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Hallucinogens are a category of illicit drugs that produce a distorted sense of reality and perception. Under this umbrella fall both synthetic hallucinogens like MDMA (also known as ecstasy or molly) and LSD, and hallucinogens derived from plants such as peyote and psilocybin mushrooms. The drugs are commonly seen on the club circuit and may also be used by professionals in influential positions looking to escape the rigors of their daily schedules for a period. However, the potential for psychological addiction, coupled with potentially dangerous side effects, creates more of a problem than a solution for users in the long run.

Hallucinogen use, which saw a surge in the 1960s, has made an alarming return in recent years. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) estimated that 1.4 million people age 12 and over used hallucinogens in their 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The highest use was seen in young adults between the ages of 18 and 25.


Hallucinogens have been used for centuries for medicinal and recreational purposes, as well as during some religious rituals. Documented accounts of hallucinogen use begin in the middle of the 19th century with mescaline, which was one of the first psychedelic substances to be isolated. LSD was created during the early part of the 1900s and was reportedly used by a host of famous names throughout the century including Sigmund Freud, Cary Grant and others.

Types of Hallucinogens

There are a variety of hallucinogens that are used today:

  • MDMA (ecstasy, Molly)
  • LSD
  • PCP
  • Ketamine (special K)
  • Psilocybin Mushrooms
  • Peyote (mescaline)

These drugs are all considered street drugs because they can only be purchased illicitly. However, professionals in high-profile industries like medicine, law and aviation, as well as business executives, could use these drugs as a way of escaping the pressures and demands of their careers.

Short-Term Effects

The primary reason people take these drugs is to experience the hallucinogenic effects, which might include hallucinations, distorted perception and a feeling of dissociating from the body. Other short-term effects of hallucinogens might consist of:

  • Intensified feelings and senses
  • Increased heart rate, breathing and blood pressure
  • Changes in body temperature
  • Excessive sweating or chills
  • Nausea and loss of appetite
  • Dry mouth
  • Sleeplessness
  • Panic, paranoia and psychosis

Long-Term Damage

The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that little is known about the long-term damage hallucinogens might cause. Some research has suggested that ongoing use may lead to problems with the kidneys, bladder and brain, especially pertaining to memory function. Some hallucinogens may also lead to the following symptoms months and even years after the drug is stopped:

  • Memory loss
  • Speech difficulties
  • Weight loss
  • Depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts
  • Fear of losing control, panic attacks
  • Flashbacks

Flashbacks can linger for a notably long period, appearing without warning and disrupting a former user’s life significantly in some cases. Addiction can also occur with continuous hallucinogen use.

Signs of Addiction

While hallucinogens are not as physically addictive as other substances, they can be psychologically addictive as users get hooked on the “trips,” compelling them to continue using the drug. Signs of addiction that might appear over time include:

  • Inability to stop using the substance even if the desire is there
  • More time spent getting, using and recovering from the effects of the drug
  • Forgoing time with family, friends or pleasurable activities in favor of substance use
  • Using the hallucinogen to the detriment of one’s personal and professional life
  • Needing to take larger amounts of the substance to achieve the same “high”
  • Continued use even if it is causing personal, professional, financial or legal issues

Seeking Treatment

Professionals struggling with substance abuse are often hesitant to seek out help for their addiction, due to concerns over the ramifications on their job and family. However, expert treatment is often the first step to regaining your life and your career. At the Center for Professional Recovery, we specialize in treating doctors, lawyers, business executives and others in high-profile positions, helping them navigate the recovery process as well as the steps necessary to restore their professional status. Contact us today at 866.298.0056 and start your path to recovery.

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