Psychedelics such as cannabis, LSD, psilocybin, MDMA, and mescaline, have been used throughout history as consciousness-altering agents. For centuries, psychedelics have been used in ritualistic ceremonies or recreationally. Recently, psychedelics have become less taboo and more popular in the scientific community, which is actively studying their potential health benefits.
The Five Most Common Types of Psychedelics
Cannabis is most commonly associated with psychedelics due to its widespread legal status around the world as well as its numerous therapeutic properties. Known to reduce stress and anxiety, provide relief from chronic pain conditions like fibromyalgia and migraines, improve sleep quality and duration, boost mood and motivation levels, enhance creativity and focus, as well as increase energy levels, cannabis may even aid in improving mental clarity. However, it should be noted that cannabis is a psychoactive substance that can cause dependency if abused.
LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide) is a powerful psychedelic substance that has been used to treat depression since the 1950s. It produces strong visual hallucinations and an altered sense of time perception. Studies have shown that regular use of LSD can lead to increased empathy toward others, which could potentially help those suffering from social anxieties or PTSD (Post traumatic stress disorder). LSD has also been found to reduce risk-taking behaviors, which could directly benefit those prone to impulsivity or self-destructive behavior patterns. However, it should be noted that taking LSD can sometimes lead to terrifying experiences due to its powerful effects on the brain’s chemistry. Caution should always be taken when considering psychedelics as part of a treatment plan.
Psilocybin mushrooms contain the active ingredient psilocybin, which produces strong psychedelic effects similar to those produced by LSD, but usually less intense ones. In recent years, psilocybin has become more widely accepted medically, with studies showing potential benefits in treating obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), addiction disorders such as alcoholism and opioid abuse disorders, depression, anxiety disorders, including post-traumatic PTSD, end-of life existential distress in terminal patients, cluster headaches, migraine headaches, stress caused by cancer diagnosis, and nicotine addiction. It should be noted, however, that mushrooms can produce different reactions in different individuals, so it’s important for anyone considering psychedelics for medicinal purposes to consult with a medical professional first.
MDMA (3-4 methylenedioxymethamphetamine) is a synthetic drug created in 1912 by the drug company Merck. Its primary purpose is to induce altered states of consciousness with positive emotional effects such as euphoria, reduced fear, increased empathy toward others, improved communication skills, heightened senses, and increased energy levels. MDMA has also been found effective in abating symptoms of PTSD and depression. Despite this, MDMA also carries potential risks, including addiction and harm reduction concerns due to reports of users mixing MDMA with other substances and engaging in risky behaviors.
Mescaline is a psychedelic found in certain cacti, such as the peyote and San Pedro cactus, that has been used for centuries to alter one’s consciousness. It produces strong visual hallucinations as well as an altered sense of the passage of time. Recent studies have explored mescaline’s potential health benefits, yet there are still risks associated with its use.
The Way Forward
Recent studies have explored the potential health benefits psychedelics can offer in treating a variety of conditions including depression, anxiety disorders, and addiction. The conversation about psychedelics has been increasingly normalized over the past 50 years. Recently, popular author Michael Pollan released a book (2018) and a multi-part documentary titled How to Change Your Mind (2022), exploring the history of psychedelics and educating many on their potential to treat symptoms of physical and mental illness, as well as to expand human consciousness.
At the same time, the use of psychedelics carries risks, so it is important that anyone considering psychedelics for therapeutic purposes consult with a medical professional first. Ultimately, psychedelics provide an opportunity to explore altered states of consciousness, which could be beneficial if done safely and responsibly, under the guidance of qualified personnel.