Drug Rehab

Hallucinogens and Psychedelics (LSD, Psilocybin, Mescaline, DMT, Tryptamines)

Hallucinogens and psychedelics have been in use by people since the dawn of civilization. Shamans of the native tribes of N. America used them to contact the spirit world of their ancestors, priests of S. America have used them extensively in rites to empower them with supernatural visions, and in more modern times psychologists and researchers have sought to explore the human psyche by inducing hallucinatory states through their use. Unfortunately, with the wide availability of LSD since the 1960s many people have sought out these drugs for less noble purposes and LSD use has skyrocketed. It is currently published by NIDA that in 1997 nearly 14% of High School 12th graders reported having used LSD at least once (1).

LSD is probably the most well known psychedelic drug, however there are many other compounds that fall into this class that are widely available today. There are perhaps more psychoactive hallucinogenic compounds available than ever before. Many of the newer discovered compounds are not well regulated or are not regualated at all, because before the DEA and other law enforcement and legislative bodies can catch up, whole new classes of compounds are being developed, tested and released on the streets.

The most common hallucinogens are LSD (LSD-25, Acid), Psilocybin (Psychedelic Mushrooms), and Mescaline (Peyote). Psilocybin and Mescaline have been used for over 1000 years by native peoples on both continents of the Americas. The active compound found in organic sources of hallucinogens are alkaloids that closely resemble the chemical structure of brain chemicals like the neurotransmitter seratonin, binding to seratonin receptor sites in the brain (2). LSD and the newer synthetic alkaloids and tryptamines too resemble these compounds, but are manufactured in pharmaceutical labs both licitly and illicitly.

Psilocin 3D Molecular Structure Seratonin 3D Molecular Structure
Psilocin 3d Molecular Diagram
Psilocin is the metabolite of the alkaloid Psilocybin, present in Psilocybin Mushrooms like Psilocybe cubensis and Psilocybe semilanceata.
Seratonin 3D Molecular Diagram
Seratonin is an important neurotransmitter neccesary in normal functioning of perception, affect regulation and attention (2).

LSD (Acid, Trip, Sunshine, Hits, LSD-25, Sugarcubes, Geltabs, Microdots)

Like most hallucinogens, the jury is still out on what the specific action of the compound is on the brain and why it produces such drastic changes in perception, mood and the senses. Over the past 30 years there have been independent researchers working to unlock the riddle. As with most drugs that are primarily psychoactive (meaning active in the brain) rather than substances like alcohol and heroin, whose primary effects are felt in the body, it is first necessary to understand the complexities of the human mind.

What is known is that at very minute dosages, from 50-150 micrograms [1 microgram (µg) = 0.000001 gram (10 -6 )], LSD has a dramatic effect and is illicitly marketed in geltabs (tabs), blotter paper (blotter acid), gelatin sheets (window pane), small pills (microdots) and sugar cubes (cubes). There have been reports of latent psychological disturbances becoming apparent after just one use, intense life changing spriritual journeys and temprorary psychosis. Because the range of effects are so severe and so unpredictable, that in 1966, just four years after the FDA first became aware of the drug the State of California made possesion and use of the drug illegal. By 1970 the Federal Government enacted The Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act, which placed most known hallucinogens in Schedule I of the FDA Controlled Substances Act, meaning the drug has no current medical or beneficial use to the public at large (3).

LSD Early History (1938-1963)

In 1938 Albert Hoffman, a chemist working for Sandoz Pharmaceuticals first synthesised LSD-25. Little aparent use was evident in initial animal trials. Five years later Albert Hoffman accidentaly injests a small amount of LSD-25 while working in his lab (3).

He reports seeing "an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopelike play of colors." The experience lasted just over two hours (3).

By 1949 LSD is being studied in LA and Boston. Through the 1950s the US Government, Psychiatrists and University Researchers all show interest in the drug. By 1959, famous beat authors Aldous Huxley (author, "Doors of Perception") and Allen Ginsburg (author, "Howl") have tried the drug. In 1960 the man who would later become the self-effaced "guru" of the psychedelic movement, Timothy Leary, commences the Psychedelic Research Project at Harvard University. In 1962, before being scheduled under the Controlled Substances Act, LSD is regulated by the FDA for research purposes only, restricting it's availabilty to non-researcher. The same year the FDA makes it's first LSD-related arrests. By 1963, LSD has made the mainstream press and Timothy Leary is fired from Harvard (3).

The Psychedelic Revolution (1965-1970)

Timothy Leary: LSD Guru
Timothy Leary being arrested by the DEA in 1972.

What has been perceived sometimes as the best and worst element of the 1960s counter-cultural movement, the "psychedelic revolution" garnered phrases like "drop out and tune in", detatching themselves from the mainstream establishment and sought out the experience of becoming "psychedelisized". 1965 was an important year, because it was the first time that LSD was synthesised and distributed by Owsley "Bear" Stanley. It's use on the West Coast was prevalant through 1965 and by 1966 Life magazine had published "LSD: The Exploding Threat of the Mind Drug that Got Out of Control" and Sandoz Pharmaceuticals recalled all batches of LSD being used in legitimate research. The same year, Timothy Leary proclaims himself founder of the "League of Spiritual Development" and nominates LSD as the honorary sacrament of his newfound religion. The Summer of Love takes place in San Francisco, CA in 1967 and LSD is known by every "hipster" and "prankster" from LA to Washington, DC and many have by this time used LSD for the first time. Illegal distribution grows through this period, despite local and federal bans and levies (3,4).

Use of LSD continues to be part of the counter-culture through the late 1970s and in 1979, Albert Hoffman (who first synthesised LSD in 1938) publishes his now famous denouncement of LSD as an inebriant, "LSD: My Problem Child" (3).

This joy at having fathered LSD was tarnished after more than ten years of uninterrupted scientific research and medicinal use when LSD was swept up in the huge wave of an inebriant mania that began to spread over the Western world, above all the United States, at the end of the 1950s. It was strange how rapidly LSD adopted its new role as inebriant and, for a time, became the number-one inebriating drug, at least as far as publicity was concerned. The more its use as an inebriant was disseminated, bringing an upsurge in the number of untoward incidents caused by careless, medically unsupervised use, the more LSD became a problem child for me and for the Sandoz firm (5).

LSD Today

Today, most private and public researchers agree that what is not known about LSD is more than what is known. There is still very little evidence to support some of the earliest claims that LSD can cause mental illness in otherwise healthy individuals, but there is some evidence to support that an exacerbation or "awakening" of already present or latent psychological problems does occur with use. There is also very little or no evidence to support that the drug has wonderous and beneficial qualities and will somehow single-handedly evolve human cognition.

The problem, as with most drugs, is that most people today who use LSD are expecting the drug to effect their lives in some profound way, to change their feelings about something painful, to escape from everyday life and to mask issues with which should be handled by seeking professional help. Because of this, the use of LSD can be unexpectedly traumatic to the psyche of the individual, worsening whatever issues were pre-existent before use.

LSD Psychopharmacology and Effects

As discussed earlier, LSD binds itself to one or more neurotransmitter sites in the brain. Fichman attributes much of the psychological activity to the chemical relationship of LSD to Seratonin:

A useful explanation for the brain's receptivity to LSD is its structural similarity to serotonin. A C14 marking of ingested LSD shows that about 10% of LSD molecules ingested by a subject pass through the blood brain barrier and bind to serotonin receptors in the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is part of the limbic system, which has a diverse array of functions associated with homeostasis, movement and more importantly emotion and organization of responses. Once the LSD molecule binds to the serotonin site, it alters the responsiveness of the subject's neurotransmitters. A hallucinogen produces the sensory distortion known as hallucination by lowering the threshold at which nerves produce a response signal. This means that neurons which normally require a large chemical stimulus to produce a signal which is then sent to the brain produce signals at the slightest chemical prompting. This increased volume of neuron activity and signaling means more sensory information is being sent to the brain than it can handle (6).

Most researchers have a concurrent view of this philosophy. However, this is where the known explanations end. There is still very little to explain why many individuals experience "flashbacks" or a re-experiencing of events while "tripping" on acid weeks and months after their last use, or why experiences exist during an LSD trip that can not be recreated without the use of psychoactively similar compounds, such as tasting color, seeing music and hearing inanimate objects breathe (7).

Again, the primary danger in LSD use is that there can be unexpected changes in psyche, traumatic psychological breakdowns and lingering flashbacks to these episodes.

As for the specific effects of the user of LSD, depending on dosage, the effects are felt within 30-90 minutes (5). The primary effect of the drug lasts 5 to 12 hours. In the original drug information distributed by Sandoz Pharmaceutical, Albert Hoffman warns:

Pathological mental conditions may be intensified by Delysid. Particular caution is necessary in subjects with a suicidal tendency and in those cases where a psychotic development appears imminent. The psycho-affective liability and the tendency to commit impulsive acts may occasionally last for some days (5).

The initial effects include anxiety, increased sensitivity to light sources, increased energy, and a noticeable difference in reality. With the culmination of these effects and usually within 1-2 hours the user begins to experience increasing perceptual shifts and changes, pupil dialation, geometric pattern hallucinations, changes in thought patterns, tangeantal trains of thought, free association of ideas, paranoia and sudden alterations in mood and feelings (suddenly happy, angry, sad, joyful, irritated, thoughtful, etc.) (7). Due to the unpredictablitiy of these changes, anyone near the user might become frightened and be sure they are witnessing a psychic breakdown or sudden onset of schizophrenia. In many users and at high doses, LSD can produce even more marked effects including full on audio-visio hallucinations of unreal events, psychotic behavior and violent reactions to attempts to restrain the individual.

The only known way to "bring someone down" from an LSD experience is heavy sedation with pharmaceuticals such as Thorazine, which does not counteract the drug per se , but will alleviate some of the paranoia and anxiety that someone might intensely feel while under the influence of LSD. Such an experience is referred to as a "bad trip".

Tolerance and Addiction Potential

Tolerance in LSD use is rare, except in cases where a user might take repeated doses within the same 48-72 hours. The subsequent dosing of LSD over short periods of time will require the user to double or triple their doses to achieve the same effects and can lead to psychological dependence.

There is currently little evidence, if any to support that LSD is physically addicting and does not produce any withdrawal tendencies even in moderate use over long periods (7). However people have been known to feel a psychological dependence to LSD, but the habituation is purely mental and can be overcome through counseling and resolution of predicated issues that prompted the user's continual abuse of the drug.

Mescaline, Peyote, Magic Mushrooms (Organic Hallucinogens)

Psilocybe CubensisUnlike their synthesised counterparts, organic psychedelics and hallucinogens have been in use for as long as man has sought contact with altered states of conciousness. Typically, organic compound are much less psychoactive than LSD, however can contain other alkaloids and compounds that in high doses can be harmful or fatal. Particularly known to users of Hallucinogenic Mushrooms like Psilocybe Cubensis, there are many look-alike fungi that can kill an adult in a very short period of time. In the case of the Death Cap mushroom, if not identified and treated within 60 hours, has a morbitiy rate of 50%-60% and is responsible for 95% of mushroom related deaths in the United States (1).

Mescaline is the psychoactive compound of the peyote cactus (Lophophora williamsii). It is found in the N. American Southwest and parts of Northern Mexico. It has been used by the indigenous peoples of these lands throughout their civilization and is still in use by some of them today. In the case of peyote, the dried buttons or crowns of the flowering Lophophora williamsii, are chewed or swallowed and effects can last up to 12 hours. Mescaline can either be obtained by extracting from the plant directly or through synthesisation in a lab (2).

User reports as to the effects of both Mushrooms and Peyote or Mescaline are very similar to LSD, however at a much reduced intensity. Many users prefer Mushrooms or Peyote due to a built in logic that since these compunds come from a natural source they are therefore less harmful. Unfortunately, this is not true and in the case of ingestion of both peyote and mushrooms, along with the psychedelic effects, users report nausea, stomach cramping, and abdominal stress, associated with intestinal poisoning.

Like LSD, Magic Mushrooms and Peyote are governed under the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act and are classified as a Class I Hallucinogen under the FDA Controlled Substances Act (2).

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LSD (Acid, Trip, Sunshine, Hits, LSD-25, Sugarcubes, Geltabs, Microdots) - Bibliography and Resources:

  1. InfoFacts - LSD, The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), www.nida.gov (pub), June 2003.
  2. Acute psychological and physiological effects of psilocybin in healthy humans: a double-blind, placebo-controlled dose-effect study Hasler F , Grimberg U, Benz MA, Huber T, Vollenweider FX Psychopharmacology , 2004; 172(2):145-156
  3. LSD Timeline, Erowid, www.erowid.org (pub), Unkown Date.
  4. "Hippie Lingo: 100 Phrases or More (I lost count . . . )", D. Ames, www.4starbiz.com/missdeal/ (pub), Unknown Date.
  5. Hofmann, A. (1979). LSD: Mein Sorgenkind. Stuttgart. Translated into English by J. Ott 1980. LSD: My Problem Child. New York, NY. Translation reprinted in 1983, Los Angeles, CA.
  6. LSD- Origins and Neurobiological Implications, Michael Fichman, http://serendip.brynmawr.edu (pub), Unknown Date.
  7. LSD Basics, Erowid, www.erowid.org (pub), February 2003.

Image Credits:

  1. Psilocin 3D Molecular Diagram, photoshop of original diagram at www.erowid.org.
  2. Seratonin 3D Molecular Diagram, photoshop of original diagram at www.erowid.org.
  3. Timothy Leary being Arrested by DEA, The DEA History Book, www.usdoj.gov.

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Mescaline, Peyote, Magic Mushrooms (Organic Hallucinogens) - Bibliography and Resources:

  1. Mushroom Toxicity, Rania Habal, MD, Assistant Professor, Department of Emergency Medicine, New York Medical College (author), www.emedicine.com (pub), May 2002.
  2. Peyote & Mescaline, www.dea.gov (pub), Unknown Date.

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