Psychedelic Drugs - are they safe?

Psychedelic Drugs – What are They? Are they Dangerous?

  • Psychedelic drugs are known as dissociative drugs that can temporarily alter a person’s mood, thoughts, and perceptions. Strong emotions emerge ranging from bliss to fear along with vast changes in how users perceive reality1.
  • An Alaska Airlines pilot, who tried to shut down engines mid-flight, claimed exhaustion, mental illness, dehydration, and use of psychedelic mushrooms2.

If you were to ask the people and airline employees on the Alaska flight from Everett, Washington to San Francisco if they thought psychedelic drugs were dangerous, the resounding response would be YES! Let’s investigate psychedelic drugs in more detail.

Psychedelic Drugs

Many psychedelic drugs are derived from plants and fungi and have been used for millennia in traditional medicine or religious rituals. Some are manufactured in labs. Users state that they use these drugs for fun, healing, easing pain, or spiritual experiences1.

Clinically, psychedelic drugs are a group of drugs that primarily influence the manner in which the brain processes the chemical serotonin resulting in vivid visions and affecting a person’s sense of self1. Examples of psychedelic drugs are psilocybin (magic mushrooms), lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), N, N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), mescaline, and N-Benzylphenethylamines (NBOMes)1. These drugs have mind-altering properties with the potential to cause changes in thought processes, mood, and perception of reality.

Are Psychedelic Drugs Safe1?

The reported incidence of serious adverse events from professionally supervised use of specific psychedelic and dissociative drugs, such as in clinical trials, is relatively low; however, many past clinical studies on these drugs have not adequately assessed or reported on adverse events. Further research is needed to better understand the health and safety impacts of typical use of these drugs. Some serious adverse effects and safety issues have been reported:

  • Effects vary widely. Effects of psychedelic and dissociative drugs may be difficult to predict and depend on many factors. These include the amount taken and potency (concentration and strength), as well as a person’s age, unique biology, sex, personality, history of drug use, mood, expectations, mindset, and surroundings. Using psychedelic and dissociative drugs that contain contaminants or using them in combination with other substances may also produce effects not associated with using these drugs alone.
  • Short-term physical side effects are typically mild or moderate but may require professional care. People who take psychedelic or dissociative drugs may experience short-term side effects such as headache, abdominal pain, nausea or vomiting, high blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, trembling, and diarrhea. These are typically mild or moderate but may require medical care.
  • Adverse reactions include fear and anxiety. People may also feel extreme emotions such as fear, confusion, or panic. These challenging experiences are also known as having a “bad trip.” Research on the extent to which such experiences occur and their impact on health is limited.
  • Using psychedelic and dissociative drugs has been linked to dangerous behavior and injuries. People using these drugs may have impaired thought processes and perception that causes them to behave in unusual or dangerous ways. This may lead to injuries and other safety issues, particularly if there is no one else present who can help prevent or respond to an emergency. In a survey of almost 2,000 people who took psilocybin outside of a medical setting and had a challenging experience, 11% said they had put themselves or others at risk of harm. More research is needed to better understand the impact of psychedelic and dissociative drugs on driving, operating heavy machinery, or performing other tasks that could be dangerous if impaired.
  • Fatal overdoses and serious adverse effects are rarely associated with typical use of commonly used psychedelic and dissociative drugs. A 2004 analysis of multiple studies estimated that psilocybin and LSD both have a safety ratio of 1000, meaning that the lethal dose of either drug is about 1000 times larger than a person would typically take for non-medical use. Though more research is needed, evidence to date shows that fatal overdoses involving these substances are typically associated with taking very high doses or using combinations of drugs, particularly combining these substances with alcohol.
  • Drug interactions may influence effects. Though more study in this area is needed and reported cases are exceedingly rare, some researchers suspect psychedelic drugs may interact with other drugs or medications a person has taken, including prescription medicines that also increase levels of the hormone serotonin in the brain. Too much serotonin in the brain is called serotonin toxicity or serotonin syndrome. Symptoms are typically mild but can be life-threatening in rare cases.
  • Use of some psychedelic and dissociative drugs rarely causes a condition called hallucinogen-persisting perception disorder (HPPD). Some people report recurrently perceiving the same images or scenes and having the same mood changes they experienced when they were under the influence of a psychedelic or dissociative drug sometime in the past. These perceptions, or “flashbacks,” are typically mild and brief, lasting for seconds or minutes and occurring within a week of taking a substance. More research is needed to assess how and why HPPD occurs and to find ways to help prevent and treat it.

Research on the long-term mental health effects of psychedelic and dissociative drugs is ongoing. More research is needed to better understand the long-term impacts of psychedelic and dissociative drugs on mental health. Mental health complications from psychedelic and dissociative drugs are currently extremely rare in clinical research settings, in part because these studies are highly controlled, and participants are screened for existing mental illnesses.

Psychedelic Drug Use in the United States

In 2021, 2.6% (7.4 million people) reported using hallucinogen substances in the past 12 months3.

Legal Status of Psychedelic Drugs4

The U.S Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) lists most psychedelic drugs on the U.S. schedule as controlled substances. Psilocybin (magic mushrooms) are listed as a Schedule 1 drug defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.

Colorado voters approved Proposition 122 in November 2022, which removed criminal penalties for the cultivation, possession, and consumption of psychedelic mushrooms for people 21 years of age and older5.

More states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized possession of psilocybin and some similar drugs (meaning there are no criminal penalties for possessing smaller amounts of the substance for personal use) or deprioritized enforcement of laws against the substances4.


The recent news story of the Alaska Airline off-duty pilot brought the use of psychedelic drugs like magic mushrooms into the public’s spotlight. The pilot was arraigned on 83 charges of attempted murder, 83 charges of reckless endangerment, and one charge of endangering an aircraft2.

DTPM’s Mission

DTPM’s mission is to help fight drug dependency. We offer drug testing solutions, both screening and confirmation testing, to a variety of testing facilities such as drug courts, treatment centers, physician office labs, reference labs, and more. Our screening solutions provide flexibility to a testing site by offering simple point-of-care (POC) test cups or more specific instrumented drug immunoassays. DTPM also offers drug confirmation testing for those testing sites that require confirmatory results. General testing supplies such as gloves, lab coats, lint-free wipes, and pipet tips are also available.

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