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Hallucinogens

Also known as: LSD | Acid | Trips | Mushies | Tabs

A hallucinogen is a drug or chemical capable of producing hallucinations. A hallucination is a false perception through one of the senses (for example, seeing or hearing something that is not there).

Hallucinogens can be produced naturally or synthetically. The most commonly known hallucinogen is synthetic lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) which is sold as a liquid, an absorbent tab or small square of paper. Natural hallucinogenic chemicals are found in plants such as the peyote cactus (mescaline) and some mushrooms (psilocybin).

Certain drugs such as cannabis and ecstasy may produce hallucinogenic effects at high doses or in other circumstances.

Where do hallucinogens come from?

Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) is the most commonly used hallucinogen in Australia. LSD was first produced in 1938 by Albert Hoffman, a Swiss chemist.

The drug is usually sold on small pieces of absorbent paper (tabs) decorated with popular designs, such as smiley faces and cartoons. It may also be sold on sugar cubes, small squares of gelatine or in capsule, tablet or liquid form.

Mescaline is native to Mexico and was used by the Mexican Indians in their religious ceremonies. Mescaline is usually dried and refined into a powder, which varies from white to brown in colour.

Psilocybin is a chemical found in mushrooms, known as magic mushrooms or golden top mushrooms, which are commonly found growing in Australia. Psilocybin may be sold as crude mushroom preparations or whole dried brown mushrooms.

How are hallucinogens used?

Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) is usually swallowed. When swallowed, the effects start within 30 to 60 minutes and peak in three to five hours. The effects usually last for up to nine hours, but they can last for 24 hours.

Mescaline can be chewed or boiled into a liquid and drunk. Its effects last from four to six hours. Magic mushrooms are either eaten raw, cooked, made into a drink or dried for later consumption. The effects usually last from four to six hours.

How many people use hallucinogens?

The National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2016 reported that 0.9% of Western Australians aged 14 years and older had used hallucinogens in the previous 12 months.

The effects of Hallucinogens will vary from person to person depending on the following: 

  • Individual (user) – mood, physical size, health, gender, previous experience with hallucinogens, expectations of the drug, personality, whether the person has had food and whether other drugs have been taken.
  • Drug – the amount used, its purity, and the way it is taken.
  • Setting (environment) – whether the person is using with friends, on his/her own, in a social setting or at home, at work or before driving.

Short-Term Effects of Hallucinogen Use

Long-Term Effects of Hallucinogen Use

Dilation of the pupils

Flashbacks – a spontaneous and unpredictable recurrence of a prior drug experience (tripping) without taking the drug. Flashbacks may occur days, weeks or years after the drug was last taken. They can be triggered by the use of other drugs, stress, fatigue and physical exercise or for no apparent reason

 

Increase in heart rate and blood pressure

Increase risk of developing severe mental disturbances in those who have a predisposition to the condition

Increase in body temperature and sweating

Impaired memory and concentration

Seeing things in a distorted way or seeing things that don’t exist

Tolerance to the drug

Dizziness

Psychological dependence

Drowsiness

 

Nausea

 

Intense sensory experiences – bright colours, sharper sounds

 

Impaired coordination and tremors

 

Distorted sense of time – minutes can seem like hours

 

Varying emotions

 

Distorted sense of space and body

 

Tension and anxiety leading to panic attacks

  

Tolerance

Regular, heavy hallucinogen use can lead to tolerance. This means that a person needs more of the drug to achieve the same effects they did previously with smaller amounts. Tolerance to hallucinogens develops rapidly but is lost several days after use of the drug is ceased. Cross tolerance (when tolerance to one type of hallucinogen makes a person tolerant to the effects of other hallucinogens) may also occur.

Dependence

Regular, heavy hallucinogen use can lead to dependence. This means that the drug becomes central to a person’s life and they feel they cannot function properly without it.

Withdrawal

When the use of hallucinogens is reduced or stopped, withdrawal symptoms may occur. While severe physical symptoms are uncommon, these symptoms can include fatigue, irritability, reduced ability to experience pleasure or cravings for the drug.

Overdose

While there are no reported cases of fatal overdoses from hallucinogens there are still significant risks associated with the use of these drugs. When consuming hallucinogens, such as LSD, a person’s perception of reality is affected, which can lead to people placing themselves in risky situations.

However with magic mushrooms it is often difficult to distinguish between them and other more poisonous look-alikes. Some poisonous mushrooms can cause permanent liver damage or death within hours of being consumed. It is very dangerous to pick and eat wild mushrooms. 

Hallucinogen use can cause anxiety, depression, paranoia and psychosis in those people who have a vulnerability to mental health problems.

The use of Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and other hallucinogens seems to be linked to an increased risk of miscarriage. There may also be a higher incidence of birth defects among babies born to women using LSD during pregnancy.

It is recommended that women check with their doctor (or other health professional) if they are using or planning to use drugs while pregnant or breastfeeding, including prescribed and over-the-counter medicines.

Hallucinogen users sometimes take more than one drug at the same time. Effects can be unpredictable when two or more different drugs are combined.

Using hallucinogens with other drugs such as alcohol or amphetamines increases the risk of complications and side-effects, and can lead to a variety of serious physical and psychological problems.

Hallucinogens and relationship problems

Drug use can lead to social and emotional problems and can affect relationships with family and friends. When users are under the influence of hallucinogens their mood can be unpredictable and/or extreme. Changes may occur depending on how they feel (e.g. euphoric, sick, energetic or angry), which may lead to problems with friends and family members.

Hallucinogens and financial problems

The street prices of LSD, mescaline and magic mushrooms vary depending on availability, market trends and quality. The cost of purchasing hallucinogens can lead to financial problems for both occasional and regular users.

Hallucinogens and the law

In Western Australia, it is against the law to possess, manufacture, supply, import or use hallucinogens. Penalties range from a $2,000 fine and/or a two-year prison term to a $100,000 fine and/or imprisonment for 25 years. In addition, a person convicted of a drug offence will acquire a criminal record and this can lead to difficulties in getting a job, credit or visas for overseas travel. 

Hallucinogens and driving 

Hallucinogens can distort a person’s perception of speed, distances and their visual acuity. These effects can greatly impact on driving ability. Hallucinogens in combination with alcohol can severely impair driving performance.

There are a variety of treatment pathways available for people with hallucinogen related problems. The drug(s) used and the availability of services as well as the user’s health, desired outcome, support network and unique circumstances need to be taken into consideration. Deciding on the best treatment pathway or combination of pathways is best done in consultation with a drug and alcohol counsellor.

For up-to-date information about hallucinogens or other drugs, call the Alcohol and Drug Support Line or Parent and Family Drug Support Line. 

See the Staying Safe section for information on safer use.

 

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