Psychedelics are a subclass of hallucinogens that produce changes in perception, mood, and cognitive processes. The most popular psychedelics include lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), psilocybin, mescaline, and dimethyltryptamine (DMT).
Where Do They Come From
Psilocybin and mescaline are naturally occurring and produced from fungi and the Mexican peyote cactus, respectively.1 LSD, on the other hand, is chemically synthesized. DMT can be chemically synthesized, but most commonly is extracted from a variety of different plants.
Usage Over Time
Psychedelic use dates back as early as 4000 BC, with evidence of psilocybin and mescaline being used in religious ceremonies.2 DMT was first synthesized in 1931, while LSD was first synthesized in 1943. Both LSD and DMT gained popularity in the 1960s and then in the early 1970s were classified as Schedule 1 drugs.3 Mescaline and psilocybin followed suit and were classified as Schedule 1 drugs in 1971.
After the psychedelics became scheduled, there appeared to be a decrease in usage, but more recently psychedelic use has been on the rise. LSD use rose from 0.55% in 2015 to 0.86% in 2018.4 While overall usage of LSD is still low, that was a 56 percent increase in usage over just 3 years. Psilocybin use has also been on the rise: 8.5% of adults reported usage in 2016, while 9.6% of adults reported usage in 2018.5 Less is known about DMT and mescaline trends, though one study reports mescaline usage has decreased from 2002-2019.6
Getting More Mainstream
We may expect to see a further increase in psychedelic usage due to the increasing popularity of microdosing.7 Microdosing is periodically ingesting minute quantities of psychedelic drugs as a performance-enhancing activity. The levels of psychedelics consumed are so low that a hallucinogenic effect is not experienced, but users report feeling improved mood and focus. There is no scientific literature supporting or refuting the effects of microdosing.
The increased usage of psychedelics is accompanied with mainstream media on the subject. Hulu released a limited series entitled Nine Little Strangers in which the main character, a host at a luxurious wellness retreat in California, microdoses her guests without their knowledge or consent. The creator of the series was reported as stating that he hopes the series will help these types of therapies go mainstream .8 Similarly, Netflix released a movie entitled Have a Nice Trip in which celebrities reminisce about the experiences they had while under the influence of psychedelics. The movie normalizes and makes light of psychedelic usage while failing to mention any of the dangers or negative effects the users may experience. Additionally, just like with marijuana, retail companies have launched apparel and accessories with symbols and designs relating to psychedelics.
Currently, psychedelics are still illegal, but that may soon change. Psilocybin is currently being researched and may receive FDA clearance for the treatment of depression.9 Experts predict the FDA may approve the therapeutic use of psilocybin and MDMA (for PTSD) in as little as 1-2 years. This possible shift in legislation has the potential to change many aspects of the pharmaceutical and drug industry.
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