Psychedelics and Their Effects on the Senses and Perception

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Psychedelics and Their Effects on the Senses and Perception





Psychedelics and Their Effects on the Senses and Perception


Psychedelics, also referred to as hallucinogens are a category of drugs that drastically alter perception and consciousness. Unlike cocaine or heroin, psychedelics like psilocybin, N, N – Dimethyltryptamine, LSD, mescaline, ibogaine, and are neither habit-forming nor physically harmful. Yet they are regard as dangerous, alarming, and usually proscribed. The phrase psychedelic, meaning, mind-manifesting, was invented in the 1950s during a brief fervor for chemical self-discoveries. It followed that in the mid-1960s, these substances were proscribed, and the mainstream trend for consciousness development ended abruptly. In the following decades, the media reportedly associated psychedelics with wasted human potential, blown minds, as well as social chaos (Beyer 102). The perception persists that to experiment in psychedelics, is tantamount to risking psychosis. In several shamanic tribal societies, plants that stimulate visions are the core of spiritual tradition and life. Tribes in Siberia, Africa, North and South America, and many different places presume that these plants are supernatural emissaries, or sentient beings. These cultures ascribe their medicine and music, their cosmology and broad botanical understanding to the visions granted to them in psychedelic spell (Winkelman 209).

Numerous psychedelics are closely associated to common neurotransmitters or serotonin. Serotonin is alleged to perform scores of functions, such as helping in regulating sensory information. This is in regard to whether sense related data floods, trickles, pours, or flows into the brain. Mescaline, LSD, and Psilocybin are alkaloids that bear a resemblance to serotonin. The highly intoxicating hallucinogen N, N – Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) is a very close to serotonin. The two have similar molecular structure with the differentiation of two atoms, see figure 1 below. Serotonin Selective Re-uptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), like the anti-depressants Zoloft and Prozac, check mood swings by regulating serotonin release. Psychedelics bond to numerous of the identical receptor sites as serotonin and comparable neurotransmitters. This is the principle foundation of their activity (Asher 1133).

Figure 1

Diagram A, depicts the chemical structure of the prototypical phenethylamine psychedelic 3, 4, 5- trimethoxyphenethylamine (mescaline).

Diagram B, depicts the representative tryptamine hallucinogen N, N-dimethyl-4- phosphoryloxytryptamine (psilocybin).

Diagram C, depicts the archetypal ergoline hallucinogen lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) (1135).


In recent times, there has a upgrading of human research in psychedelics (classical hallucinogens). Although psychedelics are not comparatively dangerous physiologically and may be regarded as drugs of dependence, their administration involves unique psychological risks. The most probable risk is overwhelming anguish during drug activity, which may result in potentially hazardous behavior like as departure from the study site. The less common behavior is prolonged psychoses that would be triggered by the hallucinogens (Topping 22). Protection against these dangers includes the ruling out of volunteers with family or personal record of psychotic disorders or related harsh psychiatric disorders, ascertaining trust as well as rapport between session volunteer and monitors and prior to the session, cautious volunteer training, a secure physical session atmosphere, as well as inter-personal support from a minimum of two study monitors in the course of the session. Investigators ought to probe for the moderately rare psychedelic persisting perception confusion in follow up contact. Persistent adverse reactions may be uncommon when research is performed along this procedure. Imprudent research may endanger participant safety as well as future research. However, vigilantly performed research would enlighten the management of psychiatric disorders, and would lead to progress in basic science (Strassman 45).

The administration of psychedelics in humans results in a distinctive profile of outcomes as well as potential unpleasant reactions that require being appropriately addressed so as to maximize safety. Different threats are related to different classes of drugs, and human research in every class necessitates procedures put in place to deal with those particular threats. For instance,

Since high doses of some sedative/hypnotics and opioids may bring about respiratory depression when carrying out research with huge doses of these drugs, it is important to monitor blood oxygen and/or respiration rate. It follows that, assistance in mechanical breathing and appropriate medications for rescue are made readily available (Norton 12). As example is that the administration of psychomotor stimulants like cocaine in huge doses can result in cardiac stress. For that reason, electrocardiogram (ECG) readings that may be recorded during screening ought to be scrutinized watchfully, pulse as well as blood pressure is monitored in the course of the sessions. Medication for rescue in the event of acute hypertension ought to be immediately available. In the same way, human psychedelic administration involves its own distinctive risk profile. Sedative/hypnotics, unlike opioids or psychomotor stimulants, the principal safety concerns with psychedelic are in nature, mainly psychological rather than physiological (Boyer 12).

Psychedelic Physiological Toxicity. It is essentials to note that, psychedelics generally possess moderately low physiological toxicity, and do not demonstrate resultant neuropsychological deficits or organ damage. Non-human animal research demonstrate that 3, 4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine (structurally comparable to various classical psychedelics, but with a considerably special pharmacological mechanism of action) to possess neuro-toxic effects at huge doses, even though MDMA has been considered as secure for human administration in the perspective of some therapeutic as well as basic human research (Strassman 47). On the contrary, there is no confirmation of such prospective neuro-toxic effects with the prototypical classical hallucinogens such as LSD, psilocybin, and mescaline. Some physiological signs might occur in the course of hallucinogen action, such as weakness, dizziness, tremors, drowsiness, nausea, paresthesia, dilated pupils, increased tendon reflexes, and blurred vision (Sacks 93). Additionally, psychedelics may reasonably increase pulse, including diastolic and systolic blood pressure. On the other hand, these somatic effects differ and are moderately not noteworthy even at doses that yield dominant psychological effects (cognitive, affective, and perceptual) (Beyer 115).

A complete discussion of the physiological toxicity issues for medical patient populations is outside the scope of this paper, however, a few clarifications are valuable to note. Early studies examining psychedelics in the treatment of depression and anxiety secondary to cancer demonstrated that classical hallucinogens N, N-dipropyltryptamine (DPT) and LSD as physiologically well-tolerated. The physical hostile effects of these agents noted in cancer patients were controllable and comparable to effects seen in physically healthy persons (Asher 1137).

Dependence and Abuse. Like numerous categories of psychoactive drugs, psychedelics are occasionally used in a way that jeopardizes the well-being or safety of a person or other individuals, for instance driving as one is impaired, a pattern of usage that impedes work, or relationships. In such circumstances psychedelics are regarded as abused. However, psychedelics are not characteristically regarded as drugs of dependence, given that they do not stimulate habitual drug seeking consistent with the study that they are not regularly self-administered in non-human animals. Additionally, they are not linked to an identified withdrawal syndrome (Clark 56). For that reason, there is modest danger that administering human volunteers to psychedelics will leave participants psychologically or physically reliant on these compounds. This low addiction potential allows for the likelihood of exposing these compounds to psychedelic-naïve volunteers when blinding concerns are critical. However, in some circumstances it would be beneficial to study psychedelic-experienced participants, for instance studies in brain imaging that require the participant to stay immobile (Boyer 20).

Effects on the Senses and Perception. Although psychedelics are considered to have moderately low physiological toxicity and cannot be associated with habitual drug, there is apprehension that they might pose additional psychological dangers. The most expected risk connected with psychedelics administration is generally referred to as a bad trip. It is characterized by fear/panic, anxiety, paranoia, and/or dysphoria. Distressing effects might be experienced in a diversity of modalities namely: sensory (terrifying illusions), somatic (alarming physiological processes or hyper-awareness), personal psychological (worrying feelings or thoughts relating to one’s life) as well as metaphysical (disturbing feelings or thoughts relating to ultimate wicked forces) (Strassman 48). Since emotional experience regularly deepens when under the influence of a psychedelic, in unprepared persons or unregulated situations some of these effects might possibly escalate to hazardous behavior. For instance, fear as well as paranoid delusions might lead to unpredictable and potentially hazardous behavior, including hostility against self or other persons. Although extremely rare, in dangerous and unsupervised environments, persons under the influence of psychedelics have committed suicide, through acts such as jumping from tall buildings. It is essential to mention that, even under unprepared and unsupervised circumstances, reactions to psychedelics involving self-destructive and violent behavior are rare. Nonetheless, even occasional occurrences of such dangers necessitate investigators to be prepared for such risks and implement steps to circumvent their occurrence (Richards 377).

Protracted Psychosis. Another likely risk of psychedelic administration is instigating the onset of protracted psychosis, which would last several days or months. Although establishing causation is complex, it seems that persons who go through such reactions suffer from pre-morbid mental sickness prior to taking psychedelics. Nevertheless, it is indefinite whether the precipitation of neurosis in such vulnerable persons signifies a psychotic effect that might never have occurred without psychedelic use, or whether it signifies a previous commencement of a psychotic break that would have unavoidably occurred. Contrasting to acute psychological distress, such cases will be exceedingly rare in well-chosen and well-trained participants (380).

In a study of investigators who administered mescaline or LSD it was reported that no more than a single case of psychotic reaction that lasted for more than 48 hours transpired in 1200 investigational (non-patient) research participants, a rate of 0.0008. Conspicuously, the participant was an identical twin to a schizophrenic patient, and consequently would have been disqualified under the projected guidelines. Extended reactions for over 48 hours were a little more regular in patients in psychotherapy than in investigational non-patient participants. However, still comparatively rare, taking place at a rate of 1.8 extended reactions in 1000 patients (a rate of 0.0018) (Norton 15). The study also demonstrated that suicide attempts, as well as fulfilled suicides took place at a rate of 1.2 and 0.4, correspondingly, in1000 patients. The underlying relationship between psychedelic exposure and suicide attempt or fulfilled suicide was only apparent for a segment of these cases in patients. No suicides or attempted suicides were reported for the 1200 non-patient, investigational participants. On the other hand, it is essential when assessing these data to consider that no more than 44 out of the 62 researchers questioned returned study results (20).

A number of clinical observations recommend the likelihood that unconscious psychological material might be triggered during psychedelic sessions, and that this material, if not appropriately worked through and psychologically incorporated, may bring about psychological complexity of a non-psychotic nature, for instance negative emotions, as well as psychosomatic symptoms, that would last further than the session. Even though these annotations have not been studied experimentally, they merit consideration (Faber 275).

Drug Discrimination. Given the weighty effects of psychedelics on perception as well as related subjective variables, an animal model able to assess the mechanisms of action of psychedelics that inform their subjective influence in man may be especially valuable. The major methodology currently utilized is drug discrimination. In a usual discrimination assignment, an animal is trained to release one response in the experimental sessions instigated by the administration of a specific drug, referred to as the training drug, and a dissimilar response in sessions that come after administration of the drug medium. In the development of such assessments, a diverse range of responses were typically stimulated, but the largest part of such research now entails discriminative reaction on one of two operant devices, such as nose-poke apertures or levers, maintained by appetitive fortification or shock evasion. Under such contingencies, the injection state, saline versus training drug, for instance, serves as an interoceptive discriminative stimuli to cue the creature as to which reaction will be reinforced in a particular session, in a similar way as the operant conduct of an animal might be directed by exteroceptive stimuli, like colored lights or tones of particular frequencies (Richards 389).

The drug discrimination assessment is consequently fundamentally a drug detection method whereby creatures are trained to distinguish the stimulus effects of a particular dose of a given training drug. In the course of the tests, well-trained creatures might be administered dissimilar doses of the training drug, or dissimilar doses of a fresh compound assumed to have comparable subjective outcomes to the training drug (Skinner 32). The consequences of such tests produce asymptotic dose-effect curves whereby the administration of a test compound with stimuli properties comparable to the ones of the training drug dose-dependently increase in response on the drug lever. Likewise, preceding treatment with a competitive antagonist has a propensity to create parallel rightward shifts in the discrimination dose-effect curves. A resultant measure of this assessment is rate of response. This measure is significant as it presents an integrated positive control which guarantees that behaviorally active dosage of test compounds are attained. As drug dosage rises, operant performance is interrupted. Consequently, in the event that, a test drug falls short of eliciting any drug-appropriate response up to dosages that contain response rates, it may be firmly concluded that the stimuli properties of the test drug cannot overlap with the stimuli properties of the training drug (Faber 276).

Permanent Perceptual Anomalies. Another prospective risk of psychedelic administration is hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD). So as to meet DSM-IV-TR criterion for this anomaly, a psychedelic user should re-undergo perceptual effects comparable to those faced under acute psychedelic action following cessation of psychedelic use. These effects should be clinically stressful or damage functioning, and the effects should not be attributable to a medical state or be better explicated by another psychiatric abnormality or hypnopompic hallucinations. The frequency of HPPD is unidentified, though it is considered to be extremely exceptional given the comparatively few cases that are reported. This is in consideration of millions of psychedelic doses used from the 1960s. While the phrase, flashback, is occasionally applied interchangeably with HPPD, the former phrase is regularly applied to describe every short-lived perceptual effect suggestive of acute psychedelic effects but taking place beyond acute psychedelic use, typically without impairment or clinical distress. Indeed, numerous illicit psychedelics users report a few short-lived visual anomalies that take place subsequent to acute psychedelic effects. However, only for a diminutive minority of psychedelic users are such effects worrying or sufficiently impairing to be regarded as clinically important or merit the diagnosis of HPPD (Strassman 50).

Numerous illicit users of psychedelics consider such sub-clinical effects as pleasurable and benign. Significantly, HPPD incidence or other perceptual anomalies appears to be exceedingly lower in therapeutic or research environments with cautious screening as well as preparation than in the environment of illicit leisure use which might involve the confound of poly-drug use as well as unscreened psychiatric abnormalities. Since such perceptual anomalies are scantily comprehended, researchers administering psychedelics to human volunteers ought to investigate for perceptual disorder in follow up contact (Strassman 52).

Cultural Use of Psychedelics. It is essential to mention that, prior to the influence of modern medical models or expectations, a bewildering and protean rain forest psychedelic known as ayahuasca was regarded by the indigenous people of the Amazon as a diagnostic device. Shamans, as well as their patients would not partake of ayahuasca for therapeutic reasons (Topping 26). On the contrary, they partook of ayahuasca to acquire information. This was primarily information relating to the personality of the seducer of an adulterous spouse, the covert connections of a business adversary, or location and character of the evil darts within a person’s body, among other uses. Ayahuasca was applied it to screen the sickness and to explore the treatment, but ayahuasca by itself, does not directly cure anything. The seekers visited the shaman with personal sets of etiological as well as nosological concepts, embedded primarily in trendy psychology as well as and alternative medicine (Winkelman 218).


Following a decades-long duration of dormancy in reaction to the sensationalism concerning the non-medical use of psychedelics in the 1960’s, human psychedelic research has taken up again in the medical arena. It is now beginning to deal with a diversity of important fundamental research problems as well as possible therapeutic applications. In the light of the atypical history of limitation on human research with this category of compounds, it is significant for investigators to put into practice appropriate as well as conservative protection. With such protection this category of compounds can be researched safely in human beings.

Casual research that may lack attention to the distinctive risk profile of psychedelics may not only jeopardize the well-being and safety of research participants, but would also endanger upcoming human research with these scientifically intriguing compounds. In contrast, carefully executed research that values psychedelics’ unique and regularly dominant psychological effects could potentially inform the management of an assortment of psychiatric disorders. It may also lead to considerable advances in the understanding of cognition, perception, the psychology of religion, behavior, as well as the biological foundations of consciousness.

Works Cited

Asher, H. “Trailing phenomenon a long-term LSD consequence”. Am J Psychiatry 137 (2005): pp. 1133–1137. Print.

Beyer, S. Singing to Plants: Mestizo Shamanism in Upper Amazon. N.Y: HarperCollins. 2007. Print.

Boyer, W. “The Serotonin Syndrome”. Journal of Medicine 352 (2007): pp12–20. Print.

Clark, P. New Religions in Universal Perspective. New York: Routledge. 2000. Print.

Faber, A, “Nefazodone-Induced Palinopsia”. Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology

20 (2003): pp 275–276. Print.

Norton, J. “Visual Perceptual Anomalies: Hallucinations & Illusions”. Journal of Medicine 124 (2000): pp12–20. Print.

Richards, W. “Entheogens in Investigating Religious Experiences”. Religion & Health Journal44 (2005): pp 377–389. Print.

Sacks, O. The River of Awareness. New York: Routledge. 2005. Print.

Skinner, P. The Conduct of Organisms. New York: HarperCollins, 2000.Print.

Strassman, K. “Human Psychopharmacology of N, N-Dimethyltryptamine. Behavioral Brain Research Journal of Medicine 32 (2007): pp 45–52. Print.

Topping, D. “Ayahuasca & Cancer: A Man’s Experience”. Psychedelic Studies Bulletin 8.3(2007): pp 22–26. Print.

Winkelman, M. “Spiritual Healing or Drug Tourism? Ayahuasca in Amazonia”. Psychoactive Drugs Journal 37.20. (2010): pp 209–218. Print.

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