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Introduction to Psychedelics

The fascinating world of psychedelics deserves its place on Cannify’s Education Pages. Just like cannabis, psychedelics (also called hallucinogens1) are scheduled drugs that are used recreationally, while also being a subject of debate for their therapeutic potential. Today, psychedelics are going through the same transition from regulatory prohibitions to an increasing recognition of their therapeutic effects.2 Psilocybin has already been decriminalized in some cities, like Denver,3 Washington D. C.,4 and Detroit,5 and in the state of Oregon.6 Their therapeutic potential is particularly being researched in the areas of psychiatry.7 Psychedelics are psychoactive in a different way than cannabinoids, and they can exert various effects in the body.8 One of the prominent effects are hallucinations,9 which are defined as false sensory perceptions that give one a sense of reality, but lack an external stimulus.10 Psychedelics have been in use for thousands of years in numerous cultures around the world. Due to their mind-altering effects, they usually served as a means for spiritual rituals.11 Nowadays, the interest in psychedelics has increased again since the 1960’s and ‘70’s, and they are used and studied for different purposes, such as an aid in psychotherapy.12 The most studied psychedelics are Psilocybin, LSD, and DMT, the active compound in Ayahuasca.13 For example, psilocybin effects have been observed in psilocybin studies on various conditions, such as depression, end of life anxiety and depression (palliative care), drug dependence, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and headache.13 The FDA even granted psilocybin breakthrough therapy designations {call-out, text: Breakthrough Therapy designation is a process designed to expedite the development and review of drugs that are intended to treat a serious condition and preliminary clinical evidence indicates that the drug may demonstrate substantial improvement over available therapy on a clinically significant endpoint(s).14} for depression.15 Although research has shown promising results, we will learn more in the coming time from plenty of ongoing studies. Although various drugs fall in the group of psychedelics, their effects have a lot of similarities. For example, psychedelics have similar acute (direct) effects in the body.11 They usually influence one’s perception, ego, cognition, mood & emotions, etc.11 Using psychedelics also seems to result in delayed, or longer lasting effects, and might lead to positive long-term changes in life attitudes.13 Getting similar effects for the different psychedelics is caused by a shared mechanism of action in the brain. All psychedelics bind to and activate the serotonin receptor type 2A, also written as 5-HT2A.8 There are also various differences between psychedelics, such as different effect onset, effect duration, or effect type.11 Some differences are better documented than others, and we will discuss these differences in future posts. kinds of psychedelics

Images taken from Psilocybe semilanceata 6514, CC BY-SA 3.0, Psychonaught; Cannify; Jacques Mabit ikareando el brebaje ayahuasca durante la preparación, cropped, CC BY-SA 4.0

  1. Nichols, D. E. (2016). Psychedelics. Pharmacological reviews, 68(2), 264–355.
  2. Tullis, P. (2021). How ecstasy and psilocybin are shaking up psychiatry. Nature, 589(7843), 506–509.
  3. N/A (2019). Denver, Colorado, Initiated Ordinance 301, Psilocybin Mushroom Initiative (May 2019). Ballotpedia.
  4. N/A (2020). Washington, D.C., Initiative 81, Entheogenic Plants and Fungus Measure (2020).
  5. N/A (2021). Detroit, Michigan, Proposal E, Decriminalization of Entheogenic Plants Measure (November 2021).
  6. N/A (2020).,_Psilocybin_Mushroom_Services_Program_Initiative_(2020).
  7. Schenberg, E. E. (2018). Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy: A Paradigm Shift in Psychiatric Research and Development. Frontiers in pharmacology, 9, 733.
  8. López-Giménez, J. F.; González-Maeso, J. (2018). Hallucinogens and Serotonin 5-HT2A Receptor-Mediated Signaling Pathways. Current topics in behavioral neurosciences, 36, 45–73.
  9. Martin, D. A.; Nichols, C. D. (2018). The Effects of Hallucinogens on Gene Expression. Current topics in behavioral neurosciences, 36, 137–158.
  10. Siegel, R. K. (1977). Hallucinations. Scientific American, 237(4), 132–140.
  11. Begola, M. J.; Schillerstrom, J. E. (2019). Hallucinogens and Their Therapeutic Use: A Literature Review. Journal of psychiatric practice, 25(5), 334–346.
  12. Marks, M.; Cohen, I.G. (2021). Psychedelic therapy: a roadmap for wider acceptance and utilization. Nat Med, 27, 1669–1671.
  13. Andersen, K.; Carhart-Harris, R.; Nutt, D. J.; Erritzoe, D. (2021). Therapeutic effects of classic serotonergic psychedelics: A systematic review of modern-era clinical studies. Acta psychiatrica Scandinavica, 143(2), 101–118.
  14. U. S. Food and Drug Administration (2018). Breakthrough Therapy.
  15. Usona Institute (2019). FDA grants Breakthrough Therapy Designation to Usona Institute's psilocybin program for major depressive disorder.