of relaxation or detachment from self/environment
  • Paranoia – Extreme and unreasonable distrust of others
  • Psychosis – Disordered thinking detached from reality

Long-term Effects of Hallucinogens

We know little about the long-term effects of hallucinogens. Though uncommon, long-term effects of some hallucinogens include persistent psychosis and flashbacks. Repeated use of PCP can result in long-term effects that may continue for a year or more after use stops and include speech problems, memory and weight loss, anxiety, and depression. Researchers also know that ketamine users may develop symptoms that include ulcers in the bladder, kidney problems, and poor memory.

Evidence indicates that certain hallucinogens can be addictive or that people can develop a tolerance to them. Use of some hallucinogens also produces tolerance to other similar drugs.

Why do Young People use Hallucinogens?

One of the wonderful things about adolescents and young adults is their innate desire to seek novelty and pleasure. This same drive can also expose them to great risks; something that we know about the way teen brains work is that it causes teens to underestimate the likeliness that they will experience negative consequences.

While it makes sense that young people would be interested in mind-altering experiences and the existential exploration that is so often associated with hallucinogens, it also can expose them to risks and experiences beyond their ability to cope. Young people may also use hallucinogens and other substances as a way of simply escaping their everyday reality.

Risks of Hallucinogens

As with all substances, hallucinogens are particularly risky for adolescents and young adults whose brains are still developing. While it is true that these powerful substances have been used as a rite of passage for many generations and across many cultures, in today’s culture youth are generally using these substances without supervision, guidance, or moderation.

The effects of hallucinogens on the developing brain are not fully understood, but they may increase the risk of triggering latent mental health concerns. Teens who use these substances can also experience a sense of boredom with their experiences while not using hallucinogens, and a sense of isolation from peers who have not experimented with these substances. When using as a way to escape an unpleasant reality, they miss opportunities to develop coping skills and genuine connection not induced by chemicals.

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Online Treatment Programs

Our virtual IOP program offers the same programming that we offer in person, all online – this is ideal for those who live too far to drive to an addiction center, have transportation issues, or have health concerns that make in-person treatment challenging.

Finding Treatment

There are no government-approved medications to treat addiction to hallucinogens.

However, when we understand the reasons that adolescents and young adults use these substances, such as existential curiosity, self-medication, difficulty relating to others and the world, a lack of impulse control or a desire to fit in, we can address these root causes as well as help teens to recognize the pros and cons of taking these powerful substances.

Sandstone Care specializes as an adolescent drug treatment center in Denver CO, and as a drug rehab for young adults Denver CO.

If hallucinogens are affecting you or your loved one, seek support. Informed, intelligent, care is the best way to show someone you love who may be struggling with a substance abuse issue.


The content for this page was taken from: National Institute on Drug Abuse

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