Hallucinogen Essay, Research Paper


While many drugs speed up or depress the central nervous system, there is a

class of drugs that distorts how we feel, hear, see, smell, taste, and think.

Called hallucinogens because users often hallucinate, or experience nonexistent

sensations, these drugs are also known as psychedelic, or mind-bending, drugs.

Some hallucinogens come from natural sources; others are made in laboratories.

Examples of natural hallucinogens are mescaline, psilocybin, DMT, and marijuana.

Mescaline, which has been used by American Indians in religious ceremonies,

comes from the peyote cactus. Psilocybin, also used by the Indians and believed

to have supernatural powers, is found in about 20 varieties of mushrooms. Once

ingested, psilocybin is converted to psilocin, which is responsible for the

drug’s hallucinogenic sensations. DMT (dimethyltryptamine) is a short-acting

hallucinogen found in the seeds of certain West Indian and South American plants.

In the form of snuff, called cohoba, it has been used in religious ceremonies in

Haiti. Marijuana is a plant belonging to the hemp family . The active principle

responsible for the drug’s effects is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), obtained from

the amber-colored resin of the flowering tops and leaves of the plant. Hashish

is also made from this resin.

Of all drugs, synthetic and natural, the most powerful is LSD, or lysergic

acid diethylamide. Twenty micrograms, an almost infinitesimal amount, is

sufficient to produce a hallucinogenic effect; just 3 pounds (1.4 kilograms)

could induce a reaction in all the inhabitants of New York City and London. This

extraordinary potency makes LSD especially dangerous since it is usually

impossible to determine how much is contained in doses offered by drug dealers.

LSD is chemically derived from ergot, a parasitic fungus that grows on rye

and other grains. An odorless, colorless, and tasteless substance, LSD is sold

on the street in tablets, capsules, and sometimes liquid form. It is usually

taken by mouth but can be injected. Often LSD is placed on a blotter or other

absorbent paper and marked into small squares, each representing one dose.

Synthetic hallucinogens with effects resembling those of LSD include DET

(diethyltryptamine), a synthetic compound similar to DMT, and DOM (2,5-

dimethoxy-4-methylamphetamine), a compound that combines some of the properties

of mescaline and amphetamines, as do the drugs MDA (3,4-

methylenedioxyamphetamine) and MMDA (3-methoxy-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine).

The effects of hallucinogens on the body are unpredictable. They depend on

the amount taken and the user’s personality, mood, expectations, and

surroundings. Although hallucinogens do not produce a physical addiction, users

do develop a tolerance, so that increasing amounts must be taken to achieve the

same effect. Psychological dependence on hallucinogens is well documented.

It appears that each drug carries its own risks. For example, unlike

hallucinogens such as LSD and synthetics such as DOM that consist of a single

chemical, marijuana has been found to contain more than 400 separate substances.

These substances are in turn broken down in the body into a great many more

chemicals, and the effects of these chemicals on the user are poorly understood.

It has been found, however, that the most potent of these chemicals are

attracted to and accumulate in fatty tissues, including the brain and

reproductive organs.

Studies indicate that frequent marijuana users may experience impaired short-

term memory and learning ability and reproductive problems. Other studies

suggest that frequent or chronic marijuana use may contribute to damage of the

immune system, increased strain on the heart, delayed puberty, and chromosome


The most pronounced psychological effects induced by hallucinogens are a

heightened awareness of colors and patterns together with a slowed perception of

time and a distorted body image. Sensations may seem to “cross over,” giving the

user a sense of “hearing” colors and “seeing” sounds. Users may also slip into a

dreamlike state, indifferent to the world around them and forgetful of time and

place to such an extent that they may believe it possible to step out of a

window or stand in front of a speeding car without harm. Users may feel several

different emotions at once or swing wildly from one emotion to another. It is

impossible to predict what kind of experience a hallucinogen may produce.

Frightening or even panic-producing psychological reactions to LSD and similar

drugs are common. Sometimes taking a hallucinogen will leave the user with

serious mental or emotional problems, though it is unclear whether the drug

simply unmasked a previously undetected disorder or actually produced it.

Among the short-term physical effects of hallucinogens are dilated pupils,

raised body temperature, increased heart rate and blood pressure, sweating, loss

of appetite, sleeplessness, dry mouth, and tremors. The long-term effects are

less certain. LSD users may experience involuntary flashbacks during which the

drug’s effects reappear without warning. Such flashbacks can occur days, months,

or even years after the drug was last used. Some LSD users develop organic brain

damage, manifested by impaired memory and attention span, mental confusion, and

difficulty with abstract thinking. It is still unclear whether such damage can

be reversed when LSD use is halted.

Although hallucinogens can pose a threat to health when used indiscriminately,

they may also have therapeutic uses in medicine when administered under

controlled circumstances. A synthetic form of THC, the active principle in

marijuana, has been approved for prescription use by persons who suffer from the

severe nausea that often accompanies cancer chemotherapy and for whom other

antinausea drugs are unsuitable or ineffective. LSD was once used to treat

persons with certain mental disorders, but such use was abandoned because of the

drug’s harmful effects.

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