Psychedelics: What do they do to your brain? Experts explain potential risks and benefits.

A hallucinogenic effect of psychedelics is primarily due to the way serotonin receptors in the brain react to the drugs: psilocybin, LSD, and other classic psychedelic drugs bind to serotonin receptors, changing feelings, cognition, and perception. Several changes are observed in consciousness, perception, sense of space, time, and reality when the brain networks become less organized and more connected, according to Bogenschutz; the drugs also appear to promote neuroplasticity, the process in which neurons remodel and create new communication paths.

The drugs enable the brain to change more than it would ordinarily,” he says. As a result of enhanced neuroplasticity in therapy, learning may be enhanced, thought patterns may change, emotional responses may change, and behaviors may also change. According to their effects, based on current research, psychedelics may help treat opioid addiction, Alzheimer’s disease, anorexia, and Lyme disease.

In 1970, the Controlled Substances Act was amended to include psychedelics, despite their therapeutic potential. Because they are classified as Schedule I narcotics, researchers have to have licenses to possess and administer them in clinical trials, and they must follow strict protocols when using them. To ensure no ill effects, patients are monitored for up to eight hours after receiving high doses of pure psilocybin administered in specialized clinics.

In addition to the treatment, mental health professionals will offer aftercare sessions to discuss the experience and how to capture its therapeutic effects. A cannabis dispensary won’t let you walk in with a prescription and take it home, Garcia-Romeu says. A growing trend in some cities and states has been psilocybin and other psychedelics being used in a special clinic under supervision. The first state to legalize the therapeutic, supervised use of psilocybin, Oregon, passed a ballot measure in 2020, followed by Texas and Connecticut.

This fall, Colorado will have the same issue on its ballot. Several cities have decriminalized psilocybin and other plant-based psychedelics, including Santa Cruz, Ann Arbor, and Seattle. Researchers are forced to confront the potential downside of psychedelics’ resurgence as research reveals the potential healing impacts of the drugs.

The issue was “keeping the renaissance from going off the rails.” Psychedelic research could stall again as it did decades ago if no optimal clinical management and further studies are conducted to understand its effects and risks. It has been warned that adding psychedelics to fringe or unproven psychotherapeutic paradigms could result in harm, according to researchers.