The Psychedelic Brain
Psychoactive drugs have gained widespread popularity over the years. Growing acceptance has occurred amongst the young with in the urban and suburban societies. In fact, colleges and high schools appear to be breeding grounds for this growing substance abuse. The most popular of such drugs is marijuana as it is regarded as the least harmful and least costly of the psychoactive drugs. Therefore, this lack of cost restriction for marijuana implies easier access amongst the lower class in comparison to other stronger hallucinogens such as lysergic acid diethylamide. This widespread popularity is evident by the observation that millions of Americans have once tried marijuana. While other drugs do not maintain the same pervasive reputation, their usage remains pertinent. For example, Dr. Timothy Leary claims that there were one hundred thousand regular LSD users, one single experience. It is hypothesized that the increase in interest and usage of the internet and World Wide Web along with a heightened rave and trance culture based in an interest of exploring the conscious and unconscious mind has greatly contributed to this problematic drug growth. As a result, the effects of such drugs have become of increasing concern for such chemicals are foreign to the body and produce detrimental effects.
The nervous system in particular is greatly impacted by psychoactive drugs. In turn, such boasts drastic implications as the nervous system is responsible for relaying messages back and forth within the body. This complex system consists of the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous systems, the central nervous system is the larger of the two and is comprised of the brain and spinal cord. The main function of the central nervous system is to receive information from the body and send out instructions, whereas the peripheral nervous system sends messages from the brain to the remai nder of the body both indicative of the input/output mechanism. Therefore, as the brain is related to behavior, such is implicative of the relationship between the central nervous system and brain and behavior.
One such mechanism which affects behavior is drugs. Specifically, psychoactive drugs, chemicals that act in the central nervous system, infringe upon the function of the brain. These brain complications include ones related to perception, consciousness, thought, emotions, mood, and behavior. Clearly, psychoactive drugs induce differing effects on the body depending upon classification. These drugs are commonly subdivided into four categories: antipsychotics, depressants, stimulants and hallucinogens, of which hallucinogens are further divided into psychedelics, dissociatives, and deliriants. Deliriants are defined as substances which cause a temporary state of mental confusion and fluctuating consciousness by anxiety, disorientation, hallucinations, delusions and incoherent speech. Dissociatives are drugs which reduce, or block, signals to the conscious mind from other parts of the brain, typically, but not necessarily, limited to the physical senses. Lastly, psychedelics are psychoactive drugs whose primary action is to alter the thought processes of the brain. Thus, many of the widely used illegal drugs can be placed into one of the three categories. For example, phenylcyclohexylpiperidine, ketamine, dextromethorphan, nitrous oxide, salvia divinorum, and muscimol are all dissociatives. In comparison, deadly nightshade, mandrake, henbane, antihistamine diphenhydramine, antiemetic dimenhydrinate, and datura are known as deliriants.
Such varying drug classifications withi n the hallucinogenic psychoactive drugs infer differences amongst their individual effects. Primarily, deliriants are considered true hallucinogens th nonexistent people. Therefore, the hallucinogenic quality of deliriants initiates immediate effects such as sleepwalking, for the abuser is unable to recall their experience after taking the substance. Deliriants such as diphenhydramine exhibit direct effects on the central nervous system as they are classified as anticholinergic agents, and thus reduce the affects of ac etylcholine in the nervous system. An example of acetylcholine function lies in synaptic plasticity. Common central nervous system malfunctioning includes agitation, respiratory depression, short-term memory loss, incoherent speech, photophobia, unusual sensitivity to stimuli, inability to sustain a train of thought, etc. An overdose of a deliriant causes additional side effects including dehydration and mydriasis, while the most severe outcome of this drug is death due to its high level of toxicity.
Similarly, while deliriants appear to lead to a loss of consciousness , dissociatives induce conscious dreaming, more commonly known as lucid dreaming, elicit states of mind due to sensory deprivation. Dissociatives also play a unique role as a central nervous system depressant lowering ones heart rate and/or respiration and oxygen intake, ultimately causing death. Specific long term use of dissociatives, such as ketamine and phenylcyclohexylpiperidine, has even been claimed to induce Olneys lesions known as NMDA Receptor Antagonist Neurotoxicity, a form of brain damage. Such damage pertains to the vacuoles in the posterior cingulated cortex and retrosplenial cortex of the brain and causes an increase in microglia and heat-shock protein 70 concentrations. Other damages to the brain include hypertension, a toxic acute brain syndrome manifested by disorientation of consciousness and convulsions. Thus, overdosing on deliriants and dissociatives is extremely caustic, while overdosing on psychedelics is extremely rare due to the non-toxicity quality of these drugs.
Common psychedelic hallucinogens include lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), psilocybin, mescaline, dimethyltryptamine, 4-methyl-2,5-dimethoxyamphetamine, San Pedro cactus, peyote, and even cannabis. Their effects are extremely dependent upon the actual drug, the dosage, and the environment as they disable filters of the mind. Such effects range from distortions of a single sense such as auditory hallucinations, to effects on cognition, to empathogenic emotional and social effects. However, one common property, especially amongst perception-altering psychedelics, is the ability to act on the 5HT-2A receptor, a serotonin receptor of the brain.
Lysergic acid diethylamide is a primal example of a psychedelic drug associated with serotonin activity in the brain. The specific effects of LSD usage include impaired intellectual ability, lowered IQ, an inability to concentrate, breakdown of ego functioning, and feelings characterized by emptiness, loneliness an d isolation. Such is also characteristic of schizophrenia, and thus has alluded to similarities between LSD and the mental disorder, ultimately proposing the hypothesis that LSD has the ability to cause schizophrenia. With such, the relationship between LSD and the brain is essential in understanding the chemical's mechanisms. Specifically, the drug is often considered to inhibit the production of serotonin in brain cells - a monoamine neurotransmitter synthesized in serotonergic neurons in the central nervous system associated with perception and memory. Further evidence supporting such a relationship includes the data that illustrates that drugs which stimulate serotonin production directly impede on the effects of the psychedelic. Therefore, it can be hypothesized that LSD interacts with the 5-hydroxytryptamine (serotonin) receptors in the brain, ultimately lowering the concentrations of brain serotonin. Research indicated that lysergic acid diethylamine reduced the turnover rate of brain 5-hydroxytryptamine in rats rate of discharge of raphe nuclei neurons located in the area of reticular formation containing most of the serotonergic cell bodies. In addition, LSD antagonizes the potentiating action of reserpine, which is the chemical typically involved with releasing large amounts of serotonin. Therefore, it is evident that lysergic acid diethylamine essentially lowers the levels of serotonin in the brain through various functions.
Overall, hallucinogenic drugs are directly involved with the central nervous system, directly involved with the input and output system. Therefore, the psychoactive drugs' relationship with neurons in turn indicates their ability to induce permanent damage. It has even been shown that psychedelic substances cause chromosome breakage, which not only affects the user, but ultimately affects and unborn child. In order to preserve a healthy brain, a healthy nervous system and healthy children, psychoactive drugs need to be avoided. However, ceasing usage of the drugs d oes not include halting research regarding the numerous drugs. The relationship that exists between substances and the brain including the neurons of the nervous system, can be advantageously exploited. If we are able to better understand the mechanisms behind these drugs and their hallucinogenic effects, their effect on the brain, advancements could be made. As such, could gain the ability to understand the role of the unconscious, and more importantly, better our understanding of neuronal functioning, which in turn could lead to various cures and promote health.
[ed. note: Bibliography/ End Notes was damaged in backup /restore operation. Will be re-built.]
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