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What Makes A Psychedelic A Psychedelic

In our ongoing ‘Psychedelic Renaissance,’ information revolving psychedelic substances and their clinical potential is spreading like wildfire. More and more individuals are becoming aware of the many ways in which these substances are helping overcome psychiatric hurdles that have vexed neuroscientists for over a century. But despite the surging scientific evidence, and the deluge of information available in this age of technology, there remain those who are set in an antiquated way of thinking, continuing to deem such substances as "recreational drugs" used only by questionable individuals. It is this very mindset that has always stood, and continues to stand in the way of these substances becoming available to the individuals whose quality of life could benefit vastly from them.

But what makes a psychedelic a psychedelic? What is it exactly that distinguishes these curious substances, such as psilocybin, DMT and LSD, from dangerous drugs of addiction such as alcohol, cocaine, methamphetamine. et cetera?

The ways in which psychedelic substances affect the brain remains somewhat of a mystery that science is only just beginning to uncover. What we do know, however, is that their effects on the mind and body starkly contrast those produced by more commonly abused drugs, which are notorious for their fleeting sense of euphoria and elation via an artificial stimulation of the brain's motivation and reward centers. In some, this short-lived euphoria begins to perpetuate a cycle of craving in the time following the 'high,' which is likely followed by further use and the development of an addiction.

Experiences brought on by psychedelic substances, on the other hand, are believed to be the result of temporary alterations to the ways in which the brain receives, processes and absorbs information(1.4), and are often described as containing difficult moments of fear, panic and anxiety. Some users have described their experience as if they had undergone a sort of intrapersonal therapy that revealed to them things they had not known, or realized, about themselves.(1.3) However, it is what happens in the time after their psychedelic session that truly shows the value of these substances.

For months or even years following a single session, a majority of users have described experiencing a number of lasting benefits such as behavioral changes, improvements in their relationships and an overall increase in optimism.(1.3) Another fascinating avenue worthy of further investigation is that some individuals who had a reliance on an addictive substance prior to their psychedelic experience reported a reduction in the frequency and intensity of their cravings post treatment.(1.1)(1.2) So, where addicting substances bring about an intense, momentarily gratifying euphoria followed by craving, existential dullness and depression, psychedelic substances take users through a vigorous gauntlet of the psyche followed by a lasting period of clarity and contentedness.

Because of the overall positive outcomes of the ongoing clinical trials involving these substances, the dozens of researchers who are investigating them find it irrational that some people continue to discard them as "illicit drugs of recreation." Anything capable of such promising results poses a revolution in the field of psychiatry and neuroscience.

It is imperative now, more than ever, that we continue to finesse our scientific and connotative arguments in favor of these substances should we hope to prove their medical efficacy and one day alter their status of illegality. As we hone our understanding and our approach to presenting the value of these medicines, it will just be a matter of time before it becomes clear to those who remain unconvinced.


Garcia-Romeu, A., R. R. Griffiths, and M. W. Johnson. "Psilocybin-occasioned Mystical Experiences in the Treatment of Tobacco Addiction." National Center for Biotechnology Information. SAGE Publications Web. 2 Feb. 2017. (1.1)

Winkelman, M. "Psychedelics as Medicines for Substance Abuse Rehabilitation: Evaluating Treatments with LSD, Peyote, Ibogaine and Ayahuasca." National Center for Biotechnology Information SAGE Publications Web. 2 Feb. 2017. (1.2)

Mahapatra, Ananya, and Rishi Gupta. "Role of Psilocybin in the Treatment of Depression." National Center for Biotechnology Information. SAGE Publications, Jan. 2017. Web. 2 Feb. 2017. (1.3)

Vinson, D., G. Vigliocco, M. Kaelen, M. Bolstridge, D. J. Nutt, and R. L. Carhart-Harris. "Semantic Activation in LSD: Evidence from Picture Naming." Language, Cognition and Neuroscience (n.d.): n. pag. Taylor & Francis. Web. (1.4)

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