From Chapter One of the book
How to Quit Drugs for Good
For more about this book: click here
People have used hallucinogens for millennia. For one thing, they’re everywhere. Mind-bending biochemicals can be found in thousands of plant species all over the world and even in some animals. For another thing, they bring on a powerful “consciousness expanding” experience. People using them see the world in a different way. Reality becomes more multivariate or more profound than what we imagined. Throughout human history, people of different cultures have adopted various, locally available hallucinogens for healing or spiritual purposes.
In addition to the naturally occurring hallucinogens, you can now find many chemically developed synthetics. As you’ll soon see, there’s a veritable alphabet soup of these new “designer hallucinogens.”
Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). This product is synthesized from chemical derivatives of a fungus, ergot, that grows on rye and other grains. Usual doses on the street vary from 100 to 700 micrograms (one microgram is a millionth of a gram). One ounce of LSD provides about 300,000 doses. AKA: Acid, Blotter Acid, Big D, Microdot, Yellow Sunshine, Trips, Purple Haze, Window Pane.
Psilocybin. This is the psychoactive ingredient of various species of mushrooms commonly found in Central America and in the warmer climates of the United States. Anywhere from four to 12 mushrooms equal one trip. The hallucinogenic alkaloid 4-hydroxydimethyltryptamine (psilocybin) can also be synthesized in a lab. AKA: Magic Mushrooms, Sacred Mushrooms, Shrooms, Silly Putty.
Mescaline. This psychoactive substance occurs naturally in the cactus peyote. People most commonly use the tops of the plant, known as the “buttons.” Laboratory enthusiasts have been able to extract the hallucinogenic alkaloid from the peyote cactus and sell it in capsule form. AKA: Mesc, Mescal, Big Chief, Buttons, Moon, P, Peyote.
Morning glory seeds. The seeds of three species of morning glory (trade names: Heavenly Blues, Flying Saucers, Pearly Gates) contain amides of lysergic acid that produce a high similar to that of LSD. It takes about 300 seeds to produce effects similar to 200 to 300 micrograms of LSD.
DMT, 5-MeO-DMT, DET, AET. Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) can be found in a variety of plants worldwide. Many South American tribes make it into a snuff called yopa or cohoba. DMT has also been synthesized and is most often available in the United States as a pure compound (AKA: Businessman’s Special or Businessman’s High, both terms deriving from the relative short duration of the trip, about 45 minutes, which could easily fit a businessman’s scheduled lunch hour). A similar compound, 5-methoxy-dimethyltryptamine (5-MeO-DMT), is found in the skin of some toads and in the seeds of various trees. It has been used for centuries by indigenous peoples and recently found its way onto the streets. Some analogs (compounds with similar chemical structure) have similar hallucinogenic properties. These include diethyltryptamine (DET) and alpha-ethyltryptamine (AET).
Amphetamine-based hallucinogens. Producers with a little chemical savvy have synthesized many variations of mescaline and amphetamine compounds. The first of these to hit the streets in force was DOM (4-methyl-2, 5-dimethoxyamphetamine). This became known in the 1970s as STP (“Scientifically Treated Petroleum”), after a brand name of motor oil additive, but the initials quickly came to stand for the words “Serenity, Tranquility, and Peace” or “Street Trucking People.” Other combinations include MDA (methylenedioxyamphetamine), DOB (4-bromo-2, 5-dimethoxyamphetamine), DMA (dimethoxyamphetamine), TMA (trimethoxyamphetamine), MDMA (methylenedioxymethamphetamine), and MDEA (methylenedioxyethylamphetamine). AKA for MDMA: Ecstasy, X, XTC, Love Drug, M & M, Adam. AKA for MDEA: Eve.
Belladonna alkaloids. A large group of “organic” hallucinogens derive from a family of plants (Solanaceae) that contains about 3,000 members. These include species of mandrake, henbane, and belladonna. Some of the belladonna alkaloids, such as atropine, act as poisons and are lethal in high doses; other alkaloids, such as scopolamine, act as hallucinogens. The most common plant on the U.S. scene is Datura stramonium, known variously as jimsonweed, stinkweed, thorn apple, and devil’s apple.
Combinations. Some users will smoke marijuana with hallucinogens to calm themselves or to boost the hallucinogenic effect. Some will use sedatives to slow things down or to calm an otherwise rocky trip. A few users will combine hallucinogens with stimulants such as cocaine, crack, or amphetamines. AKA for combining LSD and crack: Sheet Rocking.
How They’re Used
Most commonly, people take hallucinogens orally. LSD is swallowed in tablets, tiny squares of gelatin (called “window pane”), or premeasured drops on blotter paper. Users trip on psilocybin by eating the mushrooms and on mescaline by eating the dried cactus buttons or by taking either of these chemicals in tablet or capsule form. Some users take mescaline by first soaking the buttons in water and then drinking the liquid. Morning glory trippers usually grind the seeds into a flour and swallow them with water or soak the flour in water for a period of time and then drink it. The leaves and seeds of jimsonweed and other plants bearing belladonna alkaloids can be eaten directly. Some users make a tea from these plants and drink that. The high from this group of substances lasts from six to 12 hours, with LSD and mescaline falling on the high end (10 to 12 hours) and morning glory seeds on the low end (six to eight hours).
The tryptamines (DMT, DET, AET, and 5-MeO-DMT) are most often sniffed or smoked. When taken orally, these compounds metabolize too fast to produce a psychoactive effect—except for 5-MeO-DMT, which can be milked from the glands of the toads and ingested. The trip duration for all these is brief: a half hour to an hour and a half.
Users commonly take the mescaline-like amphetamines orally, in tablet form, although sometimes they’re snorted. The high from this group of drugs typically lasts six to eight hours.
About 9.7% of Americans have tried hallucinogens. About 1.7% have used one of the hallucinogens within the past year, and 0.6% have used one within the past month. That’s more than 1,300,000 people who have used hallucinogens within the past month. Of these current users, 454,000 were aged 12 to 17, and 627,000 were aged 18 to 25.
The Joy of It
The experiences that people get from hallucinogens vary more than what people get from any other class of drugs. Even one person using the same hallucinogen can have vastly different experiences with each use.
The types of experiences that a given person will have depends on set and setting. Set refers to the person—to what the person expects to get out of the trip. It also refers to the person’s mood at the outset—to his or her previous experiences while tripping—and to personality; for example, whether the person is introverted or extroverted, intellectual or emotional, was subjected to childhood trauma or had a carefree childhood. Setting refers to the external details—whom the person is with, where the person is, and what’s going on in the immediate environment. Tripping in a crowded bar with friends has an entirely different feel to it than tripping quietly alone in one’s room.
The fun derived from hallucinogens comes primarily from the profound changes that it causes in our perceptions and moods. However, because each trip is so unpredictable, some users get top jollies simply by hopping a wild ride into the realm of the unexpected.
The effects from different hallucinogens vary. All produce vast changes in perception or mood. However, some are more perception or mind oriented, such as LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, morning glory seeds, and the tryptamine group; others are more mood or body oriented, such as the amphetamine-based hallucinogens (MDMA became known as Ecstasy or the Love Drug for good reason) and the belladonna alkaloids.
All hallucinogens distort our perception of time. Time appears to slow down. A moment can become an eternity. And all hallucinogens distort our perception of space. Boundaries appear to dissolve. Edges become fuzzy. When we’re observing a tree against a background of sky, the tree becomes sky, and the sky blends into the tree. The two can even fuse together as one. Sometimes everything around us can appear to be pulsating or vibrating, one thing turning into another. The small becomes large, the large small. Shapes can magically change. Sounds can undulate so deep within us that we experience them in the belly. We can hug the earth and actually feel it rumbling.
In addition, hallucinogens have the power to dissolve the ego. The boundary between self and others disappears. The boundary between self and world disappears. Sometimes we can have an out-of-body experience (OOB). We might feel as if we left our body and that we’re somewhere else in the room watching what we’re doing. Some of us even imagine that we’re traveling astrally during an OOB and going elsewhere in the universe. And sometimes, we imagine that we’ve actually met with God or Buddha or Jesus or some other key spiritual figure.
Indeed, tearing down the walls of the ego often becomes a spiritual experience. It can leave us feeling more connected with “the whole”—with God, with others, or with the world around us. It feels as if we’re opening ourselves to something greater, something more than what’s inside. This occurs in a common hallucination. When tripping, many imagine themselves as a bud on a lush, leafy stem that opens into a brilliant flower.
Hallucinogens, like marijuana, bring on two types of high: intellectual (head trip) or emotional (body trip). Which type you get depends on set and setting and the particular hallucinogen you use.
On a head trip, we experience heightened awareness. Everything about the world becomes more vivid, more ecstatic. The senses become paramount. The world becomes extravagant. We can see, hear, taste, touch, and smell in more wondrous detail than we’ve ever known.
On a body trip, we experience a deeper sense of connection with ourselves or others. We feel love. We might imagine that we become love. We begin to understand others or ourselves as we never have before. We might experience our feelings as all-encompassing. We feel whole, complete. We might enjoy sex as a beautiful spiritual union.
The Problems It Causes
Physical. For LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, and morning glory seeds, the problems from physical side effects include some nausea; increased body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure; some muscle weakness or tremor; and occasionally diarrhea. The tryptamines lead to similar problems but in addition cause greater muscle weakness, sometimes to the point of temporary paralysis. The amphetamine-based hallucinogens and the belladonna alkaloids bring about the greatest physical dangers. They cause severe changes in heart rate, breathing, and body temperature. In addition, the amphetamine group causes amphetamine-like hyperactivity, and at least one of this group, MDMA, often causes users to clench their teeth.
Brain damage. Studies show that MDMA causes irreversible damage to nerve cell endings, which contain serotonin in their storage vesicles. Other amphetamine-based hallucinogens may cause this serious problem as well. Currently, more research is needed to know for sure.
Bad trips. A trip can be deep, frightening, dark or light, euphoric, and airy. It can even change from one to the other quickly. Nonetheless, some users accept bad trips, believing them to be enlightening. Even venturing into dark spaces can bring insight.
However, other users find bad trips a reason to quit using hallucinogens. A trip might have caused fears that are too intense to bear. Of course, tripping does bring unconscious memories into full awareness, and because of this a trip can produce deep psychic pain. It can bring forth memories of childhood trauma in all-too-vivid detail.
Indeed, any feelings can explode into difficulties. A feeling of sadness can bring us to our knees in tears, something disgusting can become outrageously gross, and a simple fear can transform itself into our worst nightmare.
A trip can also induce panic attacks. Another person, an object, or the whole world can take on such a frightening, eerie air that it can scare us half to death. We might imagine ourselves being killed in some frightening way, such as being buried alive. When in a crowd, we might imagine that each person is a poisonous snake attempting to strike at us. We might imagine a shadow on the wall to be a roaring locomotive heading straight at us.
Loss of ego. Although ego dissolution can be enlightening to some, it can be psychologically damaging to others. The ego is a protective device. It helps define who we are. When it is dissolved, we become vulnerable. We can feel completely lost. Our sense of direction in life—our ability to pursue goals—can be shattered; this happens to a significant percentage of users. Although the ego will never be the same, it will heal reasonably well after a few months to a year or so of abstinence.
Flashbacks. Also called post-hallucinogenic perceptual disorder (PHPD), flashbacks refer to the recurrence of a hallucinogenic experience at a time when you’re not taking the drug. It can be one of two things: a memory of something that happened while you were tripping or a brief period during which you perceive things as if you were tripping. Flashbacks last anywhere from a few seconds to 10 minutes or more. They’re unpredictable and can be an annoying inconvenience because, when they occur, they’re so completely distracting.
A memory flashback is usually triggered by a person, an object, or an event that reminds you of something that occurred while tripping. This trigger can bring forth an entire memory sequence, complete with the vivid detail, hallucinations, or feelings that you experienced in the original scene.
A perceptual flashback might have you experiencing altered visual images, the blending of images and sounds, a pulsating visual field, fuzzy images, a tingling sensation on the skin, or tracers (trails of light). Perceptual flashbacks can occur because the brain has actually been changed by the hallucinogenic drug. Research on people who had recently used LSD showed that their visual systems continued to respond to stimuli after the stimuli had been removed. The change was slight but measurable. This suggests that LSD might alter the brain’s perceptual hardware, at least for a period of time.
About 60% of heavy LSD users (those who’ve tripped more than 20 times) report that they’ve experienced some amount of flashbacks. About 40% of heavy users report none.
Flashbacks diminish over time after a user is abstinent. They usually disappear after a few months, although they persist in some people for more than a year.
Psychosis. Many researchers in the 1960s and 1970s called hallucinogens “psychotomimetic” drugs because they mimicked a psychotic state in those who used them. For one thing, hallucinogens cause hallucinations in most users. For another, they make many users feel split off from reality. These are two hallmark symptoms of the psychosis schizophrenia. Because of this, you would think that hallucinogens would make many people psychotic, but hallucinogens trigger psychosis in only a small percentage of users (0.1% to 0.5%). Still, this is significant, especially if you’re one of the users who was affected this way.
Harm from accidents. Occasionally, people will hurt themselves while tripping. Usually, this stems from users’ hallucinations or errors of judgment. Some users have jumped out of windows or off roofs fully thinking that they can fly. Some have hurt themselves when escaping from hallucinated monsters. Some have made mistakes while driving. Every so often, someone dies from a hallucinogen-induced accident.
Danger of overdose. Most of the hallucinogens are safe in high doses, but a few can be toxic. Deaths due to cardiac arrest have occurred in people using MDMA and have been recorded in users of MDEA. The use of 5-MeO-DMT can also kill. The skin of a single toad contains enough of this substance to be fatal. Finally, thousands of deaths throughout history can be attributed to belladonna poisoning. The belladonna alkaloids are probably the most dangerous of the hallucinogens because the dose that causes the desired effects—hallucinations and mild delirium—is very near the lethal dose.
For a couple of days after a trip, a user can feel worn out and become reflective or contemplative. Other than this short period of recuperation, there is no significant withdrawal syndrome for the hallucinogens.