History of Hallucinogens

Hallucinogens have been around for a long time. In 2008 hallucinogenic paraphernalia was discovered by a couple of archeologists on the island of Carriacou. The paraphernalia looked like a bowl with two tubes that fit with nostrils. These types of bowls were dated back to 400 BC. 400 BC was a lot earlier than when we previously thought hallucinogenic use dated back to in history. This was a legitimately interesting breakthrough in the history of hallucinogens.

Mescaline, which was one of the first psychedelic compounds to be isolated, didn’t come into the picture until 1888. In 1897 the discovery of mescaline from peyote was published along with the interesting information on its psychoactive properties. Mescaline was more intentionally isolated and therefore discovered, while LSD on the other hand was accidentally encountered. In 1938 the Swiss chemist Albert Hoffmann created LSD while working at Sandoz (the drug company) without knowing what it was or what it was capable of. Roughly five years after it had been created he accidentally ingested some of it. This was the first acid trip ever experienced and he ended up documenting it before intentionally tripping three days later in order to really find out what LSD could do to the mind.

Prior to the recreational use of LSD came the medical use of it if you can imagine that. This is known as therapeutic psychedelia and was used by psychiatrists often for a good sum of money (roughly $100 per acid trip). Although silly in concept, this was actually a common form of therapy in the ’50’s. Around this time Cary Grant, an old Hollywood actor, was supposedly a huge fan of LSD, as was Timothy Leary (a Harvard professor). There were other big names that seemed to find the psychedelic high from LSD attractive. Some of these people were Sidney Lumet (director), Jack Nicholson (actor), James Coburn (actor), Rita Moreno (actress), Aldous Huxley (novelist) and Alan Watts (philosopher) as well as many others. There was quite a diversity of famous or well-known users at the time. This became a very popular drug by the ’60’s. This was the initial era of psychedelic/hallucinogenic drug use. Another drug of this variety was mushrooms, which also became widely used recreationally at the time (mid 1950’s to be more precise).

Throughout history hallucinogens have been used for religious and supernatural rituals by a variety of cultures. The Hindus used Soma (a holy substance derived from a hallucinogenic mushroom) according to the Hindu Holy book. The Aztecs used teotlaqualli (a paste from a hallucinogenic flower) in rituals. They applied this paste on their skin which caused an altered mental state. This ritual was done in order to honor the Aztec God. Then there was Peyote (the hallucinogen containing mescaline) that was used by Mexican Indians for sacred rituals.

Hallucinogenic Mushrooms

Hallucinogenic (psilocybin) mushrooms have been around for a long time. There are ancient stones, carvings, pictures and sculptures of mushrooms dating back to 1000 B.C. The consensus is that these mushrooms been around for longer than the human race. Using these psychedelic mushrooms were common fro the purpose of religious practices in Central and South America until Catholicism was spread by Spanish settlers, resulting in the use of these mushrooms to be prohibited. Per the Indians these mushrooms are in actuality able to propel someone into the sprit world.

Why Have Hallucinogens Been So Popular Throughout Their History

As you can see, a history of hallucinogens is pretty rich and they’ve been around for a long time. These psychedelic drugs have been attractive to large populations of people since 1000 B.C. It’s no news that most of these hallucinogens are said to enhance spiritual awareness and awakening by some individuals (especially hippie users). The popularity of drugs of the hallucinogenic variety goes to show why these have been widespread in the past. Hallucinogens can be viewed as the ultimate escape as far as drugs are concerned, because they change the way you think, the way you act and sometimes even your perceptions of what’s going on right in front of you altogether.

Pretty much every hallucinogen contains nitrogen and are technically alkaloids. The chemical structures of these types of drugs are not unlike that of neurotransmitters. Part of the way that these drugs work are by binding to the neurotransmitter receptor sites. While hallucinogens have been used for many centuries, they still remain popular. There are many theories as to why this is. The main reason lies within the fact that the effects are routinely strong and intense in comparison to other drugs. This can cause problems in the brain though, especially in terms of long term use. Over time, the person can feel depleted of the necessary amount and share of serotonin and dopamine in particular. This could create negative effects in the long run. Short term wise you can see how this could be an addictive factor. The person comes across a severe low from such a strong and intensified high of the drug that they just want more of the drug later on. These keeps the user in the vicious cycle of using. The user, having been electrified by the intense high, will naturally spread the word. It’s mostly word of mouth that really triggers a widespread use of drugs.

Hallucinogens contain potent mood-changing chemicals. This can commonly cause somebody to see or hear or feel things which in reality aren’t there. This isn’t always the case but has been known to happen on many occasions and is quite a common effect. This has a powerful and dangerous aspect to the drug though. Sometimes while somebody’s tripping they can act violently or aggressively even though the reality doesn’t call for such actions. This can get the user who is tripping into trouble or danger pretty easily. Not everyone reacts the same to these drugs, and bio-individuality is definitely something to take into consideration.

It depends on which specific hallucinogen is being ingested, but a trip can last for a pretty long time. If taking LSD the trip can last up to 12 whole hours. When taking peyote a trip can last up to 12 hours as well. Psilocybin can cause a trip that lasts up to 6 hours. And PCP lasts around 4 to 6 hours.

To give you an idea of hallucinogens more recent popularity, the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that more than 1.1 million people over the age of 12 had used hallucinogens of some kind over the last year. In 2013 over 24.8 million people over age 12 said they used LSD and more than 1.1 million had used it in the past year. The statistic of LSD use, though only slightly, is on the rise generally trend-wise. In 2013 6.5 million people over age 12 said they had used PCP and 90,000 had used PCP in the past year.

By Robert O. Newman II, ICDAC, ICPS, CIP