Psychedelics drugs are making a major comeback, and attracting mainstream attention, with more than one on the brink of legalization. Psychedelics have shown the ability for mind expansion, in a way that promotes better mental health on many fronts. But while medical psychedelics are the focus of the above-board world, party drugs are still quite popular, representing the other side of psychedelics.
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A bit about psychedelic drugs
Psychedelic drugs are a subset of hallucinogens, which fall under the category of psychoactive drugs. Unlike other drugs in the ‘psychoactive’ category, hallucinogens cause people to experience things that don’t actually exist, like seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, or feeling something that isn’t real. Psychedelics are also known for producing other effects, like spiritual experiences, feelings of connectedness between people and the universe, euphoria, and feelings of well-being.
Psychedelics are known for altering mood, perception, and cognitive abilities. They are also known for producing life-changing experiences, in which users have insightful encounters into life and consciousness. These drugs can be found in nature, like with magic mushrooms and DMT, or made in a laboratory like acid, MDMA, or ketamine.
Though psychedelics have been found to be generally safe, and not a factor for death and disability, it is possible to have bad experiences with them. Often called a ‘bad trip’, a user can experience negative hallucinations, as well as physical symptoms like nausea and vomiting, chills, erratic heartbeat, raised blood pressure, dizziness, anxiety, and paranoia. Getting the dose correct is important for these drugs, with proper dosing correcting the majority of these issues. Other factors play in as well, like where the drug is being taken.
Psychedelics have been around for a long time, and researchers have found evidence of psychedelic use in different parts of Mesoamerica, as well as the Near East, among other locations. In Mesoamerica, drugs like ayahuasca, psilocybin from magic mushrooms, and bufotoxins from toad skin, were used among other compounds, by different tribes including the Olmecs, Mayans, Aztecs, and Zapotecs. In the near East, Viper’s Bugloss was found in the Kamid el-Loz Temple in Lebanon, as well as Blue Water Lily extract, which was found in none other than Tutankhamun’s tomb. The former is a potent hallucinogen, and the latter is a narcotic with psychedelic properties.
Party drugs – a different side of psychedelics
The thing about substances that make a person feel good, connected to other people and the universe, spiritual, and with heightened and altered perception, is that it can lead to mind-expanding experiences. But it can also lead to simply wanting to feel good.
This is the case with drugs like MDMA (or its less pure form, ecstasy), and ketamine, among others. In the same way that some people use the drugs to find spiritual or personal clarity in their lives, some people use them to have intense experiences at parties, or with others. Since most of the drugs used for this purpose are synthetic, they’re often dubbed, ‘designer drugs’, or ‘club drugs’. Other drugs like GHB, LSD, cocaine and amphetamine are also included in the category of ‘club drugs’.
The trend of party drugs in the form of psychedelics got big in the rave scene of the 1980s, spurred on by the growing popularity of rave events, EDM parties, and the general dance club scene. Since ‘club drugs’ can encompass different classes of drugs, legalization policies are specific to each drug. While psychedelics don’t pose the same risk as drugs like cocaine or amphetamine, where overdose and death are possible, psychedelics like MDMA have been known to cause dehydration due to all night partying without enough water consumption. This seems to be the biggest complaint.
What is ecstasy?
Ecstasy is interesting because it’s one of the most popular party drugs of the psychedelic variety, but actually denotes nothing more than an impure form of MDMA, one of the up-and-coming medical psychedelics. The names can be interchangeable, including the term ‘molly’, but ecstasy can also mean non-pure versions wherein the MDMA is mixed with other chemicals, leading to lower purity, and possible side effects from the added compounds.
Whether pure or not, and regardless of the name used, the basis for anything with one of those names, is 3,4 methylenedioxymethamphetamine. This compound is not naturally occurring, and was created in a laboratory in 1912 by Merck Pharmaceutical, and patented in 1914, in an attempt to create a medication to stop bleeding. It wasn’t well understood until way later in the 1970’s when chemist Alexander Shulgin found a new way to synthesize the compound, which led to him experimenting on himself along with some close friends.
Around this time, it started being used the way LSD had, as a part of psychedelic-assisted therapy. Even though it showed usefulness for psychiatric issues back then, it was promptly illegalized in 1985 with Reagan’s Comprehensive Crime Control Act, which ended all therapeutic uses of the drug.
The compound was investigated by the CIA and the US army during the cold war, for use as a psychological weapon. The CIA started the program MK-Ultra to investigate psychedelics like MDMA for mind control purposes. The project was known for experimenting on non-consenting subjects.
Somewhere along the way, it entered the party scene. In a way, it’s similar to THC-O-Acetate, which was also a part of secret military studies, and which also randomly appeared as a street drug around the time of this military testing. Though this doesn’t mean it was put out by the military, (perhaps as a secondary ‘street study’), it certainly implies the possibility, and the same can be said for the appearance of MDMA and other psychedelics.
Somehow these compounds which the government felt the need to do highly secretive, and often non-consenting testing on, all appeared on the street without any kind of information or market behind them. By the 1980’s ecstasy was being called out in a San Francisco Chronicle article as being “the yuppie psychedelic.” It received this name because it was thought of as being slightly less intense and dangerous, as the already popular LSD.
In 2017, MDMA was given the ‘breakthrough therapy’ designation by the FDA, for PTSD treatments. This designation came at the request of the organization MAPS (Multi-Disciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies), as that is how these designations are assigned. MAPS is currently in phase III of trials using MDMA for PTSD, in which these 3rd trials were planned in conjunction with the FDA, to ensure that study results meet all regulation.
While MDMA is one of the current leading compounds when it comes to medical psychedelics, it’s also one of the most popular party drugs of both psychedelics and other classes, making it popular both for those who want spiritual and mind-enhancing experiences, and those who want to get-down all night.
The legality of psychedelics
Psychedelics are generally illegal in the US, and the rest of the world. They sit in Schedule I of the Convention on Psychotropic Substances, though in many cases when it comes to natural forms, like magic mushrooms, the laws are inconsistent, often illegalizing the compounds inside (psilocybin and psilocin), but leaving the mushrooms themselves as legal. The Convention came into effect in 1971.
For its part, the US began its smear campaign against psychedelics in the 1960’s, using the drugs as a way to redirect attention from the Vietnam war, and the senseless violence and mounting deaths that came from it. In 1968, the Staggers-Dodd bill was passed which specifically illegalized LSD and psilocybin. This was followed up in 1970 by the inclusion of multiple substances in Schedule I of the DEA’s Controlled Substances list via the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act. A year later it was followed up again internationally by the Convention on Psychotropic Substances.
This was stepped up a notch in 1984 when then-president Ronald Reagan, signed into legislation the Comprehensive Crime Control Act which allowed for the emergency banning of drugs by the government. What did this do? The following year, when the topic of MDMA came up, it was able to be immediately illegalized, without medical research, or anything else. When this happened, it went against a judicial decision to allow MDMA as a Schedule II substance. Funny enough, MDMA is one of the drugs getting close to a medical legalization today.
To give an idea of the real nature of why these illegalizations happened, in 1994, the following statement came from John Ehrlichman, the guy who had served as the Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs under former president Nixon. He said this about the war on drugs and why it was being fought:
“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
Things do change however, and esketamine was legalized in 2019 as the first non-monoamine anti-depressant, which works so quickly, it was even cleared for suicidal thoughts in 2020, a diagnosis that would require a very fast-acting medication. Along with that, the compound DXM can be found in cough medicines all over the country, requiring nothing at all to buy, not even being 18 years old, (or at least not in any kind of enforced way). Both Psilocybin from magic mushrooms and MDMA have been identified with the aforementioned ‘breakthrough therapy’ title by the FDA, a designation given to compounds being studied by companies, that present a possibly better alternative to current treatments. This designation is meant specifically to speed up products to market.
When we talk about the possible legalization of MDMA, this only covers medical use. The idea that party drugs would be legalized just because medical psychedelics are, is unfortunately, not the case. The party drugs scene will almost certainly continue, likely spurred on by any legalization that might occur, but it will remain below-board, as part of the black market scene. Will this change in the future? Perhaps. Some places like Denver, and the state of Oregon, have decriminalized psychedelic use. Other states like Michigan and California, are already introducing recreational policies. These laws may not go though, but with esketamine legal medically, and psilocybin and MDMA on the way, the world is definitely becoming a way more psychedelic place.
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Disclaimer: Hi, I’m a researcher and writer. I’m not a doctor, lawyer, or businessperson. All information in my articles is sourced and referenced, and all opinions stated are mine. I am not giving anyone advise, and though I am more than happy to discuss topics, should someone have a further question or concern, they should seek guidance from a relevant professional.