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Hallucinogens & Dissociative Drugs

Hallucinogens are a class of drugs that cause hallucinations—profound distortions in a person’s perceptions of reality. Hallucinogens can be found in some plants and mushrooms (or their extracts) or can be man-made, and they are commonly divided into two broad categories: classic hallucinogens and dissociative drugs.

When under the influence of either type of drug, people often report rapid, intense emotional swings and seeing images, hearing sounds, and feeling sensations that seem real but are not. Hallucinogens and dissociative drugs distort the way a user perceives time, motion, colors, sounds, and self. These drugs can disrupt a person’s ability to think and communicate rationally, or even to recognize reality, sometimes resulting in bizarre or dangerous behavior.


Examples: LSD, psilocybin (mushrooms), peyote, DMT, ayahuasca

Effects include: Emotions swing wildly; real-world sensations appear unreal and sometimes frightening

Risks include: Psychotic-like episodes that can occur long after taking the drug

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Dissociative Drugs

Examples: PCP, ketamine, dextromethorphan, Salvia divinorum

Effects include: Users may feel out of control, disconnected from their body and environment

Risks include: Respiratory depression, heart rate abnormalities, withdrawal syndrome

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While the exact mechanisms by which hallucinogens and dissociative drugs cause their effects are not yet clearly understood, research suggests that they work at least partially by temporarily disrupting communication between neurotransmitter systems throughout the brain and spinal cord that regulate mood, sensory perception, sleep, hunger, body temperature, sexual behavior, and muscle control.

The good news is that use of hallucinogenic and dissociative drugs among U.S. high school students, in general, has remained relatively low in recent years. However, the introduction of new hallucinogenic and dissociative drugs is of particular concern.