Substances

This guide is divided into classic and non-classic psychedelics. It is far from comprehensive. For now, it focuses on the compounds that have been the subject of significant research in recent decades, though BCSP may add compounds to this guide as scientific and academic research continue.

Background on Psychedelics

The term psychedelic was coined in 1956 by the psychiatrist Humphry Osmond to describe the effects of drugs like LSD and mescaline. Osmond chose the Greek psykhē for “mind” and dēloun for “show,” translating this new term as “mind manifesting.” Another term for this class of substances, entheogen, was coined in 1979 and connotes spiritual intention or effects. The older term hallucinogen is still found in some laws and scientific literature.

There are hundreds of psychedelic compounds, and cataloging them is an ever-evolving process. Some of them occur naturally; others are created in the lab. The late chemist Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin estimated he created nearly two hundred new psychedelics, including 2C-B and 2C-T-7, which are phenethylamines, in the same category of chemical structures as mescaline and MDMA.

Classic Psychedelics

Classic psychedelics are grouped together because they all work on serotonin 2A receptors in the brain and central nervous system. Some studies suggest these compounds decrease blood flow to certain brain regions, including the default-mode network, a group of brain regions associated with higher-order metacognition, the construction of the ego, and conceptions of the self.

While conditions like depression and anxiety can reduce functional connectivity between certain brain regions, some research suggests that classic psychedelics can help temporarily rewire the brain and promote neuroplasticity by increasing and strengthening those connections. Several of these substances, including ayahuasca and mescaline, are naturally occurring and have been used as medicines and in spiritual practices for millennia.

Typical Effects of Classic Psychedelics

While they are active in the body, classic psychedelics can bring about visual and auditory distortions or changes; hypersensitivity to touch, light, and sound; an altered or slowed perception of time; synesthesia; and, in rare cases, hallucinations. Classic psychedelics are also associated with mystical-type or spiritual experiences, often marked by a sense of oneness or unity, or a dissolution of ego. These substances can also prompt uncomfortable and even terrifying experiences, including powerful negative emotions, confusion, paranoia, delusions, and dissociation. 

Potential Risks and Benefits of Classic Psychedelics

Classic psychedelics can provide health benefits, especially when used in therapeutic contexts, and can afford meaningful personal, philosophical, or spiritual insights. As a class, they have low-abuse liability—meaning they are virtually nonaddictive—and they have very low organic toxicity (e.g., to the brain or liver). Still, they are not without risks. People under their influence may act in ways harmful to themselves or others, which can lead to injuries or even fatalities. Sometimes the experience can lead to confusion, disturbed mood, or, in rare cases, psychosis that persists after the trip ends.

Classic Psychedelics

Ayahuasca

Read

Classic Psychedelics

DMT

Read

Classic Psychedelics

5-MeO-DMT

Read

Classic Psychedelics

LSD

Read

Classic Psychedelics

Mescaline

Read

Classic Psychedelics

Psilocybin

Read

Non-Classic Psychedelics

This category includes substances whose effect profiles overlap with those of the classic psychedelics but that don’t interact as prominently, or at all, with serotonin 2A receptors in the brain. Instead, these psychedelics interact with other neurotransmitter systems, including dopamine and glutamate, and often have effects outside of the general profile of the classic psychedelics.

Non-Classic Psychedelics

Ibogaine

Read

Non-Classic Psychedelics

Ketamine

Read

Non-Classic Psychedelics

MDMA

Read

Non-Classic Psychedelics

Salvia divinorum

Read

Selected Sources