An Overview of Psychedelics and How They Affect the Body
Psychedelics are a type of hallucinogenic drug that alter thoughts, feelings and perception. Using substances like magic mushrooms, LSD or DMT, drug use causes users to experience visual and auditory sensations that appear to be real but are not. Users may feel disconnected from their bodies or surroundings. The experience of using psychedelic drugs can be euphoric and exciting, but it can also be extremely frightening.
When taking psychedelic drugs, users may have a hard time distinguishing trips from real life. These drugs can be extracted from some plants or are man-made. Examples of psychedelics include:
- LSD — a mind-altering chemical that is made from an acid that is found on a fungus that grows on grains
- DMT — a chemical found in some Amazonian plants, can also be manufactured in a lab
- Peyote or mescaline — comes from a cactus or can be made synthetically
- Ketamine — an anesthetic that can be used in surgery for humans or animals but is also sold on the street by the name “Special K,” as powder, liquid or pills
- PCP — originally developed as an anesthetic for surgery, is now sold on the street as powder, liquid or pills
Psychedelics are used in a variety of different ways. They can be snorted, smoked, injected or swallowed as liquids or pills. Mushrooms and other plants may be consumed raw or dried.
How Psychedelics Affect the Brain
The hallucinogenic experience of psychedelic drugs can last for several hours. During this time, users see or hear things that aren’t part of reality. Psychedelics and other hallucinogens work by disrupting communications in the central nervous system between the brain and spinal cord. Different psychedelics interfere with different brain chemicals. Those that interfere with serotonin can impact body temperature, hunger, sleep, moods and muscle control. When the brain chemical glutamate is affected, other actions are impacted, such as learning, memory, pain perception and emotion. Users may experience paranoia or psychosis and may become violent or suicidal. Flashbacks caused by psychedelics can be very troubling and can lead to problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder or mood disorders.
How Psychedelics Affect the Body
Psychedelics can cause increased heart rate, nausea and a distorted sense of time. Users may experience dilated pupils, dizziness, increased body temperature, elevated heart rate, uncoordinated movements, loss of appetite and excessive sweating. These effects can be very dangerous for someone with an existing heart condition. Nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite can lead to weight loss and malnourishment.
Long-term effects of psychedelics vary depending on the substance. For example, using PCP for a long period of time can lead to speech and memory problems, while long-term use of ketamine can lead to kidney and bladder problems. Some hallucinogens are physically addictive. With other psychedelics, such as LSD and DMT, drug dependence appears to be psychological, not physical, yet users may develop very strong psychological cravings for these drugs.
National Institute on Drug Abuse: What Are Hallucinogens?
Medical News Today: DMT: Facts, Effects and Health Risks