Last updated: November 28, 2022
Should a co-worker ever come tearing down the hallway screaming that a giant hand has grabbed his coat tail and won’t let go, they may not have gone stark raving mad. It could be an indicator that they’ve taken hallucinogens of one type or another. As a rule, employees don’t use this type of drug while on the clock, though, because of its wide range of effects. In fact, the user may never have the same reaction to hallucinogens twice no matter how often they take them.
That’s because hallucinogens alter the awareness of the user’s surroundings. Moreover, they alter a person’s thoughts and feelings as well. According to gathered data, a few hallucinogens can be addictive; others produce tolerance which is a danger in its own right. Continually increasing the dosage of these drugs is a very dangerous practice. That’s because taking larger doses raises the risk of having a very unpleasant experience while under the influence of these drugs.
Signs of hallucinogens use
Hallucinogens are commonly split into two categories. Drugs such as LSD are categorized as classic hallucinogens. Dissociative drugs—think PCP—are in the other category. Both types of these drugs cause hallucinations which are sensations and images that seem real even though they aren’t. In addition, dissociative drugs can cause the user to feel disconnected from or out of control of their body and environment.
Let’s take a closer look at the short and long-term side effects of each.
Hallucinations can cause users to see images, hear sounds, and feel sensations that seem very real but aren’t. It takes between 20 to 90 minutes after ingesting these types of drugs to begin to feel the effects. They can last up to 12 hours or only as long as 15 minutes. Users call the experience a “trip” and hope for a good time. Some find themselves overwhelmed by unpleasant, even terrifying, hallucinations that are anything but fun.
Other short-term side effects include:
- Increased heart rate
- Intensified feelings
- Intensified sensory experiences, such as seeing brighter colors
- Changes in the sense of time
- Increased blood pressure, breathing rate, and body temperature
- Loss of appetite
- Dry mouth
- Sleep problems
- Spiritual experiences
- Feelings of relaxation
- Uncoordinated movements
- Excessive sweating
- Bizarre behaviors
Long-term effects are rare, but there are two of them.
Persistent psychosis is a series of continuing mental problems that include:
- Visual disturbances
- Disorganized thinking
- Mood changes
Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD), commonly known as flashbacks, causes recurrences of certain drug experiences. Hallucinations or other visual disturbances can reoccur without warning within a few days or even more than a year after drug use.
It doesn’t take heavy use for these long-term effects to occur. Some people who have only used LSD one time, for instance, report experiencing these long-term effects. However, they are seen more often in people with a history of mental illness. Antidepressant and antipsychotic medications can help improve mood and treat psychosis. Behavioral therapies are also used to help people cope with fear or confusion associated with these visual disturbances.
Common classic hallucinogens include:
- Psilocybin mushrooms
- DMT (N, N-dimethyltryptamine)
- 21-NBOMe, a potent synthetic hallucinogen
The effects caused by dissociative drugs can appear within a few minutes and last for several hours. In some cases, users report the effects of the drug lasting for days. The short-term effects users experience depend on the dosage.
Low and moderate dose effects are:
- Loss of coordination
- Increased blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature
High doses of these drugs can cause these effects:
- Memory loss
- Psychotic symptoms
- Inability to move
- Mood swings
- Breathing problems
The known long-term effects of dissociative drugs are:
- Speech problems
- Memory loss
- Weight loss
- Suicidal thoughts
Continued research on the long-term effects of dissociative drugs is needed. Data does prove that the long-term side effects may continue up to a year or more after usage stops.
Types of dissociative drugs include the following:
- Phencyclidine (PCP)
- Dextromethorphan (DXM)
Therapeutic uses of hallucinogens
The possibility of using hallucinogens as a form of therapy was explored during the 1950s and 1960s. However, research was halted when these substances were classified as Schedule 1 drugs with the passage of the Controlled Substances Ace in 1970. Schedule 1 drugs have a high potential for misuse.
There has recently been a resurgence of interest in the therapeutic potential of hallucinogens, however. Some think they may be effective in treating a variety of conditions.
- Anxiety disorders—Studies find that these drugs may relieve anxiety symptoms and other mood disorders.
- Depression—Ongoing research is proving that hallucinogen therapy could be beneficial to those suffering from depression.
- Alcohol and substance abuse disorders—This research is beginning to show indications that people recovering from substance use disorders may benefit from this type of therapy.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—Researchers say that MDMA, also known as ecstasy, may be used to treat those who have “treatment-resistant PTSD.” It’s important to note that MDMA isn’t classified as a hallucinogen, however, it does have the same type of effects.
The dangers of tripping
Users don’t risk dying due to overdosing on these drugs, per se. However, when taking a mind-altering substance, there are dangers to be aware of because if someone is out in public while having a hallucination, for instance, they could be injured. What they are “seeing” isn’t reality.
For instance, if someone thinks they are in the midst of a field filled with beautiful flowers, but in reality are walking down a busy city street, there is a grave risk of them being seriously injured by stepping out into traffic. Or there are stories of those under the influence of a hallucinogen impulsively being inspired to fly and suddenly jumping from a window or other high place.
Using these drugs as a therapeutic treatment should be studied extensively before being widely used. The fact that each experience is unique should bring with it a strong sense of reservation within the medical community.