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Hallucinogen FAQs

Given the large number of hallucinogens available today, including emerging synthetic varieties, many misconceptions exist regarding their use. Many people believe drugs like LSD are risk-free and safe, and in fact, many websites help spread and reinforce this belief. Although most hallucinogens are not associated with a high degree of physical dependence, some like PCP can be extremely dangerous and even deadly. We have compiled a few hallucinogen facts to help you sort out fact from fiction.

What Are Hallucinogens?

Hallucinogens are a diverse group of drugs that cause hallucinations, which are profound distortions in one’s perception of reality. They alter perception, objects, conditions, thoughts and feelings – and some produce rapid, intense emotional swings. Many hallucinogens are found in plants and mushrooms (or their extracts) and have been used in cultural and religious rituals dating back thousands of years. These plants contain chemical compounds such as mescaline, psilocybin, and ibogaine with structural similarities to serotonin. They produce primary effects by disrupting normal functioning of the serotonin system. Synthetically produced hallucinogens include LSD, phencyclidine (PCP), alpha-methyltryptamine (AMT) and foxy methoxy (5-MeO-DIPT).1,2

What Is PCP Made of?

Phencyclidine (PCP) is a synthetically created white, crystalline powder (contaminants may cause it to turn a tan to brown color) or a clear, yellowish liquid, made in clandestine laboratories. In illicit synthesis, piperidine reacts with cyanide and cyclohexanone to make piperidinocyclohexanecarbonitrile (PCC), which then reacts with phenylmagnesium bromide to make PCP. Chemically, PCP is a member of the arylcyclohexylamine class, and pharmacologically, a part of the dissociative anesthetics family. PCP comes in both powder and liquid forms (PCP base is dissolved most often in ether). It can be taken as a pill, sprayed on marijuana or tobacco leaves, put inside rolling paper or snorted as a powder.3,4

Is It Possible to Overdose on Hallucinogens?

Overdose is possible, although mortality exclusively from acute overdose of LSD, magic mushrooms and mescaline is rare. Hallucinogen deaths are typically associated with suicide, accidents, dangerous behavior, co-occurring drug use or because a person inadvertently ate poisonous plant material. In general terms, hallucinogen overdoses most commonly fall into two broad categories: sympathomimetic or anticholinergic. Sympathomimetic signs include tachycardia (elevated heart rate), mydriasis (dilated pupils), hypertension (high blood pressure), hyperthermia (abnormally low body temperature), altered mental status and diaphoresis (excessive sweating). Anticholinergic signs are nearly the same, with the exception of the absence of diaphoresis. A severe PCP overdose can result in respiratory depression, coma, convulsions, seizures and death caused by respiratory arrest.5,6

What Is a Bad Trip?

A bad trip refers to the adverse reaction some people experience when taking hallucinogenic drugs, most notably LSD. Bad trips usually involve extremely frightening hallucinations, adverse physical reactions such as vomiting and nausea, intense anxiety, panic, paranoia and other symptoms. The first documented “bad trip” dates back to 1943, when Albert Hofmann, the inventor of LSD, tested the drug on himself. He wrote after taking too large a dose that he felt as though “a demon had invaded me, had taken possession of my mind, body and soul.” Common psychedelic effects such as ego dissociation and aural hallucinations are much more subjective than straightforward effects of addictive drugs including cocaine and heroin. Recent brain imaging studies have shown psilocybin and LSD affect subjects’ brains similarly, inducing a disorganized ego-state typically associated with dreaming. Bad trips from hallucinogens do not necessarily appear to be dose-dependent. The “set-and-setting” theory ties bad trips to the user’s character and expectations (set) combined with the social and physical surroundings of the trip (setting). Research into potential causes of bad trips is being investigated in clinical trials.7

  1. Hallucinogens. National Institute on Drug Abuse website. Updated May 2014. Accessed January 16, 2017.
  2. What Are Hallucinogens? CRC Health website. Accessed January 16, 2017.
  3. Phencyclidine (PCP). National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website. Accessed January 16, 2017.
  4. How to Help a PCP Addict. Drug Abuse website. Accessed January 16, 2017.
  5. Drug Fact Sheet: Hallucinogens. United States Drug Enforcement Administration website. Enforcement website. Accessed January 16, 2017.
  6. Overdose – Drugs of Abuse. MD Edge website. Accessed January 16, 2017.
  7. The Dreaded ‘Bad Trip’ on LSD – Researchers Are Starting to Understand What Causes Them. Alternet website. Published August 11, 2014. Accessed January 16, 2017.
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