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While each generation of recreational drug users feels they invented the behavior, the substances they’re ingesting are rarely new. In fact, the use of hallucinogens dates back at least 2,500 years. On islands in the Lesser Antilles, archaeologists have discovered ancient bowls used for huffing hallucinogens. Other cultures also have long histories of using mind-altering substances.
Here are the facts on two of the most popular mind-tripping drugs.
This cactus gets its hallucinatory power from mescaline. Working similarly to most other hallucinogens, mescaline binds to serotonin receptors in the brain, producing heightened sensations and kaleidoscopic visions.
Native groups in Mexico have used peyote in ceremonies for thousands of years, and other mescaline-producing cacti have long been used by South American tribes for their rituals. Its use in religious practices has led to many court battles, with Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Oregon allowing some peyote possession, but only if it’s linked to religious ceremonies.
– Another retro drug that could be poised for a comeback is the “magic” mushroom. While it possesses no truly magical powers, this hallucinogenic fungi contains the active ingredient psilocybin, a compound that breaks down into psilocin in the body. This psilocin bonds to serotonin receptors all over the brain, and can cause hallucinations as well as something called “synesthesia,” a mixture of two senses. This gives the drug its trippy reputation, because those under the influence may feel like they can smell or taste colors, for example.
People have been ingesting psilocybin mushrooms for thousands of years, and a version of synthetic psilocybin is even under study as a potential treatment for anxiety, depression and addiction.
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