The most well-known hallucinogenic drug is LSD, also known as acid, but there are many others that will be mentioned below.
LSD (d-lysergic acid diethylamide) is a synthetic drug, a water-soluble white or transparent acid that is spread onto blotter paper, which is then divided into small squares that are sold and swallowed. LSD is absorbed into the blood through the digestive tract and begins to take effect about 15 to 60 minutes after intake. The effect lasts for about two to four hours, but the drug remains in the body for another 12 hours.
Hallucinogenic drugs, which are also referred to as psychedelic drugs, distort how reality is perceived. This sometimes manifests as inanimate objects that “come alive,” or the appearance of geometric patterns, sometimes to the point of hallucinations – that is, hearing voices and seeing visions that appear to be there but are not. They also affect mood, sleep and alertness, feelings of hunger and satiety, body temperature, sexual behavior and muscle control. Dissociative drugs, such as ketamine, also belong to this family of drugs because they, too, engender a sense of detachment from reality.
Although the mechanism is not entirely clear, various studies and the conventional wisdom today seem to indicate that the activity of these substances is mediated through receptors of the neurotransmitter serotonin.
There are many other hallucinogens, some of which are even found in nature. For example:
- Psilocybin – A hallucinogenic mushroom that can be eaten as is, or brewed in hot beverages, such as tea.
- Peyote (a mescaline) – A cactus plant whose disc-shaped tops (called buttons) can be dried and eaten, or boiled in hot water to produce a tea.
- DMT – A white crystalline powder, extracted from hallucinogenic plants, that is vaporized and inhaled.
- Salvia – A type of sage plant, whose fresh leaves are chewed, or dried and smoked.
A bit of history
LSD was first synthesized in 1938 by Dr. Albert Hofmann, a Swiss chemist who was researching drugs to stimulate the circulatory and respiratory systems. Dr. Hofmann synthesized and isolated a molecule of lysergic acid diethylamide from alkaloids derived from the fungus ergot. Dr. Hoffman described his own experience on LSD as “an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors.” In the early 1950s, many studies about LSD were conducted, in an attempt to characterize its activity and possible benefits, such as in treating depression and alcoholism. In 1953, the first psychiatric clinic to use LSD opened in the United Kingdom, while in the United States LSD aroused the imagination of cultural figures such as Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg and others, who experimented with the substance and praised it. These figures inspired other LSD adherents in the culture, especially in the rock music world – for example, musicians such as Jimmy Hendrix, and members of the bands Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead. In 1966 LSD was made illegal in California, and two years later it was banned federally across the United States. The use of acid, however, only increased, and by 1970 it was estimated that millions of Americans had tried it. In 2000 an LSD laboratory was discovered in Kansas. The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) declared that this was the largest ever seizure of the drug. Some claim that this capture led to a 95% decrease in LSD consumption.
Why do people use hallucinogens?
Plants with hallucinogenic and dissociative effects have been used in the context of religious and mystical rituals throughout history. According to recent surveys, today tens of millions of Americans have admitted to trying some kind of hallucinogenic drug during their lifetime (usually LSD), either out of curiosity or the desire for a mystical or contemplative experience. This is done in the context of certain trends and a recreational culture that incorporates drug use as a socially accepted means of reducing stress and experiencing something new. In recent years, studies have been published on the therapeutic potential of hallucinogenic substances for a number of psychiatric disorders, such as the use of ketamine (an anesthetic with dissociative properties) to treat acute depression, and the use of ayahuasca (a plant from the Amazon region) to treat addiction. However, it is important to emphasize that many more studies are needed in order to understand the therapeutic potential and safety of these substances, especially in the case of plant substances where it difficult to measure a standard dose, as is customary in medical treatment protocols.
What are the adverse health effects of hallucinogens?
Hallucinogens cause changes in the perception and experience of reality because they disrupt the serotonergic mechanism (i.e., related to the neurotransmitter serotonin), which, among other things, affects mood, cognition, perception, and the regulation of certain reactions, such as stress and panic. Specifically, the LSD response, which is referred to in street slang as a “trip,” can include psychedelic, mystical and stimulating experiences, but also severe feelings of anxiety, despair, psychosis, extreme and rapid emotional swings, loss of control and a sense of impending death. Other reactions to the drug include increased blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature, as well as dizziness, inability to fall sleep, loss of appetite, dry mouth, sweating, and tremors.
Are hallucinogenic drugs addictive?
Long-term LSD users can develop a high tolerance to its effects, so that recurrent use requires larger doses in order to achieve similar effects. Another phenomenon associated with LSD use is the “flashback,” which are hallucinations that occur spontaneously when not under the influence of the drug. A flashback can include hallucinogenic visions, but can also trigger psychosis, panic attacks and paranoia.