Drug A - Z

Hallucinogens

Hallucinogens, also known as ‘psychedelic’ drugs, are drugs that change the way a person perceives the world. Hallucinogens markedly affect all the senses and cause hallucinations – seeing or hearing things that do not exist or are distorted. A person’s thinking, sense of time and emotions can also be altered.


The effects of any drug vary from person to person.  It depends on many factors including an individual’s size, weight and health, how the drug is taken, how much is taken, whether the person is used to taking it, the person’s mood and whether other drugs are taken.  The effects also depend on the environment in which the drug is used – for example, whether the person is alone, with others, or in a social setting.

More than with any other drug, the effects of hallucinogens vary greatly from person to person, and from occasion to occasion.  It is hard to know how the hallucinogenic experience, or ‘tripping’, will turn out.

Immediate effects

The effects of hallucinogens usually begin within half an hour of taking the drug, are at their strongest in 3 to 5 hours, and last for up to 12 hours.  Typical effects include:

  • intense sensory experiences (eg brighter colours, sharper sounds)
  • mixing of the senses (eg colours are heard or sounds seen)
  • distorted sense of time (eg minutes can be slow as hours; reliving old events)
  • distorted sense of space
  • distorted body image (person feels as if they are floating or being pulled down by gravity)
  • sense of relaxation and wellbeing
  • pupils of the eyes may dilate
  • rapid heart rate, increased blood pressure, abnormal rapid breathing
  • nausea and loss of appetite, abdominal discomfort
  • chills, flushing, shaking
  • confusion, paranoia
  • acute panic (a ‘bad trip’)
  • poor co-ordination

Deaths or accidents can occur as a result of tripping in unsafe environments – for example, near water or bridges, around open fires, or when driving.  This is because people can no longer trust what they see and hear.

Long-term effects

Flashbacks: Days, weeks or even years after using the drug, some people re-experience the effects. The user may see intense colours and other hallucinations. Flashbacks can be sparked by the use of other drugs, or by stress, fatigue or physical exercise. The flashback experience can range from being pleasant to producing severe feelings of anxiety. They are usually visual and last for a minute or two.

There is also some evidence that heavy use of LSD can impair a user’s memory and concentration. Using LSD may increase the risk of certain people developing severe mental disturbances.

Larger quantities of magic mushrooms can cause stomach pain, nausea and vomiting, shivering, a numbing of the mouth and dizziness. People can mistake poisonous mushrooms for those containing psilocybin. Certain kinds of these poisonous mushrooms can cause death or permanent liver damage within hours of ingestion.

Tolerance

Hallucinogens are rarely used daily or regularly but when they are, tolerance develops quickly. Tolerance means that higher amounts need to be taken to get the same effect as before. With repeated daily use over three to four days, the desired effects tend to cease irrespective of the amount used. Any tolerance developed quickly goes away once regular use is stopped.

Dependence

Some regular users develop a psychological dependence. They have a strong desire to continue to use hallucinogens because they have become important in their daily lives. If they can’t get the drug they may panic or become anxious.

There are many different kinds of hallucinogens. Some occur naturally in trees, vines, seeds, fungi and leaves, (eg psilocybin found in certain mushrooms and cactus juice) while others are manufactured in laboratories (eg LSD, PCP (phencyclidine) and ketamine).

Magic mushrooms (including ‘golden top’ mushrooms) are a non-poisonous fungi which contains the chemical psilocybin and psilocin, which have hallucinogenic properties. In New Zealand it is illegal to cultivate or prepare any magic mushroom. Eight species of magic mushroom are known in New Zealand and are seasonally available (autumn). However, capsules of dried, powdered magic mushrooms are often around out of season. Magic mushrooms can be eaten fresh, cooked or brewed into a ‘tea’.

Cactus juice: Mescaline is the major hallucinogenic chemical found in the Peyote cactus, other cacti also have hallucinogenic properties. Cactus juice is extracted from the plant and drunk.

LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), also known as “acid”, in its pure state is a white, odourless, tasteless powder. It usually comes in the form of liquid, tablets or capsules, squares of gelatine or blotting paper. It is very potent, with small amounts causing strong effects. For easier handling, LSD is often diluted with another substance, such as sugar, or soaked into absorbent paper.

LSD can be swallowed, sniffed, injected or smoked. It is usually soaked into small decorated squares of absorbent paper and taken orally. Each square represents one dose.

PCP (‘angel dust’): As well as effects similar to LSD, the effects of PCP include euphoria and numbness. Heavy use can cause PCP psychosis with aggression, paranoia and violent or suicidal behaviour. In its original state, PCP is a white crystalline powder, and is available in tablet, liquid, and powder forms.

PCP is either ingested orally or smoked by applying the liquid form to tobacco or marijuana cigarettes or by lacing these and other cigarettes, sometimes containing herbs such as mint or parsley, with PCP powder.

Ketamine (K, Special K, Horse, Kit kat, Jet) is a short acting general anaesthetic, which is used for medical and veterinary purposes. It is termed a ‘disassociative’, which means that it impedes the brain’s sensory connection to the body. Recreational use of ketamine is relatively low in New Zealand. Ketamine can be taken orally, snorted or injected.

Cannabis, ecstasy, and cocaine are not hallucinogens but they can cause hallucinations at very high doses.

Like all drugs, hallucinogens may have the potential to cause harm to the unborn child and also harm to the baby whilst breastfeeding. Due to this, it is recommended to not use any level of hallucinogens during pregnancy and whilst breastfeeding.

LSD, PCP and magic mushrooms are classified as Class A drugs. The maximum penalty for importation/manufacture/supply is life imprisonment and for possession 6 months jail and/or $1,000 fine.

Ketamine is classified as a Class C drug. The maximum penalty for importation/ manufacture/supply is 8 years imprisonment on indictment or 1 year jail and $1,000 fine summarily, and for possession 3 months jail and/or a $500 fine.

In New Zealand it is illegal to cultivate or prepare any plant of the cacti species Lophophora williamsii or Lophophora lewinii for the purpose of the production of mescaline. There are also a large number of other specified cacti species that are prohibited or restricted for use as food.

It is illegal to drive a motor vehicle while under the influence of any drug, including hallucinogens. Breaking this law carries heavy penalties including disqualification from driving, fines and even imprisonment. It is advised that you do not drive after the consumption of any mood altering substance. You could put your own and other people’s lives at serious risk.