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5 Tryptamines of Abuse

Tryptamines

Tryptamines are a group of common organic molecules found throughout the natural world – in animals, plants, and fungi in small doses. Some natural forms occur in larger quantities than others, but many of the drugs that are in the tryptamine family are produced in a laboratory setting.

Most tryptamine-based drugs produce hallucinations and psychedelic experiences by binding with serotonin receptors, acting on the brain in place of serotonin. They are not considered addictive, although they can lead to cross-tolerance, meaning that abusing one of these drugs will lead to physical tolerance for other substances in the group. They also cause potentially dangerous side effects and may trigger mental disorders like mood disorders or schizophrenia.

1. LSD ( Lysergic Acid Diethylamide )

Notepad with chemical formula of LSD on the wooden table.

The full name of this famous hallucinogen is D-lysergic acid diethylamide, a chemical produced in a lab starting with ergot, a fungus that grows on rye and some other grains. Although it is now a Schedule I substance, and therefore illegal with no medical uses, LSD was originally developed as a medication used to treat a variety of mental health conditions. It was also given to psychology students in the 1950s and 1960s to help them understand schizophrenia; however, during that time, the drug was widely diverted and abused for recreational purposes.

When the LSD production process is finished, the result is a clear or white crystal that is dissolved in water. It is usually placed on blotter paper or into tablets. It can be found as gelatin sheets, powders, or crystals, too. The drug dissolves on the mucous membranes in the mouth or through the gastrointestinal system, although some people smoke or inject the substance.

The substance’s effects begin within 30-90 minutes after it is ingested, and changes to sensory perception can last for up to 12 hours. People abuse LSD to get psychedelic effects, including visual or auditory hallucinations, and a change in the perception of time. However, there are other effects, especially negative side effects, produced by the substance.

Effects and Side Effects of LSD

  • Dilated pupils
  • Elevated body temperature, including hyperthermia
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Increased blood sugar
  • Dry mouth and salivation
  • Tingling in the extremities
  • Physical weakness and tremors
  • Heart palpitations
  • Facial flushing
  • Nausea
  • Changes to appetite
  • Dizziness
  • Blurry vision
  • Sleeplessness
  • Anxiety and panic
  • Delusions, both grandiose and paranoid
  • Paranoia
  • Mood swings
  • Disintegration and disorientation
  • Seizures (rare)

LSD may also lead to a disorder called hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD), colloquially called “flashbacks.” These flashbacks can be anything from seeing visual light trails from moving people or objects, to sudden panic or re-experiencing emotions from the trip. They occur randomly and can be induced from taking LSD even once.


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Rates of Abuse

Fewer adolescents and adults abuse LSD than in previous decades. The 2016 Monitoring the Future (MTF) Survey found that 1.2 percent of 8th graders, 3.2 percent of 10th graders, and 4.9 percent of 12th graders across the US abused LSD at least once. About half of those adolescents abused LSD in the past year. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) for 2015 found that 7.7 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 25, and 10.7 percent of people 26 and older, reported ever abusing LSD.

2. Psilocybin and Psilocin

Dried and fresh Magic mushrooms in glass jar isolated on white background

These two substances are closely related, and both are derived from “magic mushrooms,” or any of 75 known species of mushroom that can be found in the tropical regions of the world in South America, Southeast Asia, North America, and Europe. These fungi have been used for religious rituals for thousands of years but became substances of abuse in the 1950s. They were made illegal in the US in 1968.

To consume these potent intoxicants, the mushrooms are usually dried; however, in some instances, they may be consumed fresh. Typically, they can be boiled into a tea, or mixed into food like pizza or peanut butter to mask their bitter flavor. Sometimes, they are crushed into a powder and consumed in capsule form. In rare instances, people may smoke, snort, or inject the powder.

Like LSD, shrooms affect the serotonin receptors in the brain to produce hallucinations. The effects of naturally produced psilocybin or psilocin are somewhat unpredictable, because it is harder to dose based on the size and age of the mushroom; some forms of the drug may be synthetic, making it easier to dose, as long as the concentration is understood. However, synthetic psilocybin is rare. The drugs take anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours to affect the brain.

Effects and Side Effects

The main effects sought by people who abuse shrooms include hallucinations and relaxation. Other effects may occur, too, including:

  • Abdominal problems like cramps, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Muscle relaxation, weakness, and twitching
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of coordination
  • Pupil dilation
  • Dry mouth
  • Tearing
  • Facial flushing
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • High body temperature
  • Sweating and chills
  • Numbness in or around the mouth
  • Feeling physically heavy or light
  • Distortions of perception like brighter colors, louder sounds, and more defined flavors
  • Tactile, auditory, and visual hallucinations
  • Trouble focusing or concentrating on real events
  • Synesthesia, or the mixing of sensory perceptions like seeing sounds
  • Impaired judgment
  • Feeling detached from one’s body or reality
  • Trouble telling the difference between fantasy and reality
  • Altered perception of space and time
  • Feeling united with one’s environment
  • Tension, anxiety, and mood swings
  • Frightening hallucinations
  • Paranoia or anxiety
  • Delusions

Rates of Abuse

In 2010, a survey of psychedelics abusers in the US found that about 21 million people reported consuming psilocybin at some point in their lives.

3. Dimethyltryptamine (DMT)

Mimosa hostilis root bark isolated on white background

This substance also occurs naturally in some plants and animals, although in varying concentrations. The most famous natural occurrence of DMT is in one of the ingredients in ayahuasca, but the drug is also produced synthetically for recreational abuse. Because DMT is a hallucinogen, and there is a lot of debate over potential medical uses, it is listed as a Schedule I substance in the United States. However, it has been used in religious rituals for thousands of years. There is also some evidence that DMT is produced naturally, in very small amounts, by the brain.

The drug is a whitish powder derived from plants like Psychotria viridis and Banisteriopsis caapi, which grow in South America and part of Asia. The substance is the main hallucinogen found in ayahuasca teas, but DMT is sometimes smoked, vaporized, snorted, or injected. DMT’s chemical structure is similar to sumatriptan, an anti-migraine drug. Like other hallucinogens in the tryptamine family, DMT binds to serotonin receptors to produce euphoria and psychedelic effects.

Unlike other drugs in the tryptamine family, DMT does not last very long. Effects begin within 30-45 minutes and peak within 2-3 hours; the drug lingers in the body, producing some effects that resolve after 4-6 hours.

Effects and Side Effects

People who abuse DMT seek psychedelic effects, including altered perception of time, hallucinations, and change to reality. However, side effects from DMT can include physical changes that may be uncomfortable or dangerous, including:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Tightness or chest pain
  • Agitation or anxiety
  • Dilated pupils
  • Rapid eye movements
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Loss of muscle coordination
  • Headache
  • Confusion

The drug may induce schizophrenia or other psychological disorders in people who are susceptible to these conditions.

Rates of Abuse

The Global Drug Survey (GDS) from 2016 found that 2.24 percent of people around the world used DMT within the prior year.

4. Alpha-Methyltryptamine (AMT)

Several pills of MDMA (Extasy) on white table distributed by drug dealers

Not as well-known as other tryptamine drugs, this substance is a stimulant and a hallucinogen, and it has become more popular at clubs and raves where MDMA or ecstasy is also used. Like other tryptamines, AMT is a Schedule I drug as there are no known medical uses; however, it has only been scheduled as such since 2003. This synthetic drug is new, so the effects are not well understood.

AMT was sold as an antidepressant in the 1960s in the Soviet Union, but it has never received approval as a prescription drug in the US unlike its cousin, LSD.

Effects and Side Effects

The effects produced by AMT are very dependent on the size of the dose. A moderate dose, of about 20 mg, produces an intoxication that lasts 12-24 hours. People who abuse AMT may be seeking a drug like amphetamines, or they may be seeking hallucinations, which are reportedly similar to those produced by mescaline. Other effects and side effects include:

  • Nervousness
  • Tension
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Blurry vision
  • Pupil dilation
  • Visual, auditory, and tactile hallucinations
  • Elevated mood
  • Increased physical energy
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Decreased coordination
  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches
  • Jaw clenching

Rates of Abuse

Since AMT is a relatively new synthetic drug, surveys investigating substance abuse rates do not yet include AMT, or they may consider it one of the substances in the “other” category. It is hard to say how many people abuse this drug.

5. Foxy Methoxy

MMDA, methoxy methylenedioxyamphetamine methoxy MDA, is a psychedelic and entactogen drug of the amphetamine class.

The full chemical formula for this synthetic drug is 5-methoxy-N, N-diisopropyltryptamine (5-MeO-DIPT), and the hallucinogen is sometimes also called Foxy. The chemical formula is similar to psilocybin or psilocin. Like AMT, Foxy Methoxy was placed on the Schedule I banned list in 2003, although the placement was originally temporary due to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) concerns about the drug being an imminent public safety hazard.

Foxy was designed as a club drug, like AMT in many ways, and targeted at the youth-based market that consumes ecstasy and MDMA. It is available mainly as a liquid or a powder, but it may also appear in capsule or tablet form. It is typically consumed orally, but some people may smoke or snort the powder. Tablets may have an embossed spider or alien head stamp, and colors range from purple or red for tablets, to blue, green, orange, gray, tan, or pink for capsules or powder.

Since it is a synthetic substance, the effects the drug produces are very dependent on dose size. A dose of 6-10 milligrams begins to take effect within 20-30 minutes after it is consumed. Effects peak around 60-90 minutes, and the full high lasts for 3-6 hours.

Effects and Side Effects of Foxy Methoxy

People are most likely to abuse Foxy Methoxy in a social setting, seeking euphoria, psychedelic effects, or stimulation. Other effects and side effects may include:

  • Hallucinations, both positive or disturbing
  • Empathy
  • Visual or auditory disturbances and distortions
  • Emotional distress and anxiety
  • Dilated pupils
  • Increased talkativeness
  • Lowered inhibitions
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle tension
  • Clenching the jaw

Rates of Abuse

As Foxy Methoxy is a new drug, surveys do not gather data on use of this drug. The number is likely very low, and many people may consume the drug by accident, thinking it is MDMA or another amphetamine.

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Get Help for Substance Abuse

While most hallucinogens, including those of the tryptamine family, are not considered addictive, they can produce dangerous physical and emotional effects. People who are prone to psychological disorders like mood disturbances or schizophrenia may trigger these conditions. People who abuse hallucinogens may also abuse other substances, too.

It is important to get help from medical professionals to safely detox from these drugs. Following withdrawal, an evidence-based rehabilitation program can help individuals to overcome addiction or drug abuse.

Reference:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/tryptamines