Effects of Hallucinogenic Drugs on the Mind & Body

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  • 0:01 Hallucinogenic Drugs
  • 1:06 How Hallucinogens…
  • 3:23 How Hallucinogens…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ashley Dugger

Ashley is an attorney. She has taught and written various introductory law courses.

Hallucinogenic drugs are best known for causing distortions in the user's perceptions of reality, but these drugs can also cause serious physical problems. This lesson discusses the effects of hallucinogens on both the mind and the body.

Hallucinogenic Drugs


Have you heard of the street drugs 'acid,' 'special K' or 'magic mushrooms?' They belong to a specific class of drugs most often used at dance parties or music festivals. They are hallucinogens. Hallucinogenic drugs are drugs that cause hallucinations, or severe distortions, in the user's perceptions of reality. Sometimes hallucinogenic drugs are called 'psychedelic' drugs or 'psychoactive' drugs due to their mind-altering effects. Users often see, hear, feel, taste and smell things that aren't there. The experience is sometimes described as a dream-like state. There are many different types of hallucinogenic drugs. Many people associate hallucinogens with LSD, but there are various others including:

  • Ecstasy
  • PCP
  • Psilocybin
  • Mescaline
  • Ketamine
  • Peyote

How Hallucinogens Affect the Brain

Hallucinogenic drugs are best known for how they alter the user's brain. Let's take a general look at those effects. Note that researchers have yet to pinpoint exactly how hallucinogens work, and that not all hallucinogenic drugs work on the user's brain in the same way. There are two main types, though both types affect neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are naturally occurring brain chemicals that communicate information throughout the user's brain and body. Different neurotransmitters have different jobs. For example, one type of neurotransmitter tells your lungs to breathe, and another type tells your stomach to growl when you're hungry.

Classic hallucinogens, like LSD, affect serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps control functions such as behavior, mood and perception. LSD and similar drugs over-stimulate serotonin, flooding the brain with signals that mimic psychosis and break down the user's inhibitions. Because LSD agitates the parts of the brain that control mood and perception, it sometimes causes the user to experience sensory crossover. Some users report 'hearing' colors or 'seeing' sounds. Users often experience an unfiltered stream of memories and emotions.

Other hallucinogens, like PCP, influence the body's use of glutamate. This is a neurotransmitter that affects functions such as pain perception, learning and memory. Specifically, these hallucinogens are thought to interrupt, or block, the reception of glutamate. This means the user temporarily cannot receive the communication glutamate is sending. PCP was originally used medically as a painkiller and anesthetic. It's known as a dissociative drug because it can cause the user to feel detached from his or her surroundings. You can see why this feeling is sometimes described as a 'numbing effect' on the mind.

How Hallucinogens Affect the Body

Now let's take a general look at how hallucinogens affect the body. Hallucinogens are much lesser known for their physical effects. Most people certainly associate hallucinogenic drugs with their psychological effects, but hallucinogens also change the user's body. For example, LSD was developed in the 1930s to be used as a circulatory stimulant medication. It, therefore, causes many of the same results as stimulant drugs, including:

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