Yes and no. Physical addiction is very unlikely when compared to other classes and types of drugs, but hallucinogens can, in fact, be psychologically addictive. So while the chemical dependency, which is a major hallmark of addictive substances, may not be there, the mental pull towards hallucinogens can still be very strong.
Can hallucinogens be addictive is a great place to start but let’s rewind and backtrack a touch though and understand what hallucinogens are and what creates that psychological dependence.
Hallucinogens are among the oldest drugs that people consume and some of them, like peyote in the Southwest, have been used for millennia. From religious and spiritual ceremonies and ancient healing practices to the more recreational use we see today, hallucinogens have been intertwined with societies around the world for hundreds and thousands of years.
The draw is of course right in their name, hallucinogens alter your perception and awareness of what’s around you. They affect your thoughts, feelings and mood.
Broadly speaking, there are two categories: classic hallucinogens and dissociative drugs. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) notes that they both cause a person to hallucinate but dissociative drugs also cause a person to feel disconnected from their body and environment. An out of control type of experience.
Certain hallucinogens interfere with the serotonin in the brain, a chemical that regulates everything from your mood to sensory perception to sleep, hunger and body temperature. As well as sexual behavior and intestinal muscle control.
On the other hand, drugs that cause dissociation hinder the chemical glutamate in the brain, one that controls pain perception, emotion, learning and reactions to the outside environment.
With an estimated 32 million Americans who have used hallucinogens at some point in their life, it’s worth exploring the most common of these drugs to get a sense of the range of what hallucinogens are.
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LSD – Or Acid, lysergic acid diethylamide is an extremely strong psychedelic and likely the classic hallucinogenic drug that comes to mind first. LSD is particularly long-lasting, with effects of a trip lasting up to 12 hours.
Psilocybin – Commonly called magic mushrooms or shrooms, and very well known, the push towards legalization or decriminalization of psilocybin has been increasing in recent years with states passing legislation to do just that recently. The effects are similar to LSD.
Peyote – Mescaline, the hallucinogenic substance, is derived from small peyote cactus in the Southwest of the US. As mentioned, it’s been in use for thousands of years and is typically brewed into tea.
DMT/Ayahuasca – DMT naturally occurs in certain plants (and as well in fleeting amounts in our bodies) and is the main active ingredient in ayahuasca tea which is made of those DMT-containing Amazonian plants.
As per the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), all of the above are considered Schedule I drugs due to their high potential for abuse.
PCP – Or phencyclidine and also referred to as angel dust, PCP was initially used as an anesthetic and is one of the exceptions in the world of hallucinogens as it comes with a greater risk for chemical addiction as well. It’s considered a Schedule II drug.
Ketamine – Like PCP, Ketamine is used as an anesthetic. Much of the ketamine that’s bought on the street is actually diverted from veterinary offices. As a drug with an approved medical use, it’s considered a Schedule III drug.
DXM – Dextromethorphan is a cough suppressant and an ingredient found in over the counter cold and cough syrups.
Salvia – A plant that is very fast-acting hallucinogenic, salvia has similar effects to substances like LSD but is packed into a much smaller time window. A trip on salvia lasts around 10 to 20 minutes, which is scant compared to the 12-hour odyssey of LSD. Oddly enough, and despite the intensity, salvia is legal on the federal level.
You can see that quite a lot falls under the umbrella of hallucinogens, much of it that you’re likely familiar with on a name basis at least. That state of detachment from reality, the distortion of the senses and whatever hallucinations accompany it are a massive part of the pull. It’s that out of the body and/or mind-altering experience that people crave.
It also explains why another name for hallucinogenic drugs is “psychedelics”.
The impression is that because they aren’t necessarily habit-forming in the traditional sense or as physically destructive as other sorts of drugs, they are “safer”.
That’s just not the case.