Hallucinogens are pharmacological agents in 3 broad categories: psychedelics, dissociatives, and deliriants. These classes share the power to cause profound changes in sensation, emotion, cognition, and consciousness.
Unlike other psychoactive agents, hallucinogens do not merely alter or amplify sensations, but rather induce experiences that are qualitatively outside the realm of ordinary consciousness. In this regard, hallucinogens can uniquely unlock angels or demons in the psyche. In doing so, these drugs can offer the potential for personal revelations that no other psychoactive substances can. This puts at least some hallucinogens in a psychic league of their own: beyond sheer substance abuse, into a pharmacological tool for exploring the nature of the human experience, and of existence itself. This is especially true of psilocybin.
Unlike most other psychotropic substances, hallucinogens are rarely addictive.
Dissociatives distort sensation and produce a sense of detachment. This dissociation from self and environment is accomplished by compartmentalizing sensation: reducing or blocking cognitive communication channels.
Some dissociatives produce euphoria, though most have a depressant effect. Dissociatives impair cognition.
Most dissociatives are synthetic concoctions. Ibogaine (C20H26N2O) is a notable exception, in being an alkaloid found in the root bark of iboga, a perennial rainforest shrub endemic to western central Africa.
Bwiti is a spiritual discipline practiced by the forest-dwelling natives where iboga grows. Iboga root bark is ingested to invoke visions intended for later introspective reflection.
Ibogaine is unique among hallucinogens that affect serotonin activity (serotonergic) in blocking receptors activated by other psychoactive substances. As an antagonist, ibogaine has been employed in treating addiction to self-abusive substances such as opioids, nicotine, alcohol, and amphetamines. Ibogaine has also been used as an adjunct to psychotherapy.
Ibogaine has been a banned substance in the United States since the 1960s but remains unregulated in Canada and Mexico.
Deliriants earn their name from the confusion they sow in the mind, as contrasted to more lucid states produced by other hallucinogens. The term generally refers to anticholinergic agents which block the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.
Natural deliriants are produced by several angiosperms, including belladonna, datura, angel’s trumpets, henbane, and mandrake. Uncured tobacco is also a deliriant, owing to its formidable nicotine content.
Though legal, deliriants are unpopular as recreational drugs due to the severe and unsavory nature of hallucinations harvested. And the invocative alkaloids are often poisonous.
Despite the danger inherent these plants, they were used medicinally by the indigene peoples where they grew, and with spiritual intent.
“Ultimately, the point of psychedelics is to put you in touch with the powers of the universe.” ~ American musician Ray Manzarek
In sufficient dosage, psychedelics produce sensory hallucinations and distorted sense of time. The fungi and plants that produce them as secondary metabolites intend to ward off consumers, as disorientation is a survival hazard.
The mind-brain works by constraining perceptual experiences to hone its predictions of the world to be consistent and accurate. Psychedelics release these inhibitions somewhat: what has been termed unconstrained cognition.
“A demon had invaded me, had taken possession of my body, mind, and soul.” ~ Albert Hoffman on his first LSD experience
In 1918, Swiss biochemist Arthur Stoll isolated the alkaloid ergotamine from ergot fungus. Ingested by humans, ergotamine complexly acts as an agonist (activator) of numerous neurotransmitters.
In 1938, Swiss chemist Albert Hoffman synthesized LSD (C33H35N5O5; lysergic acid diethylamide) from ergotamine. His intent was to obtain an analeptic (respiratory system stimulant).
The work was set aside for 5 years. Then, in 1943, Hoffman accidentally absorbed a small quantity through his fingertips, whereupon he became restless and slightly dizzy. Hoffman lay down and entered “a dreamlike state characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination.” The hallucinations lasted a couple of hours.
3 days later, Hoffman got the bright idea of ingesting a dose of LSD before riding his bicycle from the lab to his house. He had an interesting trip home.
Upon reflection of his repeated use, Hoffman called LSD “medicine for the soul.”
“It gave me an inner joy, an open mindedness, a gratefulness, open eyes and an internal sensitivity for the miracles of creation.” ~ Albert Hoffman
LSD has low toxicity, but it is unsettling to the system. Besides hallucinations, LSD produces a diversity of personalized effects, ranging from nausea, a strong metallic taste, increased or reduced appetite, saliva and/or mucus production, numbness, weakness, heart rate increase, sweating, jaw clenching, sleeplessness, hyperreflexia (overactive reflexes), and tremors.
LSD is an edgier and much more problematic experience than its organic cousin, found naturally in magic mushrooms.
“There is a world beyond ours, a world that is far away, nearby, and invisible. The sacred mushroom takes me by the hand and brings me to the world where everything is known.” ~ Mazatec curandero María Sabina
Psilocybin (C12H17N2O4P) is an alkaloid produced by over 200 species of mushrooms which grow on all continents. Distantly-related mushrooms independently evolved the ability to make this secondary metabolite which acts on insect minds as it does mammals: in large doses – which, for insects, would be very little intake – producing off-putting perceptual distortions. (Insects brains are quite distinct from ours. That withstanding, the selfsame effect of psilocybin is evidence that our minds and theirs have cognitive parallels.)
Magic mushrooms typically have dark spores and gills. Both caps and the stems contain psilocybin. They grow in meadows and forests of tropics and subtropics, usually in especially rich soil with ample humidity.
“The psychedelic experience produced by psilocybin (a substance found in “magic mushrooms”) is characterized by unconstrained cognition and profound alterations in the perception of time, space and selfhood.” ~ Argentinean neurobiologist Enzo Tagliazucchi et al
Psilocybin’s psychedelic effects have been appreciated for tens of thousands of years, in cultures ranging from Mesoamerica to Europe, North Africa, and Asia.
Once ingested, psilocybin rapidly metabolizes to psilocin (C12H16N2O), which then acts on select serotonin receptors in the brain. Consuming this bitter alkaloid may produce a sense of nausea which quickly passes.
Beyond its psychedelic effects, psilocybin has low toxicity: much less than caffeine. But it is a legal hazard, as magic mushrooms have been outlawed in most countries, along with other psychedelics. Enslaved to conventional ignorance, governments do not want you to enlighten yourself with magic mushrooms.
Like LSD, psilocybin decreases responsiveness to serotonin, but the two substances work on different receptors, and so their psychological effects differ considerably.
A low dose of psilocybin can improve concentration, enliven the chakras (lengyre), ease the ability to transcend, lower body temperature, and reduce anxiety and appetite. The cognitive grind of the mind is lessened.
The anterior cingulate cortex plays a role in various autonomic functions. It is also involved in rational cognition, including empathy, impulse control, and decision-making.
The anterior cingulate cortex is overactive in individuals suffering depression. Psilocybin can correct this by better balancing anterior cingulate cortex activity.
Psilocybin does not create euphoria, as is so common in dopamine drugs. Instead, it inhibits processing negative emotions.
Dreaming is an essential vehicle for unconscious emotional processing and learning. At higher doses, psilocybin induces a dreamlike state of consciousness while awake.
“Psilocybin could help suppress all the self-deceiving noise that impedes our ability to change and grow.” ~ English psychiatrist Adam Winstock
At high doses, psychedelics can be psychologically intense. Conservative mainstream media fed fears that psychedelics can lead to psychosis in the 1960s. That is bunk.
The personal growth potential of hallucinogens lies in their dissociative effect: providing a sense of separation from mind-body that affords introspection and insight into the essence of self. Of all hallucinogens, only magic mushrooms offer numerous benefits at low doses with no disruption to functional perception.
Hallucinogens beautifully illustrate that perception is a mental process related to biochemically based brain activity, and that even meager variations in biochemistry can cause a profound difference in awareness and sensation.
Psychotropic substances are no shortcut to spiritual awareness. At best they may affirm what one already knows.