Introduction to psychedelics
Psychedelics are powerful psychoactive (“mind-altering”) substances that change how we perceive ourselves and the world around us. People have profound insights while participating in psychedelic sessions, with long-lasting impact on their well-being. They have enhanced the life of many humans for thousands of years until they were banned and stigmatized in our modern society since 1960s.
However, the recent developments are promising. Scientists and the medical world are catching up quickly, with promising result for healing mental health issues and personal development.
The word itself is a Greek neologism that combines the words psychē (ψυχή, ‘soul’) and dēloun (δηλοῦν, ‘to reveal’). To reveal the soul, which refers to the deep insights people have regarding our personal existence and the nature of reality. Sounds crazy? Read on to learn more about the benefits and the history of psychedelics.
A Promising Healing Tool for Mental Health
Psychedelics and psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy (i.e., aiding the psychotherapeutic process with the use of psychedelic substances) show real promise as a treatment for a number of mental health issues, particularly post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, addiction, and eating disorders.
Psychedelics could also be used in hospice and palliative care as they have been proven to significantly decrease the end-of-life anxiety and distress that is often experienced by people who are suffering from life-threatening illnesses.
Countless clinical studies are currently being conducted and the results are heartening. This increased scientific interest is in part due to the enormous demand, but also thanks to the numerous scientists who have decided to dedicate themselves to researching psychedelics after having experienced their therapeutic and life-changing effects at firsthand.
Breakthrough Therapy Designated Drugs
The potential is so high that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted various non-profit organizations and start-ups permission to conduct clinical trials. And several substances, including MDMA and psilocybin (magic mushrooms), have been designated as a breakthrough therapy.
For a drug to be granted breakthrough therapy designation, it must treat a serious or life-threatening condition and preliminary clinical evidence must indicate that the substance may demonstrate substantial improvement over available therapies and medications (source).
Psychedelic-Assisted Personal Development and Growth
Besides their medical use, psychedelics also offer enormous additional benefits and can greatly improve one’s overall well-being and emotional stability. Many people rank their psychedelic experience among their top five most meaningful life events (source).
In 2005, Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple and one of the most influential figures in Silicon Valley, highlighted that LSD had played a pivotal and transformative role in his life (source).
This comes as no surprise to anyone who has tried them, as a psychedelic journey commonly ends up being a powerful, transformative experience that offers profound insights and epiphanies. This in turn engenders a new sense of self-understanding and can lead to seeing oneself and the world more clearly.
Because psychedelics tend to generate an increased feeling of closeness thanks to their intimacy- and empathy-enhancing properties, they are also being used more frequently in couples therapy.
This feeling of social connectedness usually also leads to a lasting increase in altruism and generosity, which in turn can catalyze enormous spiritual and personal growth.
The Mystical Experience
A commonly-reported phenomenon is that of the mystical experience. Broadly speaking, a mystical experience is anything that is hard to comprehend or describe with rational or simple language. It is a state of consciousness that grants acquaintance with realities that are not accessible through mere sense perception, somatosensory modalities, or standard introspection. (source)
The mystical experience is usually defined by a sense of oneness with the universe and it is a central aspect of transpersonal psychology, the so-called “fourth force” in the field of psychology, with the first three being Freudian theory, Behaviorism, and Humanistic Psychology.
Whereas the first two forces (Freudian theory and Behaviorism) have a strong focus on psychopathology and mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders, the third force (Humanistic Psychology) aims to examine what is right with people and has “self-actualization” (development of one’s capacities) as its key concept.
Transpersonal Psychology, on the other hand, can be defined as development beyond conventional and individual levels. It goes even further than the previous three forces and explores optimal well-being, human potential, and “self-transcendence” (full spiritual awakening).
The Booming Field of Psychedelic Startups
The newborn psychedelic industry represents a paradigm shift in the approach to mental health, and promising clinical trials, growing public interest, and a positive portrayal in the media are just some of the many factors that are driving its current boom.
During the past decade, a large amount of studies have been conducted and the obtained results support the notion that alternative psychedelic medicine and psychedelic-assisted therapy are not only effective but also superior remedies.
Moreover, with more and more people becoming dissatisfied with the current legal, and often mere palliative, tools that are at their disposal, there is also a growing demand for more holistic psychiatric treatments that are not only effective but also capable of producing lasting positive results. Considering the fact that mental health remains a big problem, it therefore comes as no surprise that the psychedelic medicine market is slowly becoming a thriving new sector that is garnering serious investor interest. Some analysts even estimate that the industry will be bringing in a whopping $6.85 billion by 2027 (source).
You could compare it to the cannabis boom of the previous decade. Psychedelic stocks offer investors multiple advantages over the struggling legal marijuana industry, though, as psychedelics have garnered tremendous credibility through rigorous, peer-reviewed research and sustainable fiscal backing, for example. In comparison with the cannabis industry, there is also substantially less competition involved because of the stringent regulatory and scientific barriers that are imposed.
Over the past couple of years, many startups have already gone to the stock market and several others have managed to make their initial public offering (IPO).
One proven industry pioneer is the Toronto-based Mind Medicine (MindMed), the first psychedelics pharma company to go public, after managing to raise $24 million (€21 million) in a pre IPO financing round.
Another example of a company that has joined the tiny and exclusive club of publicly traded psychedelic companies is the Vancouver-based Numinus Wellness (NUMI.V), the first company that was granted a license amendment by Health Canada to not only conduct psilocybin research but also standardize its production and extraction.
History of Psychedelics: From Sacred Entheogenic Plants to Psychotherapy
Thanks to their mind-expanding properties, psychedelics have played an important role in the development of human society. Understanding their wider historical context helps to fully grasp and appreciate their enormous potential and healing qualities.
Ancient Use of Psychedelics
While psychedelics are finally gaining serious momentum in the Western world, they have, in fact, been around for a long time before their current widespread medicinal use and popularity.
Archaeologists have provided fossil evidence that shows that naturally-occurring entheogens have been used for several thousands of years by non-Western cultures in sacred contexts.
The most ancient example that has been found are the rock paintings of psilocybin mushroom effigies in the Sahara that date back to 7000 BC. Ancient indigenous tribes also built temples to worship mushroom deities and Aztec-shamans refer to psilocybin-containing mushrooms as teonanácatl or “flesh of god”.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to know for sure since when exactly humans have been reaping the therapeutic and medicinal benefits as Roman Catholic missionaries destroyed records in Mexico.
There is also evidence that peyote, the cactus that contains the hallucinogen mescaline, has been used ceremonially in the Americas since 1000 BC. The psychoactive cactus is also mentioned in Catholic texts throughout the 16th century.
Ancient cultures mainly used these psychedelic substances as sacramental tools but it is also likely that they have, on occasion, been utilized as intoxicants in magical rites.
Modern Use and the Psychedelic Revival
Although the human exploration of psychedelics can be traced back over 10,000 years, their systematic scientific investigation began much later, in the late 1800s.
Over the years, as interest increased and research methods improved, scientists saw psychedelics develop from scientific curiosities to groundbreaking psychiatric tools and treatments.
The 1960s: the First Wave of Psychedelic Research
In the 1950s and 1960s, the extent of psychedelics’ popularity snowballed massively. This was in part because the enormous impact on personal development was immediately demonstrated.
The interest of scientists was piqued and research quickly progressed to more controlled medical use.
During these years, six international psychedelic therapy conferences were held and more than a thousand clinical papers and several dozen books were published on the subject.
Mental health professionals noted that these mind-altering substances could ‘serve as new tools for shortening psychotherapy’. And psychedelics, particularly LSD, became widely used by psychologists and psychiatrists in research and clinical practice.
The results were promising and early research showed that psychedelics were capable of treating addiction as well as healing various mental health issues when used as an adjunct to psychotherapy in medically controlled settings.
However, due to irresponsible use and political reasons, they were eventually banned from the public in the mid-60s.
The United Nations categorized all substances with a known recreational property under a Schedule I ban, reserved for the most addictive and harmful substances. Opium, heroin, LSD, psilocybin, and even marijuana were all placed on this seemingly all-encompassing list.
Strict and punitive laws were enacted to control and forbid their production and usage, which in turn prevented further clinical research and testing, and a two-decade-long psychedelic research hiatus began.
This was a slap in the face for all the scientists who had devoted numerous years of their lives to studying the therapeutic and medical applications for psychedelics. Especially as they had already managed to prove that they could effectively reduce anxiety and curb alcoholism.
Of course, although Western research was halted, psychedelics continued to be consumed by both indigenous and non-indigenous people around the world for varying reasons.
The Psychedelic Renaissance: the Second Wave of Psychedelic Research
In the 1990s, a steady revival of human psychedelic research commenced and the term “psychedelic renaissance” refers to this resurgence.
After a 25-year hiatus, researchers picked up where their predecessors left off. Over the years, most of the safety concerns that led to the end of psychedelic research in the late sixties were proven to be unfounded or fallacious. And several psychedelics became popularized as a remedy for a number of conditions, such as alcoholism, substance abuse, and certain psychiatric disorders.
Even though psychedelic research still faces some stigma, many researchers are so convinced of the potential that they are willing to not only navigate the countless layers of red tape and jump through the time-consuming bureaucratic hoops but also risk their careers.
Public funding is scarce, however, and research is still being run on a small scale. Furthermore, in order to garner support and funding, researchers have been forced to solely focus on therapeutic studies and medical research rather than psychedelics’ additional benefits such as their ability to greatly enhance creativity, for example.
That said, the future is promising as revered establishments across the globe are doing their best to help psychedelic medicine obtain its long-awaited legal foothold in the scientific world. And some renowned universities have even created professional psychedelic research and treatment centers, including Imperial College London, the University of Toronto, and John Hopkins University.
Psychedelic retreats are a powerful tool for healing and can currently be found all over the world.
They come in different flavors. From retreats that cover the mere basics to truly luxurious resorts and from traditional shamanistic centers to more science-focused ones.
Enrolling in a psychedelic retreat is not the same as following psychedelic psychotherapy, which is currently only available for a small number of patients who are participating in clinical trials, but it does have enormous therapeutic effects and immense transformative potential.
Sharing such a profound experience with others has its benefits, but, of course, taking part in a more private one-on-one session can have tremendous healing powers as it allows you to delve even deeper into the whole experience.
If you are interested in a professional, personal, legal, and rational psychedelic experience that will help you transform yourself and your life then my Truffle Transformation Experience could be perfect for you.
How are they used?
Depending on the desired outcome, different psychedelics are used in different doses. Hereunder you find the different dosing strategies and the most common substances and their benefit.
Microdosing is the act of consuming sub-perceptual (unnoticeable) amounts of a psychedelic on a usually regular basis. This can be done with any psychedelic, but LSD and psilocybin are the most popular choices.
A microdose is roughly one-tenth of a regular dose and it is therefore too little to trigger the typical psychedelic effects. However, users do report other detectable benefits, such as receiving a jolt in creativity, having a sharper focus, and experiencing less stress.
Because of this, the practice has become very popular with young professionals as this non-psychedelic dose range allows them to reap the benefits without impairing their ‘normal’ functioning nor altering their cognition much.
More research is required to explore the potential negative short- and long-term side-effects from ingesting psychedelics regularly, but users report a number of benefits, such as:
- Boosted physical energy levels
- Heightened awareness
- Improved relational skills
- Increased emotional and mental well-being
- Enhanced cognitive capabilities
- Reduced anxiety
A medium dose, also nicknamed the “museum dose”, refers to a dose that is light enough to be taken safely and/or discreetly in public while also being large enough to produce effects that are easily noticeable to the user. This usually leads to a manageable experience and it tends to be the preferred dosing size for social use.
A high dose tends to generate altered states of consciousness and involves drastic changes to perception and cognitive function. One’s ability for introspection is usually greatly enhanced and regression to primitive and childlike thinking is often reported.
Macrodosing warrants the utmost caution and should preferably always be done under professional supervision, as people sometimes experience intense feelings of fear and paranoia. It is also not uncommon to relive traumatic memories and events, even ones that one might have forgotten. This can lead to enormous distress and could have harmful consequences under the wrong circumstances. For more information on how a high dose of psilocybin looks like, have a look at the truffle transformation experience.
A Brief Overview of the Classical Psychedelics
While there are many different types, the classical psychedelic compounds are called serotonergic hallucinogens/psychedelics. They can either be completely natural or man-made (synthetic) and their effects are strongly tied to the naturally occurring neurotransmitter and chemical serotonin (5-HT or 5-hydroxytryptamine), which is most famous for its role in regulating mood, happiness, and anxiety, but also has a substantial influence on other important functions, such as sleep, memory, appetite and digestion, and sexual desire and function. In other words, a major player in our overall well-being.
Psilocybin (4-phosphoryloxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine) is a psychedelic compound that is found in specific varieties of mushrooms, collectively known as psilocybin mushrooms or magic mushrooms.
Thanks to pioneering research and a series of clinical trials, psilocybin is moving closer to becoming a licensed treatment for several disorders, including treatment-resistant major depressive disorder (MDD), cancer-related anxiety and depression as well as substance abuse and addiction to nicotine and alcohol.
The potential is so high that the FDA labeled it as Breakthrough Therapy for both treatment-resistant depression and MDD, suggesting that psilocybin therapy may offer a substantial clinical improvement over existing therapies (source).
LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) is a semi-synthetic psychedelic that is made by combing a synthetic chemical called diethylamide and a natural compound called lysergic acid, which is derived from the fungus ergot, a fungus that grows on rye and other grains.
It was developed in 1938 by Albert Hoffman, a Swiss chemist who immediately saw the potential in its psychotherapeutic application. In the following years, LSD was seen as a promising psychiatric tool and it was used in the treatment of multiple disorders, such as anxiety, depression, and addiction.
Now, LSD-assisted therapy is making a comeback, and in 2007, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) conducted the first double-blind and placebo-controlled study of LSD’s therapeutic use since the early 1970s, showing that it greatly reduces anxiety for an extended period of time when administered in a supervised psychotherapeutic setting (source). Numerous more rigorously regulated studies have been conducting since then.
DMT (N,N-Dimethyltryptamine) is a serotonergic hallucinogen that occurs naturally in both plants and animals, including humans.
It can be made synthetically, but it is primarily derived from the ayahuasca vine (banisteriopsis caapi), a plant native to the jungles of South America. The terms ‘ayahuasca’ and ‘DMT’ are often used interchangeably, but this is incorrect. DMT itself is usually smoked and while it is the main active hallucinogenic compound in the ayahuasca brew, it is inactive when simply swallowed and must be mixed with one or more admixture plants when it is drunk—as is the case with ayahuasca (more on that below.)
Indigenous people have been using DMT for centuries to engender healing, and science is finally catching up. After conducting a study on rodents, John Hopkins researchers discovered that microdosing DMT could lead to positive improvements with anxiety and depression (source), and although more research is required, it is believed that controlled use of DMT may also be a useful tool for the treatment of psychosis.
Ayahuasca is an ancient and powerful plant concoction that has been used for millennia by indigenous and mestizo groups all over the Amazon basin.
It is a bitter-tasting brew that is created by combining the crushed bark of the DMT-containing ayahuasca vine (banisteriopsis caapi) with one or more other plants, including the leaves of the DMT-containing chacruna shrub (Psychotria viridis.)
Although it was originally only found in the jungles of the Amazon, millions of people around the world are currently making use of this powerful medicine for a variety of reasons, ranging from combating addictions and psychosomatic illnesses to expanding one’s consciousness. In fact, ayahuasca has such enormous healing and cleansing properties, that its usage is completely legal in the northern part of South America, and countries like Peru, Colombia, and Brazil offer a large number of ayahuasca retreat centers.
Science is, of course, also picking up. And one study with people who suffer from treatment-resistant depression, for example, showed that 64% of participants reported significantly reduced symptoms after a single dose (source).
5-MeO-DMT (5-Methoxy-N,N-Dimethyltryptamine) is a powerful psychedelic compound that shares a name with DMT and also looks alike at the molecular level, except that it has some extra atoms (which explains the additional “5-MeO”).
That ‘tiny’ change, however, makes all the difference and it is, in fact, large enough to produce an entirely different outcome. 5-MeO-DMT is considered to be about five times stronger, for example, and while DMT is very visual, 5-MeO-DMT offers a complete change of perspective and users commonly report a near-death experience.
Scientists are highly interested in 5-MeO-DMT’s healing qualities. And when John Hopkins researchers surveyed the anti-depressant qualities of 5-MeO-DMT in 2019, they discovered that its use leads to improved well-being as 80% of respondents reported extraordinarily positive improvements in self-reported depression and anxiety (source). Another study showed that a single dose produces long-term enhancement of satisfaction with life as well as an easing of anxiety, depression, and PTSD (source).
2C-B (4-Bromo-2,5-dimethoxyphenethylamine) is a rather novel synthetic psychedelic that was first synthesized in 1974 by biochemist and psychopharmacologist Alexander Shulgin. It was created to be used as an aid in therapy and it was considered one of the best substances for this purpose due to its short duration, the relative absence of side effects, and its comparably mild and manageable nature (source).
2C-B is the most popular member of the 2C-x family, a group of psychedelics that are closely related to the classical psychedelic mescaline, which can be found in the peyote cactus.
It has been suggested that 2C-B should be classified as an entactogen with psychedelic properties (source). Entactogens (or empathogens), of which MDMA is a famous example, are a class of psychoactive drugs that enhance feelings of empathy, sympathy, and bonding, making them a useful tool in therapeutic settings.
Mescaline or peyote (2-(3,4,5-trimethoxyphenyl)ethanamine) is a natural alkaloid that is found in several North and South American cacti, most prominently in peyote and San Pedro, but it can also be man-made through chemical synthesis. It is commonly used as both a healing tool and a religious intoxicant by indigenous tribes.
While mescaline closely resembles the neurotransmitter dopamine, it also selectively binds to and activates the serotonin 2A receptor. This explains why it produces effects that are similar to the other serotonergic hallucinogens like psilocybin, LSD, and DMT.
MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine) is a synthetic drug that alters mood and perception. For many, MDMA is synonymous with the recreational drug ‘ecstasy’, but even though ecstasy may contain pure MDMA, it is often laced with unknown adulterants, and there should, therefore, be a clear distinction between the two.
MDMA is an entactogen which means that it greatly enhances feelings of empathy, sympathy, and bonding. And although it is not technically a psychedelic because it has an amphetamine base and a different mechanism of action, MDMA’S psychoactive effects can induce states of consciousness similar to those of psychedelics.
Besides its empathy-enhancing properties, MDMA also allows users to access and process traumatic memories. In combination with its ability to increase closeness, this has led to an increase of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, especially for the treatment of trauma and in couples therapy.
The FDA even granted it Breakthrough Therapy Designation for PTSD, suggesting that MDMA-assisted psychotherapy may offer a substantial clinical improvement over existing therapies (source).
Ketamine (ketamine hydrochloride) is a fast-acting anesthetic with powerful dissociative and psychedelic effects.
Although it is not technically a psychedelic, but rather a dissociative, ketamine’s psychoactive effects can induce states of consciousness similar to those of psychedelics.
Thanks to its rapid antidepressant effects, it is often heralded as a potential breakthrough substance for treating a variety of psychiatric disorders, such as substance abuse, MDD, bipolar disorder, and PTSD.
Furthermore, ketamine has been shown to improve symptoms of depression in people who do not respond to other treatments as well as those who suffer from antidepressant-resistant depression (source). Additionally, several studies have shown that ketamine can treat patients in days or even hours, instead of the usual weeks or months (source). And in 2019, the FDA approved Spravato, a ketamine-derived medicine, for treatment-resistant depression (source).
I hope you have gained a better understanding now of what psychedelics are, and how we can benefit from the responsible use of psychedelics. If you want to learn more, please have a look at my truffle transformation experience, microdosing coaching and psychedelic integration coaching.