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
), a drug originally used as an anesthetic, and MDMA (
), 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.
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.
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.