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What are Hallucinogens?

Bath Salts: Bath salts are laboratory-made chemicals similar to cathinone. Cathinone is a stimulant found naturally in the khat plant, grown in East Africa and southern Arabia. Bath salts are usually white or brown crystal-like powder and are sold in small plastic or foil packages labeled “Not for Human Consumption.” Bath salts can be swallowed, snorted through the nose, inhaled, or injected with a needle. Snorting or injecting is the most harmful as they more quickly change the way cells communicate in the brain.

Cough & Cold Medicine: Several cough and cold medicines contain psychoactive ingredients (mind-altering) when taken in hither-than-recommended dosages. When taken as directed, cough and cold medicines safely treat symptoms caused by colds and flu. But when taken in higher quantities or when you don’t have any symptoms, they may affect the brain in ways very similar to illegal drugs, and can even lead to addiction.

Steroids: Anabolic steroids are medications related to testosterone (male sex hormone) that are made in labs. Doctors use anabolic steroids to treat hormone problems in men, delayed puberty, and muscle loss from some diseases. Bodybuilders and athletes might misuse anabolic steroids in attempts to build muscles and improve athletic performance. Using without a prescription from a doctor is illegal, unsafe, and can have long-term consequences.

LSD: or Acid, is a very strong chemical that can change a person’s mood and cause hallucinations. It can be taken as a pill that is swallowed or it can be a small piece of paper that is wet with liquid LSD.

PCP: or Angel Dust, is a pill or powder that people can eat, smoke, or snort. It is known to make people feel angry and violent.

GHB: is a liquid or powder that is used for people to fall asleep more easily. It is known as a “date rape” drug because it can secretly be put into somebody’s drink, causing them to pass out.

Rohypnol: or Roofies, is a medication used to calm someone down or help them sleep. It is known as a “date rape” drug because it can make somebody not remember what happened for the time right after taking it.

Ketamine: or K, or Special K, is a medication used to treat pain in animals but some people take it to get high. It can make a person feel far away from what is happening around them. It can be taken by mouth, snorted, or injected with a needle.

The Brain and Body

Hallucinogens and the Brain

In part, hallucinogens work by disrupting communication between the brain and spinal cord. Some types of hallucinogens interfere with the chemical serotonin, which is responsible for things like mood, sensory perception, sleep, hunger, body temperature, sexual behavior, and intestinal muscle control. Some dissociative drugs, like Ketamine, LSD, and PCP, impact pain perception, responses to the environment, emotion, and memory and learning.

Hallucinogens and the Body

People who drink are affected even before they show signs of being drunk, especially when it comes to decision-making abilities.

At first, alcohol causes people to feel upbeat and excited, but this is a temporary feeling. If drinking continues, the effects on the body–and the potential risks–multiply. Here’s what can happen:

  • Inhibitions and memory: People may say and do things that they will regret later, or possibly not remember at all. Inhibitions are lost, leading to poor decision making.
  • Decision-making skills: When they drink, individuals are more likely to be impulsive. They may be at greater risk of having an alcohol-related traffic crash, getting into fights, or making unwise decisions about sex.
  • Coordination and physical control: When drinking leads to loss of balance, slurred speech, and blurred vision, even normal activities can become more dangerous.
  • Death: Drinking too much alcohol can also lead to death. If people drink too much, they will eventually get sleepy and pass out. Reflexes like gagging and breathing can be suppressed. That means they could vomit and choke, or stop breathing completely.

It is easy to misjudge how long alcohol’s effects will last. Alcohol continues to affect the brain and body long after the last drink has been finished. Even after someone stops drinking, alcohol in the stomach and intestine continues to enter the bloodstream, impairing judgment and coordination for hours.


Classic hallucinogens can cause users to see images, hear sounds, and feel sensations that seem real but do not exist. The effects generally begin within 20 to 90 minutes and can last as long as 12 hours in some cases or as short as 15 minutes in others. Hallucinogen users refer to the experiences brought on by these drugs as “trips.” If the experience is unpleasant, users sometimes call it a “bad trip.”

Most classic hallucinogens may produce extremely unpleasant experiences at high doses, although the effects are not necessarily life-threatening. However, serious medical emergencies and several deaths have been reported.

In some cases, hallucinogens can be addictive. Evidence suggests that certain hallucinogens can be addictive and that people can develop a tolerance to them.

Short-Term Effects

  • Increased heart rate
  • Nausea
  • Intensified feelings and sensory experiences (such as seeing brighter colors)
  • Changes in sense of time (for example, the feeling that time is passing by slowly)

Specific short-term effects of some hallucinogens include:

  • Increased blood pressure, breathing rate, or body temperature
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dry mouth
  • Sleeping problems
  • Spiritual experiences
  • Uncoordinated movements
  • Paranoia—extreme and unreasonable distrust of others

Long-term Effects

Two long-term effects have been associated with the use of classic hallucinogens, although these effects are rare.

  • Persistent Psychosis—a series of continuing mental problems, including: visual disturbances, disorganized thinking, paranoia and mood changes.
  • Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD).

Recurrences of certain drug experiences, such as hallucinations or other visual disturbances. These flashbacks often happening without warning and may occur within a few days or more than a year after drug use. These symptoms are sometimes mistaken for other disorders, such as stroke or brain tumor.

Both conditions are seen more often in people who have a history of mental illness, but they can happen to anyone, even after using hallucinogens one time. For HPPD, some antidepressant and anti-psychotic medications can be used to improve mood and treat psychosis. Behavioral therapies can be used to help people cope with fear or confusion associated with visual disturbances.

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