delic revolution of the 1960s. Then black-market mescaline began to appear. However, since the drug commands a higher price than LSD, many dealers sold LSD as mescaline. Real mescaline comes as long, needlelike white crystals; half a gram is the usual dose. The pure drug may cause initial nausea, though not as frequently as peyote. Its effects last up to twelve hours and generally resemble those of the whole cactus.
STP is a synthetic drug closely resembling mescaline in its chemical structure. It produces a twelve-hour intoxication with strong stimulation and may be less euphoric than mescaline. In the late 1960s, it was blamed for an epidemic of bad trips lasting many hours. The problem was overdose; some black-market tablets contained twenty times the recommended amount. This episode left STP with such a bad reputation that few people seek it out.
Chemical variations of the amphetamine molecule have resulted in a number of synthetic psychedelics in this family. MDA is the oldest and best known, first made in Germany in 1910 but not discovered to be psychoactive until much later. In doses of 100 to 150 milligrams, it produces a feeling of physical and mental well-being. In the drug subculture, MDA is known as the "love drug" because it's supposed to inspire loving feelings in groups of people. Unlike mescaline, it rarely changes visual perceptions. Although it is a strong stimulant, chemically related to amphetamine, people who take it say it calms them and promotes relaxation. Some users say it makes them more coordinated, more energetic, and better at physical activities. People often feel sluggish and drained of energy the day after taking MDA, and high doses can cause unpleasant muscular tension, especially in the face and jaw.
MDMA (Methylenedioxymethamphetamine; Ecstasy)
A newer drug, MDMA (usually called Ecstasy but also known as XTC, MDM, and Adam), gives the same general effect but lasts four to six hours instead of ten to twelve. Because of its shorter duration of action, it is gentler on the body, with less day-after fatigue.
Taken by mouth in reasonable doses (125 milligrams) and in good settings, MDMA rarely causes bad trips. It has gained a strong reputation as an enhancer of empathy between people and an aid to psychotherapy and counseling. In other circles it has gained an equally strong reputation as a party drug, being used especially in dance clubs that feature "acid house" music and wild
109 Psychedelics, or H
dancing. The acid house phenomenon has been growing in Europe (particularly in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom) and in some American cities. A newer version, called "rave," features synthesized music and light shows. MDMA has also been very popular in the gay community and in gay bars.
For a number of years after its introduction MDMA was an uncontrolled substance. It became illegal when government scientists suggested that it caused permanent damage to certain nerve cells in the brain. Research has failed to support this idea, but the drug remains illegal, and strange stories circulate about it. One is that it causes the spinal cord to liquefy.
There is no truth to these stories, but both MDA and MDMA can cause bad reactions at high doses. Some people snort them or (rarely) inject them intravenously, intensifying their action and potential for harm. Combining these drugs with alcohol or other depressants also increases the possibility of adverse effects. As sexual drugs, both compounds may enhance the pleasure of touching, but they interfere with erection in men and with orgasm in both men and women. A few cases of dependence on MDMA have been reported; they resemble cases of amphetamine dependence.
MDMA remains one of the most popular illegal drugs in Europe and America, and some physicians and psychotherapists are still trying to convince the government that it should be made available for both research and treatment. The most common complaint about it from longtime users is that sensitivity to day-after fatigue seems to increase as people get older. Some enthusiasts have sworn off the drug entirely because they feel so run down after using it and find themselves more susceptible to colds, herpes outbreaks, and other infections.
A number of other synthetic drugs exist in this series, with names like MMDA, TMA, PMA, 2CB, 2CT2, and so forth. Sincc they are custom-made by psychedelic chemists, writers often refer to them as "designer psychedelics." Most are pharmacological curiosities, rarely seen on the street. They differ from other drugs in this section and from each other in duration of action, euphoric potential, and tendency to affect visual perception.
Benefits and Risks of Psychedelic Drugs
Bad trips are the greatest danger of hallucinogenic drugs. Most bad trips are related to set and setting, but they also depend on dose
From Chocolate to Morphine 110
You get out of the drug experience only what you put into it. The
"Otherworld" from which you seek illumination is, after all, only your own psyche.
— Peter Furst, anthropologist, from his book Flesh of the Gods (1972
and quality of the drug. Since legal sources of pure psychedelics do not exist, users are faced with the problem of not knowing what they are buying. All powders, pills, and capsules arc suspect; only mushrooms and peyote buttons are likely to be genuine. Even good psychedelics can cause unpleasant effects if you take too much of them, and with street drugs it's not easy to determine how much is enough.
Psychedelics do not necessarily produce any particular mood or state of mind. They act as intensifies of experience. If you take them when you are elated, they may make you superelated. If you take them when you are depressed, they may make you superde-pressed. If you take them with a friend you feci totally comfortable with, they may deepen your friendship. If you take them with someone you feel uncomfortable with, they may intensify that discomfort to an unbearable degree. Therefore, if you are going to take these drugs you must be extremely careful about when, where, and with whom you take them.
Because hallucinogens are strong stimulants that make people feel very different from normal, they cannot easily be combined with everyday activity. They demand that you set time aside from ordinary routines. Possibly, their abuse potential is low just because they make this demand. Other stimulants allow7 people to perform ordinary activities, but it is not appropriate to take psychedelics and expect to go about your business.
Some people who take psychedelics, especially LSD, later become worried about flashbacks — brief recurrences of psychedelic symptoms that may include visual changes and "spacy" feelings. Anxiety about these experiences is more the problem than the flashbacks themselves. Actually, many people who have never taken hallucinogenic drugs also have flashbacks or experiences very much like them, which makes it seem that these are normal events in the nervous system. The best treatment for flashbacks is reassurance that nothing is seriously wrong. As people worry less about their symptoms, they pay less attention to them, and soon the flashbacks themselves fade awTay.
The benefits people have claimed from using psychedelics range from cures of mental and physical problems to increased appreciation of the beauty of nature to better understanding of themselves to just having good times. Some medical doctors and psychologists have been able to cure patients of serious emotional disorders by means of psychedelic therapy. There is an extensive literature on the value of using these substances occasionally and intelligently.*
*See the Suggested Reading at the end ot this chapter.
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