Hallucinogens encompass a wide spectrum of drugs that produce mind-altering effects in different ways. Users may experience any number of effects, including:
- Seeing things that aren’t there, such as illusions and visions
- Hearing imaginary sounds and/or voices
- Distortions in bodily perception
- Warped sense of space and time
Overall, the ability to incite hallucinations most characterizes this drug group regardless of the type of hallucinogen used.
The various types of hallucinogens come from both plant-based and synthetically made substances. According to Saddleback College, both forms of the drug produce highly unpredictable effects, which can make for a pleasant “high” or a nightmarish experience. Ultimately, this unpredictability factor makes all types of hallucinogens dangerous.
The Serotonin System
The brain’s chemical system relies on a certain balance of neurotransmitter chemicals at all times. Any ongoing disruptions in this system can have serious repercussions.
The brain’s serotonin system plays a central role in regulating:
- Sensory perceptions
- Mood states
- Body temperature
- Muscle coordination
- Regulatory systems (cardiovascular, respiratory, digestive, body temperature)
Most all hallucinogens interact with cell sites that produce serotonin, the neurotransmitter that regulates this complex system. Changes in serotonin levels not only affect this system, but also interfere with other neurotransmitter chemical pathways. The different types of hallucinogens affect this system (and others) in different ways.
As hallucinogens alter the brain’s serotonin system functions, these interactions have a ripple effect throughout the body’s central nervous system. The physical effects of different types of hallucinogens can vary depending on:
- The neurotransmitter pathways most affected by any one drug
- The dosage amount taken
- The length of time between drug doses
- A person’s mood state
- The surrounding environment
According to Bryn Mawr College, dangerous physical effects from hallucinogens may take the form of:
- Elevated blood pressure levels
- Blurry vision
- Elevated body temperatures
- Impaired coordination
- Elevated heart rate
- Profuse sweating
Unlike other drug types, a person’s psychological state can have a tremendous bearing on the effects different types of hallucinogens produce. Psychological state depends on a person’s mood, expectations of the drug and the setting in which drug use takes place.
At any given time, a user may experience a “bad trip” or a “good trip” depending on his or her mindset at the time. While good trips produce the often talked about exhilaration and enlightenment users hope to have, bad trips can be wrought with strange and horrifying phenomena.
People experiencing bad trips may engage in unsafe and even violent behavior displays that place them, as well as others in harm’s way. As most all types of hallucinogens produce unpredictable effects, users take a risk every time they use this type of drug.
Types of Hallucinogens
The different types of hallucinogens break down into three main categories:
Psychedelic types of hallucinogens act on the brain’s ability to filter sensory information from the external environment. This filtering process enables a person to attend to a task or activity. Psychedelic drugs remove this filter, allowing any and all sensory stimulation to be processed by the brain.
In effect, a person sees, hears, smells, tastes and feels (as in touch) everything in their environment, which becomes the source of the hallucinatory experience. Psychedelic types of hallucinogens include:
This type of drug experience can be overwhelming for someone who’s new to hallucinogens, in which case the likelihood of having a “bad trip” increases considerably. Likewise, someone who’s in a bad mood may experience the worst of these effects in the form of bright lights, loud sounds and strange sensations along the skin. If the surrounding environment is unfamiliar to the user, feelings of fear, anxiety and terror may also play into the drug experience.
Compared to psychedelics, dissociative types of hallucinogens create an opposite effect, essentially disconnecting sensory input from the brain’s processing centers. Dissociative drugs rather create a state of sensory deprivation, leaving the mind to concoct its own reality and accompanying sensations.
In essence, the “out-of-body” drug experience most distinguishes dissociative types of hallucinogens. Drugs belonging to this category include:
- Magic mushrooms
Someone under the influence of a dissociative drug becomes totally helpless, making him or her vulnerable to any dangers in the surrounding environment. For this reason, many dissociative types of hallucinogens have garnered the label “date rape drug” as these drugs can be used to incapacitate an unsuspecting victim.
Like the other types of hallucinogens, the name deliriant aptly describes the types of effects these drugs produce. Rather than increase sensory input (like psychedelics) or cutoff sensory input altogether (like dissociatives), deliriant drugs create false sensory information that has no basis within a person’s internal or external environment.
Deliriants leave users in a state of utter confusion that appears as a stupor-like demeanor. Deliriant types of hallucinogens commonly used include:
- Deadly Nightshade
- Jimson Weed
People under the influence have basically entered into a psychotic state of mind, talking to people who aren’t there and carrying out tasks, such as cooking or getting dressed in an imaginary setting. This type of behavior can quickly lead to injury or even death depending on the surrounding environment.
Dangers from Long-Term Use
The long-term use of hallucinogens poses considerable risks to a person’s overall psychological well-being as these drugs target the cognitive centers of the brain. Regardless of the type of hallucinogen used, the degree of chemical activity required to produce hallucinations on a repeated basis can cause brain chemical imbalances to develop.
As a result, long-term users stand the risk of developing a condition known as Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder where random flashbacks of previous drug “trips” occur at any given time. According to Carnegie Mellon University, flashbacks may derive from either good or bad drug trips, creating an overall state of instability in a person’s daily life.
Long-term hallucinogen use can also predispose users to developing severe depression disorders as brain neurotransmitter supplies become depleted from ongoing drug use.
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