Psychedelic Substances


    In News

    • Psychedelic drugs are emerging in research as promising ways to treat treatment-resistant depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

    What are Psychedelics ?

    • Psychedelics are a group of drugs that alter perception, mood, and thought-processing while a person is still clearly conscious. Usually, the person’s insight also remains unimpaired. 
    • They are non-addictive, non-toxic and compared to illicit drugs, they are less harmful to the end user. 
    • In India, the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act 1985 prohibits the use of psychedelic substances. Ketamine, a dissociative anaesthetic with psychedelic properties, is used under strict medical supervision, for anaesthesia and treatment-resistant depression.

    History of psychedelics?

    • A psychiatrist named Humphrey Osmond first used the term ‘psychedelic’ in 1957. The word is derived from the Greek words psyche, meaning ‘mind’, and deloun, meaning ‘to manifest’. 
    • Between 1947 and 1967, LSD was widely used as a therapeutic catalyst in psychotherapy.  Around this time, medical concerns and the Vietnam War prompted the criminalisation of the use of psychedelics and other psychoactive drugs. 
    • Media campaigns in the 1960s and 1970s further stigmatised the use of all psychoactive drugs.

    How does it work? 

    • Users of psychedelic substances report changes in perception, somatic experience, mood, thought-processing, and entheogenic experiences. An intriguing phenomenon called synaesthesia may occur, where the sensory modalities cross and the user may ‘hear colour’ or ‘see sounds’.
    • Modern neuroimaging suggests that psychedelics are neither stimulants nor depressants of brain activity. Instead, they increase the cross-talk between different brain networks, and this correlates with the subjective effects of psychedelics.

    Can such substances cause harm?

    • Death due to direct toxicity of LSD, psilocybin or mescaline has not been reported despite 50-plus years of recreational use. An overdose requires cardiac monitoring and supportive management.
    • The psychological effects of psychedelics depend on the interaction between the drug and the user’s mindset (together called a set), and the environmental setting. 
    • People with a personal or family history of psychosis are strongly discouraged from experimenting with psychedelics.

    Way Ahead

    • Although recent findings are encouraging, there remains uncertainty about where the psychedelic renaissance will take us. 
    • Psychedelic substances provide an intriguing avenue through which one can probe the broader constructs of creativity, spirituality, and consciousness, aside from their therapeutic effects.