Psychedelics, or specifically psychedelic drugs, are hallucinogenic drugs or substances that alter human perception and sensation. These hallucinogens can affect how humans see, feel, taste, touch, hear, and think, leading to the intoxicating high these drugs are known for.
A well-known yet the notorious hallucinogenic drug is LSD or D-lysergic acid diethylamide. LSD is a very potent drug originally extracted from Ergot, a fungus that grows on rye and grains, now being synthetically made in labs. The drug can affect multiple aspects of sensation, most especially inducing visual and auditory hallucinations.
Another drug that affects the sensations of touch, feeling and awareness is Ecstasy or 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine. It is capable of altering the perception of time and enhances the sensation of touch.
How do psychedelic drugs work?
Human perception and sensation work in a systemic pathway where an outside stimulus, such as touching an object, is relayed from the nerve endings from the hand all the way to the brain.
However, the pathway is not linear as different parts process the information before passing it on to the next. This process is called neurotransmission, where the information takes the form of an electrical signal that passes through a neuron.
The neuron passes the information to another neuron through a small gap called the synapse via a chemical signal. The signal is carried by specialized molecules across the synapse and are called neurotransmitters.
A small gist to understanding neurotransmission is to imagine a series of messengers from a small retail store giving a report to the main company in another state. These messengers pass a parcel containing the report from one messenger to another before finally giving the report to a secretary in the main company who subsequently processes the report.
Of course, this is an oversimplification as the neurons and brains can process the information almost instantly and with greater versatility.
The key takeaway is that the information transfer is governed by passing it through via a neurotransmitter or the parcel. Psychedelic drugs or hallucinogens work by suppressing, modulating, or stimulating neurotransmitters’ function with different drugs affecting different neurotransmitter systems. This causes a different set of information sent to the brain leading to a chemical imbalance. The chemical imbalance then causes the hallucinations a particular drug is known for.
Another aspect of hallucinogens is the concept of “Set” and “Setting” where the drug’s perceived effect depends on the person’s expectations and environment. “Set” is referred to as the previous experience or mindset to the drug while “Setting” is the social and cultural expectations as well as the current environment at the time of consuming the drug. Due to this “Set” and “Setting”, the same person may have very different experiences when taken during a lively party with friends versus taking it alone in a depressed state
How long do hallucinogenic effects last?
Hallucinogens are typically slow in onset after consumption but also vary depending on the drug taken and the person’s physical condition at the time of consumption, such as being hungry, tired, or drunk. For example, LSD tends to take about an hour before eliciting effects but can last anywhere between four to twelve hours. Whereas, Ecstasy takes about thirty minutes to kick in a while lasting only between two to four hours.
Long-term effects, however, are varied with some having the potential to induce mental health problems such as depression, psychosis, anxiety, and flashbacks or Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder. HPPD is a long-lasting condition characterized as experiencing visual disturbances reminiscent of hallucinogen intoxication manifesting in drug-free periods.
Consuming hallucinogens is already risky in its own right; people with a personal or family history of mental health problems are at higher risk of developing long-term effects due to hallucinogens’ intrinsic nature. As such, it is better to seek safer methods than dabbling in hallucinogenic drugs.