Synthetic drugs

Synthetic Drugs and Magic Mushrooms

Are magic mushrooms safer than synthetic drugs?

Drug addiction is a plague in many countries. In the United States, the spread of certain drugs has reached epidemic proportions. Heroin and opioid usage in particular are worrisome and the black market is hardly short of addictive substances.

Even if not everyone who tries drugs will develop an addiction, people who take synthetic drugs are playing with fire.  This article will take you through the different addicting synthetic drugs and how they measure up against magic mushrooms.

Types of Synthetic Drugs

This isn’t a complete list of the synthetic drugs circulating in the world today. Rather, it lists the most addictive illegal drugs. Without further ado, here are some of the most common addictive illegal drugs.

  • Ecstasy. Also known as the “love drug,” this was commonly used in the 1980s and it continues to dominate the modern club scene. Its active ingredient is a substance known as MDMA, now available in its pure form called “Molly.” Both ecstasy and Molly are available in capsule, tablet, and powder form.

People who take ecstasy feel happy, loving, and relaxed. However, ecstasy gives a surge of energy which can keep users up between 24-72 hours at a time. Ecstasy creates a very seductive type of addiction, and many users have difficulty quitting once they start.

Ecstasy’s side effects include muscle cramps, blurred vision, increased heart rate, nausea, chills, and hallucinations. Those who are addicted due to long-term use eventually develop panic attacks, insomnia, psychosis, depression, and paranoia.

Unfortunately, MDMA-related deaths do happen but they don’t even follow an overdose. Instead, moderate drug use can cause users to suffer a fatal heat stroke or amplify their existing conditions.

  • Benzodiazepines. This a group of minor tranquilizers which includes downers such as Xanax, Valium, and Klonopin. More than 15 types of benzodiazepines which are available over the counter via prescription although some forms of this substance are traded on the black market too.

Benzodiazepines are downers which make users feel relaxed and calm by increasing the brain’s nerve calming agent called GABA. It’s difficult to go through days without this drug once tolerance builds up and it does so pretty quickly.

Users who use benzodiazepines long-term deal with side effects such as impaired cognition, lethargy, depression, altered vision, impaired motor function, tremors, nausea, and abdominal pain. Eventually, benzodiazepine users suffer brain damage.

Those who try to stop using benzodiazepine deal with withdrawal symptoms such as body aches, muscle stiffness, sleep disturbance, anxiety, seizures, irritability, and memory problems.

In 2014 alone, 8,000 people in the U.S. died of benzodiazepine overdose.

  • Methadone. This is an opioid that is commonly used to treat recovering heroin or morphine addicts because it makes it easier for the user wean off those harder substances.

Methadone generally comes in the form of tablets, powder, and liquid. It shares the same effects as morphine but it isn’t as strong or as addictive. Unfortunately, many recreational users have been drawn to this substance and became addicted.

Some of methadone’s side effects include itchiness, severe sweating, constipation, nausea, and sexual dysfunction. As of 2015, the U.S. government statistics show that methadone is the fastest-growing cause of drug-related deaths because of its lower price tag compared to other prescription painkillers.

  • Amphetamines. Not to be confused with methamphetamine, these drugs create a rapid tolerance and intense cravings among users. At first, they instill confidence among users who become more confident, energetic, and euphoric. Amphetamines are also famous for their appetite-curbing traits.

Amphetamines are usually taken orally but can also be snorted or injected. Some legal drugs such as Adderall and Dexedrine have small amounts of this compound but several street forms are also available.

Some of amphetamines’ side effects include anxiety, nervousness, dry mouth, decreased appetite, headaches, and weight loss. Long-term users suffer from panic attacks, skin conditions, convulsions, and even psychotic episodes.

More than 116,000 people were admitted into a rehab program because of their amphetamine addiction.

  • Cocaine. Like the other drugs on this list, cocaine affects the amount of dopamine in a person’s brain causing intense cravings for more of the substance. When snorted, cocaine creates a rapid, intense high. Unfortunately, tolerance quickly builds and coming down from a cocaine high brings depression along with insomnia, irregular eating patterns, and nervousness.

Cocaine users are also at higher risk for heart attack, stroke, seizure, and respiratory failure. Long-term use can lead to psychosis. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the annual cocaine deaths in the U.S. have hovered around 5,000.

  • Bath Salts. Bath salts are a cheap alternative to cocaine, ecstasy, and methamphetamine. Their name comes from instances when the drugs were sold disguised as true bath salts. The white powder, granules, or crystals often resemble true bath salts but their chemical compositions are very different.

Bath salts can be taken by injecting, smoking or snorting the substance and they create a feeling of euphoria. This euphoria ca last for several hours but users often re-dose and may stay high for several days.

They can also cause insomnia, agitation, hallucinations, and even violent behavior upon first use. When used for longer periods of time, bath salts can lead to kidney and liver damage as well as breakdown of skeletal muscles.

MDPV, one of the main ingredients of bath salts, was found to be nearly as addictive as methamphetamine. As a stimulant, bath salts gained popularity in the mid-2000s but the U.S. began cracking down on the substance in 2012.

  • Methamphetamine. Methamphetamine affects the dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain which makes sits users alert and hyperactive. Meth releases a lot of dopamine which leaves users craving for more and susceptible to addiction.

Meth can be smoked, snorted or taken orally. It also dissolves in water or alcohol and then injected. One of its most common forms is crystal meth which is often found in club circles. This drug also suppresses the appetite and the high stays for 6 to 8 hours.

Long-term meth users suffer from memory loss, psychotic behavior, heart and brain damage, rapid weight loss, tooth decay, and gum recession.

  • Heroin. Heroin is a semi-synthetic drug extracted from the opium plant. It belongs to the opioid drug class and is taken via needle injection although it can be smoked or snorted in some forms.

Users of this drug get a rush and after a time, cannot experience any pleasurable feelings without it anymore. Addicts get intense cravings when going through heroin withdrawal. Its addictive properties are right up there with methamphetamine.

A lot of heroin addicts first got their hands on this drug when it was prescribed as a legal opioid painkiller until the cravings start. Opioids such as heroin are responsible for nearly 20 percent of all admissions for drug and alcohol treatment in the U.S. More than 8,000 Americans died from a heroin-related overdose and this number climbed to 10,000 in 2014.

  • Crack Cocaine. Also known as crack rock, it is the purest form of cocaine available and is smoked through a glass pipe. Crack cocaine causes the user’s brain to release large amounts of dopamine which results to intense feelings of pleasure and energy bursts for about 10 minutes. It’s so addicting that some first-time users become addicted to it right away.

Crack cocaine is has some similarities to powder cocaine but the former causes a stronger, faster high although it lasts for a shorter amount of time. In the 1980s and early 90s, addiction to crack became a national crisis. Almost 7,000 people died from crack cocaine in 2015.

Effects of Synthetic Drugs

Every drug has different effects. Due to the constantly changing types of drugs circulating in the market, it’s difficult to compile a complete list of the effects of synthetic drugs.

However, people who abuse synthetic drugs tend to show the following signs and symptoms:

  • Overstimulation
  • Chest pain
  • Aggression
  • Paranoia
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Suicidal tendencies
  • Homicidal tendencies
  • Delusions
  • Heart attack
  • Overheating
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Death

Some less severe effects can include:

  • Euphoria
  • Restlessness
  • Sweating
  • Heart palpitations
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Inability to speak

Synthetic drugs also negatively change the brain’s natural reward circuitry, the way you feel, act, and behave as you become increasingly dependent on the substance of your choice. When you shoot heroin, take opioid painkillers, snort cocaine, these substances alter the way your brain processes chemicals. Over time, the brain becomes accustomed to the response and you need more drugs to achieve the same euphoric or sedating effects.

Dependence doesn’t always lead to addiction but it may be difficult to tell the two apart and even addiction specialists use the two terms interchangeably. However, drug addiction is often associated with consequences that are destructive to the person, society, and increased rates of injury, accidents, and crime. Although people regularly taking opioid pain medications become tolerant or dependent, they don’t exhibit compulsive or addictive behavior when it comes to using the drugs.

Drug addiction is also accompanied by the following signs and symptoms:

  • Intense urges for the drug develop as the addiction deepens.
  • Physical dependence. Dependence develops when people grow accustomed because of the drug’s influence. The changes in the body accompanied by drug use leave users functioning sub-optimally or feeling badly when the drug is no longer in the system.
  • With prolonged use, people build up a tolerance to the drug. They need more of the drug to achieve the desired effects.
  • Withdrawal symptoms. When people try to wean themselves off the drug, they experience withdrawal symptoms. This is a sign that the body is already dependent.
  • Poor judgment. After becoming addicted to drugs, the person will do anything to get more including risky behaviors such as lying, stealing, unsafe sexual activity, or other criminal behavior that could potentially land someone in jail.
  • Financial trouble. People spend large amounts of money, drain their bank accounts, and overshoot their budget to get drugs.
  • Neglecting responsibilities. Addicts choose drugs over personal or professional obligations. This is considered a classic sign off addiction.
  • Developing unhealthy relationships. When people start using synthetic substances, they spend more time with others who have similar destructive habits. They hang out with a new group of maladjusted people who may encourage unhealthy habits.

Why People Use Synthetic Drugs

If only drugs don’t cause dependence, drug-related crime and drug abuse wouldn’t exist.

Synthetic drugs are sought because of their intense effects. Easy access and difficulty of detection on drug tests have contributed to the growing number of people who abuse synthetic drugs. These drugs are dangerous and destructive.

There are a lot of reasons why people use synthetic drugs. Most people abuse drugs because they are unable to cope with the harsh realities of their lives. However, even casual users become addicted because of the way these substances alter the brain chemistry.

Each drug has a specific way to change the brain but the end result causes the user to feel pleasure, relaxation, or a surge of energy. Drugs trigger the internal reward system making the person want to repeat the experience again and again.

Here are specific reasons why people abuse drugs:

  1. Synthetic drugs provide ways to ease the pain for people who are suffering from anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression or other mental illnesses. Drugs provide a way for these people to feel normal again without the need for a psychological intervention or a medical consultation especially if they’re afraid to go to a doctor.
  1. People use celebrities, friends, and family members who take synthetic drugs as an excuse. Some teenagers and young adults see other users and think synthetic drugs can be easily controlled. The media is also saturated with references to normalizing synthetic drug use and people think that’s ok. People with friends and family with history of drug abuse are also more likely to develop an addiction than someone with no family background of addiction.
  1. Bored people use drugs thinking these would stimulate their minds. Boredom is a big factor in teens and young adults who experiment with synthetic drugs. Most people in that age group don’t have huge responsibilities so it’s easier to become bored and want to try something new and exciting. Synthetic drugs provide a way for people to escape the mundane and enter a new reality.
  1. People think drugs will relieve stress. The modern world is filled with stressors. Burdens are high despite the way technology made lives easier. Simply paying rent, utility bills, and maintaining a job are huge stress factors. Some synthetic drugs are viewed as a way to relax. Although some drugs can effectively do that, serious side effects can happen.
  1. People think drugs prescribed by doctors are safe. It’s easy to rationalize using drugs because they were prescribed or advised by a physician. The dangerous part of this thinking is that it can lead to mixing drugs, overdose, and dependency.
  1. People get unintentionally hooked on prescribed drugs. Physical laborers and anyone with pre-existing injuries unknowingly abuse synthetic drugs to relieve body pain. These synthetic drugs can quickly build dependency and people rationalize it’s ok to keep taking the drug.
  1. People use drugs to cover painful memories. After traumatic events in their life, people turn to drugs to cope with horrible memories. Instead of turning to psychiatrists, they turn to synthetic drugs which may only deepen their psychological wounds.
  1. People think using drugs will help the fit in. In the presence of friends, it’s easy for people to want to fit in and seem like one of the crew. If others are drinking or doing drugs, it’s likely they’ll fall into the trap. Peer pressure is a major factor to cause someone to try things they’d never do on their own.
  1. People chase the high after experiencing it. Anyone who has tried drugs will say it’s one of the best feelings of their life. Because the highs from synthetic drugs are more extreme than regular, everyday pleasures, drugs overload the pleasure centers in the brain. Once a person feels this extreme sensation, they become hooked simply because they want to chase the high they once felt. This vicious cycle is very difficult to break. Unfortunately, the lows are just as devastating as the highs are pleasurable.

Magic Mushrooms Are Safer Than Synthetic Drugs

The latest Global Drug Survey showed mushrooms are the safest of all the recreational drugs.

Among 12,000 people who reported taking psilocybin mushrooms, only 0.2% or 24 of them said they needed emergency medical treatment. This rate is at least 5 times lower than that for MDMA, and cocaine. Among LSD consumers, 1% reported seeking emergency medical treatment.

The Global Dug Survey 2017 included 120,000 participants in 50 countries. It’s the world’s largest annual drug survey with questions covering types of drugs people used, patterns of use, and whether people experienced any negative effects.

Adam Winstock, an addiction psychiatrist and founder of the Global Drug Survey says, “Magic mushrooms are one of the safest drugs in the world. Death from toxicity is almost unheard of with poisoning with more dangerous fungi becoming a much greater risk in terms of serious harms.”

He also pointed out that the bigger risk was people picking and eating the wrong mushrooms.

Overall, 28,000 people have taken magic mushrooms at some point in their lives with almost 82% saying they took it searching for a psychedelic experience and to enhance their environment and social interactions.

However, Winstock notes that magic mushrooms aren’t completely harmless. In some cases, people can experience panic attacks and flashbacks. He advises people to “plan the trip carefully with trusted company in a safe place and always know which mushrooms you’re using.”

Interestingly, even bad trips can have positive outcomes.

In a 2016 study conducted by researchers at form Johns Hopkins, 2000 individuals who went through bad trips were surveyed about their mot psychologically difficult or challenging experience with magic mushrooms. 84% of those surveyed said they benefitted from the experience. Only 2.7% received medical help.

Roland Griffiths, one of the researchers, said “In a way, it’s not really so surprising. When we look back on challenging life events we wouldn’t choose, like a bout with a major disease, a harrowing experience while rock-climbing, or a painful divorce, sometimes we feel later that the difficult experience made us notable stronger of wiser. We might even value what happened.”

Aside from safe recreational use, magic mushrooms have been shown in clinical trials as an effective long-term treatment for severe depression and anxiety, an effect that’s never seen in other unsafe, synthetic drugs.

Brad Burge from the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) also said, “There is no known lethal dose for pure psilocybin.”

True enough, death from correctly-identified psilocybin mushrooms are extremely rare. With millions of psilocybin mushroom users in the United States every year, any magic mushroom-related fatality is still yet to be documented. So far, the only fatalities are from misidentified, poisonous fungi that look like magic mushrooms but even these are extremely uncommon.

Winstock also went on to say, “People don’t tend to abuse psychedelics, they don’t get dependent, they don’t rot every organ from head to toe, and many would cite their impact upon their life as profound and positive. But you need to know how to use them.”

Are Magic Mushrooms Addictive?

Psilocybin mushrooms are used as traditional medicines, in healing ceremonies, and spiritual rituals. They are not considered physically addictive but some psychological influences may contribute to abuse.

Still, most psychonauts prefer psilocybin mushrooms to other hallucinogenic substances and other synthetic drugs because they’re not chemically produced. Although they aren’t considered addictive, users can quickly develop tolerance to psilocybin mushrooms. When that happens, more mushrooms are needed to achieve the same high.

Taking more mushrooms isn’t physically dangerous. Again, no one has been documented to have died from a magic mushrooms overdose yet. But it may impair judgment, decision-making, and memory. Clinicians also advise people with undiagnosed mental illness to avoid using magic mushrooms as the hallucinogenic psilocybin may complicate symptoms.

Can Magic Mushrooms Help with Addiction?

Magic mushrooms are being recognized by mainstream media and the scientific community because of studies that used them as tools to treat depression and shed more light on how the brain works. The positive reputation of magic mushrooms could further increase once they’re proven to turn the body away from dependence on other drugs.

Across the US and the UK, several studies are currently exploring the potential of mushrooms to treat addiction to everything from alcohol, to cigarettes and cocaine.

It’s not yet completely clear how magic mushrooms work in the brain but researchers think psychedelic experiences can help people change their perspective and their behavior. Scientists are trying to harness these effects to curb drug addiction.

Peter Hendricks, an addictions psychologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham is currently running a study treating cocaine users with therapy coupled with psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms. He says, “For those of us who work in addiction, our existing treatments are not impressive. They’re disappointing. Why not give this a try?”

Hendricks also said that his frustration with the lack of existing treatment options made him look at psychedelics. He was aware that 50 years ago, researchers already looked at psychedelics to treat alcohol and narcotic addictions, and did a survey with a local drug supervision program and found that among 25,000 people surveyed, previous psychedelic drug users was a good predictor of completing the program drug-free.

That study from 50 years ago was enough for him to look into doing a trial with psilocybin after getting approval from the FDA and the DEA. He currently has some patients in treatment and is recruiting more through addiction centers and ads in the local Birmingham paper. The study requires several sessions to prepare the subjects to take psilocybin, one treatment with the drug, and then several standard therapy sessions for addiction.

This dosing strategy is similar to previous studies using psilocybin to treat anxiety in people with terminal illnesses and depression. Both of these used a single psychedelic treatment session and produced promising results.

Although researchers are still unsure how magic mushrooms work as treatment for addiction, they have formulated some theories which are centered around the psychedelic trips given by psilocybin.

Magic mushrooms increase self-awareness and lets users become less mindful of their egos, allowing them to see themselves with little to no filters. Matthew Johnson, a professor of psychology from Johns Hopkins University who is testing psilocybin in a trial aimed at nicotine addiction, believes this effect of psilocybin is crucial to his research.

“People will often report a changed relationship in observing themselves. I think this is much like what we refer to as mindfulness: someone’s ability to view their own motivations and behavior from a more detached and less judgmental perspective,” said Johnson. “It’s sort of like a crash course in mindfulness; I’m starting to think of it like that.”

Hendricks has a similar opinion. “Right now we can only speculate but something happens to reorder priorities, whereas before it was drugs, not it could be work or family.”

If magic mushrooms can help cure addiction by showing a new perspective to synthetic drug addicts with a single intense dose, these trials may be the one to show it. Hendricks’ study and another one at NYU using psilocybin to treat alcohol dependence, are randomized, double-blinded the gold standard of modern medical research.

Psilocybin from magic mushrooms is already showing a lot of potential in helping relieve nicotine addiction.

In a Johns Hopkins study, researchers found 15 volunteers who were smoking an average of about a pack a day for 31 years. Each of the ten men and five women had repeatedly attempted to quit on their own without success. The volunteers took a dose of psilocybin in a pill and spent the next seven hours in a controlled environment with two researchers.

They relaxed, listened to music, and wore eyeshades while researchers helped them focus on the experience. They then received advice on dealing with nicotine cravings and other anti-smoking tips including attending weekly counselling. After two weeks and again after eight weeks, the participants received stronger doses of psilocybin followed by the same controlled support and therapy.

At the end of the six months, 12 of the 15 participants were still nicotine-free. This success rate of 80%  is significantly higher than the anti-smoking drug Verenicline which has a 35% success rate. Meanwhile, therapy alone works only 30 percent of the time.

Johnson explained how this effect came to be. Quitting smoking isn’t just a simple biological reaction to psilocybin. When administered in a therapeutic context, psilocybin leads to deep reflection about one’s life and spark motivation to change.

In any event, the question of whether a drug works may be more immediately important than how a drug works.

These aforementioned trials may make addiction the largest frontline in psychedelic research. The NYU study has nearly 200 participants. The University of Alabama and Johns Hopkins combined will treat over 100. Two trials beginning in UK later this year hope to recruit an additional hundred.

Data from these trials will be available after a few more years but researchers are hopeful the appeal of a one-time treatment will change the way people think about treating addiction.

Psilocybin and LSD may have similar patterns of activity in the brain but psilocybin is more appealing to researchers for two reasons: its action lasts for only 6 hours compared to LSD’s 10-12 hours, which makes it easier to manage to work with in a clinical setting. Unlike LSD, it does not have the same strong association with the counterculture of the 1960s.

In the end, as more and more scientists are coming in to study psychedelics, particularly psilocybin, novel treatments for addiction will soon become a reality.

Once psilocybin treatments prove beneficial in treating addiction, millions of people currently suffering from the debilitating effects of drug addiction can take back their lives and start healing for themselves and their families.

You don’t have to be a subject of a clinical trial to experience the positive effects of psilocybin from magic mushrooms. This compound is also found in magic truffles that you can order online!

Who knew magic mushrooms may hold the key to a better society?

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