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.
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.
Cactus juice: Mescaline is the major hallucinogenic chemical found in the Peyote cactus, other cacti also have hallucinogenic properties.
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.
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.
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.
Cannabis, ecstasy, and cocaine are not hallucinogens but they can cause hallucinations at very high doses.
Very few people use hallucinogens today. Those who do usually don't take them on a regular basis, but on occasions that may be weeks or months apart. This may be because the effects require a long recovery time or the pleasurable effects are unpredictable.