There are many psychoactive drugs widely abused in America, with alarming side effects and potential for abuse. Learn more about the most common mind-altering drugs.

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What Are Hallucinogens?

Hallucinogenic mushrooms

For hundreds of years, people have been using psychoactive substances to alter their reality.

There are many different kinds of mind-altering drugs that can be prime targets for abuse across every demographic.

Regardless of the legal status and level of perceived safety of each of these drugs, it is important to remember that any of these substances can cause a physical dependence.

Find out more about getting treatment for an addiction to psychoactive drugs.

Abuse of Hallucinogens

Because nearly all of the aforementioned drugs are illegal (most heavily regulated), any amount of use should be a cause for concern. Abuse of these drugs can cause serious harm to the user or those around them, and continued abuse can lead to a physical and psychological addiction in some cases.

Hallucinogens Drug Dependence and Addiction

Although addiction to these types of drugs is less common than other substances, many people can still develop a dependence on them. A physical addiction is marked by tolerance to the drug, meaning more is needed to achieve the initial high. It is also recognized by the presence of withdrawal symptoms when stopping use.

A psychological dependence can take place when:

  • The user feels the need to take the drug more frequently
  • Goes through extremes to get the drug
  • Starts avoiding responsibilities or friends and family in favor of using the drug
  • Continuing use despite recognizing the severe consequences of doing so

An addiction to a mind-altering substance may be linked to other conditions, including depression.

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Phencyclidine (PCP) is a dissociative anesthetic that was discontinued for human use in 1965. The drug creates an “out of body” feeling and coming down from its anesthetic effects can cause people to become agitated and irrational.

PCP is used as an additive to many other street drugs (including marijuana, LSD and methamphetamine). This enhances their psychedelic effects. Predominantly distributed as a powder, PCP is snorted, smoked, injected or swallowed.

When abused at high doses, PCP can cause hallucinations, seizures and coma. PCP-induced deaths are most common when the user commits suicide or has an accident due to their altered state of consciousness. PCP is also known as:

  • Angel dust
  • Embalming fluid
  • Killer weed
  • Zoom
  • Super grass
  • Peace pills

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Lysergic acid diethylamide, also known as acid or LSD, is a highly potent synthetic hallucinogen. LSD was originally used in psychiatric therapy and research. However, its value as a therapeutic drug was largely debunked in the 1980s.

Today, it is a Schedule I drug. LSD is most commonly abused by people in their late teens or early twenties as a “club drug,” along the same lines as MDMA and ketamine.

LSD affects the neurotransmitter serotonin, which plays a part in the control of behavioral, perceptual and regulatory systems. By interfering with these, LSD creates hallucinogenic effects where the user loses touch with reality and has visions and a blending of the senses.


Magic mushrooms (also called psychedelic mushrooms or shrooms) are mushrooms that contain the psychedelic drugs psilocybin and psilocin. These hallucinogenic substances are chemically similar to LSD.

Psilocybin is a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning it has no recognized medical use and a high potential for abuse. Psychedelic mushrooms can cause effects ranging from heightened sensory experiences to impaired judgment and inability to distinguish between reality and fantasy. Bad trips are fairly common, and may include:

  • Frightening hallucinations
  • Depression
  • Panic attacks
  • Terror

Mescaline and Peyote

Mescaline is a naturally occurring psychedelic substance found in the peyote cactus. Peyote has been used in Native American tradition as one of the oldest psychedelic agents known. Its use was so central to their culture that the Native American Church was founded in 1918 to preserve their right to use the drug.

Mescaline has been suggested to be effective in treating depression and alcoholism, but its negative effects outweigh potential good in the eyes of the government. It is a Schedule I drug.

The perceived emotional and mental effects of mescaline vary depending on the user’s body type, personality, drug history and expectations for the experience. Some common effects of mescaline/peyote use include:

  • Distorted sense of body
  • Vivid mental images
  • Altered space
  • Altered perception of time
  • Loss of a sense of reality

Bath Salts

A concoction of synthetic stimulants, bath salts don’t have a specific chemical makeup. Each batch of bath salts may vary slightly, with the primary ingredient often being a man-made form of cathinone (a substance found in khat). Adding to the inconsistency, many drug labs will slightly alter the drug’s chemical makeup to bypass federal regulation of the substances.

Bath salts have been the cause of many bizarre and disturbing incidents starting in 2012. Most publicized was the 31-year-old Miami man who attacked a homeless man by ripping his clothes off and proceeding to chew on his face. Many other emergency room visits involving bath salts saw the user claiming to have seen demons and monsters.

Salvia divinorum

Salvia divinorum is a psychoactive plant that can induce hallucinations and visions. Sometimes called Sage of the Seers or the Diviner’s Sage, Salvia divinorum can produce a sensation of traveling through time and flying or floating above the ground. Other physical effects include dizziness, lack of coordination, chills and nausea. Salvia divinorum is currently legal in the United States.


Gamma-hydroxybutyric acid is found in human cells and synthesized for its intoxicating and sedative effects. GHB is a central nervous system depressant and side effects will vary based on level of dose and presence of other drugs in the user’s system. The most commonly reported side effects of GHB use include euphoria, decreased inhibitions, sleepiness, disorientation, loss of coordination and decreased heart rate.

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