Hallucinogenic drugs are best known for causing distortions in the user’s perceptions of reality, but these drugs can also cause serious physical problems. This lesson discusses the effects of hallucinogens on both the mind and the body.
Have you heard of the street drugs ‘acid,’ ‘special K’ or ‘magic mushrooms?’ They belong to a specific class of drugs most often used at dance parties or music festivals. They are hallucinogens. Hallucinogenic drugs are drugs that cause hallucinations, or severe distortions, in the user’s perceptions of reality. Sometimes hallucinogenic drugs are called ‘psychedelic’ drugs or ‘psychoactive’ drugs due to their mind-altering effects. Users often see, hear, feel, taste and smell things that aren’t there. The experience is sometimes described as a dream-like state.
There are many different types of hallucinogenic drugs. Many people associate hallucinogens with LSD, but there are various others including:
How Hallucinogens Affect the Brain
Hallucinogenic drugs are best known for how they alter the user’s brain. Let’s take a general look at those effects. Note that researchers have yet to pinpoint exactly how hallucinogens work, and that not all hallucinogenic drugs work on the user’s brain in the same way. There are two main types, though both types affect neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are naturally occurring brain chemicals that communicate information throughout the user’s brain and body. Different neurotransmitters have different jobs.
For example, one type of neurotransmitter tells your lungs to breathe, and another type tells your stomach to growl when you’re hungry.Classic hallucinogens, like LSD, affect serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps control functions such as behavior, mood and perception. LSD and similar drugs over-stimulate serotonin, flooding the brain with signals that mimic psychosis and break down the user’s inhibitions. Because LSD agitates the parts of the brain that control mood and perception, it sometimes causes the user to experience sensory crossover. Some users report ‘hearing’ colors or ‘seeing’ sounds. Users often experience an unfiltered stream of memories and emotions.
Other hallucinogens, like PCP, influence the body’s use of glutamate. This is a neurotransmitter that affects functions such as pain perception, learning and memory. Specifically, these hallucinogens are thought to interrupt, or block, the reception of glutamate. This means the user temporarily cannot receive the communication glutamate is sending. PCP was originally used medically as a painkiller and anesthetic.
It’s known as a dissociative drug because it can cause the user to feel detached from his or her surroundings. You can see why this feeling is sometimes described as a ‘numbing effect’ on the mind.
How Hallucinogens Affect the Body
Now let’s take a general look at how hallucinogens affect the body. Hallucinogens are much lesser known for their physical effects. Most people certainly associate hallucinogenic drugs with their psychological effects, but hallucinogens also change the user’s body. For example, LSD was developed in the 1930s to be used as a circulatory stimulant medication.
It, therefore, causes many of the same results as stimulant drugs, including:
- Dilated pupils
- Increased heart rate
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased body temperature
- Shallow breathing
- Loss of appetite
- Dry mouth
Hallucinogenic drugs aren’t considered to be physically addictive, but can cause drug tolerance. This is when a user’s body adjusts to a drug, requiring the user to take higher doses in order to achieve the desired effect. Higher doses come at a greater risk. Though there is no known fatal dose of LSD, or of some other hallucinogens, higher doses can result in ‘bad trips’ and dangerous behavior.
A bad trip refers to an unpredictable, unpleasant and often frightening experience caused by taking LSD or another hallucinogenic drug. Overdose often occurs because the user has combined hallucinogens with alcohol or other drugs. Other hallucinogen-related deaths are attributed to the user’s hazardous behavior while under the influence, such as running into traffic or jumping off a roof.
Hallucinogenic drugs are drugs that cause hallucinations, or severe distortions in the user’s perceptions of reality. There are many different kinds, including LSD, peyote, PCP and ecstasy. Because the drugs alter the mind, they are often known as ‘psychedelic’ or ‘psychoactive’ drugs.Classic hallucinogens affect serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that helps control functions such as behavior, mood and perception. Others are classified as dissociative drugs because they cause the user to feel detached from his or her surroundings. These affect glutamate, which is a neurotransmitter that affects functions such as pain perception, learning and memory.
Hallucinogenic drugs create most of the same physical effects as stimulant drugs, such as increased heart rate, dilated pupils, increased blood pressure and sleeplessness. They can cause drug tolerance, but aren’t considered to be physically addictive.
With strong knowledge of the lesson’s material, you could realize these objectives:
- Explain what hallucinogens are
- List some examples of hallucinogens
- Recall how hallucinogens affect the brain
- Describe the physical effects of hallucinogens
- Understand what drug tolerance is