A psychedelic drug is a substance that induces hallucinations, altered perception, and other significant subjective changes in thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and consciousness.
Hallucinogens aren’t often considered physically addictive, and some have even been studied as potential treatments for addiction. Direct modification of brain chemistry is typically required to produce dependence, and psychedelics tend to have mild or indirect influences on the brain.
However, hallucinogens do come with some risk of abuse or emotional and psychological dependence, and some can result in persisting psychiatric problems, including psychosis.
Serotonergic Hallucinogens and Dissociatives
The primary difference between serotonergic hallucinogens and dissociative psychedelics is that dissociatives produce more intense depersonalization and derealization. Ketamine, for example, is a common dissociative that generates sensations that make the external environment seem unreal and feelings of being disconnected from one’s own body, and the perceptual alterations experienced with other psychedelics.
Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD, acid) is possibly the most well-known psychedelic drug. Popularized by the 1960s counterculture, the compound was also the subject of much scientific research in the 20th century.
LSD alters perceptions and awareness and can also induce hallucinations. It is not considered physically addictive but can cause some adverse side effects, such as anxiety, fear, and paranoia. Some studies have also revealed an increased likelihood of developing psychological conditions, such as schizophrenia, among adults with other significant risk factors.
Psilocybin (magic mushrooms) is a class of fungi believed to have been ingested since prehistoric times as an entheogen (psychoactive substances that induce spiritual or religious experience) and hallucinogenic drug. Psilocybin can produce feelings of empathy, euphoria, and altered thinking. In some fungal species, it can cause both open and closed eye visualizations.
Psilocybin isn’t physically addictive and doesn’t usually present a significant health threat. Still, it may be challenging to distinguish it from toxic mushrooms, such as death caps, which can appear identical to some psilocybin species and grow in the same regions.
N, N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) was popularized by two researchers in the late 20th century and was given the nickname “the Spirit Molecule.” DMT has been used for what is believed to be thousands of years by Amazonian tribes who found out how to activate DMT from plants by brewing it, also known as ayahuasca.
DMT is among the most potent psychedelic drugs known to humans and has the potential for powerful hallucinations. Although there is little evidence that suggests its use could lead to physical dependence or significant medical complications, there is the possibility that psychological problems could develop following bad experiences or “trips.”
Mescaline is a psychedelic drug that can be found in several southwestern cacti, such as peyote. Native American shamans commonly use peyote in religious ceremonies. Technically, the substance is illegal in the U.S., but notable exceptions are often made for groups that use it for spiritual or religious purposes.
Mescaline can cause color intensifications, euphoria, and increased introspection. Users often report having personal epiphanies while under its influence. When consumed, the peyote cactus tastes bitter and can induce nausea and vomiting. Like other psychedelic drugs, mescaline does have some potential for psychological addiction but, like most hallucinogens, is not thought to be physically addictive.
3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, ecstasy, molly) is an entactogen that is a class of drugs that induces feelings of communion or oneness with others. Unlike the psychedelic substances mentioned above, MDMA is most often used socially as a “party” or “club” drug. In addition to elevating mood and inducing euphoria, MDMA’s effects include feelings of increased empathy and intense emotional connection.
In some users, MDMA can induce mild hallucinations such as color changes or heightened auditory effects. In addition, adverse effects of MDMA can include dangerous dehydration and a spike in body temperature that requires users to drink water consistently while intoxicated to counteract these problems. There have been reports that MDMA has resulted in lethal medical complications due to hyperthermia and dehydration, especially when combined with alcohol.
Salvia (salvinorin A) is a psychedelic drug derived from the Salvia divinorum plant native to Mexico and Central and South America. Salvia is dissociative, sometimes classified as an atypical psychedelic that belongs to a class of psychoactive substances with effects such as distorted sight and sound. Users frequently report feeling detached from reality and the external world or themselves.
Salvia’s hallucinogenic effects can cause trance-like states, anxiety, and dysphoria. Salvinorin A is legal in the U.S., but some states, such as Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, and others, classify it as a controlled substance.
Phencyclidine (PCP) is a synthetic drug that also causes dissociative hallucinations. PCP was initially synthesized as an anesthetic for medical purposes, but due to side effects that may include delirium, mania, and disorientation, use in humans was terminated in the 1950s.
Unlike other psychedelic drugs, PCP is considered moderately addictive, and there is some risk of developing psychological issues. PCP can be found in several forms, including capsules, tablets, liquid, and a white crystalline powder.
Ketamine (Special K) was a precursor to PCP and was synthesized for the same purpose as an anesthetic for surgeries. It can cause heavy sedation and memory loss as a side effect. Its recreational use induces effects similar to PCP, and it, too, has low-moderate addiction potential.
Ketamine is commonly used as a surgical anesthetic for both humans and animals. As a result, much of the ketamine sold on the streets is diverted from veterinary clinics. While ketamine is also available as an injectable liquid, manufacturers primarily sell it in powder or pill form.
Dextromethorphan (DXM) is the one drug on this list that can be legally obtained over-the-counter and, for this reason, has the most incidental use. DXM is a relatively common active ingredient in cough-suppressing cold medications such as NyQuil, Robitussin, Vicks, and many others.
In excessive doses, it can produce dissociative hallucinogenic effects, not unlike ketamine or PCP. Some who misuse products such as NyQuil may encounter these effects, unaware that DXM is present in the formula or that excessive DXM consumption can lead to such results.
More commonly, however, DXM is abused by teenagers looking to get high (a practice called “robotripping”) because it is available over-the-counter at most pharmacies. Fortunately, abuse is very unlikely to lead to dependence or addiction.
Treatment for Hallucinogen Abuse
Although hallucinogens are not considered to be physically addictive, they certainly can be abused, and some frequent users may develop a psychological dependence on them if used for a prolonged period.
People abusing hallucinogens and trying to quit without success are urged to undergo an addiction rehab program at a qualified treatment center. Studies have shown that people who are given care through a comprehensive, research-based approach experience the best outcomes and are more likely to sustain long-lasting abstinence and wellness.
Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery employ compassionate addiction professionals who deliver therapeutic services, such as psychotherapy, counseling, and mindfulness therapy, with care and expertise. We offer partial hospitalization and residential programs that provide clients with the resources, education, and support they need to recover, prevent relapse, and reclaim the fulfilling lives they deserve.