Hallucinogens: Just the Facts

Hand drawing chemical formula of LSD.


Hallucinogens are a group of drugs that change a person’s awareness of their surroundings, thoughts, and feelings. Hallucinogens can cause hallucinations—sensations and images that seem real even though they aren’t.

(By the way, classifying drugs into categories isn’t a perfect science, because drugs can have several different effects. For example, some drugs not technically classified as hallucinogens can also cause hallucinations, including bath salts, marijuana or weed, and Spice.)

Some hallucinogens come from plants or mushrooms, and others are synthetic (human-made). Depending on the drug, hallucinogens may be swallowed as pills, snorted, brewed in tea, or consumed in other ways.

According to the 2019 Monitoring the Future survey, few teens are using hallucinogens, and the percentage of teens who said they’d used hallucinogens in the previous year was about the same as in 2018. That’s good, because hallucinogens’ effects can be unpredictable.

They’re divided into two categories: classic hallucinogens and dissociative drugs.

Classic hallucinogens

  • These include:
    • LSD (sometimes called acid, blotter acid, or dots).
    • Psilocybin (magic mushrooms, shrooms).
    • Peyote or mescaline (buttons, cactus, or mesc).
    • DMT (Dmitri).
    • 251-NBOMe (N Bomb or 251). 
  • The effects of classic hallucinogens can include increased blood pressure, sleep problems, panic, paranoia (extreme and unreasonable distrust of other people), psychosis (thinking that is detached from reality), and many others.
  • Sometimes, using classic hallucinogens can lead to long-term psychosis. This happens more often in people who have a history of mental disorders, but it can happen to anybody—even after they use hallucinogens once.

Dissociative drugs

  • These include:
    • PCP (angel dust, hog).
    • Ketamine (special K).
    • Dextromethorphan (DXM, robo).
    • Salvia (Sally-D, magic mint).
  • Using dissociative drugs can lead to numbness; disorientation and loss of coordination; and increased blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature.
  • Long-term effects can include speech problems, memory loss, anxiety, and depression and suicidal thoughts.
  • High doses can lead to memory loss, seizures, amnesia, psychosis, trouble breathing, and being unable to move.

Overdose and addiction?
Taken in large doses, classic hallucinogens can produce seriously unpleasant experiences, although the effects aren’t necessarily life-threatening. However, using 251-NBOMe has led to medical emergencies and several deaths.

An overdose is also more likely with some dissociative drugs. And some hallucinogens, like PCP, are addictive.

Some hallucinogens are approved or being researched for medical use. For example, ketamine (which is already approved as an anesthetic) and psilocybin are being investigated as treatments for depression. In those cases, the drugs must be used under a doctor’s supervision.

And that underscores the dangers for healthy people who use hallucinogens just for the experiences they produce, without any supervision. There’s no telling what may happen—and not in a good way.

Learn more: Can you get addicted to cough and cold medicines?

Find Help Near You

Use the SAMHSA Treatment Locator to find substance use or other mental health services in your area. If you are in an emergency situation, this toll-free, 24-hour hotline can help you get through this difficult time: call 1-800-273-TALK, or visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. We also have step by step guides on what to do to help yourself, a friend or a family member.

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