Hallucinogens: Legal Status, Medical Uses, Side Effects, and Addiction

Last Updated: November 19, 2021

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

Hallucinogens are drugs that significantly alter a person’s perception of reality and cause several mind-altering effects that can manifest in many different ways. Hallucinations (both visual and auditory) are one of the main effects of taking these classes of drugs. These drugs can also impact a person’s consciousness and distort their thoughts, emotions, and state of being. Hallucinogens divide into several categories and can have overlapping effects on a person’s mind. Abuse of hallucinogens is possible and it is a Schedule I drug (high abuse potential and no therapeutic value) according to the US government. Psychedelics, however, have been used throughout history by indigenous cultures to induce altered states of consciousness for spiritual and religious purposes. For these reasons, psychedelics are being reexamined by the scientific community for their potential to treat mental illnesses like depression, PTSD, and schizophrenia as well as end-of-life anxiety for terminally ill patients.

Here is what people should know about hallucinogenic drugs.

What Are Hallucinogens?

Hallucinogens are a class of drugs that can cause mental and consciousness-altering effects in users.

Hallucinogenic Effects Can Range From:

  • Mild to severe visual or auditory hallucinations
  • Severe mood swings (i.e. from euphoria to terror)
  • Anxiety or feelings of panic
  • Increased body temperature
  • Numbness or shaking
  • Out-of-body experiences or feelings

The effects of hallucinogenic drugs can also vary across several types of hallucinogens. Although there is some debate among scientists about what constitutes a hallucinogen, there are two clear categories of psychedelic drugs.

They Include:

  • Classic hallucinogens (substances like LSD, psilocybin, ayahuasca, etc.)
  • Dissociatives (drugs like ketamine, PCP, salvia)
Psychedelic drug lsd therapy

A third potential category is deliriants, which cause similar types of effects but primarily induce a state of delirium in the user. Deliriants confuse and disorientate the user and cause them to lose control of their actions, while not producing the same hallucinatory effects of classic hallucinogens.

Even though a drug like LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) showed early promise as a therapy for mental illness, it was given Schedule I classification in 1970 as part of a backlash against the recreational use of LSD during the 1960s, effectively outlawing its use in any capacity. Research into LSD and other hallucinogens, however, is now being revived to examine how they can help treat things like treatment-resistant depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other psychiatric disorders.

What Are Some Legal Hallucinogens?

Despite the prohibition against LSD and psilocybin some psychedelics were not included in the original Schedule I classification. Some everyday items like nutmeg and herbs like salvia are legal (salvia is illegal in some states) despite having hallucinogenic properties. Various religious groups have successfully lobbied the government to receive a special dispensation to use psychedelics like peyote and ayahuasca for religious purposes, but they still remain illegal to the general public.

  Legal Hallucinogens List (in the US):

  • Psilocybin (legal in cities like Denver, Oakland, and states like Oregon, but still illegal at the federal level)
  • Nutmeg
  • Salvia (but 29 states banned it)
  • Mexican Calea
  • Dextromethorphan
  • Dimenhydrinate
  • Diphenhydramine
  • 4-ACO-DMT
  • Kava
  • Hawaiian Baby Woodrose
  • San Pedro torch cactus (only growing as an ornamental plant)
  • Blue Egyptian water lily (banned for human consumption)
  • Fly agaric (forbidden for human consumption)
  • Peyote (only for religious purposes)

Hallucinogens Effects: Long- And Short-Term

Hallucinogens are drugs that can cause long and short-term effects, which can vary depending on the type of hallucinogen, the amount is taken, and the mental state of the person taking it. While addiction to any type of hallucinogen is rare, users can build up a tolerance to the drug, meaning they need to take more of it to experience any kind of effect, which can have serious, life-threatening consequences.

Short-Term Effects Of Hallucinogens

Given that there are multiple types of these drugs, drugs that are hallucinogens can have a wide variety of side effects. The short-term effects of hallucinogens are those that are first observed, occurring within minutes of the drug being taken in some cases. While these may not be long-lasting, they are still highly dangerous.

Hallucinogens’ Short-Term Effects Include:

  • Feelings of relaxation
  • Sensory hallucinations (sight, taste, sound)
  • Synaesthesia (blurring of senses, tasting sounds, touching colors)
  • Detachment from reality
  • Out-of-body experience
  • Dilated pupils
  • Faster heart rate
Woman is suffering from anxiety

Long-Term Effects Of Hallucinogens

Hallucinogens also have long-term effects. While these are less likely to result in sudden death, they can create conditions that make life difficult, unenjoyable, and may even contribute to medical problems that prove deadly. But recently, researchers have been experimenting with low doses of LSD and psilocybin given in a clinical setting to explore its possible therapeutic effects. Various studies have looked at the potential effects of treating conditions as varied as alcoholism, PTSD, and end-of-life anxiety with small, controlled doses of both drugs. Many of these studies have reported positive effects from using psychedelics in users who are otherwise healthy and do not have a history of mental illness or other disorders.

If used outside of a clinical setting, however, and abused like other drugs, hallucinogens can often lead to negative effects in long-time users.

Some Long-Term Effects of Hallucinogens Include:

  • Violent behavior
  • Increased panic
  • Impaired concentration
  • Hallucinatory flashbacks
  • Perceptual disorder (unable to distinguish between reality and hallucination)
  • Development of psychosis

No matter what type of hallucinogenic drug is used, including synthetic hallucinogens, there is a big risk of long-term side effects. These adverse effects of hallucinogens are significant enough that anyone considering using them should reconsider. Additionally, there are specific conditions that can develop from their use.

Hallucinogens and Schizophrenia

Hallucinogenic drugs can induce psychosis, which in some ways can look similar to schizophrenia. Additionally, the side effects of using hallucinogens can themselves be very similar to the disease. They are so similar, in fact, that their effects on schizophrenia have been investigated. However, no conclusive evidence has demonstrated that psychedelics can induce schizophrenia. On the contrary, doctors are currently considering how they might be able to treat the condition.

How Do Hallucinogens Affect the Brain?

The side effects of hallucinogens on the brain are perhaps the most important to understand, as these tend to be the most profound symptoms of use and the longest lasting. Additionally, the psychological effects of hallucinogens can be the most debilitating. These include ongoing psychosis, depression, mood disturbances, and paranoia. Users suffering from these conditions can find themselves unable to function in their day-to-day lives. However, hallucinogens’ effects on the brain are not limited to the psychological.

Other Symptoms of Prolonged Abuse Include:

  • Memory loss
  • Disorganized thinking
  • Persistent flashbacks
  • Hallucinations
  • Difficulty with speech and thought
  • Other visual disturbances such as seeing halos or trails attached to moving objects

But recent research suggests that the use of hallucinogenic drugs in a controlled manner can also produce positive effects in subjects.

Some of the Findings That Researchers Have Found With Controlled Experiments Using Psilocybin Include:

  • Increased connectedness
  • Increased neural entropy (meaning the brain can access more neural states)
  • Reaching new emotional states
  • Experiencing new spiritual and mystical states

These effects, however, were only noted in experiments that were tightly controlled. Users were first screened and selected based on their compatibility with the researcher’s controls. Uncontrolled or recreational use of hallucinogens is still dangerous. Given these hallucinogen effects, it is best that people avoid their use. In the case of those who have already taken them, use should be stopped as soon as possible.

How Do Hallucinogens Affect The Body?

The exact effects of hallucinogens on the body will depend on the drug taken. Additionally, the physiological effects of hallucinogens are somewhat unpredictable.

Some Potential Symptoms That Could Be Experienced Include:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased body temperature
  • Dilated pupils
  • Increase in certain hormone levels

Additionally, if someone has been taking these drugs for a long time, they may experience withdrawal symptoms of hallucinogens when they go too long between doses.

While hallucinogens’ effects on the body are not given as much attention as those on the brain, they can be just as difficult to cope with, especially those that last long-term. Considering that death is also a possibility of use, the risks of abusing these drugs are simply not worth the high they can produce.

Bad Trips on Hallucinogenic Drugs

While the goal of taking these drugs is to get some sort of high or a “trip” (what is illegal), this experience is not necessarily pleasant. In fact, bad trips are quite common. Given that these drugs are so unpredictable, every use risks a nightmarish experience.

This is highly problematic given how long trips can last—as many as 12 hours. On a bad trip, this can be absolutely agonizing. Perhaps the worst part is that once the bad trip starts, the user cannot do anything to stop it—they simply have to wait it out.

Some Potential Side Effects of Bad Trips Are:

  • Paranoia
  • Confusion
  • Panic attacks
  • Disturbing and frightening visions
  • A sense that they have gone insane
  • Becoming physically aggressive
  • Violent outbursts
  • A distortion of the perception of time and space in a manner that is disturbing
  • A failure to recognize external stimuli, leading to significant harm
Man is suffering from panic attack

Attempting to trip on hallucinogenic drugs is illegal. Any user who opts to use psychedelics risks a bad trip and other resulting side effects of hallucinogens. But new research suggests that even people who experience a “bad trip” develop a positive view of it. One study found that 84% of people who participated in a controlled study said that they benefited from the “bad trip”, which was often brought on by the consumption of magic mushrooms (psilocybin).

Social Effects of Hallucinogens

As with any drug, there are potential social effects of the use of hallucinogenic drugs. These Include:

  • The emotional burden placed on others
  • An inability to perform at work or school
  • Being unable to participate in critical family tasks
  • Changing social groups
  • Struggling to converse about topics unrelated to drug use
  • Economic struggles
  • Difficulty leaving the house
  • A lack of understanding of social situations due to changes in the brain

Common Hallucinogens Types

Scientists have long made the distinction between the different classes of hallucinogens. While there is still some debate over what truly constitutes a hallucinogenic drug, researchers have generally agreed that this class of drugs can be divided between several sub-categories, which are the following.

Psychedelics

The primary action of psychedelic hallucinogens is to amplify or enhance the brain’s thought processes of disabling the filters that block undesired signals from reaching the conscious mind, such as memories, emotions, and the subconscious mind. It is known as ‘consciousness-expanding,’. At some point, this process can become overwhelming. Many are aware of the short-term effects of hallucinogens but have no idea about the dangers they can cause in the long run.

Some of the Most Known Examples of Psychedelics Are:

  • LSD (Lysergic Acid Diethylamide) is made from a substance extracted from the ergot fungus This serotonergic hallucinogen transforms perception and induces visual hallucinations, but also panic attacks, paranoia, anxiety, and suicidal ideation.
  • Psilocybin is a substance found in certain mushrooms. Its legal status is ambiguous as the mushrooms grow widely in various parts of the world.
  • DMT (Dimethyltryptamine) has a similar structure to psilocin. It can also be made in the laboratory. This type of hallucinogen is very potent, causing euphoric states but also possibly damage to physical and mental health.
  • Mescaline is made from Mexican peyote combined with the San Pedro cactus. It has similar side effects to LSD. In the US its is a federally controlled Schedule I substance, but the American Indian Religious Freedom Act allows the members of the Native American Church to use it.
  • 2C-B (4-Bromo-2,5-dimethoxyphenethylamine) is a synthesized drug belonging to the phenethylamine family. In the US, it is a Schedule I substance.
  • DOM (2,5-Dimethoxy-4-methylamphetamine) is part of the DOx family of compounds. It is a substituted amphetamine and psychedelic and a Schedule I substance in the US.
Scientist researches psilocybin

Dissociatives

Dissociative hallucinogens give a feeling of depersonalization, a form of sensory deprivation, making the individuals feel outside their bodies, allowing the mind to create its own perceptions and environment. It is achieved by blocking the signals sent by other parts of the brain to the conscious mind. This process facilitates hallucinations, self-exploration, and dreamlike or psychedelic states.

Here Is a List of Hallucinogens That Enter Into This Dissociatives Category:

  • Ketamine is an anesthetic used in surgery. In the US, it is a Schedule III non-narcotic substance.
  • PCP (Phencyclidine) was used as a surgical anesthetic. Today, this type of hallucinogen is a Schedule II substance in the US. PCP is a dissociative drug that causes loss of coordination, blank stare, amnesia, and paranoia, among others.
  • DXM (Dextromethorphan) is used in cough syrups and medicines due to its mucus-clearing and suppressant properties.

Deliriants

Unlike psychedelics and dissociatives, deliriant hallucinogens are antagonists for the acetylcholine receptors. These are seen as the real hallucinogens, and they can create a false perception with no basis whatsoever in the individual’s external and internal reality. Used in excess, they can induce vivid, unpleasant hallucinations, and even cause death in case of overdose. That is why these drugs are not very popular.

Common Examples of Deliriant Types of Hallucinogens:

  • Datura contains certain types of alkaloids, such as atropine, hyoscyamine, and scopolamine, and it is one of the most abused recreational drugs. Abusing Datura can cause hallucinations, mood disorders, unusual behavior, overdose, and even death.
  • Deadly Nightshade (Atropa belladonna) is another of the hallucinogenic types. Eating ten to twenty berries of the plant can instantly kill an adult. Even in small amounts, it can cause hallucinations, delirium, headache, convulsions, and even loss of consciousness.
  • Jimson Weed (Datura stramonium or Thornapple) is quite poisonous, and in high doses, the plant can cause unconsciousness, insanity, and even death. Some people can get stuck in what is called a thornapple journey, leaving them insane for a long time.

Synthetic hallucinogens are the most common hallucinogens and are made in the laboratory, derived from phenethylamine. The effects are similar to those of natural hallucinogens.

Examples of Hallucinogens in This Category Include:

  • PMA/PMMA is a type of drug similar to Ecstasy or meth. It can cause increased body temperature, heart rate, hallucinations, respiratory distress, and convulsions. The drug is associated with dozens of deaths.
  • Mephedrone belongs to the cathinone class, and it is similar to amphetamine in structure. The drug has also been associated with several deaths.
  • MDPV (3,4 methylenedioxypyrovalerone) is another type of cathinone drug, similar to mephedrone but with much more potent effects compared to other drugs in its class.
  • bk-MDMA (methylone) is a very dangerous drug associated with sudden deaths. This type of synthetic hallucinogen is frequently found in bath salts and Ecstasy pills.
  • Bromo-DragonFLY is an extremely potent type of psychoactive benzodifuran. Its effects are lower in intensity compared to LSD but last much longer.
  • NBOMes (25B-NBOMe, 25C-NBOMe, and 25I-NBOMe) are synthetic hallucinogens of Schedule I in the US. They have similar effects to LSD, but some of them have an increased risk of harm.

Herbal Hallucinogens

There are some types of plant-based hallucinogens that can produce a variety of effects when ingested. These chemical compounds serve as a protective mechanism for plants. However, when these chemicals enter the human body, they cause numerous side effects. These herbal hallucinogens can be found around the world.

Herbal Hallucinogens Examples:

  • Peyote (contains mescaline): is a renowned potent psychedelic cactus and one of the most powerful hallucinogens.
  • Salvia (contains salvinorin A): can produce a hallucinatory, manic state, and a person might laugh without reason and run uncontrollably.
  • Ayahuasca (contains DMT and MAOI): mainly used for religious purposes.
  • Virola (contains 5-MeO-DMT and DMT): has strong hallucinogenic properties.
  • Hawaiian baby woodrose (contains Ergine): mainly used for psychedelic and spiritual experiences.
  • Turbina corymbosa (contains Ergine): produces a state of inebriation and relaxation, which are close to LSD but much weaker.
  • Badoh Negro (contains Ergine): traditionally used in divination by Aztecs, in a potion with strong analgesic properties.
  • Iboga (contains ibogaine): stimulates the central nervous system inducing hallucinations.
  • Cannabis sativa (contains THC): produces mind-altering effects.
  • Peruvian Torch cactus (contains mescaline): is consumed as a tea during collective ceremonies to induce the feeling of being one with mother nature.
  • San Pedro cactus (contains mescaline): is used in Peru in cleansing ceremonies and to enliven the body, mind, and spirit.
  • Henbane (contains tropane alkaloids): used in traditional herbal medicine but also as a sedative, analgesic, and narcotic in some cultures.
  • Mandrake (contains tropane alkaloids): used in magic rituals and in contemporary pagan traditions to worship the deities and working magic.

If hallucinogen refers to a natural type, it does not mean that it’s safe. Most herbal hallucinogens are banned in the US as their use causes detrimental side effects, including death.

Alcohol and Psychedelics: a Dangerous Combination

It has been well-established that alcohol use can often lead to engaging in drug abuse, as people lower their inhibitions and are willing to partake in risky behavior. The same applies to alcohol and hallucinogens. But combining the two – alcohol and psychedelics – can have adverse effects.

LSD and Alcohol

People usually take the psychedelic drug LSD with alcoholic drinks to mitigate the effects of alcohol. This means that larger amounts of alcoholic drinks will be consumed before the signs of intoxication can be felt.

Consequently, mixing this stimulant drug and alcohol might result in some bad effects on health. These are usually the exacerbated effects of individual drugs.

They Include:

  • Extreme visual and auditory hallucinations
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased chances of alcohol poisoning
  • Increased chance of a severe hangover

Shrooms and Alcohol

Magic mushrooms contain psilocybin which imparts psychedelic effects to anyone who ingests them. Some people try to augment the pleasant euphoric and hallucinogenic effects of psilocybin by mixing shrooms and alcohol.

However, the combination of alcohol and mushrooms can reduce the alcoholic effects in the body. This makes a person drink copious amounts before feeling drunk.

The Combination of Mixing Mushrooms and Alcohol Brings About Negative Effects Like:

  • Nausea
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Increased feelings of paranoia
  • Vivid and frightening hallucinations
  • Loss of consciousness

Ketamine and Alcohol

Ketamine is a dissociative drug that is utilized for anesthesia. The drug is also hallucinogenic, making it a target for drug abusers.

Like alcohol, ketamine inhibits excitatory neurotransmitters.

People, therefore, consume a ketamine alcohol mixture to heighten the effects of both of the drugs. However, this combination can result in some serious health effects, even death.

The Effects Include:

  • Significant impairment of motor function and coordination
  • Significant reduction in cognitive abilities
  • Increased hallucinations
  • Labored breathing
  • Stomach pain and cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dissociative experience
  • The strain on vital organs like the liver and kidneys

Once a person is dependent on this concoction, they can experience significant symptoms of ketamine alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

Salvia and Alcohol

Salvia contains the hallucinogenic compound salvinorin A. Taking it alongside alcoholic drinks augments the psychedelic effects.

However, it is not recommended to take the two together because of the serious resultant health consequences.

These Effects Include:

  • Increased anxiety
  • Heightened paranoia
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Auditory and visual hallucinations
  • Detachment from reality
  • Impaired motor functions and coordination
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Slurred speech

Marijuana and Alcohol

Alcoholic drinks and weed are among some of the most commonly abused drugs. It is also a common occurrence for them to be abused concurrently. Consuming marijuana and alcohol together can be dangerous to health because liquor increases the absorption of the active hallucinogen in weed.

Here Are the Negative Effects of Taking Both Drugs Together:

Ayahuasca and Alcohol

Ayahuasca is a plant-based tea brew that contains dimethyltryptamine (DMT). The tea containing this hallucinogen is drunk to elicit euphoria and psychedelic effects. Consuming liquor with ayahuasca increases the effects of DMT on the body.

These Effects Are:

  • Increased hallucinations
  • Agitation
  • Significant changes in mood
  • Increased anxiety
  • Heightened delusions
  • Increased heart rate
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea

Ayahuasca is rarely taken recreationally. It is often done in shamanistic rituals where participants are encouraged to abstain from alcohol before the ceremony to prevent any adverse effects and to not dull the effects of the concoction.

Hallucinogens Overdose: Can Hallucinogens Kill Someone?

Quite simply, the answer is yes—people can die from psychedelic drugs, either by overdosing on them alone or by mixing them with other substances, resulting in extreme toxicity. However, overdose as a side effect of hallucinogens is rare.

Because of the outlawing of the drug in the 1960s, hallucinogens were taken mainly recreationally. This meant that people could not control for things like dosage or screen for comorbidities or other risk factors like history of mental illness or polydrug use.

Even in those conditions, however, it was rare, for example, for LSD users to experience life-threatening events that are associated with overdoses of other drugs like cocaine or heroin. There have even been anecdotal studies showing that an LSD overdose can have positive effects. The events detailed in these studies were accidental overdoses that led to things like vomiting, paranoia, and anxiety. But after the effects wore off, people reported having no adverse effects like flashbacks, depression, or anxiety. These cases, however, are exceptional.

People can still put themselves in danger by taking large quantities of any type of hallucinogen. They can experience a bad trip and do harm to themselves or others. They can become unaware of their surroundings and end up seriously injuring themselves, or worse, which is what happened to the son of a musician, Nick Cave.

Perhaps the greater risk comes from what occurs during a bad trip. Given that one of the dangers of hallucinogens is that they can make people act in ways they otherwise would not, including being unaware that certain actions can harm them and engaging in risk-taking behaviors, there is the possibility of a person dying as a direct result of taking them. While it might not be an overdose, the end result is still a life lost.

Hallucinogens Overdose Symptoms

Given the variation between hallucinogenic drugs, there is not one specific set of overdose symptoms seen across all of them.

However, the Following Are Common Symptoms of Overdose on Hallucinogens:

  • Agitation (overly excited, violent behavior)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dilated pupils
  • Heavy sweating
  • Convulsions
  • Hallucinations
  • High blood pressure
  • Side-to-side eye movements
  • Psychosis (loss of contact with reality)
  • Uncontrolled movement

If any of these symptoms are observed in an individual who has taken psychedelics or is suspected of having done so, medical attention should be sought. Treatment for substance abuse is often difficult and takes a lot of time, even after rehabilitation, as there is always a chance of relapse.

Woman is suffering from stress

Hallucinogens Medical Use

Many hallucinogenic drugs were developed for the medical field. In general, they were meant to be used in the field of psychiatry. However, since their effects are not predictable, they are no longer part of psychiatric treatment in the United States.

But that is all changing rapidly. There has been a movement growing for some time pushing for further studies into the potential use of certain psychedelics – mainly LSD and psilocybin – to treat serious mental health issues like depression, anxiety, PTSD, and even addiction.

Several studies have already suggested that treatment with LSD is effective in areas that are traditionally difficult and challenging to treat with traditional therapies and medicines, especially things like alcoholism, addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder, and end-of-life anxiety.

Even though there have been many studies showing psychedelics to have several positive applications, they are still illegal. The UN classified LSD as a Schedule I drug, which meant that it had a high potential for abuse, no therapeutic use, and was dangerous. This prohibition also applied to other hallucinogens like psilocybin and mescaline. The drugs were banned largely without any evidence showing their danger.

Still, hallucinogens as medicine are in practice.

Medical Uses of Hallucinogens Include:

  • dimenhydrinate for nausea
  • diphenhydramine for allergies
  • dextromethorphan for cough

In many areas, access to these drugs is highly controlled. Laws have relaxed surrounding the use of LSD for scientific research, although it is still difficult to obtain, even for scientists.

Hallucinogens Abuse Potential

The majority of hallucinogens are Schedule I substances, meaning they have no medical application and are not allowed in the United States under any circumstances. However, to achieve this rating, a drug must be highly addictive as well. The high abuse potential of hallucinogenic drugs is a large part of why they are illegal at the federal level.

Recently, however, the scientific community has been calling for the rescheduling of LSD and other psychedelics for the purposes of academic study and clinical applications. Hallucinogens were banned in the US as a reaction to the cultural movement that advocated for its widespread use in the 1960s.

Several authors argue that re-scheduling drugs like LSD could at least give scientists permission to further study their potential therapeutic applications. Countries such as the UK have begun exploring the possibility of re-scheduling although it has not yet gone through. In the US, there does not seem to be any possibility that they could be removed from the Schedule I classification.

Hallucinogens Addiction

As with any substance of abuse, there is concern about addiction to different hallucinogens. However, many dispute that addiction is possible. As it ends up, the truth is somewhere in the middle between full-on addiction and a lack of any dependence at all.

The effects of taking hallucinogens are hard to predict, but the abuse potential is low given something like LSD does not affect the reward pathways in the brain like other drugs of abuse such as opioids or cocaine. LSD does not cause serious damage to users physically as, even in large doses, it does not interrupt organ-functioning to any degree especially when compared to the ways that heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamines can disrupt a person’s internal body functions.

Hallucinogens Symptoms Of Addiction

Hallucinogens are not known to be common drugs of abuse. Many studies have even suggested that psychedelics can help treat addiction to other substances.

Some Symptoms of Psychedelic Addiction Include:

  • Low mood when not using the drug
  • Struggles to achieve the same high upon subsequent uses
  • A craving to use the drug
  • Fear of not having access to the drug
  • Struggles with maintaining financial and social responsibilities
  • A constant preoccupation with the drug

Addiction to these drugs is rare, especially to classic hallucinogens like LSD or psilocybin. Users of the dissociative class of hallucinogens (like ketamine and PCP) are more likely to develop addictions, although even those dependencies are infrequent and uncommon.

Hallucinogens Withdrawal: Causes

Withdrawal from hallucinogens is a natural reaction of the body when it is deprived of the substance or chemical it has become dependent on. If one tries to suddenly quit hallucinogens drugs after prolonged use, there is a high chance that the individual will experience withdrawal symptoms, because this will cause a chemical imbalance in the brain.

Each person has different physical withdrawal symptoms of hallucinogens depending on the type of hallucinogen used and the physiology of the individual. Also, the use of hallucinogenic drugs for a long period can cause widespread brain damage, which can be permanent even if the person has stopped using them.

But other studies have shown that people who were given LSD or psilocybin in controlled settings actually experience positive effects (including openness, connectedness, decrease in depressive and suicidal thoughts, etc.) that last for up to a year or longer. Scientists have even found that lifetime users of psychedelics like LSD or psilocybin experience fewer distressing psychological (depression, suicidal ideation, anxiety) events than those who have never taken them.

LSD and other hallucinogens do not cause dependencies like other drugs. Users do not constantly take them to feel “high” or reward their brain with the addictive substance. As there is no dependence on hallucinogens, users do not experience withdrawal-like they would with other substances.

While users can develop a tolerance to a hallucinogen like LSD, it does not last. Users who stop taking the drug reduce the tolerance level in their body so they do not need to take higher doses to get the same effects.

Hallucinogens Withdrawal Symptoms

Although hallucinogens might come in various forms and types, the withdrawal symptoms are almost the same for all of them. There are two main categories of withdrawal: psychological and physical, with the first one being the worst.

Psychological Withdrawal Symptoms Of Hallucinogens

Addiction to LSD and other hallucinogenics is rare so users never experience withdrawal-like they would with other substances. Even when someone is coming off an experience with LSD they do not feel the same kinds of withdrawal symptoms that other substances cause.

In Very Rare Instances, However, Some People Could Feel Some of the Following:

  • Severe mood swings
  • Panic episodes
  • Low impulse control
  • Flashbacks

Physical Withdrawal Symptoms Of Hallucinogens

Users of hallucinogens do not experience withdrawal symptoms after stopping use.  Addiction to hallucinogens is rare, if not impossible because they do not affect the brain and central nervous system the way other drugs do.

When Someone Comes off the Effects of LSD, However, They Could Experience Things Like:

  • Headache
  • Stomach pains
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of coordination
  • Dry mouth
  • Sleeplessness
  • Numbness

Withdrawal only occurs when a person is addicted to a substance like alcohol or opioids. But hallucinogens do not create the same type of addictive, compulsive behaviors that other drugs cause. Nor do they create the same physiological changes in the body that other drugs do, which is what causes physical withdrawal symptoms when people stop taking them.

Man is suffering from insomnia

Hallucinogens Withdrawal Timeline

Withdrawal from hallucinogens is not something that normally occurs. Drugs like LSD and psilocybin do not create dependencies like other drugs do so when a person stops taking them the effects simply wear off. In very rare cases, some users can experience flashbacks or something called hallucinogen-persisting perception disorder (HPPD), which is a rare, but possible side effect of habitual and persistent use of LSD or other hallucinogenics.

Days 1-3 Once the individual stops the drugs, the hallucinogens withdrawal symptoms will appear in a couple of days. Irritability, depression, loss of appetite, fatigue, paranoia, insomnia, and anxiety are some of the symptoms one may experience. The symptoms vary in intensity depending on each individual, but they manifest quickly.
Days 4-10 On average, withdrawal symptoms last for around a week, lessening in intensity as time goes on. Some effects will last for longer, such as depression, cravings, insomnia, concentration, and memory problems.
Days 11+ For some individuals, the withdrawal symptoms of hallucinogens can still be intense even after ten days after they are stopped. This happens because the brain needs time to readjust to the pre-drugs state and getting used to being outside the influence of hallucinogenic drugs.

The intensity and duration of the side effects also depend on the different types of hallucinogens. For example, LSD can also give emotional disturbances and painful flashbacks that can last for months or even years.

Unfortunately, withdrawal does not have a specific timeline. It can last for a few weeks or months to completely rid the body of drugs.

Process of Hallucinogens Detox

People who abuse hallucinogens do not undergo the same detox effects as users of other drugs. In fact, stopping the use of LSD does not result in any short-term physical or psychological distress. Many studies have even pointed to the fact that lifetime users do not experience any long-term mental or physical side effects from the use of psychedelics.

Detox in Rehab Facility

Medical detox is the safest and most efficient method to treat hallucinogenic withdrawal. A drug rehab facility can provide medical supervision 24/7, a safe environment, careful monitoring, and professionals trained to offer personalized treatment and to help prevent long-term effects of hallucinogens.

The most efficient methods to help with the withdrawal from hallucinogens are the inpatient and outpatient detox. For the inpatient method, the individual benefits from daily monitoring and medical supervision, while for the outpatient method, the patient has to make regular visits to the clinic for treatment.

The experts can promptly respond in case of any complication during the detox process, which will never happen for individuals who choose to detox on their own.

Steps of Hallucinogens Withdrawal:

  • Detox in a rehab facility starts with the evaluation of the patient, which includes blood tests, a physical exam, a questionnaire, and a screening for other medical conditions and mental disorders. The individual’s psychological state is determined, and a personalized treatment plan for substance abuse will be developed.
  • The next step is stabilization, helping patients stop using the drugs and achieve sobriety with various methods and drugs to ease hallucinogens withdrawal symptoms. The duration of this process depends on the type of addiction and its severity but it usually lasts between one to three weeks.
  • The final step is preparing the individual for the psychological challenges they will have to face once the detox process is over. The individual is advised to start therapy or enter a 12-step program to increase the chances of recovery.

Medications for Hallucinogens Detox

Currently, there are no medications for treating withdrawal because addiction and dependence on hallucinogens rarely occur, even in longtime users. There is even evidence that suggests that drugs like peyote and mescaline can even help treat addiction to other drugs. Most of the drugs used in this case are to ease the physical and psychological symptoms such as anxiety, agitation, restlessness, or insomnia.

These Medications Include:

In cases where people show up to the emergency room during or after taking a hallucinogen, SAMHSA has recommended that the patient be put under supervision in a safe, distraction-free environment. In cases where users are experiencing increased anxiety or distress, they also recommended administering a low dose of an anti-anxiety drug.

Safe Withdrawal From Hallucinogens

No matter what the level of hallucinogenic drugs addiction a person has, the best way to address it is supervised detoxification at an accredited clinic. A detox clinic has all the needed equipment, methods, and specialists to help anyone safely achieve a drug-free life. Besides that, the help and information received after the detox are of utmost importance for the success of this procedure, in the long run, to prevent relapse and to help the patient smoothly and safely return to a normal life.

Does My Insurance Cover Addiction Treatment? Read More About Your Health Insurance Options:

Frequently Asked Questions

What Drugs Are Considered Hallucinogens?

Hallucinogenic drugs are divided into three categories: classic (psychedelic), dissociative, and deliriant drugs. In addition to seeing, hearing, and feeling things that are not real as part of hallucinogens’ effects, users often experience intense emotions that can swing from one spectrum to the next with little warning.

What Is the Difference Between Narcotics and Hallucinogens?

The difference between narcotics and hallucinogens is that narcotics are habit-forming and can lead to addiction (opioids, morphine, heroin) while the use of hallucinogens does not often lead to addiction. The word “narcotic” typically refers to opioids and other drugs of abuse. Psychedelics, however,  are different from narcotics because they do not rewire the brain’s reward centers like narcotics.

How a Combination of Hallucinogens and Drinking Affects Health?

Combining alcohol and hallucinogens can adversely affect health because they both counteract each other. As a result, polydrug users take more of both to increase their effects, even though doing so could be dangerous, as it could only lead to more severe consequences from both substances (alcohol poisoning or severe hallucinogenic experiences). But it is with other substances, like the continuous and concurrent abuse of opioid medication and alcohol, that can result in overdoses that gravely affect health.

Are Hallucinogens Stimulants?

No, psychedelics and stimulants are not the same things. Stimulants have a very specific effect on the body, speeding up things like heart rate and respiration and making the user feel energetic. Hallucinogens might make someone feel stimulated, especially if the hallucinations they experience frighten or excite them. However, they elicit a different response from users than stimulants.

Are Hallucinogens Illegal?

There are many laws regarding hallucinogens, with some of them targeting newer drugs or those that are rising in popularity currently in legislation. Overwhelmingly, hallucinogenic substances are illegal. Even while there is support for clinical applications of these substances, most are banned even in medical settings. This has been the case since 1967, when the United Nations listed all psychedelics as Schedule I drugs.

Why Are Hallucinogens Illegal?

Hallucinogens were made illegal largely because of the fear that they would cause harm, physical and psychological, among people taking them recreationally, despite evidence that they had legitimate medical and therapeutic properties. People continued to take them, however, and making them illegal also shut down any possibility of scientists finding a safe and legitimate use for them.

How Do Hallucinogens Work?

Hallucinogenic drugs are united not by how they interact with the body, but by the hallucinations they produce. This means that how hallucinogens work varies between substances. In general, they activate receptors in the brain, called 5-HT2A receptors (2ARs). However, how they do this and the other ways they impact the body are not standardized.

How Long Do Hallucinogens Last?

Much like the mechanism of action, this is not uniform across all psychedelic drugs. Some last just a few minutes, while powerful designer psychedelics, like Bromo-DragonFLY, can last several days. What each user experiences are unique to them, and the effects of these drugs cannot be perfectly predicted.

Can One Overdose on Hallucinogens?

Ultimately, overdosing on hallucinogens is not easy to do in most cases. However, it is easier with strong psychedelics than with weaker ones. For example, it is quite difficult to overdose on Peyote or LSD. However, overdosing on PCP is much easier.

Why Shouldn’t Patients Detox On Their Own?

Detoxing without professional supervision and safe procedures implies a great risk, such as long-term mental health issues, an increased chance of relapse, and even psychosis. This is especially dangerous for those who developed Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD),  although instances of people developing this condition are very rare and are due to many other underlying factors.

The problem with self-detox is that anyone can buy from the internet a detox kit. These kits usually include pills and drinks based on Vitamin C, vinegar, niacin, goldenseal, lecithin, and various herbs. But there is no clinical study or researcher to confirm that these ingredients can detox from drugs.

Hope Without Commitment

Find the best treatment options. Call our free and confidential helpline

Most private insurances accepted

Marketing fee may apply

Page Sources

  1. Hallucinogens. National Institute on Drug Abuse. 2019. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/hallucinogens
  2. Klock JC, Boerner U, Becker CE. Coma, hyperthermia and bleeding associated with massive LSD overdose. A report of eight cases. Western Journal of Medicine. 1974; 120(3): 183–188. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1129381/
  3. Garcia-Romeu A, Kersgaard B, Addy PH. Clinical applications of hallucinogens: A review. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology. 2016; 24(4): 229–268. doi:10.1037/pha0000084. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5001686/
  4. Fuentes, J. J., Fonseca, F., Elices, M., Farré, M., & Torrens, M. (2020). Therapeutic Use of LSD in Psychiatry: A Systematic Review of Randomized-Controlled Clinical Trials. Frontiers in psychiatry, 10, 943. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00943
  5. Halpern, J. H., Lerner, A. G., & Passie, T. (2018). A Review of Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD) and an Exploratory Study of Subjects Claiming Symptoms of HPPD. Current topics in behavioral neurosciences, 36, 333–360. https://doi.org/10.1007/7854_2016_457
  6. Dos Santos, R. G., Bouso, J. C., Rocha, J. M., Rossi, G. N., & Hallak, J. E. (2021). The Use of Classic Hallucinogens/Psychedelics in a Therapeutic Context: Healthcare Policy Opportunities and Challenges. Risk management and healthcare policy, 14, 901–910. https://doi.org/10.2147/RMHP.S300656
  7. Baquiran M, Al Khalili Y. Lysergic Acid Diethylamide Toxicity. [Updated 2021 Jul 7]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK553216/
  8. BNichols, D. E., & Grob, C. S. (2018). Is LSD toxic?. Forensic science international, 284, 141–145. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.forsciint.2018.01.006

Published on: October 1st, 2015

Updated on: November 19th, 2021

About Author

Peter J. Grinspoon, MD

Dr. Peter Grinspoon is an experienced physician with long-term clinical practice experience. As a former analgesic addict, Dr. Grinspoon knows precisely how important it is to provide patients with effective treatment and support. Medical writing for him is the way to communicate with people and inform them about their health.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.