Although the most popular hallucinogens are considered far less addictive than many other substances of abuse, these drugs can have serious and dangerous consequences and do have a potential for abuse. Many of the most commonly abused hallucinogens were once used as medicines or in spiritual practices, but today many people abuse these drugs due to their dissociative and psychedelic effects. These drugs alter people’s perceptions, experiences, and emotions. 

All psychoactive drugs act differently on the body, but these specific chemical compounds directly alter chemical systems in the spinal cord and the brain. As a result, excess serotonin is released and people experience euphoria, increased sex drive, sensitivity to touch, and a feeling of connectedness to one’s surroundings. While these effects may seem pleasant, hallucinogenic trips can turn poor very quickly. After all, many people report bad trips where they are crippled with anxiety and fear. In some cases, trips can get so bad that people harm themselves or others. That’s why it’s so important to know the effects of the most popular hallucinogens.

LSD (d-lysergic acid diethylamide) or Acid

LSD, which is commonly known as acid, was first synthesized in 1938 and is now considered a Schedule I controlled substance, indicating a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical treatments. The drug is made from lysergic acid, a component found in a particular fungus, that produces strong effects in even the lowest of doses. Although the drug is manufactured in the form of crystals, it is then mixed with liquids to create a colorless and odorless substance. Some people may find the drug in pure liquid form, however, it is most common to find the drug absorbed into thin squares of blotter paper or sugar cubes.[1] 

When taken by mouth, people typically begin experiencing the effects of LSD within one hour but trips can last for 12 hours or longer. The effects of LSD include:

  • Auditory and visual hallucinations
  • Distorted sense of time and space
  • Distorted perception of colors and shapes
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Flashbacks
  • Increased body temperature and heart rate
  • Dilated pupils

Since LSD can lead to extreme changes in mood and even delusion or severe psychosis, abusing this drug is never safe. The drug itself isn’t known to be lethal, but death by injury is possible while under the influence of LSD. 

Psilocybin Mushrooms or Magic Mushrooms

Magic mushrooms are a naturally-occurring mushroom that contains psilocybin – a psychoactive compound. Psilocybin mushrooms are considered one of the most popular hallucinogens of abuse in the United States. Like LSD, this drug was is a Schedule I controlled substance and was actually discovered by the same man who discovered LSD, Dr. Albert Hofmann.[2] 

People will either eat the mushrooms by themselves, prepare them with a dish, or brew them into a tea. Either way, the effects of psilocybin mushrooms begin after 30-45 minutes of taking them. Common side effects that people experience while under the influence include:

  • Euphoria
  • Feeling as though you’re having a spiritual experience
  • Nervousness or paranoia
  • Distorted sense of time, place, and reality
  • Visual and auditory hallucinations
  • Lack of coordination
  • Muscle weakness
  • Dilated pupils

One risk of taking magic mushrooms is that they look similar to some seriously poisonous mushrooms, so if you take the wrong thing, you’re at risk of severe illness, organ damage, and potential death. Furthermore, high doses of psilocybin can lead to flashbacks, paranoia, or “bad trips,” where accidents and injury can occur.

DMT (Dimethyltryptamine)

DMT, sometimes called the “spirit molecule,” is one of the most powerful and popular hallucinogens. It’s been used for thousands of years in shaman rituals to help provide people with spiritual insight. Due to the intense psychedelic experiences the drug produces, it is a Schedule I controlled substance but is sometimes used in religious ceremonies or shamanic rituals.[3] DMT is formed from plants found in Asia, South America, and Mexico that are synthesized into a white powder. However, some evidence shows that DMT is naturally occurring in the bodies of many species – including humans. While some people smoke or vaporize DMT, others brew it into a tea commonly known as Ayahausca.

When people smoke the drug, the effects begin in just seconds and fade fairly quickly. High doses can last up to 45 minutes, but most trips are shorter. When people take Ayahausca, the tea, the effects may not begin for up to an hour, but last significantly longer. DMT trips are associated with the following effects:

  • Intense auditory and visual hallucinations
  • Strong sense of euphoria
  • Altered sense of mind, body, space, and time
  • Complete shifts in perception or reality
  • Out-of-body experiences
  • Many users describe miraculous and meaningful experiences 

If someone has a substance use disorder, he or she might be attracted to the above effects. However, DMT abuse leads to less desirable side effects, as well. These include:

  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate
  • Chest pain
  • Dilated pupils
  • Agitation or irritability
  • Rapid eye movements
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Frightening trips or negative flashbacks
  • Respiratory arrest, seizures, and coma are possible in high doses

Lastly, although this is one of the most popular hallucinogens, DMT abuse often exacerbates existing mental health conditions, therefore, worsening the already devastating psychological challenges of these individuals.

DXM (Dextromethorphan)

DXM is found in many over-the-counter cough and cold medications. When abused, people refer to it as “robotripping.” Although the drug is sold legally, taking DXM in high doses is harmful because it leads people to experience an array of physical and psychological side effects In addition, people who abuse cough and cold medications are also ingesting other compounds that pose harm to the body. 

Robotripping or DXM abuse produces a variety of effects depending on how much a person takes.[4] For example, low doses mimic the high produced by Ecstasy or Molly, making people talkative and energetic. In moderate doses, people are likely to feel like they are drunk and experience mild hallucinations. As the dose increases, people might experience any or all of the following effects:

  • Dissociation
  • Intense hallucinations
  • Poor coordination
  • Out-of-body experiences
  • Delirium or psychosis, leading to violent behaviors
  • Reduced perception of pain
  • Involuntary eye movements 
  • Unconsciousness
  • Seizures

If you’re abusing any of these psychedelic drugs, it’s important that you’re aware of the risks and dangers associated. Moreover, if you want to stop but find it unable to, you need help from a comprehensive drug rehab program.

Treatment for Hallucinogen Abuse

The vast majority of people use these hallucinogens recreationally, but abuse and addiction are possible. In some cases, long-term hallucinogen abuse leads to mood disturbances and mental health conditions, so antidepressants and antipsychotics are sometimes used during treatment.[5] However, the most important part of substance abuse treatment is psychotherapy so patients can learn how to cope with the issues they are dealing with and stay sober in the future.