Myths and Rumors Around Psychedelics

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There are many myths and misconceptions surrounding the use of psychedelic drugs like LSD, MDMA, and psilocybin. The world of psychedelic drugs is constantly changing as scientists continue to research the risks and benefits of using these drugs in clinical settings and for health purposes.

Much of the misinformation about psychedelics comes from media campaigns in response to the War on Drugs, which was enacted in 1970 when President Richard Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). The CSA assigned psychedelic drugs such as LSD and MDMA as Schedule 1 drugs, which are defined as “drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

All Schedule 1 drugs are currently illegal in the United States for use outside of research purposes. As programs like the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program became popular in the 80s and 90s, misinformation was shared in zero-tolerance educational programs and in the media. This caused fear and rumors to spread about the dangers of psychedelic drugs.

Here are some common psychedelic drug myths and rumors.

MYTH: “Psychedelics are party drugs.”

Psychedelics such as LSD and MDMA have gotten a reputation as “club drugs” used by party goers looking for a good time. And while street drugs like ecstacy and molly are certainly used recreationally by some, many “club drugs” are not actually psychedelics in their pure form. For example, ecstacy and molly are often cut with other substances, meaning they most often aren’t pure MDMA.

In contrast to recreational use of drugs like ecstasy and molly, MDMA in its pure form has been used in clinical studies alongside psychotherapy for the treatment of a number of disorders, including PTSD, social anxiety, and anxiety around end-of-life illnesses. Additionally, LSD has been studied as a potential treatment option for those who struggle with alcohol and drug addiction.

MYTH: “All psychedelics are addictive.”

The notion that all psychedelic drugs are addictive is untrue. Contrary to the “try it once and you’ll be hooked” myth that surrounds many Schedule 1 drugs, most psychedelics are non-addictive in healthy people. For example, LSD is not considered an addictive drug because it doesn’t cause uncontrollable drug-seeking behaviors. Many users of LSD report an intense experience that may cause people to use the drug less often. Similarly, psilocybin is also not considered to be addictive for the same reason.

There have been few studies on the addictive nature of MDMA, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse notes that the few studies that have been done produced widely varying results. MDMA does affect many of the same neurotransmitters in the brain that are affected by other addictive drugs. In those who did report signs of addiction, some cited withdrawal symptoms including fatigue, loss of appetite, depression, and trouble concentrating.

MYTH: “LSD (Acid) will put holes in your brain.”

This myth is simply not supported by science. It has also been said that LSD and other psychedelic drugs can kill brain cells. Many studies are being done on the effects of LSD on the brain, and while we do know that LSD is a hallucinogen that affects levels of serotonin and dopamine and can alter one’s state of waking consciousness, no severe adverse effects have been reported in modern LSD studies. LSD has been shown to be relatively physiologically safe, especially when compared to drugs in the amphetamine class of drugs, or other Schedule 1 drugs considered to be narcotics.

MYTH: “All people who use psychedelic drugs have similar experiences.”

Different drugs produce different effects on the brain, and the same drug can have different effects on different people. Likewise, psychedelic drugs can have different effects on a person based on their mindset and physical surroundings at the time they take  the drug. One could have a perfectly pleasant experience with psilocybin or MDMA and then have a bad trip the next time they use the drug. How psychedelics will affect a person relies heavily on “set and setting”; that is, the physical environment in which they choose to take the drug as well as their mindset and what they expect to gain from the experience.

The “Psychedelics are ‘all-natural’” Myth.

Psychedelics, or hallucinogens, by definition, are a class of psychoactive substances that produce changes in perception, mood, and cognitive processes. But not all psychedelic drugs are the same.

Ayahuasca, which is typically brewed into a tea made from the Banisteriopsis caapi vine, is a naturally occurring substance.

Psilocybin is another naturally occurring substance that can be found in many species of mushrooms, which is where psilocybin gets its nickname “magic mushrooms.” Other hallucinogenic drugs are either synthetically made or are synthetically altered from their natural state. LSD, for example, is a synthetic substance made from ergot, which is a fungus that infects rye.

The “MDMA (ecstasy) will make you have better sex” Myth.

MDMA is commonly known as ecstacy or “the love drug.” With a name like “the love drug,” one might think its effects include intensely pleasurable sexual experiences. And while a person may have a positive sexual experience while taking MDMA, others have reported experiencing sexual impairment.

Most users of MDMA report that they expressed different types of loving feelings—openness, sensuality, and closeness to one’s partner. Like many other psychedelic drugs, set and setting play a role in the drug’s effects.

What You Need to Know

The use of psychedelics is not new. In fact, in 2019 scientists discovered evidence of ayahuasca being used in what is now southwestern Bolivia over 1,000 years ago. However, with the increase in research over the last several decades, as well as the rise of social media popularity (and along with it the increase in circulation of false information), it’s important to do proper research before considering the use of any psychedelic drugs, whether in a recreational setting or for medicinal purposes. In short, don’t believe everything you hear, and always make informed decisions around drug use.

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