Hallucinogen Abuse Causes, Statistics, Addiction Signs, Symptoms & Side Effects

What is a Hallucinogen?

Hallucinogens are drugs that take a user on an “acid trip” (a drug induced experience) where the person’s senses and reality are altered. Hallucinogens are broken down into three different groups. The three groups are Psychedelics, Dissociatives and Deliriants. All three can be applied to potential Hallucinogen Addiction and Abuse.

Psychedelics are drugs that are psycho-active and are used to produce an altered state of consciousness and perception. Psychedelics can often lead the user to believe that he or she is having an intense spiritual experience, as it produces a distorted sense of time and can tremendously distort reality. The most well-known psychedelic is LSD.

Dissociatives are used to warp sights and sounds as well as produce feelings of dissociation and detachment from the body or environment. This type of hallucinogen also produces hallucinations, a euphoric high, out of body experiences, induce altered states of thinking, synesthesia (the crossover of senses like hearing colors and seeing sounds), and dreamlike visions. The dissociation is caused by blocking or reducing signals to the conscious mind from the rest of the brain. PCP (Angel Dust), DXM (dextromethorphan) and Ketamine are the best known of these drugs.

Deliriants induce a sense of delirium (an intense state of confusion). The delirium is exemplified by the user being in a stupor (a zombie like state) and experiencing great confusion. The drugs that typify deliriants are Dramamine and Benadryl.

Hallucinogens are not considered to be addictive, but a psychological hallucinogen addiction can be developed. These hallucinogenic drugs are popular in the club scene, with teens and young adults. The people abusing hallucinogens get to a point where they do not think they enjoy themselves without the hallucinogens and therefore develop a psychological addiction.

Hallucinogens Addiction Statistics

LSD’s abuse is on the rise. In 2009, 779,000 Americans age 12 and older had abused LSD at least once in the year prior to being surveyed [1]. The NIDA-funded 2010 Monitoring the Future Study showed that 1.2% of 8th graders, 1.9% of 10th graders, and 2.6% of 12th graders had abused LSD at least once in the year prior to being surveyed [1]. Additional hallucinogen statistics include the following:

  • The number of past year first time users of LSD aged 12 or older was 377,000 in 2010, which was similar to the number in 2009 (337,000), but higher than the estimates from 2003 to 2007 (ranging from 200,000 to 270,000) [2].
  • During 1993, 13.2 million Americans, 12 years of age and older, reported having used LSD at least once compared to 8.1 million in 1985, an increase of more than 60% [3].
  • An estimated 2.3 million persons aged 12 or older used ketamine in their lifetime, and 203,000 were past year users [4].
  • Statistics from the CRDA show that the number of ketamine users (all ages) in Hong Kong has increased from 1605 (9.8% of total drug users) in 2000 to 5212 (37.6%) in 2009. Increasing trends of ketamine use among illicit drug users under the age of 21 were also reported, rising from 36.9% of young drug users in 2000 to 84.3% in 2009 [5].
  • In May 2005, the FDA issued a warning about the dangers of DXM abuse involving over-the-counter products and DXM obtained from illicit sources [6].
  • According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) for 2004, an estimated 16,858 emergency department (ED) visits involved pharmaceuticals containing dextromethorphan (DXM). This was just under 1 percent of all drug-related ED visits [7].
  • The rate of ED visits resulting from nonmedical use of DXM for those aged 12 to 20 was 8.0 visits per 100,000 population, compared with 2.5 visits or fewer per 100,000 for other age groups [7].

Causes of Hallucinogen Addiction

Hallucinogens are not a physically addictive drug, and it appears that long term brain damage is not caused. Some aspects of a hallucinogen addiction are that tolerance is rapidly built up; it takes several days for the body to completely rid itself of the drug; its toxicity level is very low; and there are no withdrawal symptoms due to continued abuse. When hallucinogens are smoked or injected, the effects can be felt quickly, within 1 – 5 minutes. When it is snorted or taken orally, the drug effects may be felt in approximately 30 minutes. Even though a physical hallucinogen addiction does not occur, a psychological dependency can develop. The hallucinogen user can become addicted to the “spiritual journeys” that are taken, or they can become addicted to the sounds they see or the visions they hear. A hallucinogen rehabilitation program can help heal this addiction.

Signs of Hallucinogen Use, Addiction and Dependence

People intoxicated by hallucinogens show many different signs of being high. When someone is under the influence of hallucinogens, they are considered to be on a “trip” and have a “psychedelic experience” such as seeing people as warped, feeling disconnected or detached from their body, sights and sounds being distorted, and moving shapes. This “trip” can be a bad or good experience depending on various factors. Some of these factors are:

  • State of mind
  • Previous experiences
  • Anxiety
  • Mood
  • Physical environment
  • Dose strength

The user can display several of the following signs of a hallucinogenic state:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Rapid eye movement
  • Anxiety
  • Increase or loss of appetite
  • Feelings of being invulnerable
  • Euphoria
  • Increased heart rate
  • Distorted perceptions
  • Depression
  • Weight loss
  • Changes in personality
  • Speech difficulty

Hallucinogen Effects

The consequences for abusing hallucinogens can be extremely detrimental. Even though hallucinogens are not supposed to be physically addictive, a person can still develop a psychological dependency. There are both short term and long-term penalties that result from a hallucinogen addiction. In addition, the negative side effects from abusing hallucinogens will include the physical body, the psychological mind and the personal life of the addict. Some physical side effects include:

  • Analgesia (inability to feel pain)
  • Hyperthermia
  • Hypothermia
  • Respiratory failure
  • Memory loss
  • Blurred vision
  • Dilated pupils
  • Speech impairment
  • Impaired motor skills
  • Seizures
  • Rapid breathing
  • Sensory distortions
  • Illogical speech
  • Coma
  • Stroke
  • Memory loss
  • Death

The psychological results of abusing hallucinogens are numerous as well. Some psychological side effects include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Objects appear to breathe
  • Major depression
  • Onset of schizophrenia
  • Paranoia
  • Mood swings
  • Amnesia
  • Panic attacks
  • Anxiety
  • Psychosis
  • Irritability
  • Euphoria
  • Feelings of detachment
  • Violence
  • Confusion
  • Suicidal tendencies

Personal negative effects include:

  • Career failures
  • Family tensions
  • Disinterest in personal activities
  • Relationships with friends and others are cut off
  • Financial hardships
  • Becoming withdrawn

Hallucinogen Withdrawal

Even though abusing hallucinogens does not develop into a physical addiction, it can still produce some physical withdrawal symptoms. Prolonged exposure to hallucinogens can expose the user to experience “flashbacks”. A flashback is when the person abusing hallucinogens goes through a “trip” after the effects of the drug have worn off. This can occur months or even years after the addict has discontinued use. In addition, someone who has been using hallucinogens for a long period of time can experience diarrhea and chills if usage is abruptly stopped.

Hallucinogen Addiction Treatment

Hallucinogen addiction treatment is different from most other drugs that are addictive. The basic hallucinogen treatment is to care for the person and help keep them calm and stress free. This is because there are no pharmacological treatments that help with a hallucinogen dependency. If a person has become addicted to hallucinogens, their perception of reality may be distorted, and they may exhibit schizophrenic behaviors. The focus needs to concentrate on how to help the hallucinogen user live without thinking they must have hallucinogens to function normally. It is important to find a hallucinogen rehab program that will use multiple approaches to help overcome the addiction. A hallucinogen treatment center can help with this. Treatment for hallucinogen abuse should employ a holistic approach including behavioral therapy, intensive treatment therapies and support programs. Overcoming a hallucinogen addiction is difficult. Success will depend on the hallucinogen treatment facility, the hallucinogen treatment therapist, friends and family, but most of all, the user admitting they have a problem and asking for help.


[1]: National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) – http://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/lsd-acid [2]: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) – http://www.samhsa.gov/data/NSDUH/2k10ResultsRev/NSDUHresultsRev2010.pdf

[3]: National Household Survey on Drug Abuse – http://www.narconon.ca/LSD.htm

[4]: The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) http://www.samhsa.gov/data/2k8/hallucinogens/hallucinogens.htm

[5]: Central Registry of Drug Abuse (CRDA) – http://www.nd.gov.hk/pdf/report/crda_59th/crda_59th_full_report.pdf

[6]: Federal Drug Administration – http://www.fda.gov/downloads/AdvisoryCommittees/CommitteesMeetingMaterials/Drugs/DrugSafetyandRiskManagementAdvisoryCommittee/UCM224448.pdf

[7]: Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) http://www.samhsa.gov/data/2k6/TNDR32DXM/TNDR32DXM.htm

National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) – http://www.samhsa.gov/data/NSDUH.aspx

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on April 1, 2014
Published on AddictionHope.com, Resource Directory for Addiction