Psychedelic drugs are substances that produce auditory and/or visual hallucinations by various biochemical means. While they first became popular in the 1960’s, they continue to be used by new generations today. Here we list the five most popularly abused psychedelic drugs today.
LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), commonly referred to as acid, was one of the first psychedelic drugs to be commonly used. LSD causes the user to have strong alterations in perception, including thoughts, vision, and hearing. (1)
This potent psychedelic is a semi-synthetic drug that combines both natural and man-made substances. (2)
The drug actives serotonin receptors in the brain and stimulates serotonin production.
LSD is typically taken orally, in the form of blotter tabs or drops. The effects typically last around 12-hours, and can be quite intense.
DMT (N,N-Dimethyltryptamine) is a molecule that occurs naturally in many plants and animals. When abused, isolated DMT is capable of producing one of the strongest hallucinogenic effects of all psychedelics.
In sufficient doses, DMT will typically cause the user to be completely removed from reality. This can then lead the user to enter a complete hallucinogenic state. While the high typically lasts fifteen minutes, users often report it feeling like much longer periods of time have elapsed. This is due to the intensity of the drug. DMT is typically smoked, but can be snorted or injected as well.
The drug has a long history of use in South America, and is currently still used by various religious groups. (3)
3) Salvia divinorum
Salvia divinorum is a mint plant indigenous to Mexico that has hallucinogenic properties when abused. For centuries, it has been used as a healing and divining tool (4). Salvia is typically smoked and produces effects for approximately 30 minutes to an hour. Salvia gained popularity in the United States due to being unregulated for a long period of time (5).
Salvia is still commonly available at smoke and head shops around the country. It was not until 2002 that researchers had discovered that Salvia divinorum acts at the kappa opiate receptor site, where much of human perception is regulated (4).
4) Psychedelic Mushrooms
Psychedelic mushrooms, commonly referred to as ‘shrooms, are currently one of the most popular powerful psychedelic drugs today. These mushrooms evolved various different psychedelic compounds as a defense mechanism against potential predators.
According to the EMCDDA, the compound responsible for the effect of “magic mushrooms” is psilocybin, a schedule-I controlled substance (5). After the gut ingests the psilocybin, it is converted into psilocyn. In some cases, users can enter an altered state for several days (6).
Humans have likely been ingesting them since prehistoric times for their effects. The effects typically last around six hours and can include both visual and auditory hallucinations. These mushrooms provide their effects by activating serotonin receptors in the brain, usually in the prefrontal cortex.
Peyote is a type of small and spineless cactus that contains naturally occurring psychedelic compounds as a defense against predators. The psychoactive compound found in peyote is mescaline, which produces intense hallucinations. According to Science Direct, the effects of peyote can last from a few hours to as long as 24 hours or more (7).
Much like psychedelic mushrooms, humans have ingested the peyote cactus for hundreds of years for its psychedelic effects. The drug is used by consuming the inner flesh of the cactus. Currently, the recreational use of peyote and mescaline extracts are illegal in the United States, as they are classified as Schedule I controlled substances/
However, there are laws that protect the use of peyote in Native American religious ceremonies. (8)
2C-B is a psychedelic drug that was first synthesized in 1974 by Dr. Alexander Shulgin (9). Its effects, which are similar to LSD and mescaline caused it to surge in popularity until ultimately being outlawed in the 1990’s. 2C-B is almost always ingested orally and takes between 30 minutes and two full hours to take effect. (9) The drug is typically sold in a white powder form or in gel caps (9).
Despite this, 2C-B remains popular and is one of the most commonly sold psychedelics on the dark web, according to ABC news. (10)
According to the European Bioinfographics Institute, Bufotenin is a hallucinogenic compound that is found in various places in nature, such as in toads, mushrooms, and some mammals (11). Having first been isolated in 1934, Bufotenin has gained notoriety over the years due to toads secreting it as a defense mechanism, and users taking advantage of this to ingest the substance by “licking the toad” (12).
Ketamine is a drug used commonly for anesthesia in humans and animals and was developed in the 1960s. At doses lower than that used for anesthesia, however, ketamine can produce dissociative and hallucinogenic effects that have made it a popular recreational drug since first being synthesized (12).
Ketamine was first developed by Calvin Stevens in 1962 to replace PCP. Since 1999, the DEA added Ketamine to it’s “Emerging Drugs List”, and labeled it a Schedule III substance, meaning it cannot be possessed without a prescription (13).
Methoxetamine (MXE for short) is a relatively new psychedelic compound that has gained popularity as a recreational drug. While still currently legal in many parts of the world, MXE is a powerful psychedelic drug with dissociative effects said to be similar to ketamine. (14)
According to Dr. Elizabeth Hartney, MXE comes from the arylcyclohexylamines family of compounds, which also includes Ketamine and PCP (15). Despite its semi-legal status, the effects of MXE can last longer and be more intense than Ketamine (15).
The drug typically comes in the form of a white powder, which is then placed under the tongue or snorted (15). The effects of MXE can begin to take place rapidly, sometimes within ten minutes of consumption, and last for approximately one to three hours (15).
25I-NBOMe, popularly known as “N-bombs“, is a powerful synthetic hallucinogen was first synthesized in the early 2000s and subsequently gained popularity as a legal alternative to LSD (15). After being linked to a number of fatalities, however, 25I-NBOMe was made illegal in most parts of the world (16).
N-bombs are often sold as a liquid or powdered form, or on blotter paper. The drug has no effect if swallowed, and users must place it under their tongue for absorption. However, some users inject or smoke the drug. The drug is so toxic that it requires a filtered mask and gloves while being handled (15).
Dextromethorphan (DXM) is a medication commonly found in various over-the-counter cough syrups, elixirs, and cold products. When taken at higher doses, dextromethorphan can cause hallucinations and changes in perception, similar to those of ketamine of PCP (18). This is popularly known as “robo-tripping”, after the cough syrup Robitussin (17).
Often times, DXM is falsely sold as MDMA. Compared to MDMA, DXM is far easier and more cost-effective to produce. According to the Center for Substance Abuse Research, The DEA has recorded increases in the illicit use of DXM thanks to the wide availability at drug stores and online (19).
5-MeO-DMT is a naturally occurring psychedelic compound found in plants and certain animals, such as trees and shrubs (20). This member of the tryptamine class is four to six times more powerful than DMT. 5-MeO-DMT is very similar chemically to DMT, but produces a different high. (21)
USe of 5-MeO-DMT can be traced back hundreds of years to ancient tribes in Northern Chile. The effects of the drug are strong and can lead to a loss of physical coordination and control (20).
Does psychedelic use increase the odds of mental illness?
A 2015 study sought to check if there was any correlation between mental illness and lifetime psychedelic use of LSD, psilocybin (mushrooms), and mescaline. The study used data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) that included data from over 135,000 participating adults.
The study found that use of psychedelic drugs was directly correlated with an increased risk of mental health issues. The participants were found to have three times higher odds of being admitted to a mental health hospital than those who had not abused psychedelic drugs. (22)
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