Citation metadata

Editors: Pamela Korsmeyer and Henry R. Kranzler
Date: 2009
Publisher: Macmillan Reference USA
Document Type: Topic overview
Length: 2,018 words

Document controls

Main content

Full Text: 
Page 222


Hallucinations are audio, visual, and temporal distortions. Hearing or seeing things that do not really exist or feeling that time has slowed down, sped up, or ceased altogether are typical hallucinations. Seeing sounds, hearing colors, and perceiving that still objects are moving are other examples of hallucinations. Out-of-body experiences also may be considered hallucinations. Of course, these things actually do not happen, but are the result of chemical reactions that alter the way

Figure 1. Belladonna.


the brain perceives information from the senses. These reactions may occur naturally when an individual goes through periods of illness, pain, hunger, or fatigue. Hallucinations may be produced also through ingesting particular substances.

Seeing pink elephants after drinking alcohol (though perhaps more appropriately associated with alcohol withdrawal) is an enduring image within U.S. culture. Inhaling large doses of marijuana or hashish may make users feel as if they were viewing the world through dream-like spectacles. Bingeuse—whereby individuals consistently use drugs over several days without rest—of stimulants, such as cocaine (powder and crack) and crystal metham-phetamine, has been associated with paranoia and delusions. Alcohol, heroin, and opiate withdrawal have also been linked with delirium. Even drinking excess cough syrup may cause the user to see, hear, or feel things that do not actually exist. While all of these substances may produce hallucinations, none is classified as a hallucinogen.

A review of the literature and Web sites indicates that hundreds of drugs, legal and illicit, natural and synthetic, are hallucinogens (Shulgin & Shulgin, 1991, 1997). An exhaustive review of these hallucinogens is beyond the scope of this entry. Rather, the focus here is on some well- and lesser-known hallucinogens that are consumed for recreational purposes—that is, for pleasure. These can be broken down into three rough categories: tryptamines, phenethylamines, and dissociative anesthetics.

Page 223  |  Top of Article

TRYPTAMINES: LSD, PSILOCYBIN, AND DMT Perhaps the most popular hallucinogens are LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide, commonly referred to as acid) and psilocybin magic mushrooms. These drugs fall under the category tryptamine. Recreational use of LSD and psilocybin was introduced widely into popular culture during the 1960s and 1970s, with LSD associated particularly with hippie counterculture (Yablonsky, 1968). Both drugs enjoyed a renaissance during the late 1980s and through the 1990s with the advent of underground rave culture (Sanders, 2006). Rave culture was commercialized across the United States in the 1990s and into the new millennium. Raves are dance parties where electronic dance music is played, often together with laser light shows, projected images, and artificial fog. During this same time period, rates of LSD and psilocybin use rose, particularly among young people (Hunt, 1997). The rise in popularity of raving and clubbing within popular culture and the reported increases in LSD and psilocybin among youth most likely influenced one another. The effects of LSD and psilocybin complement the rave/club atmosphere with its loud, bass heavy music, flashing lasers, disco lights, and colorful outfits worn by the clubbers (Sanders, 2006). To an extent, these drugs fit with this culture.

Another less well-known tryptamine, with a history of recreational use, is N, N-dimethyltrypt-amine, or DMT. DMT is one of the active ingredients in ayahuasca, a plant and bark mixture that has been used for sacramental purposes among people in South America for thousands of years and relatively recently among Westerners seeking novel psychedelic experiences (McKenna, 2004; Rushkoff, 1994). Hallucinations resulting from ingesting ayahuasca may be many hours long. In contrast, the hallucinations from using DMT by itself may be much shorter—perhaps 10 to 20 minutes depending on the dosage. The recreational use of DMT, whether organic or synthesized, dates back to at least the 1960s, when it was referred to

Figure 2. Indole-type hallucinogens.


Page 224  |  Top of Article

as “the businessman's lunch” because an individual could use the drug, feel its effects, and then return to a relatively normal state within a short time period, such as a lunch break (Halpern, 2004).

Other hallucinogens within the tryptamine family include alpha-methyltryptamine (AMT), diisopropyltryptamine, (DIPT), and their 5-methoxy (i.e., 5-MEO) counterparts (e.g., 5-MEO-AMT and 5-MEO-DIPT). Other tryptamines include N,N-dipropyltryptamine (DPT), N-isopropyl-N-methyltryptamine (MIPT), 4-hydroxy-N,N-diisopropyltryptamine (4-HO-DIPT), and many more (Shulgin & Shulgin, 1997). Similar to DMT, these drugs are dose-sensitive and are measured in milligrams, because tiny amounts may cause very powerful hallucinations lasting anywhere from 15 minutes to 24 hours or more. Very few accounts of these drugs have emerged within the research literature, though DMT and 5-MEO-DIPT, also known as Foxy, have been reported within rave and club culture (Sanders, 2006; cf. Measham, 2004).


Other hallucinogens fall under the category phenethylamine. One relatively well-known hallucinogenic phenethylamine is mescaline. Mescaline occurs naturally in several types of cacti, but is most associated with peyote. Mescaline has a long history of recreational use, and reports of human use for sacramental purposes can be traced back millennia. Scientists in 2005 reported on the discovery of prehistoric peyote use in humans, dating to around 3700 BCE (El-Seedi et al., 2005).

MDMA is a stimulant-hallucinogenic phenethylamine. Commonly expressed feelings after using MDMA are empathy and euphoria; the street name of the drug is ecstasy. Ecstasy has been considered the club drug par excellence because of its tight association with rave and club culture (Shapiro, 1999; Sanders, 2006). Similar to LSD and psilocybin, the effects of ecstasy reportedly work well with rave culture environments. Moreover, prior to the emergence of raving in popular culture, ecstasy was relatively unheard of, so the rise of ecstasy use among youth has somewhat paralleled the rise of rave and club culture.

Other phenethylamines include hallucinogens within the 2C series, such 2C-B (4-bromo-2, 5-dimethoxyphenethylamine), 2C-E (2,5-dimethoxy-4-ethyl-phenethylamine), and 2C-T-7 (2,5-dimethoxy-4-(n)-propylthiophenethylamine). Additional hallucinogenic phenethylamines are DOI (2,5-dimethoxy-4-iodoamphetamine) and DOB (2,5-dimethoxy-4-bromoamphetamine). Analyses of people's use of these drugs within the research literature are limited (Carmo et al., 2005). However, 2C-B, also

Figure 3. Substituted phenethylamines.


Page 225  |  Top of Article

known as Nexus, has been reported in rave and club culture (Sanders, 2006; Sanders et al., 2008), and qualitative experiences from users can be found on Internet Web sites (www.lycaeum.org ; www.erowid.org ). Reported dosages of these drugs are measured in milligrams, with the effects lasting up to several hours.


Phencyclidine (PCP) and ketamine are chemically analogous substances that are considered dissociative anesthetics. Both were first designed for use as general anesthetics, and both can make users feel disconnected or detached from their bodies or their minds, which may include out-of-body experiences. Both PCP and ketamine use in humans was discontinued after adult patients described horrific nightmares and visions while sedated (Lankenau, 2006; Wish, 1986). Ketamine is used widely in veterinary practices, hence the street names of cat or horse tranquilizer in reference to the drug (Lankenau & Sanders, 2007).

PCP may come in liquid form, whereby users smoke cigarettes, joints or blunts, pre-soaked with PCP. PCP can also be used as a dry powder, suggesting a variety of other administrations (e.g., sniffing, injecting). PCP use has been linked with violence (Wish, 1986). Some academic findings, though, suggest the relationship between PCP use and violence may be overstated (Brecher et al., 1988; Hoaken & Stewart, 2003).

Ketamine has been considered a club drug, because of its association with rave and club culture, where it is often used with other drugs (Lankenau & Clatts, 2005). Using enough ketamine may produce what is referred to as the K-hole, distorted feelings of space and time and colorful visions (Lankenau, 2006). Ketamine may be administered intramuscularly—within a muscle—a relatively unique administration for any recrea-tionally used substance.


Certain hallucinogens are legal and may be purchased over the counter from particular shops in the United States as well as from businesses selling them on the Internet. One such drug is Salvia divinorum, a plant within the mint family. The psychoactive ingredient of the plant is called salvinorin A and is commonly sold under the name Salvia in extracts of various strengths.

In a report on the use of uncommon tryptamines and phenethylamines, youth purchased a variety of these drugs legally over the Internet where they were sold as “research chemicals” (Sanders et al., 2008; cf. Halpern & Pope, 2001; Kikura-Hanajiri et al., 2005; McCandless, 2004). Moreover, a variety of plants and fungi that naturally grow in the United States and that are legal to possess contain illegal substances that can be extracted (Halpern, 2004; McKenna, 2004).

Some tryptamines and phenethylamines have been illegal for many years, though other chemically analogous substances that produce roughly similar effects are not, for instance, tryptamine DMT. DMT is a Schedule I drug in the United States—the same legal status as heroin or crack cocaine—and is illegal to use. However, its chemical cousin, 5-MEO-DMT, is legal to use. Likewise, the phenethylamine 2C-B has been a Schedule I drug since 1994, but a related drug, 2C-I, may still be used legally. Under the Analogue Statute of the Controlled Substance Act, though, the trafficking of any substances chemically analogous to scheduled tryptamines and phenethylamines is illegal. In other words, while it remains legal to use 5-MEO-DMT, 2C-I and a host of other similar drugs, selling them is illegal.

Alexander Shulgin synthesized hundreds of tryptamines and phenethylamines (Shulgin & Shul-gin, 1991, 1997). Dr. Shulgin predicted that by the year 2060, over a thousand similar hallucinogens would be discovered (Biello, 2008). A reason to highlight these potential findings is the therapeutic qualities of some hallucinogens.

The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) has been conducting research for many years into the use of certain hallucinogens among humans in the search for cures for many mental and physical health conditions. A visit to their Web site indicates a variety of lines of inquiry. For instance, researchers have been involved in studies examining the utility of MDMA, or ecstasy, to treat patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder; the drug could also be used to relieve anxiety and pain in end-stage cancer patients Page 226  |  Top of Article(Check, 2004; Sessa, 2005). Researchers are also examining the use of psilocybin and LSD to alleviate cluster headaches (Sewell et al., 2006). Other researchers have examined the use of psilocybin to achieve spiritual significance and personal meaning (Griffiths et al., 2006). Ketamine has been used to treat chronic pain associated with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (see Harbut & Correll, 2002).

An additional utility of some hallucinogens is their potential for treatment of drug and alcohol addiction. Ibogaine—a very powerful hallucinogen—is one such drug. Ibogaine is illegal in the United States, though legal in many other countries, and dozens of clinics worldwide have used ibogaine in the treatment of addiction (Vastag, 2005). Ketamine, as well, has been used effectively in the treatment of heroin addiction (Krupitsky et al., 2002). Many findings on the medicinal qualities of hallucinogens have emerged in the early 2000s, and the potential therapeutic utility of those, which are yet unexplored, is promising.


Hallucinogens include a variety of psychoactive substances that produce audio, visual, and temporal distortions commonly referred to as hallucinations. Hundreds of substances have hallucinogenic properties, though common and relatively unique hallucinogens discussed here can be broken down into three general categories: tryptamines (LSD, psilocy-bin, DMT), phenethylamines (mescaline, MDMA, 2C-B) and dissociative anesthetics (phencyclidine (PCP), ketamine). Hallucinogens were once popular within hippie culture in the 1960s and 1970s, and enjoyed a renaissance within rave/club culture from the 1990s into the new millennium. Many hallucinogens are illegal to use or possess, though others are not. Some hallucinogens also have medicinal qualities that have been proven to be effective remedies for a variety of ailments affecting physical and mental health.

See also Ayahuasca; Complications: Mental Disorders; Hallucinogenic Plants; Ibogaine; Plants, Drugs From.


Biello, D. (2008, March 20). Self-experimenters: Psychedelic chemist explores the surreality of inner space, one drug at a time. Scientific American. Available from http://www.sciam.com/ .

Brecher, M., Wang, B. W., Wong, H., & Morgan, J. P. (1988). Phencyclidine and violence: Clinical and legal issues. Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, 8, 397–401.

Carmo, H., Hengstler, J. G., de Boer, D., Ringel, M., Remiao, F., Carvalho, F., et al. (2005). Metabolic pathways of 4-bromo-2,5-dimethoxyphenethylamine (2C-B): Analysis of phase I metabolism with hepatocytes of six species including human. Toxicology, 206(1), 75–89.

Check, E. (2004). The ups and downs of ecstasy. Nature, 429, 126–128.

El-Seedi, H. R., De Smet, P. A. G. M., Beck, O., Possnert, G., & Bruhn, J. G. (2005). Prehistoric peyote use: Alkaloid analysis and radiocarbon dating of archaeological specimens of Lophophora from Texas. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 101 (1–3), 238–242.

Erowid. (May 22, 2008). Documenting the complex relationship between humans & psychoactives. Available from http://www.erowid.org .

Griffiths, R. R., Richards, W. A., McCann, U., & Jesse, R. (2006). Psilocybin can occasion mystical-type experiences having substantial and sustained personal meaning and spiritual significance. Psychopharmacology. Available from http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/ .

Halpern, J. H. (2004). Hallucinogens and dissociative agents naturally growing in the United States. Pharmacology Therapeutics, 102(2), 131–138.

Halpern, J. H., & Pope, Jr., H.G. (2001). Hallucinogens on the Internet: A vast new source of underground drug information. American Journal of Psychiatry, 158(3), 481–483.

Harbut, R. E., & Correll, G. E. (2002). Successful treatment of a nine-year case of complex regional pain syndrome type-I (reflex sympathetic dystrophy) with intravenous ketamine-infusion therapy in a warfarin-anticoagulated adult female patient. Pain Medicine, 3, 147–155.

Hoaken, P. N. S., & Stewart, S. H. (2003). Drugs of abuse and the elicitation of human aggressive behavior. Addictive Behaviors, 28, 1533–1554.

Hunt, D. (1997, October). Rise of hallucinogen use. (Research Brief). National Institute of Justice: U. S. Department of Justice. Washington DC: Office of Justice Programs.

Kikura-Hanajiri, R., Hayashi, M., Saisho, K., & Goda, Y. (2005, October 15). Simultaneous determination of nineteen hallucinogenic tryptamines/beta-calbolines and phenethylamines using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry and liquid chromatography-electrospray ionisation-mass spectrometry. Journal of chromatography. B, Analytical technologies in the biomedical and life sciences, 825(1), 29–37.

Krupitsky, E., Burakov, A., & Romanova, T. (2002). Ketamine psychotherapy for heroin addiction. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 23, 273–283.

Page 227  |  Top of Article

Lankenau, S.E., (2006). On ketamine: In and out of the K hole. In B. Sanders (Ed). Drugs, Clubs and Young People: Sociological and Public Health Perspective. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.

Lankenau, S. E., & Clatts, M. C. (2005). Patterns of poly-drug use among ketamine injectors in New York City. Substance Use & Misuse, 40, 1381–1398.

Lankenau, S. E., & Sanders, B. (2007). Patterns of ket-amine use by young injection drug users. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 39(1), 21–30.

McCandless, D. (2004, February 16). Goodbye ecstasy, hello 5-Meo-DMT: New designer drugs are just a click away. The Guardian. Available from http://www.guardian.co.uk/ .

McKenna, D. J. (2004). Clinical investigations of the therapeutic potential of ayahuasca: Rationale and regulatory challenges. Pharmacology and Therapeutics, 102(2), 111–129.

Measham, F. (2004). Play space: Historical and socio-cultural reflections on drugs, licensed leisure locations, commercialization, and control. International Journal of Drug Policy, 15, 337–345.

Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. (2008, April 20). Available from http://www.maps.org .

Rushkoff, D. (1994). Cyberia: Life in the trenches of hyper-space. Manchester, UK: Clinamen Press.

Sanders, B. (2006). Young people, clubs and drugs. In Sanders, B. (Ed.), Drugs, Clubs and Young People: Sociological and Public Health Perspectives. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.

Sanders, B., Lankenau, S. E., Jackson Bloom, J., & Hathazi, D. (2008). “Research chemicals”: Tryptamine and Phenethylamine use amongst high-risk youth. Substance Use and Misuse, 43(3), 389–402.

Sessa, B. (2005). Can psychedelics have a role in psychiatry once again? British Journal of Psychiatry, 186, 457–458.

Sewell, R. A., Halpern, J. H., & Pope, Jr., H. G. (2006). Response of cluster headache to psilocybin and LSD. Neurology, 66(12), 1920–1922.

Shapiro, H. (1999). Dances with drugs: Pop music, drugs and youth culture. In N. South (Ed.), Drugs: Cultures, controls and everyday life (pp. 17–35). Sage, London.

Shulgin, A., & Shulgin, A. (1991). PiHKAL (Phenethylamines I have known and loved). Berkeley: Transform Press.

Shulgin, A., & Shulgin, A. (1997). TiHKAL (Tryptamines I have known and loved): The continuation. Berkeley: Transform Press.

Vastag, B. (2005). Addiction research: Ibogaine therapy: A “vast, uncontrolled experiment.” Science, 308 (5720), 345–346.

The Lycaeum. Available from http://www.lycaeum.org .

Wish, E. D. (1986). PCP and crime: Just another illicit drug? In D. H. Clouet (Ed.), Phencyclidine: An update. Bethesda, MD: National Institute of Drug Abuse.

Yablonsky, L. (1968). The Hippie Trip. New York: Pegasus.


Source Citation

Source Citation   (MLA 8th Edition)
"Hallucinogens." Encyclopedia of Drugs, Alcohol & Addictive Behavior, edited by Pamela Korsmeyer and Henry R. Kranzler, 3rd ed., vol. 2, Macmillan Reference USA, 2009, pp. 222-227. Gale Health and Wellness, https%3A%2F%2Flink.gale.com%2Fapps%2Fdoc%2FCX2699700228%2FHWRC%3Fu%3Dmnkanokahs%26sid%3DHWRC%26xid%3D5463277c. Accessed 13 Dec. 2019.

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX2699700228