What are Hallucinogens? Short Term Effects and Treatment

Hallucinogens are drugs that alter a person’s experience of reality. Learn more about major and mild hallucinogens and their short- & long-term effects

How Hallucinogens Work

Hallucinogens are drugs that alter a person’s experience of reality. They are often described as “psychedelic drugs” because, after their ingestion, a person might see, feel, and hear things that aren’t real, or experience an alteration in their perception of what’s occurring around them. The effects of some hallucinogens are immediate, while others may take longer to elicit an effect. 1

Developing a substance use disorder with hallucinogens is quite common. After hallucinogen use stops, especially if someone took them for a long period of time, individuals will most likely experience withdrawal symptoms. Although several hallucinogens can cause these adverse effects, mild hallucinogen drugs and prescription drugs – which are not always indicated in substance use disorders – can also cause hallucinations. These include aspirin, Lexapro, and opioids.


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Effects of Hallucinogens

Common hallucinogenic drugs include LSD, Ayahuasca, DMT, PCP, and Ketamine.
Major hallucinogens and mild hallucinogen drugs function by stimulating, inhibiting, or regulating the activity of the brain’s different neurotransmitters. The precise neurotransmitter systems they affect are linked to their chemical structures.
Hallucinogen use generates a transitory chemical imbalance in the brain, resulting in hallucinations and other effects like euphoria. This can happen with mild or strong hallucinogenic drugs.
Some of the effects that follow the ingestion of hallucinogenic drugs include:

Types of Hallucinogens

Several types of hallucinogens fall into varying chemical and drug classes. Although this is not an extensive list of hallucinogenic drugs, a few of the popular examples are listed below.

LSD (Lysergic Acid Diethylamide)

LSD was discovered by Albert Hofmann in 1938 while he was working on a chemical found in the ergot fungus that grows naturally on grains. LSD was used in psychiatry in the 1950s and labeled a “schedule 1” controlled substance by the mid-1960s. Since then, LSD has been one of the most popular hallucinogenic drugs when used recreationally. 2

LSD is a psychoactive substance that can distort and modify perceptions and sensations. It is the most extreme hallucinogenic drug and one of the most potent mood-altering substances available in uncontrolled conditions. It produces significant aberrations in a person’s experience of reality, and its effects can last up to twelve hours.

PCP (Phencyclidine)

PCP is a white crystalline powder that dissolves readily in water and alcohol. As a result, it might take the form of a liquid. PCP, like most hallucinogenic drugs, goes by many names, the most popular being “angel dust.” 3
It is classified as a dissociative anesthetic because its use predisposes individuals to a “disconnected” state from their surroundings. Upon ingestion of PCP orally, individuals report feeling cheerful and experiencing distorted perceptions of light, color, sound, touch, and shifts in time within twenty to ninety minutes.


Ketamine is used as an anesthetic and, more recently, to treat certain depressive illnesses. This type of drug is also generally a prescription drug. Dissociative medications, in a nutshell, cause users to feel disconnected from reality and themselves. “Falling into a k-hole” is slang for the feeling following the ingestion of a high enough dose of ketamine to elicit its hallucinogenic effects.

Magic Mushrooms (Psilocybin)

Magic mushrooms are naturally occurring psychoactive and hallucinogenic mushrooms that contain psilocybin, a naturally occurring psychoactive and hallucinogenic chemical. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administrations, psilocybin is one of the most common hallucinogenic drugs.


As a hallucinogenic or psychedelic substance, Mescaline creates an altered state of consciousness leading to altered thinking and perception. This condition is frequently described as pleasurable, euphoric, and dream-like.


Ayahuasca is generally found in plants in South America. This is also referred to as DMT. It’s most commonly ingested by making it into a tea, or, when made in a lab, in the form of a white powder that is smoked. 4

How Do Hallucinogens Affect the Brain?

Hallucinogens can affect the brain in multiple ways, some of which are described in detail below.


Most hallucinogens work by binding to serotonin receptors in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in mood, perception, and behavior. When serotonin binds to its receptors, it can cause changes in mood, thoughts, emotions, and behavior.

Sensory Perception and Environmental Responses

Hallucinogens can cause changes in sensory perception. This means that using these substances may make an individual see or hear things that are not real. For example, certain people report a floating or flying sensation. Hallucinogen use can also cause a distorted view of the environment.

Sleep Disturbances

Hallucinogens can cause trouble sleeping by disrupting the normal sleep cycle. In addition, hallucinogen-based substance use disorder may create a disposition that creates insomnia and other sleep-related issues.

Body Temperature

Hallucinogens affect the central nervous system, which controls body temperature leading to a probable increase in body temperature.


Hallucinogen use for any length of time may cause changes in emotion. For example, it may result in feelings of happiness, sadness, or anxiety, and drastic changes in mood and behavior.

Learning and Memory

Hallucinogen-based substance use can also cause changes in learning and memory. These drugs can cause trouble remembering things that occurred before the ingestion of the drug.

Short-Term Effects of Hallucinogenic Drugs

The use of extreme or mild hallucinogenic drugs may cause several short-term effects. These include seeing, hearing, and feeling sensations that appear to be real but do not exist. The experience of taking these drugs is known as a “tripping.” One issue for users of hallucinations drugs is that the drug’s effects can be exceedingly unexpected.
Some common short-term effects include:

Long-Term Effects of Hallucinogenic Drugs

Persistent psychosis and hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD) are adverse long-term effects of hallucinogenic substance usage. In addition, these problems frequently occur in tandem. 4

Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD)

HPPD is a non-psychotic illness characterized by apparent permanent or persistent visual hallucinations or perceptual distortions following previous hallucinogenic drug exposure. Still, it does not have the same symptoms of intoxication or mental disturbance while on the drug.

This illness clears itself typically in a few weeks to a few months. However, more severe instances have reported life-long and severely debilitating conditions due to different hallucinogens’ effects. It’s best to be careful and ask a medical specialist if you or a loved one start experiencing symptoms.

Persistent Psychosis

Psychosis is defined as disruptions in a person’s thoughts and perceptions that make it difficult for them to distinguish between what is and isn’t real. These disruptions are frequently manifested as seeing, hearing, and believing things that aren’t real and experiencing unusual, persistent thoughts, behaviors, and emotions.

Are Hallucinogens Addictive?

Many people who experiment with serious hallucinogens do so under the mistaken notion that they are safe. Unfortunately, even though they are not as addictive as narcotics, these hallucinogenic substances can cause significant psychological harm and lead to psychological dependence and serious hallucinogenic substance use disorder.
Certain mild hallucinogenic drugs do not generate physical withdrawal symptoms, meaning the danger of physical dependence and addiction is relatively minimal. Still, it is always possible. Hallucinogenic substances have many long-term impacts on the brain.

Can You Overdose on a Hallucinogen?

Whether or not a hallucinogen overdose happens depends on the type of drug involved. An overdose is typically associated with the consumption of drugs in large doses to the extent of causing extreme experiences.
It is possible to experience major hallucinogens effects that are unpleasant at high doses. These effects are generally non-fatal. However, hallucinogen statistics show there are cases where severe medical complications and death occur from hallucinogen use.
Dissociative drugs such as PCP have been reported to lead to overdose, which can induce seizures, stroke, coma, and also death. In addition, when PCP is taken with benzodiazepines, alcohol, or other depressants, the adverse effect can lead to coma.

Treatment of Hallucinogen Addiction

There are no FDA-approved medications to treat hallucinogenic withdrawal symptoms following substance use cessation. Therefore, a person with substance abuse involving hallucinogenic substances should endeavor to seek residential care by joining a treatment facility with professionals experienced in safe detoxification steps from serious hallucinogens effects, including psychosis and perceptional distortions.

At Stillwater Behavioral Health, our treatment goal is to promote calmness and comfort alongside the use of expert behavioral therapy for long-term success. For example, a person with a substance use disorder involving hallucinogens addiction may also have a dual diagnosis with an accompanying mental health illness such as schizophrenia, anxiety, and even depression. In such cases, expert care is required.

With highly experienced medical professionals at Stillwater Behavioral Health, we are experienced in the management and treatment of all forms of substance abuse and the management of any accompanying symptoms. Please contact us if you or a loved one are experience symptoms and would like to get help.