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Tripping on psychedelic drugs explained

We explore what happens when our brain is tripping on Ketamine, LSD, MDMA, and Magic Mushrooms.

Hallucinogenic drugs are known to have potent properties that can cause our brain to act in some weird and wonderful ways, transforming patterns and producing a chain of different reactions. These reactions include the expansion of consciousness, an increase in spirituality and, making people hallucinate! Wavy. 

Several research projects have shown drugs can act as catalysts for the relief of depression and other forms of mental illness, where previous and more conventional methods can not. 

After reading a study on Inverse, a US-based organisation delving deep into science, innovation, mind & body, and cultural topics, we look at why these substances can produce dramatic effects and why they are so popular on our much-adored rave scene.

Ketamine 

Firstly to clarify, ‘Schedule-1’ drugs are drugs not used in medicinal treatments and are deemed to have ‘no medical value’ and a ‘high potential for abuse’. Ketamine is the only drug on the above list that is a non-Schedule-1 drug.

Ketamine was developed as early as the 1960s for use as an anaesthetic. The 80s era was an experimental one, and the rise of Ketamine and its use as a club drug came to the fore. Things moved significantly since then; the drug reached its third stage and was approved as an antidepressant in the US. In contrast, the UK’s drug classification system differs by classifying Ketamine as a Class B drug. 

Technically speaking, Ketamine affects our neurotransmitters, which are our body’s chemical messengers. Our wonderful makeup means glutamate communicates with neurons. When you learn something or create a memory, connections between neurons alter, and glutamate is essential to this process. Glutamate is allied with brain plasticity, which gives the power to change the physicality of the brain! 

Are you still with me? Good. Low doses of Ketamine stimulate glutamate production and help repair connections in our brain. Here is where the magic happens. Our message receivers are stimulated and repaired (through ketamine), and the ability to send and receive information is enhanced. When a person becomes depressed, these receptors die. Studies show the drug could help facilitate the growth of these receptors.

But what about the well-known and wobbly ‘K-hole’? We know a K-hole makes our awareness of the world and our control over the body a challenging and taxing process. Ketamine changes our brain waves which leads to this dissociation.  There are still some ‘holes’ (excuse the pun) in this debate. Still, the leading theorists believe this is why the drug is such an effective treatment for mental health – the increase in glutamate and the neurotransmitter’s ability to help the neurons to communicate as entering an altered state, and music can help connect the dots. Wonky.

LSD

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Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) is a chemical with a similar structure to ‘serotonin’ produced by nerve cells. In the brain, serotonin helps the cells communicate and can help with digestion, mood, and life’s battery charger – sleep. 

When LSD is consumed, it tricks our brain into thinking that it is serotonin, therefore placing it where this chemical should go, to the heart of the receptors. 

Out of the seven types of serotonin receptors, LSD stimulates one of the classified sub-types (5HT2-A). These are associated with our motor control, learning, and emotion. The ‘trip’ comes into effect as LSD has an even higher affinity for serotonin than serotonin itself! That means LSD outmuscles serotonin in a brain battle, taking over electrical activity and communication patterns. An epic Star Wars scene in your mind. 

Now, you can see why hallucinations can be extreme and are popular amongst the raving community! LSD is thought to help break some of the negative thought patterns in people with anxiety and depression in mental health treatment.

MDMA 

The experts will say that there is a difference between MDMA and ‘classic’ psychedelics. There is no mystical-like experience or body dissociation, but it is still considered part of psychedelics, explored as therapy. 

Think about it this way, when you are home alone and decide to have a few pals around for a beer. You open the door, and before you know it, the decks are on, and your address has been sent on WhatsApp with a few hundred people joining the party. 

This is what kind of happens when you take MDMA. Those extra people who turned up enmasse are the neurotransmitters, norepinephrine (naturally occurring chemical), and most importantly, serotonin’s common denominator in many of these reactions. MDMA acts as the stimulation for their release and slaps the face of our brain controls that monitor this release in an organised way. In effect, MDMA overrides our control and releases these chemicals like a stampede! 

Researchers believe that the mix of dopamine and norepinephrine contributes to euphoria and the increased energy you feel on MDMA, which already gives it appeal as a raving stimulant, but that is just the start. Things start to go down as serotonin enters the fray. As we have already discovered, serotonin makes you feel good, increases sensitivity to touch, light and … yes, sound! Now you can see just why lights, lasers and face stroking are such a theme at parties! 

MDMA is also shown to acutely decrease activity in the left amygdala, the area of the brain associated with memory and fear, and its important role in increasing blood flow to the prefrontal cortex (the part of the cortex involved in critical thinking and behaviour). This reduction in activity is widely believed to be the reason behind its effectiveness in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

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Magic Mushrooms 

Although magic mushrooms are a less popular substance at raves in these times, I still wanted to cover them and highlight their psychedelic properties. 

Magic Mushrooms contain one of the most studied psychoactive properties, psilocybin. This compound occurs naturally within the mushrooms and has psychoactive effects when consumed. Interestingly, psilocybin isn’t itself psychoactive until it is digested and turns into psilocin (which is) .. as the name suggests, magic. 

Psilocybin also stimulates our much-talked-about friends, serotonin receptors. Specifically, it decreases activity in the amygdala (high activity here relates to fear) and in the part of the brain handling negative emotions, pain, and depression – the anterior cingulate cortex. 

As the compounds dampen these parts of cerebral matter, experts predict radical results in future research to treat depression and mental illness. 

In summary, our brains are a powerful and mysterious web of interconnected communication systems. More powerful than any computer. When we challenge these systems, we often experience heightened feelings and emotions, sometimes even an out-of-body euphoria! 

Over time, these drugs have shaped much of the music production and visual creations at events, in order to complement the substances.

Rave on but stay safe kids!

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