When something is synthetic, it is created or chemically synthesized. It is not naturally occurring. Synthetic hallucinogens are those that do not occur in nature but are created in a lab.

Synthetic hallucinogens can be synthesized from phenethylamine, a class of substances that act as stimulants. Sometimes, these drugs are created to circumvent federal drug laws. They are sometimes called new or novel psychoactive substances (NPS) or designer drugs.

With NPS, the idea is to create something that mimics the effects of a naturally occurring hallucinogen. Since they are new or novel, they aren’t explicitly illegal, which poses a significant challenge for law enforcement. Since they are new substances, many people take risks ingesting them.

Synthetic hallucinogens may come in several forms:

  • Pills
  • Vapor
  • Liquid
  • Powder
  • Nasal inhalation
  • Intravenous injection
  • Sublingual or buccal absorption

There are also synthetic versions of other drugs, such as synthetic cannabinoids, synthetic stimulants, and synthetic depressants.

Synthetic vs. Natural Hallucinogens

Naturally occurring psychoactive substances, such as those found in certain fungi, plants, and animals, have long histories of use among Indigenous populations. Many of these substances are also finding new promise as treatments for mental health disorders like anxiety and depression.

Examples of natural hallucinogens include:

  • DMT: Found in the plants used to make the psychoactive brew Ayahuasca
  • Psilocybin: Found in psychoactive (or “magic”) mushrooms
  • 5-MeO-DMT: Found in plants and the secretions of the Colorado River toad
  • Mescaline: The psychoactive ingredient in peyote and San Pedro cacti

Synthetic hallucinogens do not have the same potential medical applications as natural hallucinogens. And unlike natural hallucinogens’, they are not informed by thousands of years of traditional use.