While many drugs speed up or depress the central nervous system, there is a
class of drugs that distorts how we feel, hear, see, smell, taste, and think.
Called hallucinogens because users often hallucinate, or experience nonexistent
sensations, these drugs are also known as psychedelic, or mind-bending, drugs.
Some hallucinogens come from natural sources; others are made in laboratories.
Examples of natural hallucinogens are mescaline, psilocybin, DMT, and marijuana.
Mescaline, which has been used by American Indians in religious ceremonies,
comes from the peyote cactus. Psilocybin, also used by the Indians and believed
to have supernatural powers, is found in about 20 varieties of mushrooms. Once
ingested, psilocybin is converted to psilocin, which is responsible for the
drug\'s hallucinogenic sensations. DMT (dimethyltryptamine) is a short-acting
hallucinogen found in the seeds of certain West Indian and South American plants.
In the form of snuff, called cohoba, it has been used in religious ceremonies in
Haiti. Marijuana is a plant belonging to the hemp family . The active principle
responsible for the drug\'s effects is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), obtained from
the amber-colored resin of the flowering tops and leaves of the plant. Hashish
is also made from this resin.
Of all drugs, synthetic and natural, the most powerful is LSD, or lysergic
acid diethylamide. Twenty micrograms, an almost infinitesimal amount, is
sufficient to produce a hallucinogenic effect; just 3 pounds (1.4 kilograms)
could induce a reaction in all the inhabitants of New York City and London. This
extraordinary potency makes LSD especially dangerous since it is usually
impossible to determine how much is contained in doses offered by drug dealers.
LSD is chemically derived from ergot, a parasitic fungus that grows on rye
and other grains. An odorless, colorless, and tasteless substance, LSD is sold
on the street in tablets, capsules, and sometimes liquid form. It is usually
taken by mouth but can be injected. Often LSD is placed on a blotter or other
absorbent paper and marked into small squares, each representing one dose.
Synthetic hallucinogens with effects resembling those of LSD include DET
(diethyltryptamine), a synthetic compound similar to DMT, and DOM (2,5-
dimethoxy-4-methylamphetamine), a compound that combines some of the properties
of mescaline and amphetamines, as do the drugs MDA (3,4-
methylenedioxyamphetamine) and MMDA (3-methoxy-3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine).
The effects of hallucinogens on the body are unpredictable. They depend on
the amount taken and the user\'s personality, mood, expectations, and
surroundings. Although hallucinogens do not produce a physical addiction, users
do develop a tolerance, so that increasing amounts must be taken to achieve the
same effect. Psychological dependence on hallucinogens is well documented.
It appears that each drug carries its own risks. For example, unlike
hallucinogens such as LSD and synthetics such as DOM that consist of a single
chemical, marijuana has been found to contain more than 400 separate substances.
These substances are in turn broken down in the body into a great many more
chemicals, and the effects of these chemicals on the user are poorly understood.
It has been found, however, that the most potent of these chemicals are
attracted to and accumulate in fatty tissues, including the brain and
reproductive organs.
Studies indicate that frequent marijuana users may experience impaired short-
term memory and learning ability and reproductive problems. Other studies
suggest that frequent or chronic marijuana use may contribute to damage of the
immune system, increased strain on the heart, delayed puberty, and chromosome
The most pronounced psychological effects induced by hallucinogens are a
heightened awareness of colors and patterns together with a slowed perception of
time and a distorted body image. Sensations may seem to "cross over," giving the
user a sense of "hearing" colors and "seeing" sounds. Users may also slip into a
dreamlike state, indifferent to the world around them and forgetful of time and
place to such an extent that they may believe it possible to step out of a
window or stand in front of a speeding car without harm. Users may feel several
different emotions at once or swing wildly from one emotion to another. It is
impossible to predict what kind of experience a hallucinogen may produce.
Frightening or even panic-producing psychological reactions to LSD and similar
drugs are common. Sometimes taking a hallucinogen will leave the user with
serious mental or emotional problems, though it is unclear whether the drug
simply unmasked a previously undetected disorder or actually produced it.
Among the short-term physical effects of hallucinogens are dilated pupils,
raised body temperature, increased heart rate and blood pressure, sweating, loss
of appetite, sleeplessness, dry mouth, and tremors. The long-term effects are
less certain. LSD users may experience