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What are Psychedelics?

Psychedelic drugs are substances that have hallucinogenic, perception-altering effects. They are abused for these effects, and are taken as part of some religious ceremonies.

Psychedelics, or psychedelic drugs, are substances whose primary action is to alter the cognition and perception of people who take them. According to Princeton University, psychedelics are part of a wider class of drugs called hallucinogens, which also includes dissociatives and deliriants. These drugs affect the senses and how people see the world.

Effects of Psychedelics

psychedelic drug types

Salvia divinorum is a psychedelic drug that is smoked for its out-of-body effects.

Psychedelic drugs each have different effects, depending on which type is taken, but they all share certain qualities. According to Columbia University, the effects also vary depending on where a user is experiencing them, their mood, expectations, and level of experience with the drug. The drug’s effects can be different, for example, if someone is in a noisy and stressful situation like at a concert or party rather than at home or in a quieter setting. The sense of doubt or uncertainty someone may feel, especially someone who has never taken the drugs, can also affect their experience. This doubt could magnify into extreme anxiety and can be dangerous for the user.

Generally speaking psychedelics alter a user’s perception of space and time, as well as their thoughts and feelings.

Some commonly reported psychedelic effects include:

  • Colors may seem more intense, textures richer, and contours sharpened
  • People may feel a keener awareness of their bodies
  • Depth perception is heightened
  • Synesthesia, which is a blending of the senses and can cause people to ‘see colors’ or ‘hear sounds’ etc., is common
  • Distorted sense of time
  • Seeing things when eyes are closed (can be things that were there before, patterns, or entirely new images)
  • Hallucinating when eyes are open, also can be seeing things as different than they are or seeing entirely new images
  • Heightened sensitivity to changes in the environment
  • More profound emotions and feelings, possibility to have swift mood shifts
  • Introspective reflection often with feelings of deep insight into oneself or the nature of humanity and the universe
  • Alterations in memory, usually with impaired short-term memory at the time

Some people who take psychedelic substances end up having a very distressing time while under their influence. This is referred to as a ‘bad trip’ and can be very dangerous due to the alarming effects it causes. Bad trips are often brought on by fear or doubt in the beginning of the drug experience, or an unexpected event while the drugs are being felt. While that is true, there are no exact known causes of bad trips. Bad trips are associated with the following feelings:

  • Panic or intense anxiety
  • Intense fear
  • Overheating
  • Episodes of psychosis
  • Disorientation
  • The desire to cause self harm or harm to others

The effects of psychedelics are largely unpredictable, which makes them dangerous. Hallucinations have been known to lead people to do very serious things, such as jumping off of roofs or running into traffic. Some people, however, report religious, spiritual, and enlightening experiences while using psychedelic drugs.

Common Psychedelic Drugs

All psychedelic drugs would also been found on a list of hallucinogens, although not all hallucinogens are psychedelics. Some of the more commonly heard of forms of psychedelic drugs include:

  • LSD, or ‘acid’
  • Psilocybin and psilocin, the active chemicals in ‘magic mushrooms
  • Mescaline, the active component in Peyote
  • DMT, which is one of the active components of ayahuasca
  • Salvia divinorum

Most of these substances are ingested, while a few are smoked. DMT and salvia divinorum are two of the substances that are sometimes smoked.