Hallucinogens - or psychedelics - are drugs that affect a person’s perception of sights, sounds, touch, smell etc. Some of the stronger hallucinogenic can exert a powerful effect on a drug users thinking and self-awareness.
A few hallucinogens come from natural sources, such as mescaline from the peyote cactus and psilocybin, which is the hallucinogenic agent in so-called magic mushrooms. Others, such as LSD, MDA (methylenedioxyamphetamine) and Ecstasy (methylenedioxymethamphetamine - or MDMA) are either entirely synthetic or semi-synthetic. For example, LSD is derived from a fungus that grows on rye grains but requires very substantial chemical processing to produce.
Which hallucinogens are abused?
Hallucinogens do not have any legal medicinal uses and are therefore all classed as drugs of abuse. The most commonly seen are LSD, Ecstasy and psilocybin (magic mushrooms). Other hallucinogenic substances such as mescaline and DMT are not widely available in the illicit drug market of the UK.
What do they look like?
Some of the naturally occurring hallucinogenic materials are most commonly seen either in their natural state or after minimal processing, such as drying. This includes all varieties of hallucinogenic fungi.
Where natural materials have been refined to a large degree, such as in the production of mescaline, the end product can take a variety of forms, including liquid, tablet or capsule.
Synthetic or semi-synthetic hallucinogens are produced as tablets, capsules, or liquids (dropped on blotting paper, sugar cubes or gelatine sheets). When produced in tablet form, LSD - and particularly Ecstasy - are often manufactured with a coloured or impressed logo upon them. This can take the form of a cartoon character etc. - the better to appeal to young people.
What are the effects of hallucinogens?
The effects of hallucinogens vary a great deal according to their strength. Psilocybin for example is a relatively mild hallucinogen and its effects are usually confined to relaxation, a sense of well-being and mild visual distortion of colour and distance.
LSD, in contrast, is far more potent (about 100 times stronger) and its effects can include very vivid visual and audial hallucinations - almost literally an out of body experience - combined with distortion of time, distance and personal integrity. This can be terrifying, as a user will be unable to control his or her thought processes and any unpleasant aspects of the ‘trip’ can lead to intense fear, anxiety and even psychosis.
Hallucinogens such as MDA or MDMA (Ecstasy) are midway between these two extremes in terms of potency. Some distortion of vision and perception may occur but not in the intense and uncontrollable manner as can happen with LSD.