Review and Summary: Psychedelics

Psychedelics Book Cover

When I picked Psychedelics: The revolutionary drugs that could change your life – a guide from the expert, I knew almost nothing about psychedelics and had no expectations how depth I can learn from this book. So I decided to give myself a chance to learn something new and I’m so glad I decided to read it.

The book is incredibly well-organized, comprehensive, and it kept me engaged and fascinated by the wonders of psychedelics. David J. Nutt does an excellent job explaining the history, current research, and future possibilities of these intriguing substances. It covers almost everything you need to know about psychedelics.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who’s curious about psychedelics. It’s informative, easy to understand, and eye-opening. A fantastic read!


What are psychedelics?

Psychedelics represent a new revolution in neuroscience and psychiatry, marking a significant change in biological psychiatry.

  • By showing that a chemical can alter the mind and brain, psychedelics opened up the possibility of treating mental disorders with drugs.
  • Psychiatrists began using psychedelics to help patients access repressed memories and emotions, and to unblock progress in psychotherapy.

When used according to tested, safe, and ethical guidelines, psychedelics are poised to become the next big breakthrough in mental health treatment.

  • Combining psychedelics with psychotherapy offers a new way to treat mental illness, harnessing the strengths of both treatments for better outcomes.

The history of psychedelics

In the past, psychedelics were banned because they changed how people thought about important world issues, which scared those in power. However, psychedelics have a unique ability to transform unhelpful thoughts. This has proven to be very useful in treating psychological problems like depression and addiction.

Two types of psychedelics

The Classics

  • Serotonin Mimics: Classic psychedelics have a structure similar to serotonin, allowing them to bind to serotonin receptors in the brain and gut. Serotonin influences sleep, memory, mood, emotions, sexual behavior, hunger, and perceptions. These are also targets for other psychiatric drugs like SSRIs used for depression and anxiety.
  • Effects of Classic Psychedelics:
    • They alter your perception, thinking, emotions, and sense of time, place, and self.
    • Some classics affect gut receptors, often causing nausea and vomiting.
    • No two experiences (or “trips”) are the same, even for the same person using the same drug. This variation depends on several factors:
      • Dosage
      • Method of intake, which affects how quickly the drug enters the brain. Faster entry means quicker changes in consciousness.
      • How quickly the drug leaves the brain.
      • Genetic factors
      • Mindset (the user’s mental state)
      • Setting (the environment where the drug is taken)
  • Types of of classics psychedelics:
    • LSD: Discovered by Albert Hofmann from a toxic fungus called ergot. Taken orally, it takes effect in about 30 minutes, lasts 12 hours, and its effects can vary throughout this period.
    • Psilocybin: Found in mushrooms often called “magic mushrooms.” Taken orally, either fresh, dried, or as a tea. It turns into the active ingredient psilocin in the body, takes about 30 minutes to kick in, and lasts 5-6 hours. Psilocybin is likely to become a licensed medicine soon.
    • DMT: The active ingredient in ayahuasca. It breaks down quickly in the gut and liver, so it’s often smoked or vaped. It acts within seconds when smoked or injected, while ayahuasca lasts up to 5 hours.
    • TOAD or 5-MEO-DMT: Found in the glands of the Colorado River toad and some plants. Smoked, it acts within a minute and lasts about 20 minutes.
    • Mescaline: The first psychedelic identified chemically in 1897. Unlike other classics, it belongs to the phenethylamine family, like amphetamines and MDMA, but works similarly to other psychedelics by binding to 2A receptors.

The Non-classics

  • General Effects: Non-classic psychedelics change mental states, perceptions, and thought processes but don’t work on the serotonin 2A receptor.
  • Types of Non-Classic Psychedelics:
    • Ketamine: Unique among anesthetics because it doesn’t suppress breathing, making it very safe. Effects include relaxation, body numbness, confusion, and hallucinations. It dampens the glutamate system, affecting the brain’s major relay stations and memory center (hippocampus).
    • MDMA: Causes feelings of well-being, friendliness, and reduced anxiety and fear.
    • Scopolamine: Used for motion sickness and post-operative nausea. It can affect memory, sometimes creating false memories.
    • Ibogaine: Taken by chewing root bark. It has safety issues, including cardio-toxicity, which can increase blood pressure and cause irregular heartbeat or cardiac arrest.
    • Salvia: A mint family member that works on kappa receptors related to arousal and emotion.
    • Amanita: Works on the GABA system in the brain, responsible for calmness. It can alter the perceived size of objects by affecting visual cortex function.

What Happens to Your Self Under Psychedelics?

  1. See, Experience, and Think Differently
    • The brain not only predicts the external world but also shapes your internal world, like language, cognition, and emotions.
      • These internal predictions are harder for the brain to test because they’re less concrete, requiring introspection, self-awareness, and communication with others. This is managed by the default mode network (DMN), which orchestrates thoughts, plans, and memories.
      • The DMN is most active when we’re relaxed and introspective, like when we’re reflecting on ourselves, planning, or thinking about the past. Babies have minimal DMN connectivity, which increases as they grow. To see the DMN in action, you would ask someone to lie down and think about themselves without engaging in any tasks.
      • Under psychedelics, the DMN goes offline, leading to typical psychedelic experiences like wandering thoughts, altered thinking, and vivid imagination.
  2. Freeing the Mind
    • Psychedelics might help unshackle the mind. When the DMN is offline, people can step outside their usual thoughts and beliefs about themselves. For example, instead of thinking “I am worthless,” they might think, “I was abused as a child, which makes sense why I feel this way. Now I can break away from it.”
  3. Making New Connections
    • Brain connectivity changes, breaking down within-network communication and allowing more between-network interaction. This returns the brain to a state similar to early childhood, explaining the sense of mind expansion and universal connection reported under psychedelics.
      • The more intense the psychedelic experience, the more usual brain networks break up. Complex hallucinations lead to new connections between the visual cortex and other brain parts.
        • For instance, synesthesia (seeing colors with sounds) occurs when the visual and auditory networks start communicating with each other.
      • Increased connectivity can lead to significant personal and intellectual insights. This is similar to how new ideas can emerge when falling asleep, as the DMN dampens down.
      • New connections between previously isolated brain regions may help people revisit old beliefs and issues, relive problem memories, and access repressed personal matters.
        • The breakdown of top-down control by the DMN opens the mind, allowing novel cross-brain connections to link memories and feelings with new insights and understanding.
      • Psychedelics enhance neuroplasticity, helping new ideas and plans to take root in the brain and last well beyond the psychedelic experience.
  4. Opening Your Mind

Author: David J Nutt

Publication date: 29 June 2023

Number of pages: 307 pages


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