What are psychedelics?
Time to read 10 min
Time to read 10 min
There are many myths surrounding mind-expanding substances such as LSD, mushrooms and DMT and how they work. Some say they have had life-changing experiences with them, others are afraid of precisely that. There seem to be at least as many warnings about psychosis, horror trips and crashes as there are stories about divine experiences and journeys through the universe. What is true about this? What exactly happens in the body when you take psychedelics? And what are psychedelics anyway? We explain.
Before we can answer the question of what psychedelics are, let's take a few steps back in history: psychedelic substances have been used for various purposes for thousands of years, whether from plants or mushrooms. Even then, people in many parts of the world were aware of their healing and mind-expanding effects. Indigenous peoples from the Amazon and present-day Mexico are known for their shamanic traditions with ayahuasca and psychedelic mushrooms or cacti. The ancient Greeks drank kykeon, a psychedelic potion made from grain and water, and in India there was soma, the composition of which has remained undiscovered to this day - some studies are pursuing the theory that fly agarics were used to make it.
Many philosophical views and attitudes to life are probably based on psychedelic experiences, such as Plato's Allegory of the Cave. The cave allegory describes that our perceptible everyday reality is based on a further level of infinite ideas and forms, of which the reality we experience is only a reflection. Access to this fundamental level of all being can be gained by taking psychedelic substances. There are also reports of mythical experiences that occurred without psychedelics, although this is much rarer.
Today, psychedelics are widely available and are used both for self-experimentation and in psychotherapy. There are countless studies and individual experiences that show the fascinating effect of psychedelics on the human psyche and our experience of reality. The meaning of the word "psychedelic" also illustrates the relationship mankind has developed with these special substances. "Psychedelic" comes from the ancient Greek and is composed of "psychḗ"' (soul) and "dẽlos" (manifest, obvious) - literally a revelation for the soul, or an experience that reveals the soul itself. And many users of psychedelic substances do indeed report life-changing insights.
So far, we've mainly just talked about psychedelics, but not explained what psychedelics actually are. Which drugs are included? How do they affect the brain and body? And what exactly are psychedelics known for?
Serotonin was first discovered in the brain of mammals in 1953. Comparisons between the structures of serotonin and LSD and their similar structure suggested that psychedelics interfere with the serotonin system in the brain. Over the next decade, various hypotheses were put forward and refuted as to exactly what influence psychedelic substances have on the serotonin system. It was not until the 1960s that the first studies were able to prove that psychedelics act as agonists for serotonin receptors in the brain. Today, they belong to the classic serotonergic hallucinogens, which means that it is now proven that they dock onto the 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) 2A serotonin receptors in the brain and thus trigger a specific reaction.
Even though this reaction is considered to be the necessary basis for the effects of all psychedelics, it does not necessarily explain all the reactions that psychedelic drugs trigger in the body - but more is not yet known about the exact mode of action. What are the best-known psychedelics? Below we have listed all the substances that fall into this category:
LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) is probably one of the best-known psychedelic drugs alongside mushrooms. The effect occurs after just 30 minutes and both visual and auditory hallucinations can occur. An intensified and even altered perception of color is common. The duration of an LSD trip varies greatly and, as with all drugs, depends on the dose. With a normal dose, the trip can last up to 12 hours, in some cases even longer.
Psilocybin is a hallucinogenic substance found in some (not all) mushrooms. These mushrooms are often called "magic mushrooms" due to their intense effects. Psilocybin is processed in the body into psilocin, which is similar to serotonin and can therefore bind to the serotonin receptors. The effect does not last as long as with LSD, but slowly subsides after about three hours. As with all drugs, the intensity of the effect depends on the amount taken. However, users describe the type of effect as rather natural and grounding, and the connection to nature and life around them seems to come into focus particularly often. Mushrooms are one of those "psychedelic drugs" that are also of great interest to the microdosing community. In our blog you can read all about microdosing with magic mushrooms in our blog.
Mescaline is found in peyote, a cactus native to Central America. The indigenous people of Mexico used the cactus to treat physical and mental ailments. Today, mescaline is subject to the Narcotics Act. Although possession of the cactus itself is permitted, further processing is not. It is taken orally (fresh or dried). In contrast to LSD, it can take up to two hours for mescaline to take effect, which then lasts for around 12 hours. Physical sensations are greatly intensified, and in small doses it can have a slightly aphrodisiac effect. Mescaline can also be produced synthetically, in which case the effect sets in after just 1-1.5 hours.
DMT stands for dimethyltryptamine and is the main active ingredient in ayahuasca. DMT mainly affects the visual experience and briefly causes intense, dream-like states, known as pseudo-hallucinations. A higher dose of DMT can also trigger experiences that are reminiscent of reports of near-death experiences. The duration of the trip with DMT depends very much on how it is taken:
Particularly exciting is the fact that DMT is already present in every living being without any ingestion (it is produced in the pineal gland) and is released both at birth and at death.
Psychedelic and psychoactive substances are often confused, so we'll explain the difference here. The meaning of psychedelic should already be clear: psychedelic substances cause hallucinations. However, all substances that have some kind of effect on the brain, its function and perception are described as psychoactive. Alcohol is therefore also a psychoactive substance, as taking it can lead to overconfidence, aggression and reckless behavior. Alcohol therefore has a clear influence on the brain and consciousness, but is not a psychedelic because it does not trigger hallucinations.
When discussing the benefits of psychedelics, people mainly talk about the psychological effects that taking LSD, DMT & co. can have. Several double-blind studies have already established that taking psychedelics triggers experiences in the test subjects that are similar to those described by mystics. While it is still possible to recognize that you are under the influence of the drug at lower doses, you often feel transported to a parallel world at higher doses. Subsequent descriptions of these states vary greatly, but also follow recurring patterns. Memories are often relived and reprocessed or a feeling of connection with God and all life around them is experienced. In particular, people who follow a religion or spiritual movement in their everyday lives report more frequently that they have encountered their definition of God.
Despite the progress that brain research has made in recent years, it has still not been possible to prove exactly how psychedelics work in the brain. What has been shown is that information processing in the brain works differently under the influence of the substances. Normally, all sensory impressions are processed individually, but taking psychedelics seems to activate the brain as a whole. The more areas are activated, the more intense and complex the hallucinations appear to be. The new connections that are created in the brain in this way open up new perspectives and a changed view of life can emerge.
For this reason, psychedelics are also a frequently investigated element in the field of trauma therapy. Studies on long-term effects on the psyche have shown that even a single dose can trigger positive, lasting changes in one's own personality. This may be due to the effects of psychedelics on the psyche on the one hand, and to actual physiological changes to the brain and the neuronal network on the other.
The substances have one of the best documented therapeutic benefits when it comes to treating anxiety and depression. Effects have also been studied in people with borderline personality, OCD, alcoholism and nicotine dependence, cluster headaches and autism. And although further studies are needed to explore the topic in more depth, the studies to date have shown that psychedelics appear to help with a wide range of mental illnesses. Interestingly, they also have effects on cognitive brain function and creativity. Some inventions have even been created under the influence of psychedelics, such as PCR technology - the process that became known to the general public mainly due to Covid-19. So LSD makes you inventive!
Some interesting effects of psychedelics on inflammatory processes in the body have been discovered in recent years. It was already known that serotonin plays an important role here, but series of tests on mice have shown that psychedelics can also have an effect here and there are even promising studies on diseases such as asthma. Studies from 2005 and 2006 have also examined the influence of certain psychedelics on cell regeneration and growth and have also achieved positive results here. However, it should be noted that these studies were mainly carried out on rats. Further, human-related studies are necessary to verify whether the use of psychedelics in human medicine is possible and useful.
In recent years, interest in microdosing with psychedelics, especially LSD, has increased. Through microdosing with LSD users hope to be more efficient, creative and energetic in everyday life - without hallucinations, of course. There are already a number of studies that have investigated microdosing and achieved positive results. LSD itself is illegal in Germany, but not the LSD derivative 1T-LSDwhich we offer for microdosing in our store.
With all the positive reports, it is important to also look at the possible negative consequences of using psychedelic drugs. Although psychedelics are among the "least dangerous" drugs, caution should be exercised when consuming them. For example, it is not yet known that LSD can lead to death. On the contrary: according to medical reports, eight people were hospitalized in 1974 because some of them had taken more than 30 times the usual dose of LSD in the belief that they were taking cocaine. This led to vomiting, overheating, unconsciousness, breathing problems and slight stomach bleeding in all eight people. However, all patients recovered from the incident after their hospital stay without any long-term effects. Further information on whether LSD is dangerouscan be found in our blog.
While the use of psychedelics themselves does not appear to have any fatal consequences, it is important to note that the loss of clear judgment caused by psychedelic intoxication can be fatal. This becomes a particular problem if the drug is taken unaccompanied, as affected persons may believe that they are invincible or that they can fly, for example. It is therefore important that a "trip sitter" is always present when psychedelics are taken in a private setting so that they can intervene in good time if necessary.
As psychedelics have a great influence on the psyche, this is also where the greatest dangers lurk. Taking them can trigger HPPD, for example. HPPD (Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder) stands for persisting perception disorder after hallucinogen use. The term refers to a phenomenon also known as "flashbacks". Affected persons suffer from recurring episodes with symptoms of a complete psychedelic trip, even though the acute effects of the drug have long since worn off. These episodes can also occur months after the initial intake of psychedelics. HPPD occurs more frequently in private use than in therapeutic settings and it is not known which factors are involved as triggers. There is also no data available on how frequently HPPD occurs overall.
Another possible after-effect is psychosis. Psychoses are sometimes accompanied by very different symptoms, which can include delusions, paranoia, disturbed thinking, bizarre views of the world, hallucinations and an altered perception of all five senses. It is assumed that those affected by drug-induced psychoses already had a predisposition that was only revealed by taking psychedelics. After abstaining from the psychedelic drugs taken, there is a chance that the psychosis can heal, but there have also been cases in which the people affected were unable to cope without care for the rest of their lives.
There are other isolated reports of cortical blindness. Temporary or permanent blindness can occur due to damage in certain areas of the brain. Even if negative after-effects occur less frequently with psychedelics than with other psychoactive substances, there are clear risks to one's own mental and physical health. It is therefore essential to plan and take them carefully.
From the dawn of mankind to the present day, mind-expanding drugs have had a firm place in society. Both celebrated and feared, they exude a fascination that is difficult to put into words. On the one hand, there are the modern studies that show the many possible applications in medicine and therapy. On the other hand, there are countless cultures that have been incorporating psychedelics into their religious and spiritual ceremonies for thousands of years.
Despite the fact that we as humanity can already look back on many years of studies, experiments and practical application, it is still unclear exactly what role psychedelics play in the body. Are the intense changes that taking them can bring about due to the mind-expanding, mystical experiences? Or are they due to actual physiological and neurological effects? And what effects do mystical experiences have on the body? The question of what psychedelics are raises further questions that we cannot (yet) answer. But even if it is not yet clear how psychedelics influence our consciousness: Research will continue - and perhaps one day we will be able to answer with certainty what psychedelics are.