What Are the Different Types of Hallucinations?

Woman in surreal landscape
While most drug hallucinations are mild, occasionally users are transported to an unreal world. Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

Definition of Hallucination

What is a hallucination? A hallucination is something you see, hear, feel, smell or taste that isn't really there. Hallucinations can happen through any of the five senses, but the most common types are visual and auditory (hearing) hallucinations. Hallucinations can happen under the influence of drugs, especially hallucinogenic or psychedelic drugs, such as LSD, or magic mushrooms, or they can be a symptom of psychosis, which is a group of serious symptoms of mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

Hallucinations can also happen to almost anyone if they are subjected to extreme physical or mental stress, or when they are extremely sleep deprived.

Visual Hallucinations

Visual hallucinations can include mild distortions of what you see around you. People who use hallucinogenic drugs often describe these mild distortions as pleasant, and can include experiences such as colors appearing more vivid, seeing halos around objects, experiencing visual illusions more clearly, seeing things differently in your peripheral vision, seeing faces as looking artificial or made of plastic, clay or some other inanimate substance, seeing walls appearing as if they are "breathing," and noticing patterns that had not been apparent before, either through naturally occurring patterns, such as the veins on a leaf, or superimposed onto objects. Visual hallucinations can also include seeing entire objects or people who are not really there, which can sometimes be confusing to the person seeing them.

Visual hallucinations are a hallmark effect of hallucinogenic drugs, such as LSD, although the extent to which people experience hallucinations while under the influence of these drugs varies -- some people see these "visuals" consistently on low doses of the drug, while other people experience only a stimulant effect, even on quite high doses.

This can also change rapidly within the same drug experience, as people who have never hallucinated before suddenly find themselves in an alien, seemingly make-believe world. Visual hallucinations can be pleasant or unpleasant, and can quickly shift from one to the other, causing rapid shifts in mood.

Auditory Hallucinations

Auditory hallucinations can range from mild distortions in what you hear, to hearing voices when nobody is speaking. The voices may be quiet or loud, friendly or intimidating. Auditory hallucinations are the most common type of hallucination experienced by people suffering from schizophrenia. Distortions to sounds and the intensity of auditory experiences, such as listening to music, is common on hallucinogenic drugs.

Tactile Hallucinations

Tactile hallucinations are physical sensations of something that is not there. Mild tactile hallucinations are common in people high on psychoactive drugs. However, they are not always pleasurable or mild, and all drugs are unpredictable and vary in effect from one person to another.

Crystal meth is notorious for producing unpleasant tactile hallucinations, often felt as bugs crawling over or underneath the skin. These tactile hallucinations can feel so real to a meth user that they scratch or pick holes in their skin while trying to remove the bug. This can lead to sores, scabs, scars, and infections.

Olfactory and Taste Hallucinations

Olfactory hallucinations - smelling something that is not there - and taste hallucinations (quite rare) may also be experienced, although these have not been the subject of much interest. Like other hallucinations, olfactory and taste hallucinations can be troubling to the person experiencing them, especially if they overlap with delusions. For example, in a person who has a delusion that he or she is being poisoned, a taste hallucination would be extremely distressing. The person might perceive it as proof that the delusion is true.

Pronunciation: hal-oo-sin-A-shun

Also Known As:

Visual Hallucinations -- visuals, visual disturbances, visual distortions, seeing things, pink elephants

Auditory Hallucinations -- hearing voices, hearing things

Tactile Hallucinations -- bugs, crawling skin, heebie-jeebies

Common Misspellings: hellucination, hullucination, helucination, helusination, hallusination, hellusination

Examples: Gary experienced visual hallucinations while he was on LSD.

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