Scientists are increasingly hopeful that certain types of psychedelic drugs will one day be approved for medical purposes like treating depression and anxiety.
But what defines a psychedelic (or hallucinogen, as they are also known)? How is it different from other drugs like cocaine or alcohol? And what makes a "trip" on one psychedelic — like acid, for example — distinct from a trip on another? Read on to find out.
1. Psychedelics are the ultimate party drug.
The myth: Ecstasy (MDMA), acid (LSD), and magic mushrooms (psilocybin) are frequently portrayed as "recreational" or party drugs.
Why it's bogus: Many scientists believe this label is unwarranted. Patients with cancer who have participated in clinical trials of psilocybin (the psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms) describe their psychedelic trip as anything but recreational. In most cases, these trips bring up feelings of panic, anxiety, and fear — feelings that eventually subside and are replaced by what appear to be lasting, positive personality changes. Some people describe being more optimistic about life; others say they've experienced a complete change in perspective that's allowed them to improve their relationships.
2. They're "all natural."
The myth: It's often assumed that hallucinogenic drugs like LSD, as opposed to stimulants like cocaine, are derived from nature.
Why it's bogus: While two hallucinogenic drugs — magic mushrooms and ayahuasca* — can be found naturally, LSD is made synthetically and usually processed into strips that can be absorbed by placing them on the tongue.
*Ayahuasca is brewed from the macerated and boiled vines of the Banisteriopsis caapi (yage) plant and the Psychotria viridis (chacruna) leaf, and it has been used for centuries as a traditional spiritual medicine in ceremonies among the indigenous peoples of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.
3: Psychedelics will always make you "trip."
The myth: If you take a hallucinogen, you will experience what's known as a "trip," which involves hallucinations that may include things like seeing sounds or hearing colors.
Why it's bogus: Most recent studies of psychedelics focus on "trip treatment" — essentially giving someone what's considered a "full" dose of psychedelics.
But as this important research has gained steam, so too has another trend that has not yet been studied: microdosing. Microdosing involves taking tiny doses of psychedelic drugs that are too small to induce a trip. Still, while people in Silicon Valley and elsewhere claim to be using microdosing to increase their productivity, it's impossible to say if these anecdotal reports are legitimate without further research.