Delirium is a state of mental disturbance marked by confusion and disorientation. People in delirium cannot think clearly and may not remember who they are, where they are, or what year it is. They may also hallucinate, seeing and hearing things that are not there. Usually, delirium is a temporary condition resulting from some disorder of the brain. For example, a high fever will cause delirium; when the fever comes down, the delirium ends. If you can remember the experience of a high fever as a young child, you know what delirium is.

Most psychoactive drugs will cause delirium in overdoses by being temporarily toxic to the brain. This kind of delirium is called a toxic psychosis because it is a malfunction of the brain owing to the presence of a toxin in the body. As the drug overdose is metabolized and eliminated, the toxic psychosis resolves. If delirium is very strong, people may not remember it clearly afterward; that is, they may have some degree of amnesia for the experience.

Depending on what causes the delirium, there may be physical effects as well, usually uncomfortable ones such as nausea, dizziness, headache, and prostration. The mental experiences are variable, too, and although many people find them unpleasant, some find them powerfully fascinating, more vivid than ordinary reality. Here is one man's description of a visual hallucination he had as a child during a high fever:

"I was standing on a cliff looking down at an ocean of cream. Somehow I knew that the cream was just about to curdle, and there was something absolutely horrible about that. Rut the tension just kept building and building. The ocean of cream was always just on the point of curdling, and the tension was unbearable. It is one of the most vivid memories of my childhood."

Some drugs, called deliriants, cause delirium at subtoxic doses. I'hey are a strange group of plants and chemicals derived from them. Some of them have been used for thousands of years to induce altered states of consciousness. They certainly do not appeal to all people, and some of them are dangerous. Nevertheless, they remain popular.

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