Psychedelics are a hallucinogenic class of psychoactive drug whose primary effect is to trigger non-ordinary states of consciousness via serotonin 2A receptor agonism. This causes specific psychological, visual and auditory changes, and often a substantially altered state of consciousness. “Classic” psychedelic drugs include mescaline, LSD, psilocybin, and DMT.
Why do people take psychedelics?
Studies suggest psychedelics could be a breakthrough therapy for mental health issues including depression, anxiety, addiction, OCD, and PTSD through their ability to work on a deep emotional as well as biological level. Matthew Johnson, who leads the Johns Hopkins University Psilocybin Research Project, says “Unlike almost all other psychiatric medications that have a direct biological effect, these drugs seem to work through biology to open up a psychological opportunity”.
Psychedelics can also bring about profoundly positive and meaningful experiences for people who aren’t facing any particular issue or difficulty. In a study by the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, 80% of those who received psilocybin said it was one of the five most meaningful experiences of their lives; 50% said it was the single most meaningful experience. Many of the participants said they were left with the sense that they understood themselves and others better and therefore had greater compassion and patience – a change reported by their colleagues, friends and families too.
The classical psychedelics are not addictive and, whilst they can temporarily induce powerful mental effects, they are not toxic to the body like alcohol is. Unfortunately, many unfounded scare stories in the media have greatly exaggerated the risks.
Despite thousands of years of use by humans around the world, psychedelics were abruptly made illegal to supply and possess by a UN convention in 1971 as a consequence of President Nixon’s War on Drugs.
“You want to know what this was really all about? The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”