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While many drugs speed up or depress the central nervous system, there is a class of drugs that distorts how we feel, hear, see, smell, taste and think. This class of drugs is known as hallucinogens, because the user experiences hallucinations or nonexistent sensations. They alter the user’s thought processes or mood to the extent that he/she perceives objects or experiences sensations that in fact have no reality. These substances can be both naturally and artificially created and are frequently sold around the globe. Many of these drugs interfere with neuronal pathways that process sensory information and also affect the metabolism and levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. Frequent studies have determined many long term and short term physical and sensory effects these drugs leave on the brain. Hallucinogens have been used in religious rites throughout history, both in New and Old Worlds. Tribal shamans or “medicine men” in search of “visions” swallowed the hallucinogens or inhaled their fumes to experience hallucinations. They believed that such a state, separated from reality, allowed them to better communicate with gods or their ancestors. In some cultures, rituals such as these have remained a central part of life as they have been handed down from one generation to the next. However, these hallucinogenic substances were only natural substances or derivatives of them. Native American rites incorporated substances from mushrooms or cacti before recorded time. In fact, artifacts remaining from pre-Columbian eras often were sculpted with mushrooms surrounded by human figures. These small statues were the first indication that mushrooms were a part of any kind of tribal rite. Some tribes have even declared the legality of their use of such compounds, as they are still a central part of tribal ritual. Over the past sixty years, hallucinogens have been embraced by a new subculture known as “hippies.” The “hippie” movement expanded in the 1960s and appropriated hallucinogens as a part of their culture. At the time, artists, poets, and writers believed that using these substances amplified their creative abilities. The recreational use of these substances generated a great deal of psychological casualties.  Many users suffered from accumulation of the substances in their bodies or the unknown harmful side effects, such as flashbacks that occured after the user ceased to use the drug. Although hallucinogen use has decreased since the 1960’s, a ready market for such substances has resulted in their manufacture in illegal chemical laboratories. Throughout history, various hallucinogens have been exploited because of their varied effects. Some of the most common of these substances are naturally occuring and have been used for centuries by tribal communities. These include psilocybin and peyote cactus, along with psilocin mushrooms. Psilocybin is an active ingredient found in, Psilocybe mexicana, a dried fungus used by some Native American tribes. After the chemical was isolated, additional analysis disclosed that its chemical structure is similar to serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain. Peyote is another ancient hallucinogenic substance derived from any number of Mexican cacti.  Relics dating back hundreds of years depict animals with a peyote button in their mouths. The part of the cactus used is the flowering head that contains a potent alkaloid called mescaline. The uses of peyote parallel those of the hallucinogenic mushrooms. The peyote flower was used to induce a state of intoxication and happiness in the user. American Indians of the southwest often employed the cactus in their tribal rites. Lysergic acid diethylamide, commonly known as LSD, is a synthetic substance that was first produced in 1938 by Swiss chemist, Albert Hoffman. It is one of the most potent hallucinogen known and can elicit dramatic effects with a small dose. American chemists began experimenting with the drug on animals in the 1950s and extended to humans soon after.

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