Humankind and hallucinogens have gone hand in hand for millennia. Cave paintings in Spain dating back 6,000 years indicate the use of magic mushrooms in religious ceremonies. Across the ocean in the Americas, evidence suggests indigenous North Americans have used peyote for recreational and religious purposes for the last 5,500 years. Further south, in the jungles of Peru, a bitter brown tea called Ayahuasca has filled the jungle medicine cupboard since 500 B.C. And, in the time of Montezuma, in the 1600s, the Aztec civilization worshiped a psilocybin deity called teonanácatl, which can be translated as the “divine mushroom.”
A lot is to be said of ancient cultures in vastly different societies, separated by thousands of miles, all arriving at the same psychedelic conclusion that these gifts from nature should play a pivotal part in society.
The discovery of LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide) marked a major chapter in the mind-altering journey, as man harnessed the power of this incredible substance. Tracing its roots to a Swiss laboratory in 1938, LSD was the culmination of an experiment to synthesize an ergot (a fungus typically found in rye) alkaloid derivative in the belief it had potential medicinal properties.
Over the last century, with advancements in pharmaceutical science, more and more psychedelics have been synthesized in the laboratory. The result of this scientific endeavor is a melting pot of psychoactive compounds to choose from. But, are these synthetic substances a worthy alternative to the psychedelics found in nature?
Natural Vs. Synthetic Hallucinogens: How They Work
Firstly, it is useful to understand how psychedelics work, and why they create the experiences they do.
Despite These Key Differences, They All Interact With the Brain in a Very Similar Way
The active alkaloids bind to the serotonin receptors in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. By doing so, they stimulate the mood, cognition, and perception centers of the human mind. The result is a distorted view of the world, sometimes with euphoria.
The overall effects of these drugs are linked explicitly with dosage. High doses will leave the subject with a feeling that they have lost control of reality. Furthermore, the participant’s mental state is a contributing factor in the resulting experience. A common rule of thumb is to take psychedelics in the right “set and setting”: in a good state of mind, in a location where one feels safe.
Natural Vs. Synthetic Psychedelics: Similarities
As noted, psychedelic drugs directly interact with the serotonin receptors in the brain, affecting the frontal cortex. Both forms of hallucinogens offer diminishing returns on experiences, meaning a cooldown period of a minimum of several days is required between doses.
A successful experience on any hallucinogen relies heavily on the environment in which one takes them and the company present. In the event of a stressful or uncontrollable scenario, any psychedelic traveler can quickly become disorientated. Moreover, psychedelics have been tested and studied in a controlled environment and have been shown to offer promising treatments within the medical industry. To this end, some are being used or researched to treat anxiety, depression, dementia, and addiction. As a result, more and more psychedelic healing centers are cropping up worldwide, some more legitimate than others.
Key Differences of Natural Vs. Synthetic psychedelics
One of the fundamental differences between natural psychedelics and their synthesized counterparts is the chemical make-up. Lab-made hallucinogens focus entirely on the pure active substance and very little else. However, natural psychedelics contain a whole bundle of compounds that all potentially interact to produce varying results. In a way, it resembles the so-called Entourage Effect found in cannabis research. Entourage Effect means that the overall collection of chemical counterparts create an effect that cannot be replicated by isolating specific chemicals.
Despite this, several experts in the field have noted a differing effect when comparing varieties of Psilocybin. Therefore, it is theorized that these differences result from these compounds being present in differing proportions across the types.
The same goes for all-natural substances, with a chemical composition far greater than the sum of its parts. Some researchers think that these little-studied compounds contribute to the experience, though it is difficult to ascertain to which degree. Peyote, for example, contains 50 such alkaloids, with many observed to produce psychoactive effects, though the predominant compound is mescaline.
Additionally, as long as the correct plant has been harvested and its derivative prepared accordingly, there is little risk of ingesting a dangerous substance. With synthetics, on the other hand, the user is relying on the unknown chemist to produce it. When buying synthetic chemicals in an unregulated market, there is a chance the substance has been cut with additional unknown substances within the distribution chain.
A Comparison of Experiences
Due to the psychoactive properties of the subject matter, it is difficult to know which of the experiences are down to the substance, and which are as a result of the environment. When observed side by side, the similarities of the natural versus the synthetic psychedelic drugs are far greater than the differences.
Many users have reported a contrast in experiences when using natural substances to their synthesized counterparts. This has as yet not been studied to an extensive level. As such, these variances are mostly conjecture and have not yielded much helpful information so far.
When taken in a ceremonial setting, however, the differences become more pronounced. As the psychedelic experience is a hugely cerebellar affair, the tradition and historic aspects come into their own. Participants are markedly more relaxed and prepared thoroughly beforehand. This results in a psychedelic experience that feels entirely more spiritual and natural.
Mixing Natural and Synthetic Psychedelic Drugs
Although it is considered to be highly risky and not recommended, there is documented evidence of users mixing LCD and psilocybin mushrooms to benefit from the effects of both hallucinogens. Several problems arise when calculating the dosages and administration times of each drug. To experience the peak of each drug simultaneously, it is pertinent to stagger the application times.
As a result, experimenters have reported difficulty in calculating dosages and timings of mushrooms while they are already feeling the effects of the LSD. For this reason, all dosages must be prepared in advance of the “experiment.” A responsible, sober adult should be at hand to manage the doses. The result combines the bendy, otherworldly experiences of mushrooms and the hilarious sense of adventure of LSD.
The Bottom Line
Both natural psychedelics and their synthesized alternatives have similar effects on the brain and have similar benefits and pitfalls. However, there are subtle differences in the experiences of the user.
What is far more important than deciding between the two is to carefully manage dosages so that the experience is enjoyable instead of terrifying.
One should always carefully select a suitable location before embarking on a safe psychedelic journey.
For a truly out-of-world experience, it is worth considering one of the many psychedelic ceremonies available throughout the world. For example, there are retreats revolving around taking natural psychedelics that can offer a safe experience, where expert practitioners guide users through a spiritual journey that adds to their overall spiritual well-being.
Some psychedelic drug users report that natural psychedelics such as magic mushrooms or Ayahuasca offer a fuller experience, even if it may be just a psychological trick their mind plays on them, natural substances allow them to feel a closer bond with nature.
We would like to remind you again that it does not matter if it is a substance that originates from a natural source or alternatively from a synthetic source, these are substances that will have a huge impact on your body and mind. It is why they should be handled with extreme care. The fact that a certain substance is driven from a natural, does not immediately make it safer for human use.