Uses Drugs of Abuse—Origins and Effects - Hallucinogens

peyote lsd pcp religious

Hallucinogenic drugs, or psychedelics, are natural or synthetic substances that distort the perceptions of reality. They cause excitation, which can vary from a sense of well-being to severe depression. Time may appear to stand still, and forms and colors seem to change and take on new meaning. The heart rate may increase, blood pressure rise, and pupils dilate. The experience may be pleasurable or extremely frightening. The effects of hallucinogens vary from use to use and cannot be predicted.

The most common danger of using hallucinogens is impaired judgment, which can lead to rash decisions and accidents. Long after hallucinogens have been eliminated from the body, users may experience "flashbacks," in the form of perceived intensity of color, the apparent motion of fixed objects, or illusions that present one object when another one is present. Some hallucinogens are present in plants (e.g. mescaline in the peyote cactus); others, such as LSD, are synthetic. The abuse of hallucinogens in the United States peaked in the late 1960s, but the 1990s and early 2000s saw a resurgence in the use of these drugs.

Peyote and Mescaline

Mescaline is a psychoactive chemical found naturally in the peyote cactus, Lophophor williamsii, a small, spineless plant native to Mexico and the southwestern United States. The top of the cactus, often called the crown, is made up of disk-shaped buttons that can be cut off and dried. These buttons are generally chewed or soaked in water to produce an intoxicating liquid. A dose of 350 to 500 milligrams produces hallucinations lasting from five to twelve hours. Mescaline can be extracted from peyote or produced synthetically.

Peyote and mescaline have long been used by American Indians in religious ceremonies. Recently, however, this use has come into serious question. In 1990 the U.S. Supreme Court, in Employment Division, Department of Human Resources v. Smith (494 US 872), ruled that the state of Oregon could bar the Native American Church fromusing peyote in its religious ceremonies. The passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (PL 103-141) allowed the church to use peyote in those ceremonies; but in 1997 the Supreme Court, in Boerne v. Flores (65 LW 4612), declared the Religious Freedom Restoration Act unconstitutional. This left the use of peyote back in the jurisdiction of the states, and states may decide individually on its use.

Arizona law allows the use of peyote in connection with the practice of a religious belief if it is an integral part of a religious exercise and if it is used in a manner not dangerous to public health. Several other states, mainly in the Southwest, continue to allow the use of peyote in religious ceremonies if certain conditions are met, such as Native American origin or proof of religious affiliation. In general, in most states that allow peyote use, the Native American Church is the only recognized organization with a bona fide claim that peyote is a sacrament in its rituals.

DOM, DOB, MDA, MDMA, and "Designer Drugs"

DOM (4-methyl-2,5-mimethoxyamphetamine), DOB (4-bromo-2,5-dimethoxyamphetamine), MDA (3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine), MDMA (3,4 methylenedioxy-methamphetamine), and "designer drugs" are chemical variations of mescaline and amphetamines that have been synthesized in the laboratory. They differ from one another in speed of onset, duration of action, and potency. They are usually taken orally, are sometimes snorted, but they are rarely injected intravenously.

Because they are produced illegally, these drugs are seldom pure. Dosage quantity and quality vary considerably. These drugs are often used at "raves"—large, all-night dance parties once held in unusual places such as warehouses or railroad yards. Although many raves became mainstream events, professionally organized and held at public venues, the underground style and culture of raves remains an alluring draw to many teenagers. Part of the allure is drug use.

The most noted designer drug, MDMA (also called ADAM, Ecstasy, or X) was first banned by the DEA in 1985. Widespread abuse placed it in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. Some doctors suggest that the pure form of the drug is not as harmful as one might think and may even have potential uses as an antidepressant or antipsychotic drug. However, the form of the drug found on the street is rarely a pure form. According to an October 2002 article in Pediatrics (Eric Sigel, "Club Drugs: Nothing to Rave About," vol. 19, no. 10), tablets of MDMA that have been tested have contained from zero to 140 milligrams of MDMA, as well as additional drugs such as ephedrine, dextromethorphan, or amphetamine.

Users of MDMA have been known to suffer serious psychological effects—including confusion, depression, sleep problems, drug craving, severe anxiety, and paranoia—both during, and sometimes weeks after, taking the drug. Physical symptoms include muscle tension, involuntary teeth clenching, nausea, blurred vision, rapid eye movement, faintness, and chills or sweating. Severe dehydration, particularly among users who dance for hours while under the drug's influence, is also a serious hazard.

MDA, the parent drug of MDMA, has been found to destroy serotonin-producing neurons, which play a direct role in regulating aggression, mood, sexual activity, sleep, and pain sensitivity. This may explain the sense of heightened sexual experience, tranquility, and conviviality said to accompany MDA use. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 (PL 99-570) made all designer drugs illegal. By 2004, as reported by the University of Michigan News Service (, use of Ecstasy was on the decline, along with the novelty of the rave culture that helped give rise to its spread.

LSD (LSD-25, Lysergide)

LSD, an abbreviation of the German term for lysergic acid diethylamide, is one of the most potent mood-changing chemicals in existence. It is often called "acid." Odorless, colorless, and tasteless, it is produced from a substance derived from ergot fungus or from a chemical found in morning glory seeds. Both chemicals are found in Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act while LSD itself is a Schedule I substance.

LSD is usually sold in tablets ("microdots"), thin squares of gelatin ("window panes"), or impregnated paper ("blotter acid"). Effects of doses higher than thirty to fifty micrograms can persist for ten to twelve hours, severely impairing judgment and decision-making. Tolerance develops rapidly, and more of the drug is needed to achieve the desired effect.

Dr. Albert Hoffman originally synthesized LSD in 1938, but it was not until 1943 that he accidentally took the drug and recorded his "trip." He was aware of vertigo and an intensification of light. During the two-hour experience, he also saw a stream of fantastically vivid images, coupled with an unusual play of colors.

Because of its structural similarity to a chemical present in the brain, LSD was originally used as a research tool to study the mechanism of mental illness. It was later adopted by the drug culture of the 1960s. During the 1960s LSD use was seen by users and nonusers alike as central to full participation in the emerging counterculture movement. Such major icons as author Ken Kesey and Harvard professor Timothy Leary began to promote a culture in which certain political values and drug use were almost synonymous.

LSD use dropped in the 1980s but showed a resurgence in the 1990s. It is inexpensive (according to the DEA, $1 to $10 per dosage unit—usually twenty to eighty micrograms), nonaddictive, and one hit can last for eight to twelve hours. Many young people have rediscovered the drug, taking it in a liquid form dropped on the tongue or in the eyes with an eye dropper, or by placing impregnated blotter paper on their tongues.

Phencyclidine (PCP) and Related Drugs

Many drug-treatment professionals believe that phencyclidine (PCP) poses greater risks to the user than any other drug. PCP was originally investigated in the 1950s as an anesthetic but was discontinued for human use because of its side effects, which included confusion and delirium. The drug is still occasionally used on animals, but even many veterinarians are now turning away from it.

In the United States virtually all PCP is manufactured in clandestine laboratories and sold on the black market. This drug is sold under at least fifty different names, many of which reflect its bizarre and volatile effects: Angel Dust, Crystal, Supergrass, Killer Weed, Embalming Fluid, Rocket Fuel, and others. It is often sold to users who think they are buying mescaline or LSD.

In its pure form, PCP is a white crystalline powder that readily dissolves in water. It can also be taken in tablet or capsule form. It can be swallowed, sniffed, smoked, or injected. It is commonly applied to a leafy material, such as parsley, mint, oregano, or marijuana, and smoked.

Because PCP is an anesthetic, it produces an inability to feel pain, which can lead to serious bodily injury. Unlike other hallucinogens, PCP produces depression in some individuals. Regular use often impairs memory, perception, concentration, motor movement, and judgment. PCP can also produce a psychotic state in many ways indistinguishable from schizophrenia, or it can lead to hallucinations, mood swings, paranoia, and amnesia.

Because of the extreme psychic disorders associated with repeated use, or even one dose, of PCP and related drugs, Congress passed the Psychotropic Substances Act of 1978 (PL 95-633). The penalties imposed for the manufacture or possession of these chemicals are the stiffest of any nonnarcotic violation under the Controlled Substances Act.

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