Since the lexicon is new for many people, we’ve collected about a dozen terms here to help you gain an understanding of them.
Denver has been at the forefront of the modern-day psychedelics movement since locals voted to effectively decriminalize psilocybin, the psychoactive chemical in “magic mushrooms,” in 2019. And last year, Colorado became the second state behind Oregon to legalize psilocybin for use in therapeutic settings, while simultaneously decriminalizing five psychedelics.
Regulators are now in the process of building a new industry around psychedelic therapy, which is expected to take shape by 2025. On top of that, Denver recently hosted the largest industry gathering for psychedelics in the world, attracting politicians and celebrities.
So, what are psychedelics? Broadly speaking, the word is something of an umbrella term for several psychoactive substances, also deemed hallucinogens. Since the lexicon is new for many people, we’ve collected about a dozen terms here to help you gain an understanding of them.
Colombian shaman Taita Pedro Davila, leads an ayahuasca ceremony with Hummingbird Church, in Hildale, Utah, on Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022. Following the traditions of his grandfather in Colombia, Davila prays, chants, and sings in Spanish and the language of the Kamëntsá people over the psychoactive brew before serving it to individual participants. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)
Ayahuasca is a powerful psychedelic South American brew traditionally made from the B. caapi vine and other plants containing DMT (see below). Long used in religious and ceremonial contexts among indigenous communities, “ayahuasca” means “vine of the souls” in the Quechua language. It’s known to make those who ingest it experience vomiting or diarrhea, alongside rich and complex visual effects.
Default mode network
The default mode network is a set of the regions in the brain that are spontaneously active during passive moments, as well as during tasks that require participants to remember past events or imagine upcoming events. Researchers have seen the default mode network activate with self-referential thinking, theories of mind, moral reasoning, and mental time travel, and say perturbations of it are associated with psychiatric conditions such as PTSD, depression, autism, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) is a powerful, visual psychedelic with short-acting effects when smoked. It is naturally produced in the human body and present in over 65 plant species. DMT is one of the active ingredients in ayahuasca. In the mid-1980s, DMT gained notoriety due to popular researcher Terence McKenna’s many glowing rants about the strange visions it can precipitate. A similar substance, 5-MeO-DMT, is somewhat comparable to DMT, though 5-MeO-DMT’s effects are much less visual than DMT’s but substantially more potent
Harm reduction is a set of practical strategies aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use. Many modern-day drug education curriculums are focused through a harm reduction lens, acknowledging that some people use drugs. While harm reduction neither promotes nor condones drug use, it recognizes that reducing associated harms is an exceedingly urgent and achievable goal compared to exclusively preaching abstinence.
Ibogaine is a hallucinogenic chemical that can cause profound and long-lasting hallucinations. It occurs naturally in a number of plants native to West Central Africa, including Tabernanthe iboga and Voacanga africana. Ibogaine-containing plants have a history of traditional use in West Africa in initiation ceremonies and religious rituals. Ibogaine has received attention in Europe and the U.S. since the 1960s as an anti-addiction therapy especially for the treatment of opiate addiction.
At Boulder Mind Care, Dr. Wade Grindle gives ketamine to some patients to help with their depression on November 14, 2022 in Boulder, Colorado. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)
Ketamine is a dissociative psychedelic used medically as a veterinary and human anesthetic. It is one of the few addictive psychedelics. Ketamine is often injected intra-muscularly (IM) or snorted via a nasal spray therapeutic and psychedelic use. At low doses, it can cause mild inebriation, dreamy thinking, stumbling, delayed or reduced sensations, vertigo, increased sociability, and an interesting sense of seeing the world differently. At higher doses, it can cause extreme difficulty moving, nausea, complete dissociation, entering complete other realities, classic Near Death Experiences (NDEs), compelling visions and blackouts.
LSD, also known as acid, was first synthesized in 1938 and discovered to be psychoactive in 1943. It became popular in the ’60s and was made illegal to possess in 1968. It’s known to cause strong visual effects or hallucinations, even in small doses. It’s a powerful psychoactive that can be significantly affected by experiences, set and setting. Recent experiences, especially strong ones, can have a substantial effect on a trip.
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MDMA is one of the most popular recreational psychoactives, most commonly known as “ecstasy” (tablets) or “molly” (crystals). It is known for euphoric and stimulant effects, as well as increased empathy. MDMA was first synthesized in the 1890s and later patented by Merck pharmaceuticals in 1912, but it wasn’t until the mid-1970s that articles related to its psychoactivity began showing up in scholarly journals. In the late ’70s and early ’80s MDMA was used as a psychotherapeutic tool and also started to become available on the street. Its growing popularity in dance clubs led to it being made illegal in the United States in 1985 and its popularity has continued to increase since then.
Best known as the primary active chemical in peyote and San Pedro cacti, mescaline has a long history and is considered by many experienced users as uniquely powerful. Mescaline is widely known throughout the world because of the many accounts of its use, including Aldous Huxley’s famed 1954 autobiographical account “The Doors of Perception.”
A few small mushroom figurines in Heather Jackson’s meditation room testify to her belief in microdosing psilocybin. (Hart Van Denburg, CPR News)
Microdosing is the practice of regularly consuming a very small amount of a psychedelic substance (usually 5–10% of a regular dose) with the intention of improving one’s quality of life. Microdosing does not cause classic psychedelic effects such as visual disturbances; instead, users experience more subtle, “sub-hallucinogenic,” effects from the practice. Anecdotally, users report increased energy, increased creativity, clear-thinking, more motivation and increased focus. The exact effects depend on the person, the substance (usually LSD or psilocybin), the dosage and many other personal factors such as their intention.
Also known as neural plasticity or brain plasticity, neuroplasticity is a process that involves adaptive structural and functional changes to the brain that happen throughout one’s lifespan in response to new experiences. The National Library of Medicine defines it as the ability of the nervous system to change its activity in response to intrinsic or extrinsic stimuli by reorganizing its structure, functions, or connections after injuries, such as a stroke or traumatic brain injury (TBI). These changes can either be beneficial (restoration of function after injury), neutral (no change), or negative (can have pathological consequences). Studies suggest psychedelics like LSD, psilocybin and ketamine promote neuroplasticity by activating neural pathways and allowing additional data transfer between parts of the brain that don’t typically communicate.
Psilocybin and psilocin are naturally occurring psychedelics with a long history of human use. Both are present in ‘psychedelic’ or ‘magic’ mushrooms. Psilocybin, the better-known of these two chemicals, is metabolized after ingestion into psilocin, which is the primary active chemical. There are more than 180 species of mushrooms that contain psilocybin or psilocin.
This information was culled primarily from Erowid.org, which boasts an encyclopedic database of drug information; DanceSafe, an organization that provides in drug testing and information at events; the Microdosing Institute, a Netherlands-based education and research entity; and the Harm Reduction Coalition, which seeks to minimize the negatives consequences associated with drug use – all of which are excellent resources to keep up with the latest in psychedelics.
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