Are Psychedelic Drugs The New Marijuana?

Studies show that psychedelic drugs like LSD and psilocybin mushrooms pose very little risk to users and may have therapeutic benefits.
By @katierucke |
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    An artistic graphic photo titled Retro Psychedelic Persona: J'y suis L'Art! (Photo/Cairo Braga via Flickr)

    An artistic graphic photo titled Retro Psychedelic Persona: J’y suis L’Art! (Photo/Cairo Braga via Flickr)

    As the use of marijuana for medical purposes becomes more widely accepted, a new legalization movement is beginning to form, this time with psychedelics.

    Like marijuana advocates, psychedelic-legalization supporters say that the American public has been misinformed about the dangers of psychedelic drug use, and that like marijuana, psychedelics have a medicinal benefit that may be a treatment option for groups suffering from mental health and psychological conditions such as autism, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia and alcoholism.

    A 2011 study from the Center for Autism at the University of California-Los Angeles examined the psychedelic drug MDMA — ecstasy — and found that persons with autism using the drug often report an increase in socialization and strong feelings of empathy that last even after the drug has worn off.

    The findings were seen as a major discovery from autism researchers, who are now conducting clinical studies to see whether or not MDMA increases empathy and enhances communication abilities for a majority of those who suffer from an autism disorder.

    One major concern for many about using psychedelic drugs is how the substances will affect the brain. A recent study from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s Department of Neuroscience, published in August, asked more than 130,000 people about psychedelic drug use. Of the random sample, about 22,000 people said they had used psychedelics at least once in their life

    Based on an analysis of the information provided to the researchers, the study concluded that the use of LSD, magic mushrooms or peyote does not appear to increase a person’s risk of developing mental health problems.


    Psychedelics 101

    Psychedelic drugs include LSD or acid, psilocybin mushrooms, mescaline — which is found in peyote — ibogaine, salvia and DMT — which is found in ayahuasca. According to researchers, psychedelics differ from other recreational drugs such as alcohol and tobacco in that the drugs do not cause addiction or compulsive use and there is no evidence they cause any damage to the brain.

    It was estimated in 2003 that more than 20 million Americans had ingested a psychedelic drug. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, unlike alcohol, there has never been a recorded overdose for most psychedelic drugs, including the most common, LSD and psilocybin mushrooms.

    Before the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) classified psychedelics as Schedule I drugs in the 1970s, psychedelic drug use was a large part of the hippie counterculture of the 1960s, while the mind-altering substances have also been used for thousands of years by some religious groups for spiritual purposes.

    Despite psychedelic drug use being associated with counterculture movements and users having “bad trips,” use of the drugs for both religious and therapeutic purposes has been around for thousands of years, and psychologists have been researching the medicinal benefits of mind-altering drugs for those with psychological issues since at least the 1950s.

    One of the first reports that found a medicinal benefit for psychedelic drugs was published more than 70 years ago by the Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann. He discovered that LSD had compounds in it that would possibly treat psychological ailments, and after reviewing the results, psychiatrist Humphrey Osmond called the drugs “psychedelic,” which comes from a Greek word that means “mind-revealing.”

    Though the classification as Schedule I substances initially shut down many studies on the psychedelics by the early 1970s, there were already more than 1,000 research papers that found psychedelic drugs could be used to treat psychological disorders, along with 40,000 patients with a range of psychological disorders who were willing to testify how the drugs had helped them.


    Effects on the brain

    In the 2013 study from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s Department of Neuroscience, researcher Teri Krebs and clinical psychologist Pål-Ørjan Johansen found that those who used psychedelic drugs appeared to have fewer mental health problems such as general psychological distress, anxiety disorders, mood disorders and psychosis, than those who did not.

    While those persons who had used psychedelic drugs in the study had fewer mental health problems than those who had not tried the mind-altering substances, the researchers stressed that they did not know if use of the drugs resulted in fewer psychological issues or if it was another factor.

    “After adjusting for other risk factors, lifetime use of LSD, psilocybin, mescaline or peyote, or past year use of LSD was not associated with a higher rate of mental health problems or receiving mental health treatment,” Johansen said.

    Though the researchers reported they were unable to find any evidence that psychedelic drugs have any lasting harmful effects, they said that they “cannot exclude the possibility that use of psychedelics might have a negative effect on mental health for some individuals or groups, perhaps counterbalanced at a population level by a positive effect on mental health in others.”

    “Everything has some potential for negative effects, but psychedelic use is overall considered to pose a very low risk to the individual and to society,” Johansen said, adding that “psychedelics can elicit temporary feelings of anxiety and confusion, but accidents leading to serious injury are extremely rare.”

    Explaining the results of the study to PLOS ONE, Kreb said, “Early speculation that psychedelics might lead to mental health problems was based on a small number of case reports and did not take into account either the widespread use of psychedelics or the not infrequent rate of mental health problems in the general population.”

    “Over the past 50 years tens of millions of people have used psychedelics and there just is not much evidence of long-term problems,” she said.

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    • TheOccultist FB page

      Good article

    • Alex Hamilton

      I’m all for drug legalization and freedom to do what one wishes regarding one’s own body. And I believe that at the very least there needs to be EXPONENTIALLY more honest education regarding a lot of what these drugs (and others, all across the board) do. However, I will contest that, having taken mushrooms myself, they are not without their potential for harm.

      After my trip experience, I have experienced residual anxiety issues that ebb and flow from day to day. Luckily for me, the effects are not severe, are very manageable, and appear as if they may be beginning to fade (its been around six months), but certainly have had a less than swell time because of them. The trip was not without its amazement and wonder, and I would certainly say it was abundantly positive in other aspects. Smoking marijuana while on them (at the urging of my friend, while I was not necessarily in a position to make good decisions) probably had something to do with the trip turning bad, and the anxiety-ridden outcome.

      My main point I suppose would be that, above all, RESEARCH on these chemicals is what we need most. To better understand the ways in which these compounds benefit us, while learning how to minimize their risk of harm, is absolutely essential for us as a species. To have such power at our disposal left untapped would be a mistake, and to remain unable help those who have been harmed by it would as well.

    • D Fox

      Some of the perscription drugs put out by pharmecutical companies,in regards to mental health, are very highly addictctive and mixed with alcohol are deadly. I myself during my lifetime in my youth given the oppertunity have taken have never taken psychedlics with alcohol because of the dangers of mixing ANY drug with alcohol is a well known bummer of the whole experience of taking psychedelics in the first place. The whole concept of these powerful drugs in ancient times was for spiritual ceremonies and as medicine. Today given these powerful mind altering drugs to people who don’t have any respect for them is scary, because I see the youth of today totally misusing marijuana,tobacco, alcohol and anything else they can get there hands on to prove something. In the light of the War on Drugs we have taken away the means to make the drugs so now we make copy cats of drugs that are killing people and blaming it all on the drug that it is not in the first place. If you do not know what I am talking about than you have not been there. There is a difference between Clean and Dirty; Pure and Cut. Thanx for letting me share. Also in Recovery from Alcohol.

    • Rob

      As a psychedelic user and an explorer of time and space. Psychedelics do no harm. They free the mind. They allow you to realize that we are all one. We are all connected, and you essentially drop the ego, which in turn allows for you to be free of the constrains society has placed on you. We have been brainwashed our entire lives. Psychedelics allow you to dive into your subconscious and your inner being and realize who you are. You are not the drone that society has made you out to be. You are one with the universe. You are one with everything, from the plants, to the bugs to all other beings. We are all connected and we should live in love.

      Peace! Enjoy a good trip.

    • Mark O’Blazney

      Everybody talks about LSD, but nobody does anything about it! Like the weather, Mr. Clements…….. read those ‘letters from the earth’ lately?

      Your SwanSong gives us birth……….. for what it’s worth………. Butterworth. Edie Sedgwick still rules!

    • Rambo

      This article is pretty funny yet ironic because yes you could say that psychedelic drugs are the ” new marijuana”, but there is also the looming argument that states that marijuana is thee “gateway drug.” I’m not going to criticize the article nor go against in any manner, I just find it interesting how this is making it’s way into the public in a silent manner.

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    • Skillz

      You must be by far the unluckiest person on planet earth, Jim.Of all the people I know and the people they know, and my own decades of taking these substances I have never heard of one person being hurt, never mind dying! On the other hand compare that to the people I know who have died from cancer, Induced from smoking. Or people hurt at the hands of someone drunk…well its not a comparison.
      Indeed though they are not to be taken lightly of and are not for everyone. The point here is, as most open minded people already know. The good BY FAR outweighs the bad. By a huge distance. Just because they would legal doesn’t mean everyone is suddenly going to want to pop an acid.The legality isnt an issue, If someone wants to trip they will trip. Its that these draconian, Power crazy laws are stopping REAL benefits and real,further research because they are spoken in the same breath as crack or heroin etc etc Which is ridiculous.

    • tt

      I personally know many people who have done psychedelics and not only did no one die from them, most reported a positive experience. However I would agree that they are not to be taken lightly and are not for the casual user.

      • Mark O’Blazney

        No, they are to be taken heavily, but only once, as like an…… initiation of sorts. Henry Fitz Heard is a good starting point. Then, move on to Alan Watts, then, It’s Up To You. Good luck, gentlemen and gentleladys. The Cosmos awaits thee…. and thy eternity……poets, anyone?????

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    • jimtmi

      While the majority of this is true, bad trips are VERY real and I PERSONALLY know 3 individuals who have DIED as a result of their reckless behaviour while on these substances. There IS a risk that is higher than some other drugs and people need to tread far more carefully when dealing with the legalization of these drugs

      • hi

        yes, but the percentage of people who die from alcohol intoxication influenced behavior is much higher.

      • dog

        Yeah they died because of THEIR reckless behaviour. Not the drug it self.

        As sad as that is, it is in part due to the war on drugs and prohibition. If the drugs were legal and doses were set and more information regarding the effects and helplines was available to users, and the drugs were infact what the user wanted, ie not some NBOMe or Dox crap then even LESS people would be harmed or die.

        As it is now, any old person can lay whatever chemical they wont on blotter paper and flog it off as LSD, and some people have VERY bad reactions to these RC chems that are being sold as lsd. The same thing happened and still happens with ‘ecstasy’ pills, people think they are buying MDMA (a very safe drug) but sometimes get PMA (A deadly drug with much more risk than mdma) or any number of other possible ingredients, like speed or ketamine or RC’s (Research Chemicals).

        • MrNobody

          I actually have experience with getting a bad E pill (getting PMA). We did not feel the energy and it just started to make me sick and sleepy. I just passed out, I was fine when I woke up, I didn’t think anything of it at the time.

          A few days later, a friend got back from being on vacation for a month and wanted to party and did some of these “E” pills. He ended up sick in bed for 2 days.

          Yes drugs are not to be taken lightly, but like dog says, if certain ones were legal, you would at least know what you are getting, the actual dosage, and proper information on how to maintain yourself while exploring.

          • halfway2a3way

            Yeah, so PMA is not a psychedelic – it is an amphetamine. One of the problems with these drugs being illegal is that there is no standard or safe way to verify what is being sold to you. People are often sold PMA, methylone, MVP as MDMA because there has been a worldwide shortage of safrole making real MDMA both rare and expensive.

            • halfway2a3way

              sorry mdpv not mvp.

      • WFC Jr

        I find it hard to believe that someone knows 3…..not 1, not 2, but 3!!! people who have died from reckless behavior while on psychedelics. Not saying it didn’t happen Jim, and I’m not calling you a liar, but I just find it hard to believe. I’m guessing that anyone that dies recklessly probably didn’t respect the drug and take it in a proper and safe setting. That is not the drugs fault, it is the direct fault of the user. I reject the notion that because others do not educate themselves on how to properly and safely use mind altering substances, that I need to be protected from the substances. Fear mongering has also stymied education. Lies and distortions become the truth and fear trumps reality, thus not painting an accurate picture of what the drugs are and what they are not. That happened with marijuana for decades and it’s taking some real time and effort to undo all the lies.

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