Archive for category Hallucinogens'

The Resurgence of Hallucinogens

Hallucinogens are ancient drugs. They have been used for thousands of years in religious ceremonies, as sources of inspiration for artists, as medicines, and of course for some simply as a means of altering their perceptions of the physical world. In America, although the consumption of certain hallucinogens has been a part of religious practice among native peoples for many generations, to the general public, the decade of the 1960s is most closely linked with these drugs, popularly called psychedelics. During this decade, widespread experimentation with LSD, peyote, and “magic mushrooms” influenced many aspects of American pop culture. San Francisco emerged as the mecca for psychedelic “love-ins,” beatnik poetry readings, and music called acid rock and psychedelic rock. The image of long-haired hippies wearing beads and tie-dyed clothes and speaking in psychedelic-influenced language is etched in popular memory. Many people flocked to hear the guru of LSD, Timothy Leary, urge everyone in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park to take the opportunity to experience hallucinogens’ weird effects firsthand. Thanks in part to the advice of Leary and others, the 1960s was a decade of unprecedented psychedelic drug use. The Read more […]

A Strange Class of Drugs

Hallucinogens are drugs that, when ingested, trigger a variety of strange and unpredictable sensations and experiences. Normally, such bizarre perceptions are experienced only in dreams, during periods of extreme emotional and physical stress, or as part of severe mental disorders such as schizophrenia. Psychoactive Chemicals There are dozens of different types of hallucinogens, some of which are produced naturally by plants and some of which are synthesized in laboratories or other facilities. There are many different hallucinogens used today, but the best known are mescaline and psilocybin, which come from plants, and LSD, ecstasy, and ketamine, which are manufactured in laboratories. What these drugs have in common is an ability to alter the functioning of the brain in such a way as to either modify the user’s perceptions or create entirely artificial perceptions. Users of hallucinogens experience a range of odd sensations, from mild distortions of information affecting the senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch to highly animated and dramatic sensory distortions — the hallucinations that give this class of drugs its name. Altered Perceptions Typically, users of hallucinogens characterize these sensations Read more […]


Unlike altered perceptions, which are triggered by some sort of external stimulus, hallucinations are sensations that people experience when there is no external stimulus. A hallucination can be experienced through any of the five senses. Hallucinations can sometimes be dramatic and complex, and as a result they can be quite frightening. Those who have taken large doses of hallucinogens often report experiencing bizarre and impossible events. For example, some users witness inanimate objects or people morphing into animals, objects talking and moving around a room, or extraterrestrial beings visiting from outer space. Others claim to have interactions with dead people. As bizarre as these drug-induced hallucinations can be, there are some features of hallucinations that are commonly experienced. Users often report walls flexing back and forth to the rhythm of music, straight lines curving and then straightening out, and objects appearing and then disappearing from view. In an interview, a college student recalled this LSD experience: We went to the sink that had little droplets of water in the bottom of it. By “unfocusing” our attention, we could cause strange effects to occur. The sink became this rushing current Read more […]

Hallucinogens and the Brain

Although the bizarre and fanciful effects of some hallucinogens have been known for thousands of years, it is only within the last fifty years that scientists have begun to unravel the mystery of how these drugs work. Researchers now believe that chemicals called neurotransmit-ters, which are produced in the brain, are responsible for the eerie sensory fabrications associated with hallucinogens. Neurotransmitters are naturally occurring chemical compounds that transmit signals between the brain’s neurons. There is a microscopic gap between the neurons called a synapse, which signals must cross in order for information to pass from one neuron to another. For a signal to move along, each synapse must be temporarily bridged by a neurotransmitter. Then, within milliseconds after the message has been passed, the neurotransmitter withdraws from the synapse back into the neurons in a process called re-uptake; the synapse empties once again and awaits the next signal. In the presence of certain drugs, including hallucinogens, the re-uptake process fails, causing abnormally high concentrations of neurotransmitters to build up in the synapses. When this occurs, the brain begins to behave abnormally. Researchers have identified Read more […]

Hallucinogens: Addiction

Although most neurologists and pharmacologists report few lasting adverse physical effects from hallucinogen use, one concern among those who formulate the government’s drug policies is whether hallucinogens might be addictive. Of the scientific studies that have focused on this aspect of hallucinogens, none has concluded that they are addictive. This means that their prolonged use does not create a physiological craving or dependency based on changes in a user’s body chemistry. In addition, unlike drugs known to be addictive, there do not appear to be any physiological withdrawal symptoms or cravings when use of hallucinogens is terminated. Furthermore, unlike users of addictive drugs, users of hallucinogens typically do not have the urge to take their drugs many times a day. In fact, hallucinogenic experiences tend to be exhausting, and users report needing time to rest and recover following a trip. The use of hallucinogens more often than once a week is extremely rare; the majority of regular users report using them once a month or a few sporadic times in the course of a year. One of the reasons given for this low frequency of use is the long duration of a hallucinogen trip, which often lasts many hours. The Read more […]

Hallucinogens: Risks

Being nonaddictive does not mean hallucinogens are risk-free, however. Although the probability of death from the effects of a hallucinogen itself is low in comparison to narcotics such as heroin, health-care professionals warn that using hallucinogens can still have serious health consequences. There are no known deaths among humans because of brain, heart, or pulmonary failure that can be directly attributed to an overdose of any hallucinogen (although laboratory animals administered high doses of LSD have died from respiratory arrest). However, even though studies indicate that low doses of hallucinogens produce no long-lasting effects, high doses of hallucinogens have been known to cause severe psychotic breakdowns requiring long periods of psychiatric treatment. The danger of hallucinogens lies not in their toxicity but, rather, in the unpredictability of their psychological effects. For example, users have been known to wander down streets without knowing who they are or where they have been, or have walked in freezing weather without proper clothing, unaware that they were suffering from frostbite. Episodes of fatal consequences of hallucinogen use, mostly attributed to LSD, have been recorded. Pedestrians Read more […]

Hallucinogens and Spiritual Rituals

For thousands of years, people in many cultures have used hallucinogens in an attempt to gain spiritual insights to help them deal with the uncertainties that are part of their daily lives. They try to communicate with their deities to gain understanding and control over unpredictable events like birth, death, and illness. People in these cultures induce hallucinations by eating plants such as peyote and several species of mushrooms that naturally produce hallucinogenic chemicals. Botanists and ethnologists who have studied this use of hallucinogens refer to psychoactive plants used in religious rituals as entheogens, from the Greek word meaning “divinely inspired.” Ancient Use Archaeologists believe that hallucinogens were also used in a number of ancient societies to help leaders make important decisions relating to issues such as war, hunting, migrating to a new home, and selecting tribal and spiritual leaders. All of these situations were important enough to require consultation with a deity, who was believed to communicate with earthly beings while they were in a trance. Why entheogens were used in religious rituals in the first place is uncertain. But scholars studying these ancient cultures have a plausible Read more […]

The Historical and Archaeological Record

The archaeological evidence of such use dates back between seven and nine thousand years and is found in most regions of the world. For example, a cache of dried peyote, the hallucinogenic cactus, was found in a cave in Texas and has been carbon-dated to approximately 5000 B.C. Archaeologists have also located dozens of cave paintings and stone sculptures in Africa, Asia, and South America depicting hallucinogenic mushrooms and other plants. According to ethnologist Giorgio Samorini, The idea that the use of hallucinogens should be a source of inspiration for some forms of prehistoric rock art is not a new one…. Rock paintings [exist] in the Sahara Desert, the works of pre-neolithic Early Gatherers, in which mushrooms [sic] effigies are represented repeatedly. The polychromatic scenes of harvest, adoration and the offering of mushrooms, and large masked “gods” covered with mushrooms, not to mention other significant details, lead us to suppose we are dealing with an ancient hallucinogenic mushroom cult… and that their use always takes place within contexts and rituals of a religious nature. The earliest written records of the use of hallucinogenic drugs date back three thousand years. Writings from ancient civilizations Read more […]

Entheogens as Spiritual Medicine

The most commonly reported ritual use of entheogens among indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere is for healing the sick. Among such cultures, the world of medicine and the spirit world are inseparable. Anthropologist Henry Munn writes that, among the tribal peoples of the Mexican state of Oaxaca, the mushrooms are not simply botanical hallucinogens; they “were known to the American Indians as medicines… Among the Mazatecs [an Oaxacan tribe], many, one time or another during their lives, have eaten the mushrooms, either to cure themselves of an ailment or to resolve a problem.” Each Oaxacan tribe has at least one shaman, similar to a medicine man, who specializes in the use of hallucinogens for the purpose of healing others. A shaman is recognized by the tribe as an expert in these matters; he functions as a spiritual guide and spokesman for the ill person. Shamans have long known that hallucinogens cannot cure ailments such as broken bones, but they believe that hallucinogens can cure many other medical problems, including those with no apparent physical cause. The healing session takes the form of a meeting in which both the shaman and his patient eat the entheogen. After an hour or so, when the hallucinations Read more […]

The Peyote Ceremony

The peyote ceremonies of Southwest American tribes all tend to follow a similar archetype, although each has its own unique variations. The peyote ceremony continues to serve the same role it did in ancient times, whenever an occasion requires spiritual guidance. Generally, the reasons for such a gathering involve decisions affecting the whole community, such as selecting new tribal leaders, enacting new tribal laws, and determining the use of tribal lands. The ceremony is open to any adult who wishes to take part. Prior to the start of the ceremony, the shaman, along with a small group of tribal elders, sets out to locate and collect the peyote buttons. Because of their small size and relative scarcity, finding them can be a long, laborious process. When the first button is found, the shaman sits west of it and prays, “I have found you, now open up, show me where the rest of you are.” Sometimes the shaman will eat one or two of the first buttons he finds in hopes of gaining spiritual insight into the location of more of the buttons. The shaman and his group then continue to collect as many buttons as are needed for the ceremony. When the shaman returns to the village, he and the men and women planning to participate Read more […]