Introduction to the Pharmaceutics of Psychedelics – Scientific Information for interested Psychonauts – Part 2
In my last blog, I gave an introduction to the science of pharmacology, neurotransmitters, and the way drugs work. Let’s finally talk about what you hobby pharmacologists are all interested in the most: Psychedelic Drugs!
What are psychedelics?
Over the course of times, there have been different names to describe hallucinogenic substances that alter perceptual and conscious processes, for example psychotomimetic (psychosis-mimicking), psychedelic (mind-opening), and hallucinogenic (hallucination producing).
The latter is the one that is momentarily most favored by modern pharmacological literature. Generally, psychedelic drugs are known to induce strong alterations in sensory perception, thinking patterns, and much more. To someone who has never experienced a psychedelic trip, it is very difficult to describe.
On the other hand, people that do have experience with psychedelic drugs often feel connected towards each other without the need for words.
How do psychedelics differ from each other?
In terms of chemical structure, hallucinogens are divided into 2 categories.: Indoleamines (=serotonin like) include LSD, psilocybin, DMT, also referred to as the classical hallucinogens. There action is characterized by serotonin 2A agonism.
The second are the phenethylamines (= norepinephrine like), which primarily include mescaline, but also amphetamine and related compounds (which can induce hallucinogenic states in prolonged high dosage use)
Also: dissociative anesthetics, including PCP and ketamine, are uncompetitive NMDA antagonists, meaning they block glutamatergic receptors. This has been hypothesized to cause a certain burst of glutamate in specific brain areas.
The following table gives a good overview:
Indoleamines (=serotonin like)
e.g.: LSD, psilocybin, DMT
Phenethylamines (=norepinephrine like)
e.g.: mescaline, amphetamines
e.g.: PCP, ketamine
What kind of psychedelics exist?
Let’s now start with looking at particular drugs in detail:
First, LSD. This classical hallucinogen is synthetically created, but its precursor arises from the ergot fungi (also a mushroom!). It is primarily a 5HT2A agonist that induces distortion of the mind, hallucinations, and sometimes mystical and/or spiritual experiences. An LSD trip can be divided into 4 phases, namely (1) onset, (2) plateau, (3) peak, and (4) comedown, and it typically lasts 8-12 hours or even longer (!) depending on the dosage. 50-75micrograms (micro, not milligrams!) is considered a small dose, around 100 is medium and everything above 150 should be considered a strong dose. LSD is still illegal in almost all countries.
Psilocybin, which is found in many fungi around the world, is metabolized into psilocin by the body. This chemical is the actual substance causing a psychedelic effect. A psilocybin trip is similar to a LSD one but shorter (4-6 hours). Small doses are below one gram, medium doses between one and two grams, and everything above that is a strong dose. It also primarily acts at the 5HT2A receptor. If you know Sirius, you know that we sell Psilocybin containing products like Magic Truffles, as well as Magic Mushroom Growkits.
A common sensation that is reported from trips these substances are synesthesias, which is the crossing over of sensations. People say they feel music, hear colors, and taste with their whole body.
DMT: the strongest hallucinogenic known on earth
DMT is a component of ayahuasca, which is a mix of different plants and herbs found in South America that is used spiritually used by indigenous cultures. Some people plan holidays and travel the world only to take part in such an ayahuasca ceremony, in the hope of achieving spiritual enlightenment.
The powdered, pure form of DMT is actually not orally active and is therefore usually smoked. It is hypothesized that ayahuasca mixes contain alkaloids with properties to block the enzyme MAO, thereby allowing the DMT to cross the blood-brain barrier, which leads to the psychedelic effect. When smoked, DMT induces a very extreme but short (15min) distortion of perception and consciousness. Users often report that they see geometrical forms everywhere or meet “the entities”, which are godlike spiritual beings that communicate with you while you are on a DMT trip.
There are also theories that state that endogenous DMT is secreted in the brain when you die, and some reports of near-death experiences interestingly resemble reports of DMT trips. For this reason, DMT is sometimes called “the drug of the gods”. DMT is still illegal in most countries and is therefore not sold by Sirius.
Mescaline, the phenethylamine, influences catecholamine (dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine) neurotransmission because its chemical structure is similar to the one of norepinephrine. It is typically extracted from cacti such as Peyote or San Pedro, both are available at Sirius. A trip can last up to 12 hours, and one often reported side effect is that it makes you very nauseous.
Salvinorin A, the psychoactive ingredient of the Salvia plant, is a k-opiod receptor agonist (the same receptor painkiller medications like opioids act on), making it one of the most distinct psychedelics in terms of pharmacological action. Similar to DMT, it induces a extreme but short distortion of perception and cognition when smoked. The trips are still fundamentally different from one another, but their time of action is similar. Salvia or salvinorin A containing products are legal in many countries, including the Netherlands and the US. You can buy Salvia and Salvia Extracts at the Sirius Webshop, but be careful! It is very strong and should not be underestimated!
Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic and therefore a uncompetitive NMDA antagonist. It is currently under investigation for its rapid antidepressant effects (common antidepressants take weeks of daily consumption to improve depressive symptoms, with ketamine this happens after a single ingestion!). In recreational use, consumers describe that its effect are in low doses comparable to alcohol, and in high doses induce a complete ‘cutting off’ from the senses, commonly referred to as K-hole. When in a K-hole, some people experience spiritual enlightenment while others are just scared because of the loss of control over ones body. Because of its high abuse potential and severe side effects, the applicability of ketamine still has to be scientifically evaluated.
Are psychedelics legally available?
As already stated, that differs for each psychedelic drug. Magic Truffles, a psychedelic, can be legally bought in Sirius Smartshops (only in the Netherlands!). Magic Mushrooms cannot be bought, but need to be grown by you (Growkits are legal in the Netherlands!). LSD is not legal, but LSA containing seeds are. Mescaline containing cacti are also available at Sirius, but you need to wait quite a long time (sometimes up to 10 years!) for a cactus to grow in order to have multiple doses. Lastly, Salvia and Salvia extracts are also legally available at Sirius. This psychedelic is also legal in other countries.
Your first trip – better safe than sorry
If you have never tripped before – and I cannot stress this enough – then you should know what you are up to. Psychedelics are no party drugs and should be treated with caution and respect. Inform yourself by contacting our Customer Service or reading one of our blogs about Trip preparations.
I hope that with this blog I could awaken the interest in the Science behind these great substances in some of you, and I look forward to writing more about detailed pharmacological processes and how understanding them can help in developing a world where the recreational & therapeutic use of psychedelics is not only accepted but widely utilized.
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