Hallucinogens are a diverse group of drugs that cause hallucinations — profound distortions in a person’s perceptions of reality — and alter a person’s awareness of their surroundings as well as their own thoughts and feelings. They are commonly split into two categories: classic hallucinogens (such as LSD and Psilocybin) and dissociative drugs (such as PCP). Both types of hallucinogens can cause hallucinations although they are associated with more with classic versions of the drugs. People often report rapid, intense emotional swings and feeling sensations that seem real but are not with both types. [Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services]

Some hallucinogens are extracted from plants or mushrooms, and some are synthetic (human-made). Research suggests that classic hallucinogens work at least partially by temporarily disrupting communication between brain chemical systems throughout the brain and spinal cord that regulate mood, sensory perception and muscle control.. Some hallucinogens interfere with the action of the brain chemical serotonin, which regulates: mood, sleep, hunger, body temperature and sexual behavior,

Ibogaine is a hallucinogen originally derived from a central-African plant. 251-NBOMe is a synthetic hallucinogen with similarities both to LSD and MDMA but is much more potent. Developed for use in brain research, it is sometimes called N Bomb or 251 when sold illegally.


LSD (D-lysergic acid diethylamide) is one of the most powerful mind-altering chemicals. Commonly called acid, it is a clear or white odorless material made from lysergic acid, which is found in a fungus that grows on rye and other grains. LSD can be 1) swallowed as a tablet or pill; 2) swallowed as a liquid; and 3) absorbed through the lining of the mouth using drug-soaked paper pieces. In the Quentin Tarantino film “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” the Brad Pitt character smoked a cigarette dipped in acid.

LSD was initially produced in crystalline form, which can then be used to produce tablets known as “microdots” and thin squares of gelatin called “window panes.” It was also diluted with water or alcohol and sold in liquid form. The most common form, which is still widely found today, are LSD-soaked paper punched into small individual squares, sometimes with an emblem on them. Classic forms of LSD from the 1960s and 70s included sugar cubes and orange tablets called "Orange Sunshine". [Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, February 2015]

LSD is not considered an addictive drug because it doesn't cause intense craving or uncontrollable drug-seeking behavior. However, LSD does produce tolerance, so some users who take the drug repeatedly must take higher doses to achieve the same effect. This is an extremely dangerous practice, given the unpredictability of the drug. In addition, LSD produces tolerance to other hallucinogens, including psilocybin.


Psilocybin(4-phosphoryloxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine) comes from certain types of mushrooms found in throughout he world. The mushrooms are typically consumed raw or dried. Sometimes they are made into a tea or added to food such as omelettes. [Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, February 2015]

Psilocybin is itself biologically inactive but is quickly converted by the body to psilocin, which has mind-altering effects similar in some respects to those of LSD, mescaline, and DMT. In the past, psilocybin was ingested during religious ceremonies by indigenous cultures from Mexico and Central America. Psilocybin can either be dried or fresh and eaten raw, mixed with food, or brewed into a tea.

Psilocybin effects include: 1) Feelings of relaxation (similar to effects of low doses of marijuana); 2) euphoria; 3) Introspective/spiritual experiences; 4) visual and mental hallucinations; 5) changes in perception; 6) a distorted sense of time, and perceived spiritual experiences. Among the possible adverse reactions are nausea, panic attacks, nervousness and paranoia. Misidentification of poisonous mushrooms resembling psilocybin could lead to unintentional, potentially fatal poisoning. [Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, February 2015]

Ayahuasca and DMT

DMT (N,N-dimethyltryptamine) is a powerful chemical found naturally in some Amazonian plants.. People can also make DMT in a lab. Synthetic DMT usually takes the form of a white crystalline powder that is smoked, vaporized or inhaled. [Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, February 2015]

Like LSD and psilocybin, DMT produces its effects through action at serotonin (5-HT) receptors in the brain. Some research has suggested that DMT occurs naturally in the human brain in small quantities, leading to the hypothesis that release of endogenous DMT may be involved in reports of alien abductions, spontaneous mystical experiences, and near-death experiences, but this remains controversial.

Ayahuasca is an intensely hallucinogenic tea made from Amazonian plants containing DMT. Known as hoasca, aya, and yagé., it can be made from one of several Amazonian plants containing DMT along with a vine containing a natural alkaloid that prevents the normal breakdown of DMT in the digestive tract. Ayahuasca tea has traditionally been used for healing and religious purposes in indigenous South American cultures, mainly in the Amazon region. Anecdotal reports and small studies have suggested that ayahuasca may be a potential treatment for substance use disorders and other mental health issues, but no large-scale research has verified its efficacy There is also little evidence that taking it in the form of ayahuasca tea can lead to addiction. [Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, February 2015]


peyote cactus

Peyote is a small, spineless cactus with mescaline as its main ingredient. The cactus has been used by natives in northern Mexico and the southwestern United States as a part of religious ceremonies. Peyote can 1) swallowed as liquid; 2) consumed raw or dried; 3) brewed into tea. [Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, February 2015]

Peyote has been used for at least 5,700 years by indigenous peoples in Mexico.The top, or “crown,” of the peyote cactus has disc-shaped buttons that are cut out, dried, and usually chewed or soaked in water to produce an intoxicating liquid. Because the extract is so bitter, some users prepare a tea by boiling the plant for several hours. Mescaline can also be produced through chemical synthesis. Peyote was was one of the three sacred drugs of the Aztecs along with magic hallucionogenic mushrooms.[Source: NIDA. Lonnelle Aikman, National Geographic, September 1974]

Effects may include: increased body temperature and heart rate; 2) uncoordinated movements (ataxia); 3) profuse sweating; and 4) flushing.Although one study found no evidence of psychological or cognitive deficits among Native Americans who use peyote regularly in a religious setting, those findings may not generalize to those who repeatedly abuse the drug for recreational purposes (Halpern, 2005). Peyote users may also experience hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD) — also often referred to as flashbacks. The active ingredient mescaline has also been associated, in at least one report, to fetal abnormalities (Gilmore, 2001) [Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, February 2015].


Mescaline (3,4,5-trimethoxyphenethylamine) is a naturally occurring psychedelic protoalkaloid of the substituted phenethylamine class, known for its hallucinogenic effects comparable to those of LSD and psilocybin. It occurs naturally in the San Pedro cactus (Trichocereus (Echinopsis) pachanoi), the Peruvian torch (Trichocereus peruvianus (Echinopsis peruviana)), the Bolivian torch cactus (Echinopsis lageniformis), the peyote cactus (Lophophora williamsii), and other species of cacti. It is also found in small amounts in certain members of the bean family. [Source: Wikipedia]

Mescaline is associated most with the peyote cactus. The drink Mescal is from a different cactus. Similar to tequila but considered more exotic, it is made from the heart of a kind of agave cactus found in the southern mountainous Mexican state of Oaxaca. The cactus heart is baked in a rock pit, then fermented and distilled employing a centuries-old distilling process.. Mescal is also famous the small worm at the bottom of the bottle that has traditionally been consumed in the last gulp from the bottle.

peyote buttons

Mescaline was first isolated and identified in 1897 by the German chemist Arthur Heffter and first synthesized in 1918 by Ernst Späth. In 1955, English politician Christopher Mayhew took part in an experiment for BBC's Panorama, in which he ingested 400 mg of mescaline under the supervision of psychiatrist Humphry Osmond. Though the recording was deemed too controversial and ultimately omitted from the show, Mayhew praised the experience, calling it "the most interesting thing I ever did".

Mescaline induces a psychedelic state similar to those produced by LSD and psilocybin, but with unique characteristics. Subjective effects may include altered thinking processes, an altered sense of time and self-awareness, and closed- and open-eye visual phenomena.Prominence of color is distinctive, appearing brilliant and intense. Recurring visual patterns observed during the mescaline experience include stripes, checkerboards, angular spikes, multicolor dots, and very simple fractals that turn very complex. The English writer Aldous Huxley described these self-transforming amorphous shapes as like animated stained glass illuminated from light coming through the eyelids in his autobiographical book The Doors of Perception (1954). Like LSD, mescaline induces distortions of form and kaleidoscopic experiences but they manifest more clearly with eyes closed and under low lighting conditions.


STP (2,5-Dimethoxy-4-methylamphetamine DOM) is a psychedelic drug and a substituted amphetamine. STP stands for "Serenity, Tranquility and Peace". It was first synthesized by Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin, and later reported in his book PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story. It is generally taken orally. According to Shulgin, the effects of the drug typically last 14 to 20 hours, though other clinical trials indicate a duration of 7 to 8 hours. [Source: Wikipedia]

STP was first synthesized and tested in 1963 by Shulgin, who was investigating the effect of 4-position substitutions on psychedelic amphetamines. In mid-1967, tablets containing 20 mg (later 10 mg) of STP manufactured by underground chemists Owsley Stanley and Tim Scully were widely distributed in the Haight-Ashbury District of San Francisco with dangerous dosages. This, combined with DOM's slow onset of action (which encouraged some users, familiar with drugs that have quicker onsets, such as LSD, to re-dose) and its remarkably long duration, caused many users to panic and sent some to the emergency room. Second, treatment of such overdoses was complicated by the fact that no one at the time knew that the tablets called STP were, in fact, DOM.

Effects of this drug include substantial perceptual changes such as blurred vision, multiple images, vibration of objects, visual alterations, distorted shapes, enhancement of details, slowed passage of time, increased sexual drive and pleasure, and increased contrasts. It may cause mystical experiences and changes in consciousness. It may also cause pupillary dilation and a rise in systolic blood pressure.


Naturally occuring tryptamines including neurotransmitters (e.g. serotonin, melatonin and bufotenin). Most of those in the drug world are psychoactive hallucinogens found in plants, fungi and animals. The most well known of these are psilocybin and DMT (N,N-dimethyltryptamine). 5-MeO-DMT (5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine) is involved in kind. Tryptamine and its derivatives that have been reported as NPS ( “new psychoactive substances) are indolealkylamine molecules.

The use of the naturally occurring psilocybin, became widespread in the late 1950s in the United States, whereas synthetic tryptamines appeared on illicit drug markets only throughout the 1990s. Recently, a group of synthetic tryptamines that are derived from DMT and other naturally occurring tryptamines have been reported as NPS, including 5-MeO-DMT, 5-MeO-DPT, AMT, 4-AcO-DMT and 4-AcODiPT

DMT molecule

DMT, etryptamine, N,N-diethyltryptamine (DET), Psilocin and psilocybin, are the only tryptamines under international control (listed in Schedule I of the 1971 Convention), while some others are controlled at the national level in several countries.

Street names for some tryptamines include ‘Foxy-Methoxy’ (5-MeO-DIPT); ‘alpha-O’, ‘alpha’ and ‘O-DMS’ (5-MeO-AMT); ‘5-MEO’ (5-MeO-DMT). Natural tryptamines are available in preparations of dried or brewed mushrooms, while tryptamine derivatives are sold in capsule, tablet, powder or liquid form. Tryptamines are generally swallowed, sniffed, smoked or injected.

Tryptamines act predominantly as hallucinogens. Classic hallucinogens (psychedelics) mediate specific serotonin-receptor activities and produce hallucinations. Substances in these group mimic the effects of traditional drugs such as 2C-B, LSD and DMT but may also possess residual stimulant activity.

Toxicological studies on tryptamines remain limited. Reported adverse effects related to the use of ‘foxy methoxy’ include restlessness, agitations, gastrointestinal distress, and muscle tension. Rhabdomyolosis after ingestion of ‘Foxy’ has also been described in a case study [5]. Other fatalities associated with the use of ‘Foxy’ and other tryptamines have also been described in scientific literature.

Amazon Hallucinogenic Drugs

The Tiriyós in Suriname mix the leaves and bark of a hallucinogenic plant with water and drink it like a cocktail. A Shaman said that when he drinks it he "sees the devil wearing a breechcloth and carrying a club" and the devil talks and "tells you what medicines to use." Some shaman are not very fond of the hallucinogen because the sleep with wives for three days before they take it. [Source: "Searching for medicinal wealth in Amazonia", Donald Dale Jackson, Smithsonian magazine, February 1989.]

Atrophine is a drug found in New World plants such as Jimson weed, thorn apple, Gabriel's trumpet, mad apple and devil's weed. It is a powerful alkaloid also found in European plants such as mandrake, belladonna (beautiful lady), henbane, or deadly nightshade as well as hallucinogen plants used by tribes in the Amazon. One of the most interesting features of atropine is that it can be absorbed through the skin.

The men of many Amazon tribes inhale a hallucinogenic drug blown into their nose through a 1.3-meter (four-foot) blowgun-like tube by another tribe member. While under the influence of the drug, men have visions, visit demons and control supernatural forces. They often crawl around on all fours, make strange growling nose and blow green snot from their noses The most common type of hallucinogenic drug is ebene, which is derived from a jungle vine. While under the influence of the drug the men call on hekura spirit — tiny fairy-like beings that live in the hills — to send disease and sickness to their enemies. [Source: "Yanomamo, the True People", Napolean A. Chagnon, National Geographic, August 1976]

Yakoana: Inhaled Through a Long Nose Tube by the Yanomami

The Yanomami are an indigenous Amazon people that live around the border of Brazail and Venezuela. Yanomami shamans take hallucinogens known as yakoana or ebene, for of healing rituals. Yakoana also refers to the tree from which it is derived, Virola elongata. Yopo, derived from a different plant with hallucinogenic effects (Anadenanthera peregrina), is usually cultivated in the garden by the shaman. The Xamatari also mix the powdered bark of Virola elongata with the powdered seeds of yopo to create the drug ebene. The drugs facilitate communication with spirits that are believed to govern many aspects of the physical world. Women do not engage in this practice, known as shapuri. [Source: Wikipedia

Yanomami shamans inhale yakoana powder, extracted from the bark of the virola tree, in order to enter a dream state. The powder is administered through a long horoma tube, traditionally made from the hollowed stem of a palm tree. One shaman told Survival International: “When for the first time you sniff the powder produced from the yakoana tree, xapiripë spirits begin to gather around you. First, you hear from afar their chants of happiness, faint as the hum of mosquitoes. Then you begin to see scintillating lights trembling up high, coming from every direction in the sky. Gradually the spirits reveal themselves, advancing and retreating with very slow steps.” [Source: Survival International]

“This is how we make the spirits dance. There are many, many xapiripë, not just a few, but thousands, like stars. Some live in the sky, some live under the ground and others live in the high mountains which are full of forests and flowers. We call these sacred places ‘hutu pata’. When the sun is high in the sky, the xapiripë sleep. At dusk, they begin to appear. When we are sleeping, they are dancing.”

“The xapiripë descend to us on threads as fine as a spider’s web. They are beautiful, painted with bright colours and urucum (annatto). Their armlets are decorated with macaw and parrot feathers. They dance very beautifully and sing differently. There are different songs: the song of the macaw, of the parrot, of the tapir, of the tortoise and of the eagle.”

According to Survival International: Yanomami shamans also enlist the help of xapiripë to cure human illnesses. Diagnosing and detecting diseases takes years of shamanistic experience. They also use different medicinal plants to treat fevers, stomach-aches, muscular pains and other ailments. In general, every ailment has its cure, except for diseases that have been brought in by outsiders, to which the Yanomami have little immunity.

In some places Yanomami men have traditionally inhaled drugs on a daily basis. Men say the drug helps them endure pain during duels and battles. Friend often whiled away the hours by blowing drugs into each other's nose and laying in the same hammock together. As an expression of friendship a Yanomami elder told the anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon: "Make sure that you tell your wife to send me a gourd of your ashes when you die — I will drink them in friendship."

Yanomani doing rape, or yage (ayahuasca-like snuff)

Mayoruna Indians and Taking the Frog Ritual

Mayoruna Indians live in Peruvian and Brazilian Amazon. They have traditionally subsisted on agriculture (manioc, plantains) and hunting (peccary and wooly monkeys). Mucas secreted by an Amazon tree frog is burned into the skin of the Mayoruna Indians in Brazil and the Matses in Peru in the belief it will make them stronger hunters. Many Mayoruna have scars from that ritual that look rows of cigarette burns. [Source: Katherine Milton, Natural History, September, 1994]

In a ritual the Indians call "taking the frog," the mucus is mixed with saliva and applied with a twig. The recipient becomes violently ill, then falls into an agitated sleep, only to wake the next day eager to hunt. Men take the frog secretion about once a month. Boys began taking it when they are seven or eight to get used to it and women sometimes s take it to work harder. The Matses sometimes rub the frog secretion on the noses of the hunting dogs to improve their hunting ability.

Describing how the mucus is obtained from the frogs, Katherine Milton wrote in Natural History magazine, "Without touching the animal, the boys looped slender cords made from vines around all four of its limbs. They then drop stakes into the ground and stretched the frog out...several of them picked wooden splinters and began to harass the frog, poking it particularly around the eyes and nostrils. In response the terrified frog began to exude a clear, glossy secretion from its skin that began to settle in a cloudy, muscuslike film around its feet." The mucus is then collected and warped in a leaf and the frog is let go. When th Indians are ready to receive the secretion burns are made on their body with burned, white-hot twig. The secretion is them mixed with saliva and applied to burn after the skin has been pulled back, leaving an open wound.

Before receiving the frog secretion the Indian eat a lot of a manioc and banana cruel which they proceeded to vomit after the drug has taken effect. Most of the Indians said they didn’t like taking the drug. Others effects include swollen lips and faces, headaches and buning sensations in the anus. After vomiting several times the Indians lie in a hammock and go into an agitated sleep, which the Indians say is similar to being drunk. The drug wears off after about eight hours but the Indians say that they can sober up immediately if the go swimming or take a bath in the river. Other tribes that take th frog secretion say it last for two or three days.

When asked why they took the drug when many found the experience unpleasant, the inevitable answer was that it helped them in hunting, by improving their stamina, their luck or their ability to shoot an bow and arrow. Scientist at the National Institute of Health have discovered the mucus contains a chemicals that reduce the effect of strokes and perhaps Alzheimer disease and depression, and hope day to make medicine from it. [National Geographic Geographica, September 1993].

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons, DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) except last image Mzungu expeditions

Text Sources: 1) “Buzzed, the Straight Facts About the Most Used and Abused Drugs from Alcohol to Ecstasy” by Cynthia Kuhn, Ph.D., Scott Swartzwelder Ph.D., Wilkie Wilson Ph.D., Duke University Medical Center (W.W. Norton, New York, 2003); 2) National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 3) United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and 4) National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Wikipedia, The Independent, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, , Lonely Planet Guides, and various books and other publications.

Last updated April 2022

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