What Is Psychedelic drugs; from mysticism to psychotherapy

It is absurd to ask the gods what each one is capable of procuring for himself .” Epicurus of Samos (341 BC -270 BC)


Faith is the antiseptic of the soul . Walt Withman (1819-1892)



The use of drugs, whether with playful (hedonistic), spiritual (entheogenic) or curative (therapeutic) effects, is not a recent strategy of the human being. A transdisciplinary approach is currently used to gain a better understanding of the effects of psychedelic drugs on the brain and body. In the hope that at some point they will become better known and their full potential can be exploited: mystical, curative or therapeutic.

An interesting epistemological aspect is that science ceased to be exclusive to a single discipline and today scientists work with a multidisciplinary approach. Thus, the effects of psychedelic drugs include elements: physical, chemical, electrical, physiological, psychological, biological, social, economic, a lot of technology and more, which are analyzed by a wide variety of people, also with a transdisciplinary approach.


The use of technology at the service of science

Using neuroimaging techniques, the brain can be studied in great detail, both in terms of brain structure and function, ”as noted by Richard Haier, Neuroscientist, Mind Research Network, Univ. New Mexico (We can read the mind, 2011).

These techniques generate “maps” of the brains of living people by examining their electrical activity, structure, blood flow, and chemistry (Cunningham et al, 2003). In our body chemistry, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) measures the metabolic activity of the brain in different regions, revealing which parts are most active in social tasks such as speaking or listening to others, observing social interactions, and thinking about oneself. (Iacoboni et al, 2004). An interesting characteristic of the blood is used in a functional MRI. The iron atom that has hemoglobin, the pigment that turns blood red.The more blood reaches a region of the brain, the more iron, which disturbs the magnetic field generated by the magnet of the MRI machine . This disturbance caused by the iron in our blood is measured and it follows that areas of the brain are more active : the visual, auditory, motor region, etc. (Ask Punset, 2013).

Functional MRI can take a picture every half a second, but it is slow compared to super brain activity that processes so many signals per second. There are other techniques to observe the brain in vivo: positron emission tomography, electroencephalograms, magnetic electroencephalography, and HPLC (Liquid Chromatography of various types).

An avant-garde technique that joins the previous ones is SPECT, an acronym for “Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography” . It is a complex technique that allows obtaining images on the functioning of different brain regions, the result is a third-dimensional image. “It is a technology that combines a type of electromagnetic radiation, electric and magnetic fields” (Delgado, 2016).

Psychedelic Drug Research

There have been several examples of famous people who, in one way or another, casuistically opened the way to venture into drugs and take them to their therapeutic use. I cite two examples that for my taste are the most representative of this topic:

  • Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) : product of the discoveries of the German pharmacist Friedrich WA Sertürner, he was the first person to extract opium essence , what is known today as morphine, a powerful opiate drug that is used as an analgesic and generates addiction . In his paradox, and for his part, the father of psychoanalysis, while still engaged in the practice of neurology, became interested in the use and consumption of cocaine, which he called the “magic drug” and introduced it to European medicine. He used it to “unlock the tongue”, he supposed it was the elixir of life. He prescribed it to patients, friends, and even his girlfriend Martita, who later became his wife. He also used it as an antagonist to cure morphine dependence . He sent samples to his colleagues. The best known case was that of his friend, an eye doctor named Karl Koller, who after diluting it in water, put it inside his eye to relieve pain. The result as a pain reliever was effective for his friend who continued to use it to ease the pain in his eye and jokingly referred to as the Dortor Coca Koller. The efficacy of cocaineAs a pain reliever, it is because it numbs the nerves and prevents them from sending pain signals. “Opioids are great pain relievers, but they do have significant side effects, from constipation and vomiting, to addiction and, if they depress your breathing, death” (BBC News, 2019).
  • Albert Hofman (1906-2008) : was the Swiss chemist who synthesized LSD for the first time. Curiously, the chemical structure of LSD is very similar to that of serotonin (it is also known as the hormone of happiness, since it increases feelings of well-being, relaxation and satisfaction). “In the following years, scientists investigated molecules with similar properties; in fungi, cacti, including peyote cacti, and tropical plants used for psychoactive ayahuasca drinking . LSD, psilocybin , and DMT are known as the classic hallucinogens ”(The Mind, 2019). The first documented account of LSD is a very important reference and corresponds to the sameAlbert HofmanOn April 19, 1943, after returning from his laboratory to his home and product of a tiny dose of 250 micrograms, it caused him: vertigo, fear, visual disturbances, paralysis, desire to laugh. The field of vision wavered and was distorted like a curved mirror. Without having proposed it, I relate the effects of this powerful drug. In another part of the story, he describes: “Little by little, I began to enjoy an unprecedented succession of colors and shapes with my eyes closed. Fantastic images that transformed like a kaleidoscope emerged in me, opened and closed in circles and spirals, and exploded as sources of color, rearranged and mixed in a constant flow. Even the noises were transformed into optical sensations.

Later, the reckless comments of the psychologist Timothy Leary, guru of the hippie movement about the consumption of LSD, put this drug into disrepute and earned it a place on the list of prohibited drugs. As well as all the prohibitions for its use, for being described as a counterculture drug. For decades it was ostracized and had a very bad reputation for being used as a remedy; therapeutic, medical or psychotherapy.

Since 2014, research use with psychedelic drugs has returned with more than 30 studies with neuroimaging techniques where the effect of these drugs on the brain is investigated. Most are held in Great Britain, Switzerland, and Spain. One of the scientists Robin Carhart-Harris, psychologist and director of the psychedelic working group of the Imperial College of London , seems especially delighted with the new possibilities … He places great hopes on psychedelic substances: by using them he intends to create a new model of consciousness human (Schaarschmidt, 2019, p. 38).

Types of psychedelic drugs and therapeutic uses

There are different hallucinogenic drugs capable of producing multiple experiences; medicinal, psychedelic (which excite the senses), for some spiritual or hallucinogenic, which have also been used in psychotherapeutic treatments, namely:

  • LSD ( Lysergic Acid Diethylamide ): It has hallucinogenic and psychoactive properties (that is, it alters conscious activity, memory, emotions, moods, and perceptions).
  • It can produce a good trippleasant, stimulating, like feeling floating, with great joy, flashbacks, feelings of “ déjà vu ” or reviviscences and with extremely clear thoughts . It is believed that pleasant trips depend on the positive state of mind and the positive intention of meeting positive answers or wanting to experience a positive mystical experience, it would be the equivalent of undertaking a journey within oneself to find the answers to our problems. . From this last paragraph comes the reason for placing the phrase of Epicurus of Samos at the beginning of this article.
  • It can lead to a bad trip: unpleasant and scary, it goes from a pleasant emotion to a scary one, the shapes of the objects are altered, thoughts of doom, pessimism and death appear, of harming or damaging other people and can include synesthesia or intertwining of the senses; feel or hear flavors or taste colors or see sounds (Medline, 2019). Both experiences can be presented (good and bad trip). LSD microdoses can improve productivity (Méndez, 2017). Bad trips are believed to depend on the negative mood of the patient and a negative environment when the experience is lived.
  • In its therapeutic use it has been used in the treatment of patients with depressionand as a complement to psychotherapy, in people with anxiety and in medicine in terminally ill patients .
  • The Ketamine : has properties; hallucinogenic, dissociative, analgesic and anesthetic .
  • Its therapeutic use has been used in the treatment of patients with bipolar disorderand in people with major depression (Ketamine, 2019). As well as in the treatment of acute and chronic pain .
  • The psilocybin : alkaloid found in many species of mushrooms or magic mushrooms (about 200 about an iconic landmark in Mexico, were mystical experiences with the Mazatec indigenous Oaxacan, María Sabina and hallucinogenic mushrooms, she called them “holy child” ), is used in a playful or spiritual way, especially in ritualistic and shamanic contexts or psychedelic therapies. In the late 1950s, Albert Hofman managed to isolate psilocybin in his laboratory and create it synthetically. It can produce sensory hallucinations and a distortion of time such as entering a time loop, turning in the past and in the present (Alchimia, 2019).
  • Its therapeutic use has been used in the treatment of patients with the anxiety and depressionof patients with advanced cancer (NIH, S / F). Especially with these types of cancer patients and their anxiety about death, after some therapy sessions and a single psilocybin capsule, the anxiety disappears and produces an effect of happiness and peace , capable of lasting up to six months in some patients. The same effect has been found with some smoking patients who quit smoking for a year. With depressive patients that this condition disappeared (The Mind, 2019). It has also been used in the treatment of addictions (alcoholism),obsessive compulsive disorders, migraines and headaches .
  • The ecstasy (MMAD) : is a synthetic hallucinogen used to psychological and psychiatric level. It produces an energizing effect, distorts sensory, and temporal perception and makes sensory experiences more deeply enjoyed (NIH, 2017).
  • Its therapeutic use has been used in patients to increase their kindness, increases confidence in others, produces joy and feelings of love in patients who have little social contact and increases empathy and sociability, increases self-compassion and reduces self-criticism(Méndez , 2017).
  • The ayahuasca (yagué or master plant) : is a hallucinogen, psychoactive . It is a drug used for centuries by South American indigenous societies. “It is a mixture of two plants -ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) and a shrub called chacruna (Psychotria viridis), which contains the hallucinogen dimethyltryptamine (DMT)” (Thelwell, 2014).
  • Its therapeutic use has been used with patients who have addictions and dependency(cocaine, alcohol and tobacco).
  • The DMT (N, N-dimethyltryptamine), known as the molecule God : is a psychoactive drug, hallucinogenic (psychotropic or psychedelic) producing hallucinations (Guzman, 2019) is powerful and is produced naturally in the formation of the fetus (birth), in death, in states of deep meditation. The pineal gland is in charge of producing it.
  • Its therapeutic use is common in patients with depression and schizophrenia.

What happens inside the brain that is administered a psychedelic drug?

The current work in the laboratory when analyzing the brain continues to show us completely unsuspected routes that were not known a few decades ago, although we are still learning more about this interesting organ, some findings are described in this regard, some found by the psychologist Carhat-Harris and others discovered by various researchers, today we know that with the consumption of psychedelic drugs:

  • Neurons behave in all areas of the brain structure, almost completely chaotically . They present a chemical, magnetic and electrical disorder or entropy, as has been observed with modern neuroimaging techniques.
  • Chaotic behavior or entropy at the cerebral level, reveals the degree of awareness or not that we can have in control of our actions and leads people to feel that they are not themselves , it is a kind of depersonalization, as if we lived within a set mounted where ourselves, we are not ourselves.
  • Travel can be positive or negative . Reactions occur; Biological (intoxication, eg), physiological (vomiting, eg), psychological (depersonalization, eg) and behavioral (harming or harming another person, eg) generally different from those we have in everyday life.
  • Cognitive distortions are diverse, the alteration of the senses may be accompanied by synesthesia or sensory overlap , where an auditory stimulus causes an olfactory response, or a visual stimulus causes a gustatory response. Which comes to be interpreted as a psychedelic, magical, mystical, paranoid, spiritual, religious, stressful or supernatural experience. This can be positive or negative.
  • Disorder or entropy at the brain level accounts for a phenomenon analyzed in physics called criticality or criticality , that is, they are disorganized microsystems, in this case each of the areas of the brain, with a certain degree of disorder, but which corresponds to the manifestation of a single event, the distortion of the degree of consciousness produced by the consumption of some psychedelic drug. Even in the disorder there is a certain connection between the systems, for this reason there is an overlapping of areas that gives rise to distorted sensory and cognitive manifestations. And all of them correspond to the same event or event, in physics it is known as self-organized criticality.

Final reflection

It is revealing and at the same time disturbing the work in neurosciences with psychedelic drugs in the field of the mystical, but also in the therapeutic, to help heal some mental disorders, addictions or diseases where other drugs have not been successful.

The taboo for experimenting with psychedelic drugs with the support of new neuroimaging techniques and current technology, reopens a light to extract compounds from nature that can be put at the service of science to cure, prevent or alleviate disorders mental and diseases that plague us humans. Transdisciplinary and multidisciplinary work is an interesting area of ​​opportunity to share knowledge and achieve new goals in scientific work. Understanding new paradigms such as self-organized criticality is essential to see the events of nature with a revolutionary approach, epistemologically speaking.


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