The Dangers of Popularizing Psychedelics

So much good news from trusted sources about psychedelics today has really made the topic part of the zeitgeist of a world looking for help, as we all struggle to deal with many mental health and wellness issues within the context of a worldwide pandemic showing new signs of continuing.

Psychedelics can adjust mood, enlighten thinking, and treat untreatable mental illness, according to most media reporting. Some psychedelics, like MDMA, also known as the club drug ecstasy, and “magic” mushrooms, have been powering the party scene for years

Now the word is that these psychedelics are more than just party drugs, and are being studied as good medicine, taking a long run through clinical trials. 

A party drug being used to treat depression sounds wrong to most people. But depending on how bad their depression is, most people with depression are willing to give it a try—right now. When suffering from depression or PTSD or any of the growing list of ailments that researchers are able to successfully treat with psychedelics, why wait for FDA approval that won’t happen until years of clinical trials are completed, which will finally allow a psychedelics-derived drug that your doctor can legally prescribe? 

If more and more highly qualified researchers and world-famous academic institutions are saying psychedelics are good for you, why wait for them to provide the kind of medical data that is needed to prove it as both effective and safe? It’s been a (relatively) safe party drug for years. What’s the holdup?

The reality is that it doesn’t take long to find psychedelics on the black market: LSD, MDMA, and psilocybin mushrooms are generally available from the same sources where you get your black market cannabis. Plus, psilocybin mushrooms can be easily grown at home with some home grow kits for under $100. 

“Magic” mushrooms are being discussed as a sort of cannabis-plus experience—easy to grow, fun to consume, a great party favor for all, safe, cool, available. Yet all that hype built on the desire to find another level of party buzz spells danger.

About 147 million people, or 2.5% of the world population, consume cannabis, a natural psychoactive plant. But psychedelics can powerfully alter perception, mood, and a host of cognitive processes in a much more profound way than cannabis does. Your first experience after ingesting a “magic” mushroom could be traumatic, even psychotic if you happen to have other psychological issues.

But hey, why not do a few grams of a psilocybin mushroom and experience that “magic” transformation? No worse than getting drunk, right?

One study concluded that a significant number of Americans are already “self-medicating” with psilocybin mushrooms. “As growing positive media coverage of psychedelics drives public interest in the health benefits of psilocybin mushrooms, this number will increase,” the study found.

Part of the perception about psilocybin as just another party substance is that a number of cities and states in the U.S. have decriminalized psychedelics (usually just psilocybin). But this wave of psychedelic decriminalization is not being accompanied by evidence-based regulation, according to the study.

Some industry observers believe that there’s a generational shift underway from recreational cannabis (legal in 19 states plus D.C.) to recreational psilocybin mushrooms (still illegal everywhere in the U.S.) as a sort of bonus buzz, popularizing them as never before.

And the marketing confusion instigated by both old and start-up mushroom product developers leads some to believe that psilocybin mushrooms are safe… good to dump in your morning coffee… OK to take before bedtime. 

But wait a minute: Those mushroom products crowding shelves in your local grocery stores are not psychoactive mushrooms, but instead just a marketing gimmick playing on what is reported to be the effects of psilocybin. 

You may be getting a buzz of some sort, but you are not tripping, even if the packaging and marketing still lead you to believe that is what is happening with these mushroom products.

Then there is the often misleading legalization of psilocybin. Recreational psilocybin (or adult use) as it’s being developed in Oregon and (probably soon) in Colorado, is not really recreational at all. It’s a medicine, used with therapy, in a controlled setting. 

Fun-looking packages of measured doses of psilocybin mushrooms will not be coming to the U.S. (though there are psilocybin truffle microdose products from The Netherlands) any time in the near future.

But right now, with all the talk about psilocybin, all the reports, the TV shows, and the celebrities talking about their experiences with psilocybin and other psychedelics, few people are following academic studies that reinforce the narrative that psilocybin, for instance, is a powerful mental health therapeutic. 

They just want to get a magical high, and get giggly, and get funny-spacey, like they see people on TV do. 

The dangers of taking “magic” mushrooms, not knowing how it will affect your mind, are real. This is not cannabis-plus. And ‘shrooming isn’t for everyone, no matter what anecdotal stories you hear. With any psychedelic, you are literally messing with important brain chemistry in a novel but very serious way. Choose your recreational buzz wisely.

Dave Hodes

David Hodes is a business journalist based in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. He has contributed feature articles to several cannabis and psychedelics publications, as well as general business/lifestyle publications, on a variety of topics. Hodes was selected as 2018 Journalist of the Year by Americans for Safe Access. He is a member of the National Press Club, and the deputy booking agent for the National Press Club Headliners Committee.


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One comment

  • Serato

    July 13, 2022 at 12:46 am

    Its fine enough article and I enjoy the musings lots but when you say “Recreational psilocybin (or adult use) as it’s being developed in Oregon and (probably soon) in Colorado, is not really recreational at all. It’s a medicine, used with therapy, in a controlled setting” – Id challenge that. Is it the black and white? Oregon is allowing anyone to use regardless if they have diagnosis or not and they allowed to have psilocybin experience for creativity. The facilitators wont even have MDs. No prescription is required. This sure doesn’t sounds like therapy to me. Colorado too blurs the line with ensuring “treatment” can be for any reason. And it can even be at home when you read the small print. It all reminds a lot of when California legalized cannabis “medically” but anyone and everyone was able to access it if they wanted to, even if they had to feign glaucoma. Imagine how hard it will be feign a mental illness if you needed to. All you would have to say is “Im sad I broke up with my girlfriend”. Its same reason people get drunk at a bar and are consoled by their drinking buddy “recreationally”. “Recreational” itself is a very funny word which was probably part of the DEA’s playbook at some point. We can just even call it “wellness” if it makes people feel better. But looking at Oregon’s rules, I cant tell if there will be a difference between a facilitator and a bartender. And some of the.fancy resorts …ahem..I mean treatment facilities planned sure sound more like spas for wellness for rich “feeling down” due to a stock market loss rather than medical centers. I think the line between “medical” will get blurred very quick and the brands for magic mushrooms will be here MUCH quicker than anyone ever imagined. Just remember: they made same exact error and poor prediction with cannabis. They said it would only ever be medical. 3 years post legalization, brands are everywhere. Right or wrong, the profile and image amongst users of magic mushrooms is its actually safer than cannabis and alcohol. I see a quick shift once folks realize whisky gets then in way more trouble.

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