What is Hallucinogenic drug?It is difficult to find a suitable generic name for a class of drugs having as many diverse effects as have been reported for “hallucinogens.” Abnormal behaviour as profound as the swings in mood, disturbances in thinking, perceptual distortions, delusions, and feelings of strangeness that sometimes occur with these drugs is usually indicative of a major mental disorder; consequently these substances are often called psychotomimetic to indicate that their effects mimic the symptoms of a naturally occurring psychosis.
There are indeed points of similarity between the drug states and the natural psychoses, but there are also many dissimilarities—so many as to make the resemblance quite superficial. Substances such as the bromides, heavy metals, belladonna alkaloids, and intoxicants can, however, cause abnormal behaviour to a degree sometimes described as psychotic, and if the list is extended to include the drugs being discussed here, then the objection—that the term psychotomimetic should refer only to the mimicking of a natural psychosis—is no longer valid. Taking this point of view, some investigators prefer the term psychotogenic (“psychosis causing”).
One of the most conspicuous features of this kind of drug experience is the occurrence of the distinctive change in perception called hallucination. For this reason the term hallucinogenic is sometimes used. Most people are aware, however, even while under the influence of the drug, that their unusual perceptions have no basis in reality; so this is not a very accurate use of the term. Strictly speaking, very few people truly hallucinate as a result of taking a hallucinogen.
All these terms are borrowed from medicine and are closely identified with pathology. In this sense, all are negative. It has been suggested that these drugs be called psychedelic (“mind manifesting”). This term shifts the emphasis to that aspect of the drug experience that involves an increased awareness of one’s surroundings and also of one’s own bodily processes—in brief, an expansion of consciousness. The term also shifts emphasis from the medical or therapeutic aspect to the educational or mystical-religious aspect of drug experience.
Only certain people, however, ever have a psychedelic experience in its fullest meaning, and the question of its value to the individual is entirely subjective. The possibility of dangerous consequences, too, may be masked by such a benign term. None of these terms, then, is entirely satisfactory, and one or two are distinctly misleading. (These terms are used interchangeably henceforth with no particular intent other than to indicate membership in the LSD-type family of drugs.)
Widespread interest and bitter controversy have surrounded the LSD-type drugs that produce marked aberrations of behaviour. The most important of these are
(1) d-lysergic acid diethylamide, commonly known as LSD-25, which originally was derived from ergot (Claviceps purpurea), a fungus on rye and wheat, (2) mescaline, the active principle of the peyote cactus (Lophophora williamsii), which grows in the southwestern United States and Mexico, and (3) psilocybin and psilocin, which come from Mexican mushrooms (notably Psilocybe mexicana and Stropharia cubensis). Bufotenine, originally isolated from the skin of toads, is the alleged hallucinogenic agent contained in banana peels.
It has also been isolated in the plant Piptadenia peregrina and the mushroom Amanita muscaria and is thought to be the active principle of the hallucinogenic snuff called cohoba and yopo and used by the Indians of Trinidad and by the Otamac Indians of the Orinoco valley. Harmine is an alkaloid found in the seed coats of a plant (Peganum harmala) of the Mediterranean region and the Middle East and also in a South American vine (Banisteriopsis caapi).
There are some amides of lysergic acid contained in the seeds of two species of morning glory (Rivea corymbosa, also called Turbina corymbosa, and Ipomoea tricolor, also called I. rubrocaerulea or I. violacea). Synthetic compounds of interest are DMT (dimethyltryptamine) and STP (dimethoxyphenylethylamine; DOM). Cannabis (or marijuana; discussed separately below) is not usually included in this group of hallucinogenic drugs, but there is no particular justification for its exclusion. It is a resin obtained from the leaves and tops of plants of the genus Cannabis.
During the late 1970s phencyclidine (PCP), or “angel dust,” emerged as a leading street hallucinogen. Developed in 1956 as an anesthetic, PCP was discontinued for human use because of its severe and unpredictable side effects, the psychological effects sometimes persisting for as long as a month. PCP in liquid or crystal form can be injected, inhaled, or ingested; most commonly it is sprinkled on marijuana or tobacco and smoked.
History of hallucinogens
Native societies of the Western Hemisphere have for 2,000 years utilized various naturally occurring materials such as the “sacred” mushroom of Mexico and the peyote cactus. Scientific interest in the hallucinogenic drugs developed slowly. A neurologist wrote about his experience with peyote before the turn of the 20th century, and his account attracted the serious attention of two distinguished psychologists, Havelock Ellis and William James.
Mescaline was isolated as the active principle of peyote in 1896, and its structural resemblance to the adrenal hormone epinephrine was recognized by 1919. There followed some interest in model psychoses (drug-induced simulations of abnormal behaviour patterns).
In 1943 Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann accidentally ingested a synthetic preparation of LSD and experienced its psychedelic effects. This discovery attracted significant attention, leading many to believe that the psychedelic effects of LSD triggered a chemical schizophrenia. The model psychosis stage of LSD investigations was convenient for enabling experimentation with the drug.
It also took place in an era when little was understood about the biochemical abnormalities involved in psychological disorders such as schizophrenia, and thus there appeared to be legitimate reasons to believe that the drug could produce a model psychosis. Today, however, the model psychosis theory of LSD’s actions has been largely rejected. The drug does not consistently induce features of schizophrenia. It instead induces an altered psychological state very different from that caused by organic psychological disease.
An American mycologist called attention to the powers of the Mexican mushroom in 1953, and the active principle was quickly found to be psilocybin.