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Do You Believe in Magic? The Promises of Psychedelics

by Will Long

August 5, 2021

Do you believe in magic?

Psychedelics have been in the news in recent years as being a rather successful alternative treatment path for depression, anxiety, and addiction. Since Landmark Recovery’s focus is on treating addiction, the ability to treat the root cause so successfully is of deep interest to us and could also provide future regulatory guidance on how we treat addiction in the US.

Drugs like psilocybin in particular show us that it’s possible to unlock new patterns of thinking and examine our own habitual behaviors in a way that externalizes us from our singular perspectives so we can tackle these root causes in new and novel ways. There are many risks and promises embodied in psychedelic substances, but none more notable than LSD and Psilocybin, both legendary substances with extensive histories and key characters too numerous to discuss in anything less than a thousand words.

Chemistry class

Psilocybin is a tryptamine and is chemically related to a host of other psychedelic compounds. It works by activating serotonin receptors in the brain and triggering hallucinogenic effects. Magic mushrooms can affect an individual for up to 6 hours when the proper dose is taken. Terrence McKenna is known as the quantifier of the “heroic dose”, which is traditionally 5 grams of shrooms. This dose can induce something called ego death, when the “self” is eliminated, and is usually the strongest dose you can take while having positive therapeutic outcomes.

There are several ongoing studies as to whether or not there exists a legitimate therapeutic use for magic mushrooms/psilocybin, but the results have been staggeringly positive in several settings (including treating addiction!). Several jurisdictions in the US have recently decriminalized magic mushrooms for personal use, and there appears to be great social strides towards replicating the success of these initiatives all over the US.

Lysergic acid diethylamide, aka LSD, is also a tryptamine that works in the exact same manner as psilocybin—by activating serotonin receptors in the brain. Just like psilocybin, it also produces sensual hallucinations. LSD being distributed via blotter paper was introduced to reduce the weight of the material carrying the doses since the federal government at the time doled out sentences by the weight of the product sold. The origin of this distribution method, by far the most popular distribution method, is historically obscure.

Both substances were first synthesized in a laboratory environment by a Swiss chemist named Albert Hofmann, who first self-tested LSD in 1943 while riding home on a bicycle. This event became a watershed moment in psychedelic science and is known as “Bicycle Day” to psychedelic enthusiasts. A more extensive list of related psychedelic compounds and their psychedelic and chemical properties can be found in the second halves of both PiHKAL and TiHKAL by Alexander and Ann Shulgin.

The past, present, and future of psychedelics

Both LSD and psilocybin are DEA Schedule I substances, which means they are classified by the federal government as not having any legitimate use and possessing a high potential for abuse. As demonstrated by the results of years of medical study and decades of recreational use, both substances clearly don’t fit these categories and surely warrant more study.

In the recent history of psych use, the dialogue has shifted from solely the underground to the underground and scientists, which inform each other more than most on either side are willing to admit. This is unequivocally a good thing, as it allows for a better understanding between both parties on the actual science behind psychedelics and the experience of using them in a therapeutic manner.

Despite the freedoms that psychedelics can provide for their users, there exists a dichotomy that needs to continue being upheld—that of liberty versus the advice of better judgement. In other words, too many freedoms might be a bad thing, but the ability to freely use a substance like psilocybin for personal therapeutic use should be an option within reason.

To most who’ve never experienced what it’s like to have a psychedelic experience, the stereotype of those who regularly use psychedelics can be a comical deadbeat. And while many of these types of people exist, we shouldn’t wholesale dismiss the idea that there are guides who exist to augment the experience in a way that truly allows you to have an individual experience worth remembering.

To quote Michael Pollan from his book How to Change Your Mind, “…if they are to do more good than harm, they require a cultural vessel of some kind: protocols, rules, and rituals that together form a kind of Apollonian counterweight to contain and channel their sheer Dionysian force.” This further reinforces the idea that psychedelics, if used, should be done in a supervised and guided environment, a philosophy shared by both medical professionals and responsible psychonauts.

What about the key risks?

Some individuals can even develop psychosis from taking psychedelics, though this seems tied to family histories of schizophrenia and mental illness. There’s also a possibility of having a bad trip while having a psychedelic experience, which is usually a panic attack or anxiety attack triggered by stimuli in the trip.

Something called hallucinogen persisting perception disorder has an incredibly small chance of developing, in which an individual can have persisting sensual distortions that alter their perception in some way after tripping on a psychedelic, though this is extremely rare. Psychedelics aren’t believed to be addictive, but there’s evidence that the human body can build some level of tolerance unless an individual abstains from using any for around two weeks.

Learn more

At Landmark Recovery, we believe in maximizing the effects of harm reduction and addiction therapy. We take a classic approach to treatment by offering detox and rehab treatment at our facilities along with therapy and counseling to achieve root cause mitigation. If you would like to learn more about what we can do to help you live beyond addiction, give us a call at 888-448-0302.

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About the Author

Will Long

Will Long

A graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, Long has been a writer for Landmark Recovery since 2021. He specializes in research and writing about substance abuse from a scientific and social perspective. Unearthing information from underexplored, far-flung corners of the Internet, Long’s passion is finding emerging trends in substance use and treatment that the public should know about.