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Hallucinogens and Dissociative Drugs

What Are Hallucinogens and Dissociative Drugs?

Hallucinogens are a class of drugs that cause hallucinations—profound distortions in a person’s perceptions of reality. Hallucinogens can be found in some plants and mushrooms (or their extracts) or can be man-made, and they are commonly divided into two broad categories: classic hallucinogens (such as LSD) and dissociative drugs (such as PCP). When under the influence of either type of drug, people often report experiencing rapid, intense emotional swings and seeing images, hearing sounds, and feeling sensations that seem real but are not.

images of psilocybin mushrooms, LSD, and Salvia divinorumPsilocybin mushrooms, LSD, and Salvia divinorum are commonly used hallucinogenic and dissociative compounds

While the exact mechanisms by which hallucinogens and dissociative drugs cause their effects are not yet clearly understood, research suggests that they work at least partially by temporarily disrupting communication between neurotransmitter systems throughout the brain and spinal cord that regulate mood, sensory perception, sleep, hunger, body temperature, sexual behavior, and muscle control.

This page was last updated January 2014

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National Institute of Drug Abuse (2014). What Are Hallucinogens and Dissociative Drugs?. In Hallucinogens and Dissociative Drugs. Retrieved from http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/hallucinogens-dissociative-drugs/what-are-hallucinogens

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​Research Reports

This series of reports simplifies the science of research findings for the educated lay public, legislators, educational groups, and practitioners. The series reports on research findings of national interest.