There is an ever-expanding list of psychedelic substances in this world. The current “psychedelic renaissance” has resulted in a sharp increase in the amount of research from scientists and amateurs alike. From acid to mushrooms, and ketamine to DMT, there is a wide range of experiences to be had from different psychedelics.
In this article, we will focus solely on two common psychoactive substances: Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD), and Psilocybin, the lead chemical in the legendary “magic mushroom.” Both have as many overlapping similarities as they do differences. Let’s explore some basics before we delve into the specifics of either substance.
What Are Psychedelics?
When we talk about psychedelics, we are referring to a class of substances that are known for their mind-altering effects. These substances can induce altered states of consciousness, including vivid hallucinations, intense emotions, and a distorted sense of time and space.
What truly defines a psychedelic, however, is its ability to produce profound changes in perception and cognition.
These changes are often described as “mystical” or “spiritual” experiences and can have a profound impact on a person’s sense of self, and understanding of the world around them.
Some common characteristics of psychedelic substances include their ability to enhance sensory experiences, create a sense of interconnectedness, and induce feelings of awe and wonder. They can also have therapeutic benefits and have been used to treat conditions like depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
Research into Psychedelics
Psychedelics have been used by humans for thousands of years in various cultures for spiritual and medicinal purposes. However, research on their effects was sorely limited until the mid-20th century when scientists began an in-depth study of their potential therapeutic benefits.
In the 1950s and 60s, researchers such as Humphry Osmond and Timothy Leary conducted studies on the use of psychedelics like LSD and psilocybin for various psychiatric disorders. Their research showed promising results, leading to a surge of interest in these substances. However, concerns about their safety and potential for abuse led to a backlash against their use in the 1970s, and they were made illegal in many countries, effectively halting research on their therapeutic potential.
In recent years, there has been renewed interest in psychedelics as a potential treatment for various mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Some countries have relaxed restrictions on research, leading to new studies and clinical trials examining the efficacy and safety of these substances.
The history of research on psychedelics has been characterized by periods of enthusiasm and promise, followed by backlash and restriction. However, recent developments suggest that we are entering a new era of research and exploration into the potential benefits of these substances.
Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD)
Lysergic Acid Diethylamide, or LSD for short, is a powerful hallucinogenic drug that is derived from a fungus that grows on rye and other grains. It was first synthesized by the Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann in 1938 and later popularised in the 1960s as a recreational drug and tool for spiritual exploration.
LSD is a synthetic compound that is structurally similar to serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood and other functions in the brain. It works by binding to serotonin receptors in the brain, particularly those that are involved in perception, mood, and cognition.
When someone takes LSD, they typically experience a range of visual and sensory effects, including vivid colours, distorted shapes, and altered perceptions of time and space. They may also experience changes in mood and emotion, such as heightened feelings of joy, awe, or anxiety. Some users also report feeling a sense of spiritual or mystical connection to the world around them.
Overall, LSD is a complex and powerful substance that has been the subject of much research and debate over the years. While it can be used for spiritual exploration and personal growth, it’s a substance that must be respected and taken with care.
Psilocybin mushrooms, also known as “magic mushrooms,” are a type of fungi that contain the psychoactive compound psilocybin. These mushrooms have been used for centuries in various cultures for spiritual and medicinal purposes.
The chemical makeup of psilocybin is similar to that of LSD, in that it works by binding to serotonin receptors in the brain, particularly those involved in mood and perception. When someone ingests psilocybin mushrooms, they typically experience a range of effects, including visual and sensory hallucinations, changes in mood and emotion, and altered perceptions of time and space.
In many cases, the effects of psilocybin mushrooms are reported to be more gentle and introspective compared to LSD, with many users describing a sense of unity and interconnectedness with the world around them. The effects can last for several hours and may be influenced by factors such as dosage, set and setting, and individual tolerance.
Psilocybin mushrooms have a long history of use in various cultures, including indigenous communities in Mexico and Central America. More recently, they have gained popularity as a tool for personal growth and spiritual exploration, as well as for their potential therapeutic benefits in treating conditions like depression, anxiety, and addiction.
Comparing LSD to Psilocybin
For a long time, both of these psychedelics were more or less demonized in society. Only in “alternative” communities would you be able to find people who used them recreationally, or at the very least had a rational opinion of them. World governments went much further than just making these substances illegal. They ran specific propaganda campaigns to scare the population away from these dynamic drugs.
Nowadays, there has been a major shift in the public’s perspective of psychedelics. Of course, old beliefs die hard, so it’s no surprise to still see pushback. That being said, the subject has become more socially acceptable over time. We are even seeing talks of legalization in many places that we would have never expected!
Let’s compare these two wildly popular psychedelics to see how their composition and effects overlap, and in what ways they are different.
The history of these two substances may be where they differ the most! Lysergic Acid Diethylamide was first developed in 1938 by the Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann. It was originally intended to be a stimulant for respiration and circulation but did not turn out as he had hoped. 5 years later he decided to take a second look and society has never been the same!
While LSD was created in a lab under intense scrutiny by scientists, psilocybin mushrooms had already been doing their thing for thousands of years! Much like other fungi, moisture, and decaying wood create the perfect environment for them. This means that humans (and our ancestors) have been experimenting with this psychedelic for longer than we have been writing down our history.
LSD and “magic” mushrooms (or psilocybin mushrooms) are both members of the same psychedelic family, like cousins that share some similarities. Both psychoactive compounds can bind to serotonin receptors in the brain. Specifically, they are believed to bind to the 5-HT2A receptor subtype, which is involved in a variety of physiological and behavioural functions, including mood regulation, perception, and cognition.
When psilocybin or LSD binds to the 5-HT2A receptor, it can alter the activity of neurons in various parts of the brain, leading to changes in perception, thought, and mood. These changes are thought to result from the disruption of normal patterns of brain activity, leading to the formation of new connections and the activation of normally inactive areas of the brain.
The active ingredient in LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) that produces its psychedelic effects is the compound LSD-25. LSD-25 is a synthetic compound derived from lysergic acid, which is found in the ergot fungus that grows on rye and other grains.
On the other hand, psilocybin is the active psychedelic ingredient in these revered mushrooms. Psilocybin is a naturally occurring compound found in many species of mushrooms, including Psilocybe Cubensis, which is one of the most commonly used species for recreational purposes.
When ingested, psilocybin is converted in the body to psilocin, which is chemically similar to serotonin and acts on serotonin receptors in the brain.
Comparing the effects of LSD and mushrooms is difficult because both are very subjective. Just look up any discussions online about the difference in experiences; You will see many conflicting answers. This is because the effects of psychedelics depend on a wide variety of factors. This includes (but certainly isn’t limited to) your setting, the people you are with, the amount of energy you have, and much more.
There are a few things that are distinctly different between LSD and mushrooms. One that’s obvious is the length of your “trip.” LSD tends to last 10-12 hours, whereas mushrooms last around 6-8 hours. Of course, your results may vary.
Most people agree: The effects of mushrooms and LSD may fall in the same ballpark, but they clearly feel like two separate substances. The trips may both feel undeniably psychedelic, but it’s generally agreed upon that they feel starkly different.
To conclude, then, LSD and psilocybin mushrooms may share some similarities, but they have their differences too. Ultimately, the differences between LSD and psilocybin mushrooms are relatively subtle, and the choice of which substance to use may come down to personal preference and individual goals.
Regardless of which substance someone chooses, it’s important to approach it with respect and caution and to seek out knowledgeable guidance if necessary. After all, a bad trip is no laughing matter, but a good one can be truly magical.
Of course, there’s no need to pick sides. The renewed interest in and change in biases related to psychedelics like LSD and mushrooms, as they come further into the mainstream can only be a positive step. Society could certainly use a little more understanding and unity. Let’s hope this is just the beginning!