Hallucinogenic agents, also called psychomimetic agents, are capable of producing hallucinations, sensory illusions and bizarre thoughts. The primary effect of these compounds is to consistently alter thought and sensory perceptions. Some of these drugs are used in medicine to produce model psychoses as aids in psychotherapy. Another purpose is to investigate the relationship of mind, brain, and biochemistry with the purpose of elucidating mental diseases such as schizophrenia.
A large body of evidence links the action of hallucinogenic agents to effects at serotonin receptor sites in the central nervous system. Whether the receptor site is stimulated or blocked is not exactly known. The serotonin receptor site may consist of three polar or ionic areas to complement the structure of serotonin as shown in the graphic on the left.
Mescalin and Psilocybin
The drugs shown in the graphic can be isolated from natural sources: lysergic acid amide from morning glory seeds, psilocybin from the "magic mushroom", Psilocybe mexicana. The hallucinogenic molecules fit into the same receptors as the neuro-transmitter, and over-stimulate them, leading to false signals being created.
Mescaline is isolated from a peyote cactus. The natives of Central America first made use of these drugs in religious ceremonies, believing the vivid, colorful hallucinations had religious significance. The Aztecs even had professional mystics and prophets who achieved their inspiration by eating the mescaline-containing peyote cactus (Lophophora williamsii). Indeed, the cactus was so important to the Aztecs that they named it teo-nancacyl, or "God's Flesh". This plant was said to have been distributed to the guests at the coronation of Montezuma to make the ceremony seem even more spectacular.
Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD)
LSD is one of the most powerful hallucinogenic drugs known. LSD stimulates centers of the sympathetic nervous system in the midbrain, which leads to pupillary dilation, increase in body temperature, and rise in the blood-sugar level. LSD also has a serotonin-blocking effect. The hallucinogenic effects of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) are also the result of the complex interactions of the drug with both the serotoninergic and dopaminergic systems.
During the first hour after ingestion, the user may experience visual changes with extreme changes in mood. The user may also suffer impaired depth and time perception, with distorted perception of the size and shape of objects, movements, color, sound, touch and the user's own body image.
Serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine or 5-HT) is a monoamine neurotransmitter found in cardiovascular tissue, in endothelial cells, in blood cells, and in the central nervous system. The role of serotonin in neurological function is diverse, and there is little doubt that serotonin is an important CNS neurotransmitter. Although some of the serotonin is metabolized by monoamine oxidase, most of the serotonin released into the post-synaptic space is removed by the neuron through a re uptake mechanism inhibited by the tricyclic antidepressants and the newer, more selective antidepressant re uptake inhibitors such as fluoxetine and sertraline.
- Charles Ophardt, Professor Emeritus, Elmhurst College; Virtual Chembook