Types of hallucinogens

There are many varieties of hallucinogenic substances. Among them, we find natural substances and synthetic ones, meaning, they are created in laboratories. The most common are:

Natural hallucinogens

  • Psilocybin (from certain mushroom species)
  • Mescaline (from one cacti species)
  • Salvia Divinorum (type of sage)
  • Datura (plant)

Synthetic Hallucinogens

  • MDMA (ecstasy)
  • LSD (synthesised from the ergot mushroom)
  • Ketamine
  • Phencyclidine or PCP


The use of hallucinogens dates back many centuries at least. Used in medicine or religious cultural contexts, hallucinogens became popular in the 1960’S and 1970’s. LSD, in particular, became widespread with the hippie culture, and many famous artists have said that using it fueled their creativity. Later on, following its decline, certain party environments have re-appropriated hallucinogens, and use them, notably, during raves and outdoor techno music festivals. As well, some hallucinogens are now part of numerous studies involving treatment for mental health disorders like anxiety and depression.

The effects of hallucinogens


Desired effects

As their name suggests these substances can be used for their hallucinogenic properties: distorted reality, hearing and seeing things that are not there, a more vivid perception of sound and colours, etc. However, they can also be used for their psychoactive effects: well-being, euphoria, wanting to be in close contact with others, etc.

What these substances have in common is that they impair the senses and can also alter moods. However, there are big differences regarding the intensity of the effects that are felt depending on the substance and the quantity that was absorbed, as well as, individual factors, such as, mood, expectations and mental state.

For example, LSD is a substance with powerful hallucinogenic properties and its effects can last up to many hours, even one whole day. Salvia can produce powerful hallucinations, namely synesthesia, a neurological phenomenon that distorts and mixes up the senses (for example, believing we can see sounds and hear colours). However, the effects disappear after about thirty minutes.

Substances like MDMA, with hallucinogenic properties, are also used for their stimulant effects and the sensation of well-being that they produce.


Undesired effects

Using hallucinogenic substances can produce unpleasant effects, such as:

  • Headaches
  • High fever
  • Vomiting
  • Palpitations
  • Hypothermia or hyperthermia (greatly below or above normal body temperature, unable to regulate itself)
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Etc

Bad trip, crash and other effects

Hallucinogenic substances can cause bad trips. This phenomenon is characterised by intense anxiety associated with intoxication. The person therefore wants the effects to stop but does not have a choice other than waiting for them to wear off on their own, which can take up to a few, long, hours. This state of extreme anxiety can lead to panic attacks.

Even if the experience was pleasant, using hallucinogenic substances is generally followed by a «crash» period that can last several days. One can feel depressed, anxious and have difficulty sleeping. Some people have also experienced flashbacks4 in the days or weeks following the use of hallucinogens. They can therefore suddenly get snippets of memories of that time.

Despite these effects, overdoses of hallucinogenic substances are rarely fatal.

However, it does not mean that hallucinogens are not dangerous. Under the influence of such substances, people can in fact feel disoriented and take serious risks, especially during a hallucination.

As with other substances such as cocaine and opiates, one of the dangers is that hallucinogens can be cut, meaning, mixed with other substances. For example, ketamine is often mixed with stimulants like amphetamines. These mixtures can render the effects unpredictable which can be particularly dangerous.


Addiction to hallucinogenic drugs

Hallucinogenic substances usually do not create a physical addiction. They can however create a psychological one: by enjoying the effects, one is led to use more often to relive those feelings. In the case of regular drug use, addiction can develop with substances such as ketamine, for example. Thus, one develops a tolerance to the effects of the drug and must increase doses to chase that initial high.


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