Hallucinogens are a group of drugs that work on the brain to affect the senses and cause hallucinations – seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting or touching things that do not exist. Hallucinogens are sometimes called psychedelic drugs, trips, magic mushrooms, LSD or acid.
Some hallucinogens occur naturally in trees, vines, seeds, fungi (eg psilocybin or magic mushrooms) and leaves. Others are made in laboratories by mixing different chemical substances (trips, LSD, acid). Some drugs, such as cannabis and ecstasy, can cause hallucinogen-like effects when used in high doses or in certain ways. Using hallucinogens is often called tripping.
Lysergic acid diethylamide LSD
LSD (acid, trips) is the most often used form of hallucinogen. In its pure form LSD is a white, odourless powder.
This pure form is very strong, so LSD is usually mixed with other things to make the dose large enough to take. It comes in liquid form, tablets, capsules or squares of gelatine or blotting paper.
Psilocybin (magic mushrooms) is the hallucinogenic chemical that occurs in some mushrooms. In its pure form, psilocybin is also a white powder, but it is usually sold as dried mushrooms or in substances made from mushrooms.
Psilocybin is from the same chemical family as LSD so its effects are similar.
Some people eat poisonous mushrooms thinking they are mushrooms containing psilocybin. This can be very dangerous as some poisonous mushrooms can cause death or permanent liver damage.
What hallucinogens do to you depends on:
The effects of hallucinogens are not easy to predict. The effects are different for different people and at different times.
The main effects of hallucinogens are changes in the way you perceive things with your senses. They can include strange sensations such as floating or your body becoming part of another object. Some people find such unusual sensations interesting and pleasant, while to others these same effects are unpleasant and disturbing.
The effects of hallucinogens begin within half an hour of taking the drug, are strongest in three to five hours, and last for up to 12 hours.
They can include:
Effects on your body may include things like:
Sometimes the effects of hallucinogens are mostly negative. This is called a bad trip and it is common among first time users. Effects of a bad trip can include:
If someone you know is having a bad trip, they need to be reassured and comforted until the effects of the drug wear off. This can take many hours and may not disappear altogether for some days.
Long term effects
There are few known long term effects from hallucinogens. However, flashbacks – times when you feel the effects of the drug again – can happen days, weeks or even years after taking the drug.
Flashbacks can include visual hallucinations and other effects. They can happen without warning, last for a minute or two and can be disturbing.
Flashbacks may be triggered by using other drugs or by stress, tiredness or physical exercise. Regular users are more likely to experience flashbacks than people who only use the drug from time to time.
Some other long term effects of hallucinogens may be damaged memory and concentration. Using hallucinogens may increase the risk of mental problems in some people.
LSD may be related to an increased risk of miscarriage, but little is known about the effects of LSD in pregnancy. However, most drugs have some effect on the unborn baby if the mother uses them while pregnant.
Anyone can develop a tolerance to hallucinogens. Tolerance means that you must take more of the drug to feel the same effects you used to have with smaller amounts. With hallucinogens this happens very quickly. Being tolerant to one kind of hallucinogen (eg LSD) can also make you tolerant to other kinds (eg magic mushrooms). Tolerance goes away when you stop using the drug regularly.
Dependence means that a drug takes up a lot of your thoughts, emotions and activities. Withdrawal means that if you stop or greatly reduce your intake of the drug, you will experience uncomfortable physical and mental signs.
There is little evidence that dependence or withdrawal syndromes exist for hallucinogens.
Using hallucinogens is illegal. If you use, sell or give hallucinogens to someone else and get caught, you could face substantial fines and penalties including a prison sentence.
Hallucinogens change the way you see, hear, touch and experience other sensations, making it very dangerous to drive. It is illegal to drive under the influence of drugs, including hallucinogens. Penalties include losing your licence, a fine and/or jail.