Psychedelics are drugs that alter changes in the state of mind. They produce hallucinations and expand the consciousness. While there are many psychedelics, the most commonly used today in research are; ayahuasca, a natural psychedelic tea made from Amazonian plants, rich in dimethyltryptamine (DMT), Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) commonly known as ecstasy, Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), and psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms. History of psychedelic use dates back to over 10,000 years with fossil evidence of humans consuming psychoactive (affecting the mind) plants. It wasn’t until the end of the second millennium that these drugs received the attention of scientists. Over 1,000 books and scientific papers had made its way into psychedelic research by the 1960’s. Psychedelic research has lead to many studies conducted by scientists creating many theories on the effects of psychedelics. These theories can be viewed as the positive and negative effects of psychedelic use. Most importantly, what effects do psychedelics have on users?
First and foremost, the biggest way psychedelics affects its users is known as a psychedelic experience or trip. It’s when the consciousness becomes intoxicated and users feel a majority of effects like distortion of the senses, immense emotions, and euphoria. A trip can last anywhere from 8 to 12 hours. Users can either experience a good or bad trip. A good trip is like a pleasant dream where a bad trip is like a nightmare. A good trip is euphoric. When users experience a good trip, they can see the world as colorful and meaningful. In contrast, a bad trip is fearful. Users who experience a bad trip, see the world as painful and superficial. Weather experiencing a good or bad trip, users can see hallucinations and changes in the thought process might occur. Usually, a trip can change the way the user feels about themselves or the world in a positive or negative way. Coming down from a trip can be hard for the users to transition back into reality. Overall, most people who consume psychedelics hope for a good trip.
Despite the differing views on psychedelic research, it’s argued that some psychedelics cannot be ignored when their usage can help with untreatable conditions. Some positive effects of psychedelics are that they have shown potential in treating depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Clinical trials are being carried out that could lead to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approving of MDMA for PTSD, LSD for anxiety, and psilocybin for depression.
First, MDMA can be used in a therapeutic way as a method of treatment for PTSD. “Current research is taking a renewed interest in psychedelic substances and their potential for healing trauma-related disorders, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).”, says Lyndsay Pixler (121-135) This therapy is referred to as MDMA- assisted psychotherapy. While in a MDMA-induced state, feelings of positive emotions along with reduced fear are experienced. This psychedelic substance can cause a patient of PTSD to revisit their traumatic memories, within tolerance. The medical director of the Trauma Center in Massachusetts says, “Trauma victims cannot recover until they become familiar with and befriend the sensations in their bodies.” (Pixler 121-135) While using MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, in order for the patient to heal they must stay aware of difficult experiences, feelings, and memories rather than trying to escape them. MDMA-assisted psychotherapy has shown promising results, with a 52% reduction in Clinical-Administrated PTSD scale scores in a phase 2 study in Switzerland while the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies at the University of Colorado prepares for phase 3 trials.
Second, LSD has a positive effect in helping with anxiety disorder. Peter Gasser, the first psychiatrist to test the effects of LSD in psychotherapy, believes LSD is an effective treatment for anxiety. LSD is known to stimulate the body but the effects go way past the senses. Gasser tells Newsweek, “LSD is more a catalyst that facilitates a psychological process.” (Rivas 1-3) Over 40 years later, Gasser continues to conduct experiments. He recently took 12 patients of anxiety and gave them 200 micrograms of LSD. Gasser’s results showed a 20% reduction in anxiety levels. A year later those patients’ anxiety levels remained down.
Lastly, psilocybin the active ingredient in shrooms, has shown potential in treating depression. In 2012, Carol Vincent was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, a type of cancer. Vincent was depressed because the cancer affected her badly. Vincent reportedly said, “Life is just pointless stress, and then you die. All I’m doing is sitting here waiting for all this shit to happen.” (Khazan) As her depression worsened, she received an invitation from John Hopkins University of Medicine for a trial to take psilocybin. Vincent described her experience as gorgeous. She reported seeing an animated white crab who she called “Cancer the Crab” like the zodiac sign. She related Cancer the Crab to her cancer saying it could have eaten her but instead it was comic relief. Her trip as well as study subjects just like her, resulted in being less depressed from when they first started the trial. Six months after, the participants including Vincent showed a 78% reduction in their depression disorder. Also 65% of those participants almost fully recovered from depression.
While some of the positive effects of psychedelic use are the potential in treating PTSD, anxiety, and depression there are some negative effects psychedelics can have on users. After researching the effects of psychedelic use, scientists such as neurologists and pharmacologists found negative effects due to the life-time use of psychedelics. Research along with results left a team of neurologists to question, “Could hallucinogens (a class of psychedelics) induce permanent pupillary changes in abusers?” (Ahmed 1-5) Pharmacologists conducted a study on brain structure and personality changes after the lifetime use of psychedelics.
A negative effect psychedelics have on users is that they can cause the pupils the remain permanently dilated. An article on neurological medicine reported a case on an 18-year old girl from New Zealand that suffers from a permanent abnormality of dilated pupils. Her eye condition is known as mydriasis, which developed because of her constant use of psychedelics and other substance abuse since the age of 11. The patient has a medical history of taking prescribed drugs like Citalopram for her depression and Ritalin to help with her ADHD disorder. There was no history of her condition being hereditary. Radiological and neurological exams including an MRI of the neck and head areas where done on the patient. The results were absolutely normal. Her constant substance abuse is what lead up to the permanent effects of her pupils.
Another negative effect psychedelics have on users is that they can cause structural changes in brain tissue according to molecular pharmacology studies. Pharmacologists took an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) of 22 brains who regularly consumed ayahuasca, a type of psychedelic in tea form. They also tested 22 other non-users that matched in age, sex, years of education, and verbal IQ. The ayahuasca users CT (computed tomography) scans showed major differences in the midline structure of the brain where the posterior cingulate cortex appeared to be thinning. The posterior cingulate cortex is involved with emotion, learning, processing, and memory. The ayahuasca users also showed self-transcendence, a personality trait associated with spirituality and transpersonal feelings. The results show that long term psychedelic use can lead to a change in brain structure and personality changes.
Conclusively, the mind-altering drugs knows as psychedelics can have positive and negative effects on users. Many studies, trials, experiments, and psychedelic research has been conducted and continues to be conducted by many different types of scientists to understand the effects psychedelics have on users. The most common psychedelics used in psychedelic research are ayahuasca, MDMA, LSD, and psilocybin. After analyzing the effects of psychedelics by research the decision to try them for medical or recreational purposes is solemnly up to the user.
Ahmed, Al-Imam. “Could Hallucinogens Induce Permanent Pupillary Changes in (Ab)users? A Case Report from New Zealand.” Case Reports in Neurological Medicine, 8/17/2017, p1-5. 5p. This source is an article about a girl having permanent dilated pupils’ due to substance abuse. After examining the girls condition research suggest that life-long psychedelic use can lead to this condition. I’m using this source as an example of a negative effect of psychedelic use. I’m also using the photo of the girls dilated pupils from this article to show what her condition looks like. This study is reliable because it was conducted by neurologists who ran multiple tests.
“CANNABIS PSYCHEDELIA: THE MEANING, HISTORY, AND STATE OF THE ART.” Wealth Shop, 15 Sep. 2017, https://wealthshop.ca/2017/09/15/cannabis-psychedelia-the-meaning-history-and-state-of-the-art/. This source is where I found the main photo for my report. I used this photo because it’s very symbolic in the way pills are floating in the background and as the man drinks from a test tube his senses become colorful.
Hartney, Elizabeth. “Understanding the Acid Trip Experience.” very well mind, 24 Feb. 2018, https://www.verywellmind.com/what-does-it-feel-like-to-get-high-on-acid-21886. Accessed 8 Mar. 2018 This source defines a psychedelic trip. It describes what users may be experiencing while they are having a trip. I’m using this source to describe the main way psychedelics affect users. The author of this article is a well experienced psychologist with a PhD.
Khazan, Olga “The Life-Changing Magic of Mushrooms.” The Atlantic, 1 Dec. 2016 https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/12/the-life-changing-magic-of-mushrooms/509246/. Accessed 7 Mar. 2018 This article is about a cancer patient who is severely depressed and decides to try psilocybin in a study conducted by a university to help with her depression. The study gives statistics as feedback during the patients experiences with the psychedelic. I used this source as a narrative to explain a positive effect psychedelics can have on users. I also used a photo of a bar graph in my report to show the results found in the study.
“Long-term use of psychedelic drugs is associated with differences in brain structure and personality in humans.” European Neuropsychopharmacology, Elsevier Inc., 16 Jan. 2015, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.euroneuro.2015.01.008. Accessed 5 Mar. 2018. This is an article on a study conducted by pharmacologists who tested how the brain structure and personality changes after users consumed the psychedelic tea ayahuasca. The pharmacologists compared the ayahuasca users to 22 other non-users. I used this article to describe a negative effect psychedelics can have on users. This source is reliable because it was conducted by trained pharmacologists. Also, the pharmacologists didn’t just test users, they tested non-users who matched in age, gender, and verbal IQ.
“The Medical History of Psychedelic drugs.” A dissertation presented to The Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge, Apr. 2017, http://www.maps.org/images/pdf/history_of_psychedelics.pdf. Accessed 5 Mar. 2018. This is a pdf file about the history of psychedelic use. This file also explains how psychedelics are being used in psychedelic research. I used this source to get facts about the history behind psychedelics and how they started being used in research. This pdf is highly credible because it was written by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Study. This is a non-profit research and educational organization.
Pixler, Lyndsay. “PSYCHEDELIC MOVEMENT: HALING TRAUMA THROUGH MDMA (3,4-METHYLENEDIOXYMETHAMPHETAMINE)-ASSISTED AUTHENTIC MOVEMENT PSYCHOTHERAPY.” Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 2017, Vol. 49, no. 2, p121-135. 15p. This source is a journal about psychotherapy and the use of MDMA to help treat PTSD. It explains how MDMA can be helpful for patients suffering from PTSD. I used this source to explain a positive effect psychedelics have on users. I also found statistics to explain how successful some of these trials have been. This is a reliable source because it is an academic journal.
Rivas, Anthony. “A LONG STRANG TRIP.” Newsweek Global, Vol. 162, no. 14, 11 Apr. 2014, p1-3. 3p. This source is an article discussing a study by a psychiatrist who believes LSD can help treat anxiety. He explains how LSD affects the senses. I used this source to explain a positive effect psychedelics have on users. Also, the results of the study were used in my report. The psychiatrist who conducted the experiment was credible because he was the first psychiatrist to test the effects of psychedelics.
Skold/Alamy, Fredrik. Dream-like euphoria. The Guardian, 5 Oct. 2014 https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/society/2014/oct/05/healing-trip-psychedelic-drugs-treat-depression. This source was of a photo I used in my report. I’m using this photo as a visual to symbolize a psychedelic trip. The avid colors can be helpful to understand what a person having a trip may feel like.
Tanya, Shatseva. Shutterstock, A photo of a colorful brain. 50866837 https://www.shutterstock.com/image-illustration/black-profile-girl-colorful-brain-on-508668637?src=UyUwhb3VCSy9piFMG3PyGQ-1-1. This source is where I found the picture of the colorful brain. I used this picture as a reference because a psychedelic user experiences a change in the state of mind where the senses can become very colorful.