3.8 Hallucinogens (an overview)

    What are Hallucinogens

    Hallucinogens are found in plants and fungi or are synthetically produced and are among the oldest known group of drugs used for their ability to alter human perception and mood.

    What is their origin?

    Hallucinogens can found in plants and their origin predates history.  They are said to have been inhaled, ingested, worshipped, and reviled, used by early cultures in both sociocultural and ritual contexts.[1][2] They can also be made in laboratories.

    5 different colored MDMA/Ecstacy tablets. There is a blue one with DEA imprinted on it, a pink one with SEX imprinted on it, a cream colored one with WB imprinted on it in the style of the Warner Brothers logo, an orange triangular one, and a green one with an X imprinted on it.
    MDMA/Ecstasy pills, Drugs of Abuse. Credit: U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration
    Character from Alice in Wonderland with a clock on an LSD blotter sheet.
    LSD Blotter Sheet, Drugs of Abuse. Credit: U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration

    What do they look like?

    Hallucinogens come in a variety of forms. MDMA or ecstasy tablets are sold in many colors with a variety of logos. LSD is sold in the form of impregnated paper (blotter acid), typically imprinted with colorful graphic designs.  Cannabis is sold as a dried plant or oil and psyilobiclin is a dried mushroom.  PCP and ketamine come in powder or pill form.

    How are they admininstered?

    The most commonly used hallucinogens are taken orally or smoked.

    What is their effect on the mind?

    Sensory effects include perceptual distortions that vary with dose, setting, and mood. Psychic effects include distortions of thought associated with time and space. Time may appear to stand still, and forms and colors seem to change and take on new significance. Some individuals may experience flashbacks (fragmentary recurrences of certain aspects of the experience) without having used the substance in weeks or even months.

    Pink coloured LSD powder and Capsules.
    LSD Powder and Capsules, Drugs of Abuse. Credit: U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration

    What is their effect on the body?

    Physiological effects include elevated heart rate, increased blood pressure, and dilated pupils.  Deaths exclusively from an acute overdose of LSD, magic mushrooms, and mescaline are extremely rare. Deaths generally occur due to suicide, accidents, and dangerous behavior, or due to the person inadvertently eating poisonous plant material.  A severe overdose of PCP and ketamine can result in respiratory depression, coma, convulsions, seizures, and death due to respiratory arrest. 

    What is their legal status in Canada?

    Many hallucinogens are Schedule III under the CDSA.

    Chapter Credit

    Adapted from Drugs, Health & Behavior by Jacqueline Schwab. CC BY-NC-SA. Updated with Canadian Content.

    Image Credits


    1. Abraham, H., Aldridge, A. & Gogia, P. (1996). The psychopharmacology of hallucinogens. Neuropsychopharmacology 14, 285–298. https://doi.org/10.1016/0893-133X(95)00136-2
    2. Nichols, D. E. (2004). Hallucinogens. Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 101(2), 131-181. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pharmthera.2003.11.002

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