what are psychedelics?!

Psychedelic drugs are a loosely grouped class of drugs that are able to induce altered thoughts and sensory perceptions. At high doses some of them, such as LSD, can cause visual hallucinations. Many people have heard of “magic mushrooms” which contain the active ingredient psilocybin. Psilocybin can also alter perceptions and cause hallucinations at high doses. Other drugs, such as ecstasy, primarily affect one’s mood and sensation of closeness with others. Still others, such as ketamine, have traditionally been used as anesthetics, but also act as hallucinogens and can cause dreamlike states. Ayahuasca, which is found in the jungles of South America, has been used by traditional cultures for centuries. While these drugs and medicines are loosely described under a general rubric, there are big differences between them.

How psychedelics work

“Psychedelics induce the brain to change transiently in ways that appear to allow a reset to take place and permit alterations in previously ‘stuck’ ways of feeling and thinking about things.” There are likely several ways in which psychedelics can accomplish this: new connections are briefly made in neural networks while the resting state of the brain (or the “default mode network”) loses connectivity — then it restores itself. “It’s like rebooting your computer.” This is how stuck patterns of thinking are thought to shift.

Future exploration of psychedelic drugs

As my father said in a 1986 paper, referring to psychedelic drugs, “The problem is not so much how to get these drugs off the streets, but how to get them back in the laboratories, hospitals, and other supervised settings.” Just because a drug can be enjoyed or misused, or has been associated with a counterculture or a particular set of political values, that shouldn’t mean that it ought to be locked away forever — especially when there is promising evidence of potential benefit for some of the cruelest conditions that affect humanity. It is incredibly exciting to see what the future of psychedelic therapy holds.

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