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INTRO TO PSYCHEDELICS: Serotonin and Psychedelics.

What is Serotonin? What are Psychedelics? How the two interact and why it matters.

WHAT IS SEROTONIN AND WHY DOES IT MATTER?

Serotonin is a naturally-occurring substance in the body and brain that works to regulate mood, cognition, reward, learning, memory, and even vomiting and bowel movements. It is classified as a ‘neurotransmitter’ which simply means that it works in the cells of our brain to change what our body does. Here are some other neurotransmitters you may have heard of and their basic actions:

  • Dopamine: motivation, reward, ability to experience pleasure and drive to seek

  • GABA: calming, anxiety regulation, fine motor control

  • Epinephrine/Adrenaline: fight or flight

  • Norepinephrine: focus and attention

  • Endorphins: euphoria and pain alleviation

  • Histamine: the hormonal and cognitive neurotransmitter (Histamine also has a large role in allergies)

  • Acetylcholine: learning and memory, muscle contractions, sex drive and thirst

  • Glutamate: wakefulness, learning and memory

  • Oxytocin: empathy, trust and relationship building

  • Serotonin: regulates sleep, mood, feelings of well-being, digestion, sensory perception and higher cognitive function

The above list assigns each of our most common neurotransmitters a few specific roles. In reality, each of these molecules has many roles in our body and brain just as serotonin does. Because these neurotransmitters have so many roles and effects, one can only wonder what happens when their levels are changed naturally, or intentionally.

In the case of serotonin, our mood, cognition, reward, learning, memory, and even bowel movements are subject to change when serotonin levels fluctuate.

  • When levels are LOW, one may feel “down” and won’t have the drive to do much of anything, and we often call this ‘depression.’

  • When levels are ELEVATED, we can get a sense of euphoria, changes in cognition and perception, we can feel extremely peaceful/happy, and can even have hallucinations or altered states of awareness. This is exactly what psychedelics aim to do!

What are Psychedelics?

There have been many definitions of the term ‘psychedelics’ offered throughout history. It is thought to have originally come into existence via the combination of the Greek words “psyche” (meaning “mind”) and “deloun” (meaning “to make visible”).

Psyche-delic: “psyche” (meaning “mind”) + “deloun” (meaning “to make visible”) (Greek).

This has evolved into a more formal definition: Any substance characterized by, or generating hallucinations, changes in perceptions, altered awareness and cognition. However, if you speak to 10 people involved in psychedelics, you will most likely get 10 different definitions of what psychedelics are.

Further, there are MANY substances that fit the definition of a psychedelic: something that can affect the way we perceive what is going on in our mind and in the world around us. For example, coffee can give us a sense of energy and motivation. Alcohol can dismiss inhibitions to help us take action, regardless of the logic. This is even seen with exercises such as Holotropic breathing and EMDR which can shift our mindset and perception of the past, present, and future.

· Clinically speaking, psychedelics are substances (natural and synthetic) that affect the levels of serotonin in our brains. As we learned earlier, when the level of this neurotransmitter is altered or artificially changed, we are able to notice changes in our mood and perception. At high enough doses, a psychedelic substance can lead to hallucinations and even other-worldly or out-of-body experiences via the serotonin system.


But, How does this occur?

Classic psychedelics (ex. Magic Mushrooms and LSD/Acid) have a chemical structure that is very similar to that of our mood neurotransmitter: serotonin (see below). As a result, these substances can bind to and act at the same places in the body and brain where serotonin normally does. So, taking a psychedelic substance is analogous to flooding the body and mind with excess serotonin, which is why one can experience all of the effects of high serotonin: elevated mood, changes in perception (visual, auditory, bodily), hallucinations, and non-ordinary experiences. These experiences vary based on the substance taken, dosage, and environment.

Most common Natural Psychedelic Substances:
  • Psilocybin (‘Magic’ Mushrooms)

  • Ayahuasca

  • Mescaline-containing Cacti (ex. Peyote and Wachuma/San Pedro).

  • Other Less Common Natural Psychedelics include Salvia, Ibogaine, other species of mushrooms, LSA (Morning Glory Seeds), Bufo alvarius (Toad Venom / 5-MEO-DMT), THC (Cannabis).

Most common Synthetic Psychedelic Substances:
  • LSD

  • MDMA (Ecstasy)

  • Ketamine

  • Other Less Common Synthetic Psychedelics include PCP, DMT Derivatives, LSD derivatives, etc.

Each psychedelic, whether it be natural or otherwise, will have a slightly different molecular makeup. Why does this matter? Differing chemically can result in the medicine acting at different places in the body and brain, or even affecting multiple types of neurotransmitters. This leads to each medicine having its own characteristic experience which opens the door for different capabilities with each substance.


CLOSING THOUGHT

At the end of the day, psychedelics are very powerful substances. If misused, they can be very harmful. Here at NautHaus Psychedelic Wellness, safety is our top priority and it is the reason we are dedicated to education on psychedelics and the processes of psychedelic healing. Contact Us today to learn more or to get some guidance along your journey. Safe travels!


***Disclaimer: NautHaus Psychedelic Wellness is designed to educate and support those investigating the realm of psychedelics under their own volition. The education and consultation services at NautHaus Psychedelic Wellness focus on safety and wellness, but DO NOT support, recommend, or encourage the use of psychedelic or illegal substances of any kind. Further, though NautHaus Psychedelic Wellness is run by a physician, any and all information and content supplied is intended for EDUCATIONAL USE ONLY and does not constitute medical or legal advice. Any information supplied by NautHaus Psychedelic Wellness should be used at the client's own risk. For any medical information, recommendations, diagnosis or treatment, please contact a licensed medical or mental health professional. No doctor-patient relationship is formed in any of the activities or services conducted at NautHaus Psychedelic Wellness.***


Resources USED:

Westrum P. and Dufrechou J. The Psychedelics Integration Handbook. 2019.

All Images are sourced from Adobe Stock.

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