Psychedelic drugs; from mysticism to psychotherapy

Psychedelic drugs; from mysticism to psychotherapy

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It is absurd to ask the gods what each one is capable of procuring for himself.. ”Epicurus of Samos (341 B.C. -270 B.C.)

Faith is the antiseptic of the soul. Walt Withman (1819-1892)


The use of drugs with recreational (hedonistic), spiritual (enterogenic) or curative (therapeutic) effects is not a recent strategy of the human being. Currently a transdisciplinary approach to achieve a better understanding of the effects of psychedelic drugs on the brain and in the body. With the hope that at some point they will know each other more and their full potential can be exploited: mystical, curative or therapeutic.

An interesting epistemological aspect is that science ceased to be exclusive to a single discipline and today scientists work with a multidisciplinary approach. Thus, the effects of psychedelic drugs include elements: physical, chemical, electrical, physiological, psychological, biological, social, economic, much technology and more, which are analyzed by a wide variety of people, also with a transdisciplinary approach.


  • 1 The use of technology at the service of science
  • 2 Research on psychedelic drugs
  • 3 Types of psychedelic drugs and therapeutic uses
  • 4 What happens inside the brain that is given a psychedelic drug?
  • 5 Final reflection

The use of technology at the service of science

Through the neuroimaging techniques you can study the brain with great detail, both in terms of structure and brain function, ”as Richard Haier, Neuroscientist, of the Mind Research Network, Univ. New Mexico points out (We can read the mind, 2011).

These techniques generate "maps" of the brains of living people by examining their electrical activity, structure, blood flow and chemistry (Cunningham et al, 2003). In the chemistry of our body, the Functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) measures the metabolic activity of the brain in different regions, revealing which parts are more active in social tasks such as speaking or listening to others, observing social interactions and thinking about oneself (Iacoboni et al, 2004). An interesting characteristic of the blood is used in a functional MRI. The iron atom that hemoglobin possesses, the pigment that stains the blood red. The more blood reaches a region of the brain, the more iron, which disturbs the magnetic field generated by the magnet of the magnetic resonance apparatus. That disturbance caused by the iron in our blood is measured and it follows that areas of the brain are more active: the visual region, the auditory, the motor, etc. (Ask Punset, 2013).

Functional magnetic resonance imaging can take a picture every half second, but it is slow compared to the super brain activity that processes many signals per second. There are other techniques to observe the brain in vivo: positron emission tomography, electroencephalograms, magnetic electroencephalography, and HPLC (Liquid chromatography of various types).

An avant-garde technique that adds to the previous ones is the SPECT, acronym for "Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography". It is a complex technique that allows us to obtain images on the functioning of different brain regions, the result is a third dimension image. "It is a technology that combines a type of electromagnetic radiation, electric and magnetic fields" (Delgado, 2016).

Research of psychedelic drugs

There have been several examples of famous people who, in one way or another, casuistically opened the way to enter into drugs and take them to their therapeutic use. I cite two examples that to my liking are the most representative of this topic:

  • Sigmund Freud (1856-1939): product of the discoveries of the German pharmacist Friedrich W. A. ​​Sertürner, was the first person to extract essence of opium, what is now known as morphine, a potent opioid drug that is used as an analgesic and generates addiction. In his paradox, and for his part, the father of psychoanalysis, while still engaged in the practice of neurology, became interested in the use and consumption of cocaine, which he called the "magic drug" and introduced it to European medicine. The he used it to "unlock the tongue", he supposed it was the life elixir. He prescribed it to patients, friends and even his girlfriend Martita, who later became his wife. He also used it as an antagonist to cure morphine dependence. He sent samples to his colleagues. The best known case was that of his friend, an eye doctor named Karl Koller, who after diluting it in water, put it inside his eye to relieve pain. The result as an analgesic was effective for his friend who continued to use it to relieve the pain in his eye and jokingly is known as Dortor Coca Koller. The effectiveness of cocaine as an analgesic is due to the fact that it numbs the nerves and prevents them from sending pain signals. "Opioids are great pain relievers, but they have significant side effects, from constipation and vomiting, to addiction and, if they depress your breathing, death" (BBC News, 2019).
  • Albert Hofman (1906-2008): It was the Swiss chemist who synthesized LSD for the first time. Interestingly, the chemical structure of LSD is very similar to that of serotonin (it is also known as the happiness hormone, as it increases feelings of well-being, relaxation and satisfaction). “In the following years scientists investigated molecules with similar properties; in mushrooms, cacti, including peyote cactus and tropical plants that are used for the ayahuasca psychoactive drink. LSD, psilocybin, and DMT are known as classic hallucinogens ”(The Mind, 2019). The first documented account of LSD is a very important reference and corresponds to it Albert HofmanOn April 19, 1943, after returning from his laboratory to his home and the product of a tiny dose of 250 micrograms, he caused: vertigo, fear, visual disturbances, paralysis, desire to laugh. The field of vision oscillated and was distorted like a curved mirror. Without having proposed it, I report the effects of this potent drug. In another part of the story he describes: “little by little, I began to enjoy a succession of unprecedented colors and shapes with my eyes closed. Fantastic images that transformed like a kaleidoscope appeared in me, opened and closed in circles and spirals, and exploded as sources of color, rearranged and mixed in a constant flow. Even the noises were transformed into optical sensations. The noise of a car that passed without stopping became a vivid and changing image of shapes and colors (Schaarschmidt, 2019, p. 38).

Subsequently the folly comments of psychologist Timothy Leary, guru of the hippie movement on the use of LSD, put this drug in disrepute and earned him a place on the list of prohibited drugs. As well as all the prohibitions for its use, for being described as a counterculture drug. For decades it remained in ostracism and with a very bad reputation to be used as a remedy; therapeutic, medical or psychotherapy.

Since 2014 the use in research with psychedelic drugs, has returned with more than 30 studies with neuroimaging techniques where the effect of these drugs on the brain is investigated. Most are carried out in Britain, Switzerland and Spain. One of the scientists Robin Carhart-Harris, psychologist and director of the psychedelic working group of the Imperial College of LondonHe seems especially delighted with the new possibilities ... He places high hopes on psychedelic substances: through his use he intends to create a new model of human consciousness (Schaarschmidt, 2019, p. 38).

Types of psychedelic drugs and therapeutic uses

There are different hallucinogenic drugs capable of producing multiple experiences; medicinal, psychedelic (which excite the senses), for some spiritual or hallucinogenic, which have also been used in psychotherapeutic treatments namely:

  • LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide): has properties hallucinogenic and psychoactive (that is, it alters conscious activity, memory, emotions, moods, and perceptions).
    • It can produce a good trip: pleasant, stimulating, like feeling floating, with much joy, flashbacks, sensations of "déjà vu" or reviviscences and with extremely clear thoughts. Pleasant travels are believed to depend on the positive mood and positive intentionality of encountering positive responses or wanting to experience a positive mystical experience, it would be the equivalent of taking a trip inside oneself to find the answers to our problems. From this last paragraph comes the reason for placing the phrase of Epicurus of Samos at the beginning of this article.
    • It can produce a bad trip: unpleasant and frightening, it passes from a pleasant emotion to a frightening, the forms of objects are altered, thoughts of fatality, pessimism and death, of damaging or harming other people and may include synesthesia or cross-linking of the senses ; feel or hear flavors or taste colors, or see sounds (Medline, 2019). Both experiences can be presented (good and bad trip). LSD microdoses can improve productivity (Méndez, 2017). It is believed that bad trips depend on the patient's negative mood and also a negative environment when the experience is lived.
    • In its therapeutic use it has been used in the treatment of patients with depression and as a complement to psychotherapy, in people with anxiety and in medicine in terminal patients.
  • Ketamine: has properties; hallucinogenic, dissociative, analgesic and anesthetic.
    • Its therapeutic use has been used in the treatment of patients with Bipolar disorder and in people with major depression (Ketamina, 2019). As well as in the treatment of acute and chronic pain.
  • Psilocybin: alkaloid found in numerous species of fungi or magic mushrooms (Approximately 200, an iconic reference in Mexico, were the mystical experiences with the indigenous Mazarian from Oaxaca, María Sabina and the hallucinogenic mushrooms, she called them “holy children”), is used in a playful or spiritual way, especially in ritualistic contexts and shamanic or psychedelic therapies. At the end of the 50s, Albert Hofman, managed to isolate psilocybin in his laboratory and create it synthetically. It can produce sensory hallucinations and a distortion of time how to enter a temporary loop, go around in the past and present (Alchimia, 2019).
    • Its therapeutic use has been used in the treatment of patients with the anxiety and depression of patients with advanced cancer (NIH, S / F). Especially with this type of cancer patients and their anxiety for death, after a few sessions of therapy and a single capsule of psilocybin the anxiety disappears and produces an effect of happiness and peace, able to last up to six months in some patients. The same effect has resulted with some patients. smokers They quit smoking for a year. With patients depressive This condition disappeared (The Mind, 2019). It has also been used in the treatment of addictions (alcoholism), obsessive compulsive disorders, migraines and headaches.
  • Ecstasy (MDAM): is a synthetic hallucinogen used at the psychological and psychiatric level. It produces an energizing effect, distorts sensory and temporal perception and makes sensory experiences more deeply enjoyed (NIH, 2017).
    • Its therapeutic use has been used in patients to increase their kindness, increases trust in others, produces joy and feelings of love in patients who have little social contact and increases empathy and sociability, increases self-pity and reduces self-criticism (Méndez, 2017).
  • Ayahuasca (yagué or master plant): is a hallucinogenic, psychoactive. It is a drug used for centuries by South American indigenous societies. "It is a mixture of two plants - the ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) and a shrub called chacruna (Psychotria viridis), which contains the hallucinogen dimethyltryptamine (DMT)" (Thelwell, 2014).
    • Its therapeutic use has been used with patients who present addictions and dependence (cocaine, alcohol and tobacco).
  • DMT (N, N-dimethyltryptamine), known as the molecule of God: is a psychoactive drug, hallucinogenic (psychotropic or psychedelic), which produces hallucinations (Guzmán, 2019) is very powerful and is produced naturally in the formation of the fetus (birth), in death, in the states of deep meditation. The pineal gland is responsible for producing it.
    • Its therapeutic use is common in patients with depression and schizophrenia.

What happens inside the brain that is given a psychedelic drug?

The current work in the laboratory when analyzing the brain continues to show us completely unsuspected routes that were not known a few decades ago, although we are still learning more about this interesting organ, some findings about it are described, some found by the psychologist Carhat-Harris and others discovered by diverse researchers, today we know that with the use of psychedelic drugs:

  • Neurons behave in all areas of the brain structure, almost completely chaotic. They have a chemical, magnetic and electrical disorder or entropy, as has been observed with modern neuroimaging techniques.
  • Chaotic behavior or entropy at the brain level, it reveals the degree of consciousness or not that we can have in control of our actions and leads people to feel that they are not themselves, is a kind of depersonalization, as if we lived in a set set where we ourselves are not ourselves.
  • Trips can be positive or negative. Reactions occur; biological (poisoning, e.g.), physiological (vomiting, e.g.), psychological (depersonalization, e.g.) and behavioral (hurting or harming another person, e.g.) generally different from those we have in everyday life.
  • The cognitive distortions are diverse, the alteration of the senses can be accompanied by a synesthesia or sensory overlap, where an auditory stimulus causes an olfactory response, or a visual stimulus causes a gustatory response. Which comes to be interpreted as a psychedelic, magical, mystical, paranoid, spiritual, religious, stressful or supernatural experience. This can be positive or negative.
  • The disorder or entropy at the brain level accounts for a phenomenon analyzed in physics called criticality or criticality, that is, they are disorganized microsystems, in this case each of the areas of the brain, with some degree of disorder, but corresponding to the manifestation of a single event, the distortion of the degree of consciousness produced by the consumption of some psychedelic drug . Even in the disorder there is a certain connection between the systems, so there is an overlap of areas that leads to distorted sensory and cognitive manifestations. And all of them correspond to the same event or event, in physics it is known as self-organized criticality.

Final reflection

It is revealing and at the same time disturbing the work in neurosciences with psychedelic drugs in the field of the mystical, but also in the therapeutic, to help heal some mental disorders, addictions or diseases where other drugs have not been successful.

The taboo for experimenting with psychedelic drugs with the support of new neuroimaging techniques and current technology, reopens a light to extract the compounds of nature that can be put at the service of science to cure, prevent or alleviate disorders mental diseases and diseases that afflict us human beings. Transdisciplinary and multidisciplinary work is an interesting opportunity area to share knowledge and achieve new goals in scientific work. Understanding new paradigms such as self-organized criticality is essential to see the events of nature with a revolutionary approach, epistemologically speaking.


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