This group includes a hodge-podge
of chemicals that cause a range of sensory distortions, emotional
changes, and hallucinatory effects. In fact, the word psychedelic
(mind-manifesting) was coined by an early researcher to label
the drugs, whose effects were thought to be otherwise indescribable.
Today we know they may be remarkable,
but they are describable, at least in general terms. Still, it
is a tricky task, because unlike other drugs we’ve discussed
thus far, psychedelics don’t necessarily act alike — or even
look much alike.
LSD (AKA “acid”), for
instance, is an odorless and tasteless liquid that’s dripped
onto squares of blotter paper (often imprinted with such youth-culture
icons as Beavis and Butt-head or Bart Simpson), while psilocybin
mushrooms (AKA “shrooms”) and the mescaline-bearing
buttons of the peyote cactus are plants native to North America.
There’s also an alphabet soup
of speed-based psychedelics, including MDMA (“ecstasy,”
“XTC,” or just “E”), DMT, and 2C-B (“U4EA”),
that are sold in tablet form and produce more-or-less similar
effects, and such anesthetic-deliriants as ketamine (“Special
K”) and phencyclidine (or PCP), that can turn up as a tablet,
capsule, powder, or even soaked into cigarettes.
Short-term effects really are
hard to generalize about the psychedelics, since they’re largely
shaped by specifics of drug and dosage and the interplay of psychological
set — user experience, expectations, and mood — and physical
setting. Emotional effects can range from pleasant, even “cosmic,”
feelings of serenity to intense fear and panic.
Psychedelics most used by teens
today are LSD and ecstasy, often in raves — all-night dance
parties aimed at triggering a trance-like, communal vibe via
a continuous current of pulsating techno music.
According to a national survey
in 2002, 8.4 percent of high school seniors reported trying LSD,
while 10.5 percent admitted using MDMA.
The good news about that is the
drugs they’re trying are less potent (and thus less likely to
cause serious, lasting harm) than similar drugs in the past.
According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement
Administration, current average LSD dosage ranges from 20-80
micrograms, down sharply from the 150-250 mcg common a generation
And the tablet form of MDMA makes
“ecstasy” a lot less likely to cause agony — and accidental
overdose — than powder MDA, its 1960’s ancestor.
That’s probably a main reason
that psychedelic use has been on the upswing in recent years.
That doesn’t mean problems can’t happen — they can and do.
In fact, “behavioral toxicity”
— drownings, falls, auto fatalities — is one of the most serious
risks associated with high-dose LSD use.
MDMA is more likely to cause
high body temperature, which when combined with the frenzied
dancing that takes place at raves, has put some young users in
the hospital, and at least a handful in the morgue.
In addition, some psychedelics
— especially high-dose forms of LSD and PCP — also trigger
“flashbacks” — usually recurrences of panic and other
aspects of a bad trip, days or weeks after taking the drug. According
to the best evidence, flashbacks aren’t caused by traces of the
drug in the body, but are more likely to be an instant-imprint
conditioned response to panic.
Still, even if a flashback is
just an anxiety attack and only plays itself out in a user’s
head, that doesn’t make the experience any easier to take, particularly
for a younger person.
If anything, it can seem more
intimidating than a real drug freak-out, since a panic-stricken
teen can assume the problem is in his or her own mind, and is
likely to be permanent.
And even though such panic rarely
lasts more than an hour or so, big trees can grow from little