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What Are Hallucinogens? Short- and Long-Term Side Effects and Treatment

Hallucinogens are drugs that alter the user’s thinking processes and perception in a manner that leads to significant distortions of reality. To many, the influence of these drugs represents experiences of new and even expanded consciousness and, indeed, some individuals experience synesthesia (mixed sensory experiences, such as seeing sounds or hearing colors). Other common effects produced by these drugs include hallucinations, an altered sense of time, and dissociative experiences (not feeling connected to one’s body or reality).
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Most hallucinogens are classified by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as Schedule I controlled substances, meaning they have no known medicinal uses and have a high potential for abuse and physical or psychological dependence.2 Hundreds of compounds are classified as hallucinogens.

Some of the more common hallucinogens include:

Ketamine is a Schedule III drug and PCP is a Schedule II—due to their previous medical uses—but they are serious drugs of concern nonetheless.2

While these are not typically major drugs of abuse, in 2014, an estimated 1.2 million individuals over the age of 12 reported using hallucinogens.3 They have been used for a variety of purposes, including religious purposes, stress relief, recreational purposes, and to reach enlightenment or understanding. These drugs, although not considered to be classically addictive, can lead to severe consequences and impairments.

Types of Hallucinogens

Hallucinogens can be classified into two subcategories: the classic hallucinogens and the dissociative drugs. Classic hallucinogens typically produce visual and auditory hallucinations and may result in an altered sense of time and heightened sensory experiences. Dissociative drugs produce feelings of detachment, such as derealization (the feeling that one is detached from reality or that things are not real) and depersonalization (the feeling that one is detached from one’s own physical body).4,5