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Hallucinogens

Hallucinogens

BIBLIOGRAPHY

The term hallucinogen refers to a variety of substances capable of inducing profound altered states of consciousness. Also known as phantastica, psychedelics, entheogens, and psychointegrators, these substances have a long history of use in societies throughout the world.

The major hallucinogens are LSD, mescaline, psilocybin (found in magic mushrooms), and the tryptamine derivatives (found in ayahuasca). These substances alter sensory perception and produce changes in a persons body image and awareness of space and time, but they do not cloud consciousness and have little impact upon memory. Persons typically remain fully aware of the effects as they are occurring and retain vivid memories afterwards. Although the chemical structures of these substances vary and their mechanisms of action are not yet fully understood, dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine receptor sites have been implicated in their activity. While Cannabis (marijuana) is sometimes included in this list, its effects and mechanism of action are distinct and involve other receptor sites.

The minor hallucinogens include anticholinergic substances (atropine and scopolamine) that block acetylcholine receptors. These produce relatively mild perceptual and cognitive changes, but they do cloud consciousness and impact memory, so that individuals may be unable to recall their experiences. The psychedelic anesthetics (ketamine and phencyclidine or PCP) affect NMDA receptors and induce profound dissociative effects.

The use of hallucinogens in traditional cultural settings has been extensively documented. These substances induce a hypersuggestible state that makes those who ingest them receptive to the messages received during initiation into adulthood and in religious rituals. Because the experiences are explained before they are induced, the effects are understood within a culturally defined and socially sanctioned framework that reassures the initiates and provides emphatic evidence of the correctness of the foundational premises of their societys worldview.

Although traditional societies have been using hallucinogens for culturally constructive purposes for millennia, scientific interest in hallucinogens is comparatively recent. In the late 1800s, anthropological studies led to the recognition of the visionary effects of the peyote cactus. Subsequent research led to the isolation (1896) and synthesis (1919) of mescaline, the primary hallucinogenic component of peyote. Mescaline was thus the first hallucinogen to become available as a pharmaceutical preparation. The fantastic descriptions of the effects produced by mescaline attracted the attention of both scientists and artists, a pattern that would be repeated with other hallucinogens.

In 1938, Albert Hofmann, a Swiss chemist working at Sandoz Laboratories, first synthesized LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) during his research into potential analgesics. During subsequent research in 1943, Hofmann accidentally ingested a miniscule amount of the drug (through the skin) and soon noticed marked perceptual changes and other effects. He then undertook a self-experiment using what he thought was an extremely small dose (250 micrograms) and experienced even more profound effects. Hofmann was later asked to identify the active constituents (psilocybin and psilocin) in samples of magic mushrooms (Psilocybe spp.) collected in Mexico. Uncertain of their usefulness and desiring to determine if there was a market for these substances, Sandoz made LSD (under the name Delysid) and psilocybin (known as Indocybin) available for psychiatric, therapeutic, and experimental research.

During the 1950s and early 1960s, considerable scientific research was conducted into hallucinogens. In clinical settings, these substances showed promise in treating chronic alcoholism, psychological trauma, pain, and obsessive-compulsive disorders. The U.S. and British governments also investigated the potential of hallucinogens as agents of chemical and psychological warfare. In the 1950s and 1960s, the CIA, in a project known as MKUL-TRA, gave scopolamine, mescaline, LSD, psilocybin, and other agents to numerous individuals, often without their knowledge. The unpredictability of the effects and the suicide of several subjects led to the termination of this work.

As knowledge about the visionary effects and therapeutic potential of the hallucinogens became more widespread, numerous artists, writers, and scientists had psychedelic experiences that profoundly affected their work. One of the first was Aldous Huxley (18941963), whose experiences with mescaline led him to write The Doors of Perception (1954) and Heaven and Hell (1956), two essays that introduced hallucinogens to the public. Another influential figure was the Harvard psychologist Timothy Leary (19201996), who first encountered psilocybin mushrooms during a trip to Mexico in 1960. Leary subsequently obtained a large quantity of psilocybin from Sandoz and began to offer it to other Harvard faculty and graduate students. With his team, he also administered psilocybin to violent criminals, with promising results.

Leary and others also investigated the effects of hallucinogens upon artists, musicians, and other creative individuals. As the circle of people who had had an experience with a hallucinogen expanded, increasing numbers of individuals became interested in these substances. Eventually, acid tests, be-ins, and other events provided the opportunity for thousands of people to simultaneously experience the effects of a hallucinogen. For many, the inner worlds revealed by these substances offered a stark contrast to consumerism, the push to conform, and the war in Vietnam. Psychedelic music, art, and poetry gave expression to these experiences, challenged conventional morality and authority, and led to the emergence of a counterculture that maintained that peace, love, and flower power could change human consciousness and alter the political landscape. In the late 1960s, governments reacted by enacting laws prohibiting the use, possession, manufacture, and distribution of most hallucinogens. While this did curtail some illicit use, it also put a stop to legitimate research.

Scientific research with human subjects resumed in the 1990s. In pilot studies, hallucinogens have been administered to terminal patients to help them confront their impending death, and they have been used to treat victims of post-traumatic stress disorder and sufferers of cluster headaches. The ancient tradition of hallucinogen use within a religious context is continued in the Native American Church, which uses peyote, and by several Brazilian churches (including the Santo Daime and União de Vegetal [UDV]) that use ayahuasca. These religious movements have achieved great success in helping their members overcome addictions to alcohol and other drugs, and they are legally allowed to use specific hallucinogens as sacraments.

In 1999, U.S. Customs agents seized a shipment of ayahuasca that had been shipped to the United States for use by an American chapter of União de Vegetal. The government claimed that the mixture contained substances banned by U.S. and international law. However, a 2006 U.S. Supreme Court decision unanimously affirmed that the government had not demonstrated a compelling interest in prohibiting the UDV from using ayahuacsa in their religious services, thereby allowing them to use it legally in the United States.

Increased recognition that hallucinogens can be used for constructive purposes has led to renewed calls to review and, where appropriate, reduce the legal restrictions on these substances. In the United States, mescaline, LSD, psilocybin, psilocin, and even Cannabis are currently categorized as Schedule I substances, which are defined as having a high potential for abuse, a lack of acceptable safety when used under medical supervision, and a lack of currently accepted medical use. Similar restrictions exist internationally. However, these legal classifications are not consistent and are rarely adjusted as new scientific findings and patterns of illegal use become known. In many jurisdictions, drug classification often reflects political and social trends rather than scientific data. For example, in the United States the major hallucinogens are listed in Schedule I along with heroin, a substance that is available to physicians and patients in Europe. In contrast, methamphetamine, one of the most addictive and personally destructive drugs known, is classified as a Schedule II drug with a currently acceptable medical use. Moreover, many experts consider alcohol and tobacco to have a much greater potential for both personal and social harm than any of the hallucinogens (including Cannabis ).

The 2003 National Survey on Drug Use & Health estimated that 34,363,000 Americans (14.5% of the population) had used a hallucinogen (excluding Cannabis ) at least once in their lives. The same survey estimated that 96,611,000 persons (40.6%) had used Cannabis at least once. Worldwide, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported in 2006 that approximately 162,400,000 people used Cannabis in 2005 (3.9% of the total world population between the ages of 15 and 64). The UNODC did not report on the prevalence of LSD, peyote, or mescaline use.

In contrast to heroin and methamphetamine and the legal drugs ethyl alcohol and nicotine, hallucinogens (including Cannabis ) are not physically addictive, and such substances as LSD, mescaline, and psilocybin even exhibit cross-tolerance with one another, meaning that daily dosages quickly lose their effectiveness. Both the traditional patterns of use and the increasing scientific evidence that many of the major hallucinogens can be useful in treating various disorders and in personal growth, and that Cannabis is an effective remedy for glaucoma, pain, the side effects of chemotherapy, and for many other purposes, demonstrates that a rethinking of drug laws in general, and the potential roles of hallucinogens in particular, is long overdue.

SEE ALSO Drugs of Abuse; Leary, Timothy; Native Americans; Psychotropic Drugs

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Julien, Robert M. 2005. A Primer of Drug Action. 10th ed. New York: Worth Publishers.

Nutt, David, Leslie A. King, William Saulsbury, and Colin Blakemore. 2007. Development of a Rational Scale to Assess the Harm of Drugs of Potential Misuse. The Lancet. Vol. 369, March 24, 2006, pp. 10471053.

Rätsch, Christian. 2005. The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants. Trans. John R. Baker. Rochester, VT: Park Street Press.

Stevens, Jay. 1987. Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. 2006. World Drug Report. New York: United Nations. http://www.unodc.org/unodc/world_drug_report.html.

U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). 2003. National Survey on Drug Use & Health. Washington, DC: SAMHSA. http://www.drugabusestatistics.samhsa.gov/.

Winkleman, Michael J., and Thomas B. Roberts, eds. 2007. Psychedelic Medicine: New Evidence for Hallucinogenic Substances as Treatments. Westport, CT: Praeger.

John R. Baker

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Hallucinogens

Hallucinogens

Substances that cause hallucinationperception of things or feelings that have no foundation in realitywhen ingested.

Hallucinogens, or psychedelics, are substances that alter users' thought processes or moods to the extent that they perceive objects or experience sensations that in fact have no basis in reality. Many natural and some synthetic substances have the ability to bring about hallucinations . In fact, because of the ready market for such chemicals, they are manufactured in illegal chemical laboratories for sale as hallucinogens. LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) and many so-called designer drugs have no useful clinical function.

Hallucinogens have long been a component in the religious rites of various cultures, both in the New and Old Worlds. Among the oldest are substances from mushrooms or cactus that have been in use in Native American rites since before recorded history. Hallucinogenic mushrooms have been used for centuries in rites of medicine men to foresee the future or communicate with the gods. The mushroom is consumed by eating it or by drinking a beverage in which the mushroom has been boiled. The effects are similar to those experienced by an LSD user enhancement of colors and sounds, introspective interludes, perception of nonexistent or absent objects or persons, and sometimes terrifying, ominous visions.

Another ancient, natural hallucinogenic substance is derived from the Mexican peyote cactus. The flowering head of the cactus contains a potent alkaloid called mescaline. Hallucinogenic substances can be found in a number of other plant species.

In the 1960s, hallucinogens were discovered and embraced by the hippie movement, which incorporated drugs into its culture. In addition, artists, poets, and writers of the time believed that the use of hallucinogens enhanced their creative prowess.

Use of LSD, the most widely known hallucinogen, declined after large numbers of users experienced serious, sometimes fatal, effects during the 1960s. In the United States, LSD was classified as a Schedule I drug according to the Controlled Substance Act of 1970. That designation is reserved for those drugs considered unsafe, medically useless, and with a high potential for abuse.

LSD made a comeback in the 1990s, becoming the most abused drug of people under 20 years of age. Its low cost ($1 to $5 per "hit"), ready availability, and a renewed interest in 1960s culture are blamed for the resurgence. A 1993 survey reported that 13% of 18-to 25-year-olds had used hallucinogens, in most cases LSD, at least once.

Drugs such as LSD are often differentiated from less potent psychedelics, which have the primary effect of inducing euphoria, relaxation, stimulation, relief from pain , or relief from anxiety. This group of drugs is exemplified by marijuana , which is available worldwide and constitutes one of the primary money crops in the United States. Opiates such as heroin or morphine, phencyclidine (PCP), and certain tranquilizers such as diazepam (Valium) also belong to this category.

LSD was first synthesized in 1938 by Dr. Albert Hofmann, a Swiss chemist who was seeking a headache remedy. Years later, he accidentally ingested a small, unknown quantity, and shortly afterward he was forced to stop his work and go home. Hofmann lay in a darkened room and later recorded in his diary that he was in a dazed condition and experienced "an uninterrupted stream of fantastic images of extraordinary plasticity and vividnessaccompanied by an intense kaleidoscope-like play of colors."

Three days later, Hofmann purposely took another dose of LSD to verify that his previous experience was the result of taking the drug. He ingested what he thought was a small dose (250 micrograms), but which is actually about five times the amount needed to induce pronounced hallucinations in an adult male. His second hallucinatory experience was even more intense, and his journal describes the symptoms of LSD toxicity: a metallic taste , difficulty in breathing, dry and constricted throat, cramps, paralysis, and visual disturbances.

LSD is one of the most potent hallucinogens known, and no therapeutic benefits have been discovered. The usual dose for an adult is 50-100 micrograms. (A microgram is a millionth of a gram.) Higher doses will produce more intense effects and lower doses will produce milder effects. The so-called "acid trip" can be induced by swallowing the drug, smoking it (usually with marijuana), injecting it, or rubbing it on the skin. Taken by mouth, the drug will take about 30 minutes to have any effect and up to an hour for its full effect to be felt, which will last 2 to 4 hours.

The physiological effects of LSD include blurred vision , dilation of the pupils of the eye, muscle weakness and twitching, and an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. The user may also salivate excessively and shed tears, and the hair on the back of his arms may stand erect. Pregnant women who use LSD or other hallucinogens may have a miscarriage, because these drugs cause the muscles of the uterus to contract. Such a reaction in pregnancy would expel the fetus.

To the observer, the user usually will appear quiet and introspective. Most of the time the user will be unwilling or unable to interact with others, to carry on a conversation, or engage in intimacies. At times even moderate doses of LSD will have profoundly disturbing effects on an individual. Although the physiological effects will seem uniform, the psychological impact of the drug can be terrifying. The distortions in reality, exaggeration of perception and other effects can be horrifying, especially if the user is unaware that he has been given the drug. This constitutes what is called the "bad trip."

Among the psychological effects reported by LSD users is depersonalization, the separation from one's body, yet with the knowledge that the separated mind is observing the passing scene. A confused body image (the user cannot tell where his own body ends and the surroundings begin) also is common. A distorted perception of reality is also common. For example, the user's perception of colors, distance, shapes, and sizes is inconsistent and unreliable. In addition, the user may perceive absent objects and forms without substance. He may also taste colors or smell sounds, a mixing of the senses called synesthesia. Sounds, colors, and taste are all greatly enhanced, though they may constitute an unrealistic and constantly changing tableau.

The user often talks incessantly on a variety of subjects, often uttering meaningless phrases. But he may also become silent and immobile for long periods of time as he listens to music or contemplates a flower or his thumb. Mood swings are frequent, with sudden alternations between total euphoria and complete despair.

Some users will exhibit symptoms of paranoia . They become suspicious of persons around them and tend to withdraw from others. Feelings of anxiety can also surface when the user is removed from a quiet environment and exposed to everyday stimuli. Activities such as standing in line with other people or walking down a city sidewalk may seem impossible to handle. Users have been known to jump off buildings or walk in front of moving trucks.

How LSD and other hallucinogens produce these bizarre effects remains unknown. The drug attaches to certain chemical binding sites widely spread through the brain , but what ensues thereafter has yet to be described. A person who takes LSD steadily with the doses close together can develop a tolerance to the drug. That is, the amount of drug that once produced a pronounced "high" no longer is effective. A larger dose is required to achieve the same effect. However, if the individual keeps increasing his drug intake he will soon pass over the threshold into the area of toxicity.

Discontinuing LSD or the other hallucinogens, especially after having used them for an extended period of time, is not easy. The residual effects of the drugs produce toxic symptoms and "flashbacks," which are similar to an LSD "trip."

Currently, the most common form of LSD administration is by licking the back of a stamp torn from a perforated sheet of homemade stamps. The drug is coated on the back of the sheet of stamps or is deposited as a colored dot on the paper. Removing one stamp, the user places it on his tongue and allows the LSD to dissolve in his saliva. Because a tiny amount can produce strong effects, overdoses are common.

Teens often experiment with LSD or other hallucinogens in reaction to poor family relationships and psychological problems. Others are prompted by curiosity, peer pressure , and the desire to escape from feelings of isolation or despair. Typical physical signs of hallucinogen use include rapid breathing, muscle twitching, chills and shaking, upset stomach, enlarged pupils, confusion, and poor coordination.

Further Reading

Robbins, Paul R. Hallucinogens. Springfield, NJ: Enslow, 1996.

Fernandes, B. "The Long, Strange Trip Back." World Press Review 40, September 1993, pp. 38-39.

Monroe, Judy. "Designer Drugs: CAT & LSD." Current Health 21, September 1994, p. 13.

"The Negative Side of Nostalgia." Medical Update 17, July 1993, p. 3.

Porush, D. "Finding God in the Three-Pound Universe: The Neuroscience of Transcendence." Omni 16, October 1993, pp. 60-62.

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Hallucinogens

Hallucinogens

Hallucinogens are natural and synthetic (synthesized) substances that, when ingested (taken into the body), significantly alter one's state of consciousness. Hallucinogenic compounds often cause people to see (or think they see) random colors, patterns, events, and objects that do not exist. People sometimes have a a different perception of time and space, hold imaginary conversations, believe they hear music and experience smells, tastes, and other sensations that are not real.

Hallucinogen Classification

Many types of substances are classified as hallucinogens, solely because of their capacity to produce such hallucinations. These substances are sometimes called "pyschedelic," or "mind-expanding" drugs. They are generally illegal to use in the United States, but are sometimes sold on the street by drug dealers. A few hallucinogens have been used in medicine to treat certain disorders, but they must be given under controlled circumstances. Hallucinogens found in plants and mushrooms were used by humans for many centuries in spiritual practice worldwide.

Unlike such drugs as barbiturates and amphetamines (which depress or speed up the central nervous system, respectively) hallucinogens are not physically addictive (habit-forming). People can become psychologically dependent upon them, however. The real danger of hallucinogens is not their toxicity (poison level), but their unpredictability. People have had such varied reactions to these substances, especially to LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), that it is virtually impossible to predict the effect a hallucinogen will have on any given individual. Effects depend upon the person's mood, surroundings, personality, and expectations when taking the drug.

Hallucinogens and Spirituality

Some users of hallucinogens have reported feeling mystical and insightful, while others are fearful, paranoid (excessively suspicious or mistrustful of others), and hysterical (exhibiting overwhelming or unmanageable fear or emotional excitability). Medicine men, shamans, and other spiritual leaders have used natural hallucinogens found in plants and mushrooms since ancient times, believing in their power to help contact the spiritual world or mystical beings for guidance in serving their people.

Pollen from flowers and other plants-most with medicinal properties-was found in the grave of a Neanderthal man in Shanidar, Iraq. Scientists believe that since these prehistoric people very likely knew how to use plants for medicine, they probably used hallucinogenic plants in rituals. Archaeological evidence also shows that psychoactive drugs (drugs that affect the mind or behavior) were used in ancient Egypt, Greece, Europe, and many other cultures.

Natural hallucinogens are formed in dozens of psychoactive plants, including the peyote cactus, various species of mushrooms, and the bark and seeds of several trees and plants. In Mexico, mushrooms called Psylocybe mexicana, which contain the fungi psilocybin and psilocin, have been used in religious rituals since the time of the Aztec civilization (before 1519, an empire in Central America noted for its advanced social development). In Europe, the fungus Amanita muscaria was thought to have been used by the Vikings. Amanita muscaria and its close relative, Amanita pantherina, are also found in the United States. Both contain psychoactive ingredients called ibotenic acid and muscimol.

Some members of the Native American Church, an organization made up of Native Americans from tribes throughout North America, practice the use of mescaline, a form of psychedelic drug found in the peyote cactus. Currently peyote is the only psychedelic agent that has been authorized by the federal government for limited use during Native American religious ceremonies.

A few less common natural hallucinogens are also used in religious practice. These include ololiuqui (morning glory) seeds, which are eaten by Central and South American Indians both as intoxicants (a substance, such as alcohol, that excites or makes one insensible) and hallucinogens. Harmine, another psychedelic chemical that has been used for centuries, is obtained from the seeds of Peganum harmala, a plant found in the Middle East. The feeling of exhilaration (cheerfulness, excitement) brought about by this drug is sometimes followed by nausea, fatigue, and sleep. People using the drug may experience visual distortions (for instance, an object appears to be in a different shape from what it really is) like those induced by LSD.

DMT (dimethyltryptamine)is a hallucinogen found in the seeds of certain West Indian and South American plants. People in Haiti have used this drug, in the form of a snuff (a tobacco product inhaled through the nostrils, chewed, or placed against the gums) called cohoba, in religious ceremonies.

Marijuana, LSD, and PCP

Marijuana and hashish, two substances derived from the hemp plant (Cannabis sativa), are also considered natural hallucinogens, although their potency (power) is very low when compared to others. Marijuana (also called grass, pot, tea, weed, or reefer), a green herb from the flower of the hemp plant, is considered a mild hallucinogen. Hashish is marijuana in a more potent, concentrated form. Both drugs are usually smoked. Their effects include a feeling of relaxation, faster heart rate, the sensation that time is passing more slowly, and a greater sense of hearing, taste, touch, and smell.

Even the most potent of these naturally occurring hallucinogens is not nearly as powerful and unpredictable as the synthetic hallucinogen LSD, which is chemically derived from ergot, a parasitic fungus (a fungus that lives in or on a host, deriving benefits from the host while injuring it) that grows on rye and other grains. LSD became well known in the 1960s, when many people sought spiritual enlightenment through the use of drugs.

A form of LSD was first produced in 1938, when Albert Hoffman, a Swiss research chemist at Sandoz Laboratories, synthesized many important ergot alkaloids (organic plant bases), including Hydergine, LSD-25, and psilocybin. Hoffman accidentally experienced the first "LSD high" when a drop of the material entered his bloodstream through the skin of his fingertip. Hoffman could hardly recount his experience after it was over. He was the first to record LSD's ability to cause the user to experience synesthesia, an overflow of one sensory ability into another. For example, a person experiencing synesthesia may hear colors and see sounds.

The physical effects of hallucinogens are considered small compared to their effects on the mind. Death from an overdose of hallucinogens is highly unlikely, but deaths have resulted from accidents or suicides involving people under the influence of LSD. The drug made them so indifferent to the world around them they thought they could step out of a window, for example, without harm. LSD is sold on the street in various forms, sometimes on a piece of paper marked into squares, with each square being one dose.

LSD is so powerful that a tiny amount can have a hallucinogenic effect. Just three pounds of LSD could cause a reaction in all the people in New York City and London combined. Because it is so strong and its action so unpredictable, LSD is considered very dangerous.

The drug phencyclidine, or PCP, known as "angel dust" and "rocket fuel," was widely abused in the late 1970s. PCP is dangerous because it produces a sense of indifference about the world and a reduced sensitivity to pain. Combined with hallucinogenic effects, it can result in bizarre thinking and violently destructive behavior.

Taking hallucinogens can cause sweating, excessive salivation, decreased heart rate, increased blood pressure, and change in pupil size. LSD users may experience flashbacks of visions they had when on the drug. Some LSD users suffer organic brain damage, which results in impaired memory and attention span, confusion, and difficulty in thinking. Some scientists believe hallucinogens affect serotonin, a neurotransmitter (a substance that transmits nerve impulses) in the brain. Recently several hallucinogenic compounds have been found to resemble serotonin structurally. One theory is that at least some drug-induced hallucinations are due to changes in the functioning of serotonin neurons. It was demonstrated that LSD interfered with the transmitter action of serotonin.

Medical Uses of Hallucinogens

Hallucinogens have been studied for possible medical uses, including the treatment of some forms of mental illness, alcholism, and addiction to the drug opium. They have also been given to dying patients. Most of these uses have been abandoned, however.

A synthetic form of the active chemical in marijuana, THC, has been approved for prescription use by cancer patients who suffer from severe nausea after receiving chemotherapy (treating cancer with drugs). THC is also used to reduce eye pressure in treating severe cases of glaucoma. PCP is occasionally used by veterinarians as an anesthetic and sedative for animals.

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Hallucinogens

Hallucinogens

Hallucinogens are natural and human-made substances that often cause people to believe they see random colors, patterns, events, and objects that do not exist. The hallucinatory experiences can either be very pleasant or very disturbing. Many different types of substances are classified as hallucinogens because of their capacity to produce such hallucinations. These substances come in the form of pills, powders, liquids, gases, and plants that can be eaten. In the body, hallucinogens stimulate the nervous system. Effects include the dilation (widening) of the pupils of the eyes, constriction of certain arteries, and rising blood pressure.

Hallucinogens have long been a part of the religious rites of various cultures throughout history. Tribal shamen or medicine men swallowed the hallucinogenic substance or inhaled fumes or smoke from a burning substance to experience hallucinations. They believed that such a state enhanced their mystical powers. Separated from reality, they were better able to communicate with the gods or their ancestors. These hallucinogens were mostly natural substances. Among the oldest are those from mushrooms or cactus that have been used in Native American rites since before recorded time. The use of such compounds still forms a central part of tribal ritual in some Native American tribes.

Mushrooms

Certain species of mushrooms have been used for centuries by medicine men to bring about hallucinations. Although artifacts remaining from ancient cultures show mushrooms surrounded by human figures, the significance of such statues remained obscure for many years. Scientists were not aware of the existence of hallucinogenic mushrooms and their part in tribal rituals until the twentieth century.

Words to Know

Hallucinations: Images, sounds, or odors that are seen, heard, or smelled by a person, but do not exist in reality.

Neurotransmitter: Chemical substance that transmits impulses between neurons (nerve cells) in the brain.

Synesthesia: A mixing of the senses so that one who experiences it claims to be able to taste color, or hear taste, or smell sounds.

After collecting and analyzing these mushrooms, scientists found that their active ingredient had a chemical structure similar to serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain. (A neurotransmitter is a chemical substance that transmits impulses between neurons [nerve cells] in the brain.) They named this ingredient psilocybin (pronounced sigh-luh-SIGH-ben).

In rituals, hallucinogenic mushrooms are either eaten directly or boiled in a liquid, which is then consumed. A user experiences enhanced colors and sounds, perceives objects or persons who are not present, and sometimes has terrifying visions that predict dire circumstances to come.

Peyote

Peyote is another ancient, natural hallucinogenic substance. It comes from the cactus species Lophophora that is native to the southwestern United States and Mexico. Peyote is the flowering mushroomlike head or button of the cactus. It contains a potent chemical substance called mescaline. Peyote is either chewed, boiled in a liquid for drinking, or rolled into pellets that are swallowed. The uses of peyote parallel those of the hallucinogenic mushrooms. Mescaline produces visions and changes in perception, and users experience a state of intoxication and happiness. Native Americans of the Southwest often use peyote in their tribal rituals. It is an especially important part of the Native American Church.

LSD

LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide; pronounced lie-SIR-jic A-sid die-ETH-a-la-mide) is a synthetic substance first made in 1938 by Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann (1906 ). While seeking a headache remedy, Hofmann isolated lysergic acid from the ergot fungus that grows on wheat. In the laboratory he added the diethylamide molecule to the lysergic acid compound. While Hofmann was working with the new compound, a drop of the material entered his bloodstream through the skin of his fingertip and Hofmann soon experienced intense hallucinations.

In the 1950s, American chemists conducted a series of experiments in which the drug was given to mice, spiders, cats, dogs, goats, and an elephant. All of the animals showed dramatic changes in behavior. Experiments on human subjects were then conducted. Researchers hoped to find a use for LSD as a treatment for disorders such as schizophrenia, alcoholism, and narcotic addiction. However, it soon became evident that the drug had no therapeutic (healing) use, and research on it was abandoned.

LSD, an illegal drug, is one of the most potent hallucinogens known. It is 5,000 times more potent than mescaline and 200 times more potent than psilocybin. Just a tiny amount of the drug can produce a dramatic effect. The drug can be swallowed, smoked (mixed with marijuana), injected through a needle, or rubbed on the skin. Taken by mouth, the drug will take about 30 minutes to have any effect and up to an hour for its full effect to be felt. The total effect of LSD can last 6 to 14 hours.

An LSD user will experience blurred vision, dilation of the pupils, and muscle weakness and twitching. Heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature all increase. The user's perception of colors, distance, shapes, and sizes is totally distorted and constantly changing. Some LSD users claim to be able to taste colors or smell sounds, a mixing of the senses called synesthesia. Hallucinations are common. Mood swings are frequent, with the user alternating between total euphoria and complete despair.

Users have been known to jump off buildings or walk in front of moving trucks because they have lost their grasp of reality. Repeated users of LSD who then stop taking the drug often experience flashbacks, or vivid past hallucinations. How LSD produces all these effects in the body remains unknown. Researchers know that the drug attaches to certain chemical binding sites widely spread throughout the brain. What occurs thereafter is not known.

[See also Addiction ]

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hallucinogenic drug

hallucinogenic drug (həlōō´sənōjĕn´Ĭk), any of a group of substances that alter consciousness; also called psychotomimetic (i.e., mimicking psychosis), mind-expanding, or psychedelic drug. The group includes mescaline, or peyote, which comes from the cactus Lophophora williamsii; psilocin and psilocybin, from the mushrooms Psilocybe mexicana and Psilocybe cubensis; and LSD, synthesized from lysergic acid, found in the fungus Claviceps purpurea (see ergot). These alkaloids have also been produced synthetically. Newer hallucinogens, such as PCP (phencyclidine, or "angel dust" ), a drug originally used as an anesthetic, and MDMA ( "Ecstasy" ), an amphetamine derivative, were common in the 1980s. Marijuana has hallucinogenic properties but is pharmacologically distinct.

Hallucinogens have been used for centuries by certain peoples. The Hindus and the Aztecs used them to facilitate meditation, cure illness, and enhance mystical powers. Many North American tribal peoples still use hallucinogenic mushrooms and peyote in tribal rituals. During the 1950s and 60s a number of hallucinogenic drugs were investigated in studies, but such drugs were largely discredited by association with the so-called drug culture that developed in the 1960s. Under the Controlled Substances Act (1970) they have been classified as having a high potential for abuse, having no accepted medical use in treatment, and not having accepted safety for use under medical supervision. In the 21st cent., however, there has been some experimental investigation into the potential use of psilocybin and, to a lesser degree, LSD in the treatment of anxiety and stress in terminally ill patients and of addiction.

Effects

Hallucinogens produce a wide range of effects, depending on the properties, dosage, and potency of the drug, the personality and mood of the drug taker, and the immediate environment. Visually, perception of light and space is altered, and colors and detail take on increased significance. If the eyes are closed the drug taker often sees intense visions of different kinds. Nonexistent conversations, music, odors, tastes, and other sensations are also perceived. The sensations are often either very pleasant or very distasteful and disturbing. The drugs frequently alter the sense of time and cause feelings of emptiness. For many individuals the separation between self and environment disappears, leading to a sense of oneness or holiness.

The effects, sometimes referred to as a "trip," can last from an hour to a few days. "Bad trips," full of frightening images, monsters, and paranoid thoughts are known to have resulted in accidents and suicides. Flashbacks (unexpected reappearances of the effects) can occur months later.

Physiologically, the drugs act as mild stimulants of the sympathetic nervous system, causing dilation of the pupils, constriction of some arteries, a rise in blood pressure, and increased excitability of certain spinal reflexes. Psilocybin has been shown to produce decreased blood flow and activity in the thalamus and other brain areas that connect different parts of the brains. Many hallucinogenic drugs share a basic chemical structural unit, the indole ring, which is also found in the nervous system substance serotonin. Mescaline has chemical similarities to both the indole ring and the adrenal hormone epinephrine.

Bibliography

See publications of the Drugs & Crime Data Center and Clearinghouse, the Bureau of Justice Statistics Clearinghouse, and the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information.

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Hallucinogens

Hallucinogens

Drugs that induce profound changes in consciousness through interference with normal sensory perception. Typical drugs of this kind are mescaline, LSD, and psilocybin. The dissemination of knowledge of hallucinogens and their widespread availability in the 1960s created a significant subculture in the West. The use of LSD and related substances opened many to the spiritual life, even though most soon dropped their use.

The public was first alerted to the possibilities of psychedelics through Aldous Huxley 's books The Doors of Perception (1954) and Heaven & Hell (1956), which suggest that drug experience is related to states of mysticism. His insights were developed at great length by numerous writers in the following two decades.

Opponents of the use of psychedelics have noted that their use tends to make individuals dependent upon them for the production of ecstatic experiences, and that they are no substitute for the development of a mature mystical lifestyle.

Sources:

Lewin, L. Phantastica, Narcotic and Stimulating Drugs. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1964.

Masters, R. E. L., and Jean Houston. The Varieties of Psychedelic Experience. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1966. Reprint, London: Anthony Blond, 1967.

Wasson, R. G. Soma: The Divine Mushroom. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1971.

Zaehner, R. C. Mysticism Sacred and Profane. London, 1957.

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hallucinogen

hallucinogen A drug or chemical that causes alterations in perception (usually visual), mood, and thought. Common hallucinogenic drugs include lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and mescaline. There is no common mechanism of action for this class of compounds although many hallucinogens are structurally similar to neurotransmitters in the central nervous system, such as serotonin and the catecholamines.

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hallucinogen

hal·lu·ci·no·gen / həˈloōsənəˌjən/ • n. a drug that causes hallucinations, such as LSD. DERIVATIVES: hal·lu·ci·no·gen·ic / həˌloōsənəˈjenik/ adj.

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hallucinogen

hallucinogen (hă-loo-sin-ŏ-jen) n. a drug that produces hallucinations, e.g. cannabis and lysergic acid diethylamide. Hallucinogens were formerly used to treat certain types of mental illness.
hallucinogenic adj.

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hallucinogen

hallucinogen Drug that causes hallucinations. Hallucinogenic drugs, such as mescaline, were used in primitive religious ceremonies. Today, drugs such as LSD are illicitly taken.

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hallucinogen

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