What Are Psychedelic Plants?


The term “psychedelic” comes from the Greek words “psyche” meaning “mind” and “delos” meaning “manifest, to make visible.” It refers to a class of psychoactive substances that produce profound changes in perception, mood, and cognitive processes. Psychoactive plants are consumed by humans in various forms, ranging from simple to intricate preparations, to induce a range of psychological effects, including sedation, stimulation, euphoria, delirium, and hallucinations. Some examples of psychedelic plants are peyote, datura, Psilocybin mushrooms, and iboga.

Throughout human history, we have sought to comprehend the vast expanse of our minds, venturing into their depths and exploring their boundless potential. Among the many tools employed in this quest for self-discovery, psychedelic plants have played a singular role, offering transformative experiences that challenge our perceptions and redefine our understanding of consciousness.

Psychedelic plants, a diverse array of botanical wonders, contain naturally occurring compounds that interact with the brain, inducing profound shifts in perception, thought, and emotion. These plants have been revered for centuries by indigenous cultures worldwide, serving as sacred messengers, guides to spiritual realms, and catalysts for personal growth.

In recent decades, scientific research on psychedelic plants has undergone a renaissance, fueled by growing evidence of their therapeutic potential. Studies have shown that these substances can effectively treat a range of mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, addiction, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Psychoactive Compounds

Ayahuasca preparation - psychedelic plants
Ayahuasca Preparation – Wikimeda Commons

Within the tissues of psychedelic plants reside psychoactive compounds, the molecular messengers responsible for their transformative effects. These compounds interact with the brain’s intricate circuitry, modulating neurotransmitter activity and altering the landscape of perception.

The effects of psychoactive compounds unfold like a symphony of sensory transformations. Visuals may intensify, patterns dance across surfaces, and auditory perception shifts to reveal the underlying harmonies of the world. Thoughts may flow with newfound fluidity, connecting seemingly disparate ideas, while emotions surge forth with unabashed intensity.

Cultural and Spiritual Significance

Since time immemorial, cultures worldwide have revered psychedelic plants, weaving them into the fabric of their traditions and beliefs. These plants have served as sacred sacraments, guiding individuals on spiritual journeys, facilitating healing ceremonies, and fostering profound connections to the natural world.

Ancient shamans, revered for their deep understanding of the plant kingdom, utilized psychedelic plants to commune with the spirit world, gain insights into the cosmos, and heal physical and emotional ailments. These plants were believed to possess supernatural powers, opening doorways to realms beyond the ordinary.

In diverse cultures, psychedelic plants continue to play a significant role in religious and spiritual practices. Ayahuasca, a ceremonial brew containing DMT, is central to Amazonian rituals, while peyote, a cactus containing mescaline, holds sacred status among Native American tribes.

Another example is the opium poppy, Papaver somniferum, which was cultivated as early as 3400 BCE in Mesopotamia, where its psychoactive resin, opium, was prized for its ability to induce euphoria and alleviate pain. From Mesopotamia, poppy cultivation spread eastward, reaching Egypt, India, and China.

Opium, with its potent analgesic and sedative effects, was widely used in medicine throughout the ancient world. Arab physicians around 1000 AD were particularly adept at utilizing opium’s therapeutic properties. However, the addictive nature of opium led to widespread abuse, particularly in China.

In the 18th century, the British East India Company established a lucrative opium trade with China, exporting vast quantities of the drug. This trade sparked the Opium Wars (1839-1842 and 1856-1860), a series of conflicts between Britain and China over opium control and trade.

The Psychedelic Revolution of the 1960s

Cover of the San Francisco Oracle, Volume 1 No. 5, January 1967
Cover of the San Francisco Oracle, Volume 1 No. 5, January 1967 – Wikimedia Commons

The psychedelic revolution of the 1960s was a period of increased interest in and use of psychedelic drugs, such as LSD, psilocybin, and mescaline. This movement was closely associated with the counterculture of the time, which rejected mainstream values and embraced experimentation with alternative lifestyles.

The psychedelic revolution was fueled by a number of factors, including the discovery of LSD by Albert Hofmann in 1943, the publication of Aldous Huxley’s book The Doors of Perception in 1954, and the growing popularity of Eastern spirituality. Psychedelic drugs were seen as a way to expand consciousness, connect with nature, and experience altered states of reality.

The use of psychedelic drugs was particularly widespread in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, which became a center for the counterculture movement in the mid-1960s. Psychedelic drugs were used at parties, gatherings, and concerts, and they were also used for personal exploration and spiritual growth.

The psychedelic revolution had a profound impact on the popular culture of the time. It inspired musicians, artists, and writers, and it helped to shape the fashion and design of the era. The psychedelic experience was also reflected in the philosophy and activism of the counterculture movement.

The psychedelic revolution began to decline in the late 1960s, as the government began to crack down on the use of psychedelic drugs. Psychedelic drugs were classified as Schedule I drugs in the United States in 1970, making them illegal to manufacture, possess, or distribute.

Types of Psychedelic Plants

Ayahuasca Preparation

Psychedelic plants can be categorized into several botanical families:

  • Fabaceae: This family includes the ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi), which contains the active compound DMT.
  • Cactaceae: This family includes the peyote cactus (Lophophora williamsii) and the San Pedro cactus (Trichocereus pachanoi), which both contain the active compound mescaline.
  • Malvaceae: This family includes the iboga plant (Tabernanthe iboga), which contains the active compound ibogaine.
  • Convolvulaceae: This family includes the ololiuqui plant (Turbina corymbosa), which contains the active compounds LSA and 5-MeO-DMT.
  • Lauraceae: This family includes the nutmeg plant (Myristica fragrans), which contains the active compounds myristicin and elemicin.
  • Solanaceae: This family includes the brugmansia plant (Brugmansia spp.) and the datura plant (Datura spp.), which both contain the active compounds atropine and scopolamine.

Overview of Psychedelic Plants

  • Psilocybin mushrooms: Psilocybin mushrooms contain the active compound psilocybin, which has been shown to have a variety of therapeutic benefits, including treating anxiety, depression, and addiction.
  • Ayahuasca: Ayahuasca is a ceremonial brew made from the ayahuasca vine and the chacruna plant (Psychotria viridis). The main active compound in ayahuasca is DMT, which is one of the most powerful psychedelics known.
  • Peyote: Peyote is a small cactus that contains the active compound mescaline. Mescaline is a powerful psychedelic that can induce a wide range of experiences, from visual distortions to profound spiritual insights.
  • San Pedro cactus: The San Pedro cactus is a large columnar cactus that contains the active compound mescaline. Mescaline is a powerful psychedelic that can induce a wide range of experiences, from visual distortions to profound spiritual insights.
  • Iboga: Iboga is a small shrub that contains the active compound ibogaine. Ibogaine is a powerful psychedelic that can induce a state of intense introspection and self-reflection.

Psychoactive Compounds in Psychedelic Plants

As mentioned earlier, psychoactive compounds, or entheogens (god-generating), have great potential for their therapeutic applications.

Some of the most well-known psychedelic compounds include:

  • Psilocybin: The primary psychoactive compound in psilocybin mushrooms, psilocybin is known for its ability to induce visual and auditory distortions, introspective insights, and a sense of connection to the natural world.
  • DMT (Dimethyltryptamine): DMT is a naturally occurring psychedelic compound found in plants, animals, and the human brain. It is known for its intense, dream-like visions and its potential to induce spiritual experiences.
  • Mescaline: The primary psychoactive compound in peyote and San Pedro cacti, mescaline produces visual and auditory distortions, introspective insights, and enhanced sensory perception.
  • Ibogaine: The primary psychoactive compound in the iboga plant, ibogaine induces a profound state of introspection and self-awareness. It is known for its potential to help individuals break free from addiction patterns.

Roles of Psychedelic Compounds

Psychedelic compounds have a wide range of potential roles, including:

  • Therapeutic Use: Psychedelic compounds are being studied for their potential to treat a variety of mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, addiction, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Spiritual Exploration: Psychedelic compounds have been used for centuries in traditional medicine and rituals to facilitate spiritual experiences and personal growth.
  • Creativity: Psychedelic compounds have been reported to enhance creativity and problem-solving abilities.
  • Enhanced Perception: Psychedelic compounds can alter perception, leading to heightened awareness of surroundings and a deeper connection to nature.
  • Introspection and Self-Awareness: Psychedelic compounds can induce a state of introspection and self-awareness, allowing individuals to gain deeper insights into their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Effects on the Human Brain and Consciousness

Psychedelic plants, with their ability to induce profound alterations in perception, mood, and consciousness, have long captivated human curiosity. Their effects stem from a complex interplay between these botanicals and the human brain, where they modulate neurotransmitter signaling and disrupt established neural pathways.

Mechanisms of Action

The primary psychoactive compounds in psychedelic plants, such as psilocybin, DMT, mescaline, and ibogaine, exert their effects by interacting with serotonin receptors in the brain. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in mood, cognition, and perception, is a key player in regulating consciousness. Psychedelic compounds bind to serotonin receptors, mimicking or amplifying the effects of serotonin, leading to a cascade of downstream effects.

Perceptual Alterations

Psychedelic plants are renowned for their ability to induce profound perceptual changes. Sensory experiences become heightened, with colors becoming more vivid, sounds more intense, and textures more pronounced. Visual distortions, such as geometric patterns and hallucinations, are common. These perceptual alterations stem from the disruption of sensory processing in the brain, leading to a heightened awareness of sensory inputs and an altered interpretation of sensory information.

Emotional Fluctuations

The emotional landscape under the influence of psychedelic plants is marked by a wide range of experiences. Euphoria, characterized by feelings of intense joy, peace, and well-being, is often reported. Conversely, anxiety, fear, and paranoia can also emerge. These emotional fluctuations reflect the complex effects of psychedelic compounds on neural circuits involved in emotion regulation.

Cognitive Disruptions

Psychedelic plants disrupt established patterns of thought and cognition. Linear thinking gives way to a more fluid and associative style of thought, with connections between seemingly disparate ideas becoming apparent. Time perception can become distorted, with moments feeling stretched out or accelerated. These cognitive disruptions stem from the modulation of neural networks involved in attention, memory, and executive function.

Altered States of Consciousness

Psychedelic plants have the potential to induce profound alterations in consciousness, leading to experiences that transcend ordinary awareness. These altered states of consciousness can range from mild sensory enhancements to deep mystical experiences characterized by a sense of unity with oneself, the environment, and the universe. The potential of psychedelics to induce these altered states stems from their ability to disrupt the brain’s default mode network, a neural network associated with self-referential thoughts and ego boundaries.

Psychedelic Plants—Ancestral Wisdom

Iboga in Gabon

In the dense rainforests of Gabon, the iboga plant holds a revered position within the Bwiti tradition, a spiritual and healing practice deeply rooted in ancestral wisdom. Iboga, with its powerful psychoactive compound ibogaine, is seen as a gateway to the spirit world, a means to connect with the ancestors, seek guidance, and gain profound insights into one’s own existence. Bwiti initiation rites, involving the consumption of iboga, are considered sacred passages, leading to personal transformation, spiritual growth, and a deeper understanding of the interconnectedness of all beings.

Ayahuasca: A Shamanic Brew for Healing and Transformation in the Amazon

In the heart of the Amazon rainforest, ayahuasca, a ceremonial brew containing the potent psychedelic compound DMT, has been a cornerstone of indigenous healing and spirituality for centuries. Ayahuasca ceremonies, guided by experienced shamans, are considered a powerful means of self-discovery, healing, and spiritual transformation. Participants embark on profound journeys into the depths of their own consciousness, confronting past traumas, gaining insights into their life paths, and connecting with the spirit world.

Research on Psychedelic Substances

Dr. Rick Strassman on DMT

In the 1990s, Rick Strassman conducted groundbreaking research on the psychedelic DMT (N,N-dimethyltryptamine). Recently, he noted the surge in psychedelic companies, but anticipates industry consolidation, emphasizing the importance of responsible claims about therapeutic potential and awareness of adverse effects. Strassman is currently collaborating with select psychedelic groups and sees promise in developing “non-psychedelic psychedelics.”

In an interview, Strassman discussed the potential use of DMT in stroke rehabilitation and psychotherapy, highlighting a unique continuous infusion approach. He sees potential in DMT’s role as a neurotransmitter and its neuroprotective properties. Strassman believes DMT remains an underexplored compound compared to psilocybin, despite its therapeutic potential. Regarding regulators, he advocates caution and rejects scheduling psychedelics like LSD too lightly, expressing concerns about public health implications and emphasizing responsible use. Strassman also connects the growing interest in ketamine for depression as paving the way for increased interest in DMT. Finally, he stresses the importance of integration in psychedelic therapy and raises concerns about the prevalence of flashbacks in the use of 5-MeO-DMT as an antidepressant.

Dr. Gabor Mate – Ayahuasca

Gabor Mate is a physician who specializes in addiction and trauma. He believes that human beings are not their personalities, thoughts, or emotions, but that we are all connected to a deeper, true self. He believes that illness and dysfunction are the result of a disconnection from this true self.

Mate’s work with ayahuasca has shown him that this plant can help people to reconnect with their true selves and heal from illness and addiction. He believes that ayahuasca can help people to become aware of their core beliefs and coping mechanisms, and to let go of these patterns if they are no longer serving them.

Mate’s work is based on the idea that human beings are biopsychosocial creatures, meaning that our biology, psychology, and social environment are all interconnected. He believes that we cannot heal from illness or addiction without addressing all of these factors.

Mate’s work is important because it offers a new perspective on illness and addiction. He believes that these conditions are not simply the result of bad choices or genetics, but that they are the result of a deeper disconnection from our true selves. Mate’s work also offers hope for healing, as he has shown that ayahuasca can help people to reconnect with their true selves and heal from these conditions.

Psilocybin: A Promising Treatment for Mental Health Conditions

Psilocybin, the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms,” is gaining traction as a potential treatment for a variety of mental health conditions. Research suggests that psilocybin may be effective in managing obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), alcohol use disorder (AUD), and substance use disorders (SUDs). It is also being investigated for its potential to aid in smoking cessation, Alzheimer’s disease treatment, and eating disorder management.

How Psilocybin Works?

While the exact mechanism by which psilocybin exerts its therapeutic effects is not fully understood, it is believed to involve the activation of serotonin receptors in the brain. Psilocybin’s effects are typically observed within days of administration, compared to traditional antidepressants, which can take weeks to show efficacy. Moreover, the antidepressant effects of psilocybin can be long-lasting, persisting for up to 6-12 months in some cases.

Researchers are particularly excited about psilocybin’s potential for treating treatment-resistant depression (TRD), which is depression that does not respond to standard antidepressants. In a recent phase 2 double-blind trial, a single dose of 25 mg of synthetic psilocybin administered in conjunction with psychotherapy led to significantly lower levels of depressive symptoms after 3 weeks compared to the control dose (1 mg).

It is important to note that psilocybin does not work for everyone, and its efficacy varies from person to person. Additionally, psilocybin can have adverse effects, including panic reactions, confusion, and even psychosis in individuals with a predisposition to mental health disorders. Careful screening of potential participants in clinical trials is crucial to minimize the risk of adverse events.

Despite the potential risks, psilocybin is gaining acceptance as a therapeutic tool. States like Colorado and Oregon have legalized psilocybin therapy, and there is growing interest in the psychedelic compound from both the scientific and medical communities.

However, there are still many unanswered questions about psilocybin, including its optimal dosage, frequency of administration, and long-term safety profile. Further research is needed to fully understand the potential of psilocybin as a treatment for mental health conditions.

Microdosing: Potential of Psychedelics

As psychedelic research is gaining momentum, microdosing, which is the practice of consuming sub-perceptual doses of psychedelic substances, has also gained considerable attention. Unlike traditional psychedelic use, which aims to induce an altered state of consciousness, microdosing involves taking extremely low doses that produce subtle effects. Proponents of microdosing claim that it can enhance mood, focus, creativity, and productivity while reducing stress and anxiety.

The Science Behind Microdosing

The science behind microdosing is still in its early stages, but researchers are exploring the potential mechanisms by which psychedelics may exert their effects. One theory suggests that microdosing may activate serotonin receptors in the brain, leading to increased levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with mood and well-being.

A study was conducted to investigate the effects of microdosing on psychological functioning. Participants reported their experiences daily for six weeks, and some also completed psychometric measures at the beginning and end of the study. The results showed that microdosing increased reported psychological functioning on dosing days, but the effects were limited the following days. Microdosing also reduced depression and stress, decreased distractibility, increased absorption, and increased neuroticism.

Reported Benefits of Microdosing

Anecdotal reports and a growing body of research suggest that microdosing may offer a range of benefits, including:

  • Improved Mood and Focus: Microdosing has been reported to enhance mood, reduce anxiety, and improve focus and concentration.
  • Enhanced Creativity and Productivity: Some individuals report experiencing increased creativity, problem-solving abilities, and productivity while microdosing.
  • Reduced Stress and Anxiety: Microdosing has shown promise in reducing stress and anxiety symptoms, potentially by modulating the brain’s stress response system.


Polito, V., & Stevenson, R. J. (2019). A systematic study of microdosing psychedelics. PLoS One, 14(2), e0211023. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0211023

Koenig, X., & Hilber, K. (2015). The Anti-Addiction Drug Ibogaine and the Heart: A Delicate Relation. Molecules, 20(2), 2208-2228. doi:10.3390/molecules20022208

Barker, S. A. (2018). N, N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), an Endogenous Hallucinogen: Past, Present, and Future Research to Determine Its Role and Function. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 12, 536. doi:10.3389/fnins.2018.00536

Disclaimer: Please note that this article is for informational purposes only and should not replace professional medical or therapeutic advice.


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