Hallucinogens have been in use for centuries. In their purest form, they are organic compounds found in plants and mushrooms. The desired effect of using hallucinogens is a pleasantly distorted perception of reality, a fantasy of sights, sounds and feelings that seem real.
However, the unpredictability of hallucinogens makes them especially dangerous. Effects vary wildly from user to user, and individual reactions can be drastically different from one occasion of use to another. Abusers may experience intense mood swings, psychosis and severe panic attacks. No one can predict with certainty what effect hallucinogens will have.
The basic hallucinogens by their common names are LSD, peyote, psilocybin (mushrooms) and PCP. Aside from PCP, there is debate as to whether or not hallucinogens are physically addictive—that is, abuse results in compulsive, drug-seeking behavior. But since LSD, peyote and mushrooms produce tolerance and require higher doses for achieving the same level of intoxication, they’re sure to be psychologically addicting. Hallucinogens can impair cognitive abilities, so users may be unable to make good decisions about their drug use.
PCP is highly addictive. Users typically form dependence quickly, exhibiting intense cravings and a compulsion to buy more of the drug. PCP initially creates a heightened sense of power, invincibility and imperviousness to pain. But the “high” soon deteriorates to marked anxiety, paranoia and behavior that mimics schizophrenia. Accidental injury, violent crime and suicide are frequent outcomes of PCP abuse, as addicts under its influence become completely irrational.
Other drugs that imitate hallucinogens or have hallucinogenic properties are:
Originally developed as an anesthetic for human and veterinary use, ketamine produces dissociative reactions similar to PCP but at far less potent levels. Some users have described enjoyable, detached “out-of-body” experiences, while others were terrified by a dark sense of having died. Because ketamine is tasteless, odorless and amnesia-inducing, it has gained infamy as a date-rape drug. If used voluntarily, it has strong potential for becoming addictive, due to its popularity at concerts and raves.
It’s estimated that ecstasy is used by over nine million people worldwide. An offshoot of the former psychotherapeutic drug MDMA, ecstasy produces a warm, euphoric sense of well-being and feelings of deep intimacy with companions. While MDMA was not considered hallucinogenic, commonly sold ecstasy contains little or no MDMA. Usually dispensed in pill form, buyers never really know what they’re getting; one dose of ecstasy might contain heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine. Concentrations vary too, so someone trying to duplicate an ecstasy experience could be increasing his dose, or taking a different drug altogether, without even knowing it.
The addictive properties of unknown ingredients, coupled with wide availability at clubs and festivals, make ecstasy a likely source of abuse and dependence.
• Nitrous oxide (laughing gas)
Nitrous oxide is a weak, non-flammable gas having many common uses. The misuse of laughing gas by inhaling induces giddiness and abstract delusions. It can be deadly, however, as it cuts off blood circulation to the brain. Children and teens are especially vulnerable to addiction, since laughing gas is sold legally and inexpensively. The intense and immediate “rush” may be psychologically addicting.
• Ingredients found in over-the-counter products
Many over-the-counter cough syrups, along with products like Dramamine and Benadryl, have understandably high rates of addiction: Delirium-inducing ingredients, taken at high doses, soon result in a cheap, easily supplied habit.
Because hallucinogens lack the severe withdrawal symptoms of other substances, detox is shorter and less painful. With therapy and support, addicts have a very good chance of recovery—and of living and coping in the word as it really is.