There are dozens of various natural psychedelic drugs, but what are the pros and cons of their use? Can you still be considered clean and sober if you incorporate hallucinogens into your recovery? It might sound odd. Are there really “pros” to certain types of drugs? Some believe that specific natural psychedelic drugs, such as salvia, psilocybin mushrooms, or ayahuasca, have beneficial properties to them. When consumed, each of the substances causes the user to “trip,” or experience a significantly altered state of consciousness. During the time spent in this altered state, people go through a variety of experiences. Some words used to describe psychedelic trips include “spirituality,” “ego death,” “connectivity,” and “openness to new experiences.” Some people believe they meet God during their time in these psychedelic universes and come out with an entirely different view of the world. Psychedelics are not for everyone, though. Some people experience a “bad trip” with invasive, terrifying thoughts akin to a living nightmare. Since there is no way to immediately sober up from psychedelics, unless there is a way to switch their perception, these users are stuck for the duration of the drug’s effects. What types of natural psychedelic drugs are there? What are their effects? How are they made? How are they ingested? And can there really be any benefits to ingesting drugs that alter your perception of reality? Continue reading to learn more about the pros and cons of natural psychedelic drugs.
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What Are Psychedelics and How Do They Work?
Psychedelic drugs, also known as hallucinogens, are a class of drugs that include a wide variety of substances. The common thread connecting these various forms are the auditory, visual, and somatic hallucinations produced when a user ingests them. People on psychedelics usually see, hear, and experience things that are not actually taking place in reality. The use of hallucinogens has been around for centuries, most commonly in religious ceremonies and rituals. Today they are used by a wide variety of individuals on various walks of life. People seek the life-altering experiences they hear about, but those positive trips are not always guaranteed. Different hallucinogens produce different trips. Since there is such a variety of types of psychedelics, there is little consistency between them other than the hallucinations they induce. The intensity, length, and mindset for each high differ between drugs. Psychedelic drugs mostly affect the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that controls mood, cognition, and perception. They also impact other areas that are responsible for the arousal of physiological responses to panic and stress.
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Natural Psychedelics vs. Synthetic Psychedelics
There are two main categories of psychedelic drugs: “natural” psychedelics, or those that grow within nature and synthetic psychedelics, which are chemically manufactured inside of a lab. Natural psychedelics include drugs like psilocybin (“magic mushrooms”), DMT, and salvia. On the other hand, LSD, MDMA, and 2C-B are synthetic psychedelics. These naturally occurring hallucinogens have been used throughout past centuries for numerous religious and spiritual ceremonies. In more recent times, they are more commonly used recreationally than as an officiated spiritual practice. Among individuals who consider themselves well-versed in induced psychedelic trips, some refer to the trip on natural hallucinogens as a more “clean” trip. These individuals view synthetic psychedelics as causing “dirty” or “artificial” trips. Many of these self-proclaimed “psychonauts” believe their trips are acceptable as the drugs were provided by the earth and therefore fit for human consumption. Regardless of your stance on natural vs. synthetic psychedelics, all of them still produce an altered state of consciousness. The lack of consistency between drugs can quickly create a dangerous situation if you are not careful. Most hallucinogens, both natural and synthetic, are illegal in the United States and classified as scheduled drugs by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). At Denver Women’s Recovery, we do not endorse the use of any mind-altering substances for those in recovery.
Types of “Natural” Psychedelic Drugs
Salvia, also known by the plant’s official name salvia divinorum, is another type of naturally-occurring psychedelic. Salvia trips are notorious for their fast come-on and relatively short overall length of only ten to fifteen minutes. Still, the experiences can be incredibly life-shattering if you are not prepared for them. Despite their short length, these trips tend to be incredibly overpowering, especially for those not used to psychedelics. Salvia is a sage plant that grows best in low light and moist conditions. Salvia divinorum means “sage of the diviners” and is found naturally in its native region of the Sierra Mazateca in Oaxaca, Mexico. To this day it is still used in shamanic rituals in the area. In the United States, though, the primary use is for recreational salvia trips. Every year, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) conducts the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). They gather data and assess trends in drug use among Americans ages 12 and older. According to their research, more than 5.2 million people surveyed have used salvia at least once in their lifetime. Individuals get high by smoking salvia from a glass pipe or water pipe, either alone or sprinkled on top of marijuana. It takes very little to achieve an enormous effect almost immediately; generally, as soon as you exhale the smoke you’re already catapulted into another mindset entirely. Salvia as a Cure for Addiction? Salvia is one of the few legal hallucinogens in certain states, available for sale in smoke and head shops. Additionally, in more recent years, researchers have studied the effects of controlled, low-dose salvia to learn more about the drug’s potential. Peter Addy, now a researcher at Yale University, conducted a study on salvia divinorum at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology with 30 different participants. Despite the small sample pool, Addy believes there is potential for low-dose salvia to help treat addiction. It is dangerous to base the potential treatment of addiction on such a small sample pool, though. Although it may affect the brain entirely differently than traditional opioids do, hallucinogens are not a drug for everyone. Addy may be able to back his claim in the future after more extensive research. For now, though, there is little to suggest the salvia plant is a legitimate cure for addiction.
What is DMT? Short for dimethyltryptamine, DMT is a psychedelic compound occurring naturally in the ayahuasca plant. Like other psychedelics, it was initially used in celebrated shamanic rituals mainly in the Amazon. In the United States, it is classified as a Schedule I drug by the DEA, meaning it is illegal to possess, buy, sell, or manufacture. DMT is often credited as the chemical released in your brain upon birth and death, but there is little to no research supporting these claims. There are concentrations of the chemical in the brain but not enough research yet to fully understand what its function is. Some researchers claim DMT plays a role in dreams. From a recreational standpoint, DMT trips are an almost indescribable experience. Terence McKenna, a celebrated author, lecturer, psychonaut, explained that “language cannot describe it—accurately.” It is accepted as the strongest psychedelic experience available; more so than LSD, mushrooms, or even salvia. The Popularity of DMT “DMT: The Spirit Molecule” is a 2010 documentary based on research from Dr. Rick Strassman. The documentary was made available on Netflix, Hulu, and iTunes which catapulted it into the public spotlight. Individuals interested in the spiritual DMT experiences sought to get their hands on the “Spirit Molecule.” DMT does not affect the brain in the same way “traditional” drugs like opioids or stimulants do. Rather than a general “high” feeling, users report on their DMT experience as more of a “journey.” Still, the NSDUH from SAMHSA reports an increase in DMT use every year starting in 2006. According to the most recent survey, over a million people reported the use of DMT at some point in their lifetime. However, according to the 2012 Global Drug Survey, the drug generally provides a low urge to use it in increasing amounts.
Kratom is different from other drugs on this list: it does not necessarily induce hallucinations or a traditional psychedelic experience. However, like the other drugs listed above, kratom is credited by some as an effective treatment for opioid dependence. The drug is a naturally-occurring herb taken from the leaves of trees in Southeast Asia. It is usually consumed in its initial powdered plant form, in the form of kratom capsules, or brewed into a tea. Little research exists surrounding its use; recovering opioid addicts opt to use it as an alternative to harder drugs like heroin. Users of kratom explain that it helps combat the chronic pain, anxiety, and depression that plague them during the detox period from opiates. It reacts on the same opioid receptors as traditional opiate drugs but lacks any of their drowsy side effects; there’s no real kratom “high.” On the contrary, kratom effects tend to provide a mild boost of energy. The DEA’s Concern with Kratom Many users replace their traditional pharmaceutical regimen with kratom, reporting positive results. However, there are still no kratom treatment regimens approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Since little research still exists to support user’s claims, the Drug Enforcement Administration has recently attempted to classify it as a scheduled drug. When it is purchased from gas stations or convenience stores, there is little telling what the powdered plant may be laced with. According to a release from the FDA, United States poison control centers have seen ten times more calls related to kratom from 2010 to 2015. The DEA points out that, rather than self-medicating with an under-researched drug, individuals should seek medical assistance for their ailments. They worry that its reputation as a safe alternative to opioids and its status as a self-prescribed addiction treatment plan hinders the true treatment of America’s opiate epidemic.
Psilocybin is the scientific name for the compound found in over 200 species of mushrooms. These psychedelic mushrooms, also called “magic mushrooms” or “shrooms,” can be harvested in the wild in certain areas, assuming you know what to look for. Mushrooms are most commonly eaten as-is, but their texture and taste are usually masked by some type of food or beverage. Others choose to brew their mushrooms into a tea. A mushroom trip will last anywhere from 4 to 8 hours depending on the amount consumed. The use of mushrooms to induce psychedelic trips likely date back to the Stone Age. Evidence of these prehistoric trips include depictions of mushrooms in rock art. They are also used in many religious and shamanic ceremonies and occasionally used as a rite of passage. Drug Abuse and Magic Mushrooms Mushrooms have a relatively low potential for addiction and abuse. Of themselves, there are no addictive properties in the way opiates or amphetamines create a dependence. Some may find themselves hooked to the psychedelic experiences, but psilocybin itself is not addictive. If someone takes mushrooms soon after their initial trip, the effects are noticeably weaker. The longer one waits between trips, the more intense the next trip will be. This contributes to the minimal chance of developing an addiction to psilocybin mushrooms.
Peyote is a small cactus containing psychoactive compounds, particularly mescaline. When ingested it induces a transcendent psychedelic experience, long used by Native North Americans. It is difficult to dose peyote; the variance in mescaline density makes leads to differences in potency. Like other hallucinogens on this list, it is classified as a Schedule I substance: illegal to possess, sell, or consume. Peyote is taken either by eating the dried buttons of the cacti whole or by brewing them into a tea. A full trip lasts between 10 and 12 hours. It is more of an introspective trip, commonly referred to as a spiritual experience. Its use is less common than other hallucinogens such as mushrooms or LSD, but users develop a similar tolerance when used multiple times within a short timeframe. Ceremonial Use of Peyote Peyote is one of the most commonly used substances in Native North American religious ceremonies, particularly within the Native American Church. The Church is exempt from DEA regulations upon religious grounds; those who practice the religion view peyote as a sacred form of medicine. When used ceremoniously, the total amount of mescaline ingested ends up being hardly enough to induce visual hallucinations. The aim of these ceremonies is hardly recreational; there is a reverence surrounding peyote and it is used strictly from a respectful, medicinal standpoint.
Pros of Natural Psychedelic Drugs
Again, it sounds strange. Are there really any positive benefits to these natural psychedelic drugs? John Horgan, writing for Discover Magazine, put it best: “When ingested recklessly in large doses, psychedelics can generate harrowing short-term experiences, and they can precipitate long-term psychopathology in those predisposed to mental illness.” The limited research surrounding psychedelics is due to legislature limiting their use during the 1960s and 1970s. However, with the current work of researchers like John H. Halpern, the helpful side of low-dose psychedelics is being revealed. Halpern believes the use of peyote in small doses can help to treat alcoholism and addiction. He understands, though, the dangers surrounding the recreational use of these drugs. His research aims to assess the benefits of psychedelics when used in controlled environments under the supervision of scientific and medical professionals. Still, there are no hard-and-fast pros to psychedelic drugs, especially when used recreationally. There is little consistency between doses of hallucinogens and hardly any consistency between different types of drugs. Seeking to convert between various substances hardly works; the experiences are each unique in their own way.
Cons of Using Hallucinogens
The cons to using hallucinogens are much more significant than the pros. Psychedelic experiences are heavily influenced by a number of factors, including:
- Current state of psychological wellbeing
- History of mental illness in the individual or in family members
- Environment in which the psychedelics are consumed
- The company surrounding those who are tripping
The state of a trip can shift quickly, and users can find themselves on a harrowing descent into a “bad trip.” Unless they are experienced with the use of psychedelics or accompanied by a sober individual who can do their best to help them out of it, these users must ride out the bad trip. Those who experience bad trips can end up with lasting psychological effects. If they have a history of mental illness or mental health issues, these can be exacerbated by the hallucinogens. Similarly, if there is a family history of mental illness, symptoms can be triggered by tripping. This can result in a life-long battle that came to be from what was supposed to be a fun time.
Are You Still Clean and Sober if You Use Psychedelics?
This is ultimately a question only you can answer for yourself. Some people in recovery do not consider the ceremonious use of peyote as a relapse. Certain addicts in recovery treat their addiction with a seemingly harmless drug like kratom. Ultimately, no one can make the decision for your sobriety but you. When contemplating whether or not to pursue a psychedelic experience in recovery, keep in mind that hallucinogens are still mind-altering substances. Regardless of your intention, they remove you from this reality and catapult you into an alternate state of mind. Very few treatment centers, if any, view the use of psychedelics as clean and sober. Before you make the decision to incorporate natural psychedelics into your recovery, talk with a few trusted friends to gather their opinions. Throwing out your sobriety for a journey that lasts around a maximum of 12 hours might not be worth it to you.