Hallucinogens have short term and long term effects, both of which can be dangerous when these drugs are abused. Most hallucinogens are listed under the Controlled Substances Act as Schedule I drugs because they cause intense side effects that can be harmful to the user. According to the NIDA, “Experiences are often unpredictable,” and it is important to have all the facts about what might occur when first taking hallucinogenic drugs.
Psychological Effects of Hallucinogens
This class of drugs includes substances such as LSD, PCP, peyote, psilocybin mushrooms, and salvia (though it is not limited to just these). “Ingesting hallucinogenic drugs can cause users to see images, hear sounds, and feel sensations that seem real but do not exist.” Because of the extreme psychological effects of hallucinogens, these drugs are considered to be very dangerous, although many individuals take them for exactly these reasons.
Some of the common psychological effects of hallucinogens include:
- Distorted reality: a person is likely to experience strange thoughts and feelings and may come to believe that reality is different than it actually is. Many individuals have trouble distinguishing fantasy from reality while abusing hallucinogens, and these thoughts can turn frightening very quickly.
- Relaxation: certain substances will cause a feeling of relaxation and well-being, especially early on. However, these feelings can change quickly as well.
- Hallucinations: naturally, hallucinogens cause hallucinatory effects. According to CESAR, those caused by LSD may range “from intensified color or flashes of light to geometric designs to distortions of reality or completely new images seen with the eyes open or closed.” Tactile and auditory hallucinogens are often experienced as well.
- Intensified or modified sensations: abusing hallucinogenic drugs often intensifies a person’s senses of taste, smell, etc. In addition, many individuals experience a sensation called synesthesia, which causes them to believe that they can sense things differently from the normal way (ex. They believe they can see music or hear colors).
- Distorted sense of time: those abusing hallucinogens will often not realize how much time has gone by at all. An hour may seem like a minute and vice-versa.
- Religious or mystical feelings: many of these substances were (and still are) used in religious rituals. For example, both peyote and psilocybin mushrooms are used for this purpose and can cause one to feel that they are undergoing a profound, mystical experience.
- A feeling of heightened understanding: some individuals will even experience delusions of grandeur, which can lead to dangerous behavior.
- Preoccupation with trivial matters: this actually helps cause the feeling of heightened understanding or spirituality that occurs with most hallucinogenic drug experiences. Individuals become preoccupied with small matters in their lives or trivial objects and therefore begin to imagine that the experience is more intense or meaningful than it actually is.
- Simultaneous emotions: sometimes the emotions experienced by individuals on hallucinogens can be so intense and change so rapidly that it seems like they are experiencing more than one emotion simultaneously.
- Bad trips: a bad trip occurs when a person’s experience becomes extremely negative, intense, or frightening. It can cause fear, anxiety, delusions, paranoia, and intense mood swings.
The psychological effects of these drugs are often among the most unpredictable. Unfortunately, even if a person has taken one of these drugs before, there is no way for them to know how it might affect them the next time. The NIDA states, the effects of these drugs “typically begin within 20 to 90 minutes of ingesting and can last as long as 12 hours.”
Physical Effects of Hallucinogens
Hallucinogenic drugs also cause strong physical effects that are not usually taken into account (as most users take the drugs for their psychological effects). These can include:
- An increase in blood pressure, body temperature, heart rate, and breathing rate
- Truly, salvia is the only hallucinogenic substance that causes a drop in any of these bodily functions, as it decreases the heart rate.
- Nausea and vomiting
- Blurry vision
- Loss of appetite
- Dilated pupils
- Dry mouth
- In the case of PCP abuse, drooling may occur.
- Weakness and tension of the muscles
- Flushing of the face
- Excessive tearing or crying
- Numbness of the mouth, tongue, and lips
- Heaviness or lightness of the extremities
- Lack of concentration
For the most part, these side effects are not dangerous, although they can be depending on the person’s whereabouts. It is dangerous to drive while under the effects of hallucinogens, as the drugs cause decreased concentration, confusion, vision problems, and physical illness. If a person begins to undergo extreme side effects (such as falling unconscious and experiencing a seizure), make sure to bring them to the hospital right away. Sometimes, these side effects can be deadly.
Behavioral Effects of Hallucinogens
Hallucinogenic drugs can cause severe behavior, mostly due to their psychological effects. However, this often depends on the individual’s experience and the intensity of the drug. For example, LSD and PCP can cause much more severe psychological reactions in most individuals than salvia. Still, any hallucinogenic substance may cause frightening or upsetting thoughts or visions that could lead to dangerous behavioral reactions.
According to the University of Hawaii, “If someone is having a bad trip, you can help by calmly reassuring them.” But if they begin to become extremely agitated, angry, or hostile, it may be necessary to call for help. Some individuals, especially those under the influence of PCP, become violent and even homicidal or suicidal. Self-mutilation is another factor that may occur, especially if the individual becomes depressed as a result of the drug’s effects. If you believe the individual is in danger (or that you may be), it is important not to engage with them but to call for help immediately.
Because there is never a way for you to know how a particular drug will affect you at a certain point in time, it is important to be aware of the short-term dangers of abusing hallucinogens. While some individuals enjoy the effects, even taking these drugs in the short term can be harmful, and knowing the risks may help you save someone’s life.
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