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Definition Of Psychedelics
A psychedelic is a substance with the primary action of altering an individual’s perception and cognition. Many psychedelics act by being serotonin receptor agonists. Psychedelics are considered to be part of a larger class of psychoactive drugs called “hallucinogens”, which also includes unrelated substances such as medications that induce delirium and dissociative drugs. Unlike drugs such as opioids and stimulants which produce familiar states of consciousness, psychedelics cause the individual to experience things out of the realm of consciousness.
Psychedelic experiences are often also called trance states, yoga, meditation, dreaming, near-death experiences, and religious ecstasy. Most psychedelic drugs cause these states and fall into three main categories: Phenethylamines, tryptamines, and lysergamides. Most psychedelic drugs are illegal throughout the world unless they are being used in a religious or medical context, such as the use of medical cannabis. Despite the fact that these drugs are regulated, they are often used illicitly under recreational circumstances.
Psychological Effects of Psychedelics
Generally, people on psychedelic drugs experience the world in bright and intense colors. Things in the environment that weren’t otherwise noticed are seen for the first time and develop a sense of importance. Colors become increasingly intense, contours are sharpened, music seems more profound, and textures seem richer.
The person may feel an increased perception of their body and changes in experiences. There is an increase in depth perception and objects that are normally inanimate become more expressive. Time may slow down or may stop altogether. There are vivid images, even when the eyes are closed.
There are strong emotional effects when the person is on psychedelics. The user becomes increasingly sensitive to the gestures of others, to their faces, and to minor changes in the environment. As all things in the user’s world become more conscious and important, the user feels and increased sense of love, joy, gratitude, despair, terror, lust, and pain. Feelings become overwhelming and difficult to tolerate. The individual may feel intense feelings of paranoia, panic, and a sense of losing control.
There is usually an impairment in the short term memory. Long forgotten occurrences from the distant past may come to the forefront and be relived in vivid detail. The individual may develop new insight into themselves and ponder the nature of the universe and humanity. Boundaries between the environment and the self may disappear.
Childhood memories may be relived and the person may regress into childlike behavior. They may go into a dream world in which other individuals, images, and actions take on a new significance. The person may experience a loss of self and may feel as though they have died and have been reborn. It may feel as all the questions of the world have been answered all at once.
Traditional Uses of Psychedelic Drugs
Psychedelic drugs have long been used traditionally in religion and in the medical field, where they are used for their ability to improve mental and physical healing. Native American doctors have used peyote and other psychedelic agents to help cure a person from alcoholism. Mazatec doctors use mushrooms containing psilocybin for healing and religious purposes. DMT is a psychedelic agent used in Peru and in other areas of South America for physical and spiritual healing and in certain religious festivals.
Examples of Psychedelic Agents
There are numerous types of psychedelic agents. Some of them include the following:
- LSD, also known as lysergic acid diethylamide or “acid”
- Psilocybin mushrooms, also known as “magic mushrooms” or simply “shrooms”
- Mescaline, which is the active ingredient in mushrooms
- DMT, which is the active ingredient of ayahuasca
- Salvia divinorum, which is an atypical psychedelic drug
- Numerous synthetically-derived psychedelic drugs
Empathogen-Entactogens as Psychedelic Agents
These include MDMA, MDEA, and MDA. The use of these drugs cause feelings of euphoria, love, openness, increased self-awareness, and distortions of hearing and seeing. They are commonly used at raves for their ability to enhance the musical experience and to increase sociability. MDA is used to cause hallucinations and has other psychedelic effects.
Cannabinoids as Psychedelic Agents
THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and similar compounds can have psychedelic effects. These include alterations in consciousness, some distortions of vision, and unusual hallucinations. In high doses, they bring on brightly flashing images, especially in dim lighting. There is a sensation of well-being, euphoria, reduction of stress, and feelings of relaxation. Users have enhanced memory, feelings of hunger, and an increase in feelings of sensuality. Some users can become paranoid, suffering from anxiety and agitation. There is an enhanced awareness of patterns, sounds, and colors.
Dissociative Drugs as Psychedelic Agents
Some dissociative drugs act by antagonizing NDMA and therefore induce psychedelic effects. Dissociative psychedelics and serotonergic hallucinogens are somewhat different from one another in that the dissociative drugs result I a more intense experience of derealization and depersonalization. Ketamine, for example, causes feelings of being disconnected from the body with the environment feeling unreal. There are perceptual changes as is often seen with other psychedelic agents.
Legal Implications of Psychedelic Drugs
In spite of the fact that most psychedelic drugs are not addictive and have no long term detrimental effects on mental health, many psychedelic drugs are illegal, according to the UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances, developed in 1971. Some countries also ban synthetic compounds that have psychedelic properties, even if they are not considered dangerous. In general, psychedelic drugs are classified by the US government as being Schedule I drugs that have no medically-accepted use.
Because of governmental policies, there are severe limitations of the research of psychedelic drugs. Those wishing to do research on psychedelics must go through a great deal of red tape until they can be allowed to study the drugs. Even so, scientists have studied psychedelic drugs and have found that they have the potential to treat certain addictions, psychological traumas, and even cancer.
Facts on Psychedelic Drugs
- LSD can relieve anxiety associated with end-of-life experiences. Research has shown that LSD can reduce the anxiety associated with individuals who are fearful of the dying process.
- Psilocybin (magic mushrooms) have a calming effect on the brain rather than a stimulating effect. Research has shown that individuals taking psilocybin have decreased activity in various areas of the brain.
- MDMA promotes the secretion of oxytocin, which can aid in the treatment of anxiety disorders, such as PTSD and social anxiety disorders. Clinical studies have shown that MDMA has the ability to treat PTSD in combat veterans and victims of trauma.
- Psilocybin can treat addiction to smoking. Studies have shown that some cigarette smokers were successfully treated with psilocybin. The results were long=lasting.
- Ayahuasca has the ability to treat drug addiction. Research has shown that the use of ayahuasca has the ability to treat people suffering from drug dependence and addiction.
- DMT is a naturally occurring substance that can simulate the death experience. DMT results in hallucinations. Research on near-death experiences has shown that the brain releases the substance during death and in other intense physiological experiences, including orgasm.