There is little doubt that the second psychedelic renaissance is here. Whether you are a microdosing enthusiast, seeking psychedelic-assisted therapy, or exploring expanded consciousness states, the science, research, and varieties available continue to grow rapidly although equal access remains a challenge both due to local laws and regulations, and high costs.
With the growing research and popularity of these substances, you might be wondering how they differ and which medicine is the right fit for your needs.
Leafly recently published a comprehensive article that outlines the differences between popular psychedelic medicines and their functions in the brain.
"The “classic psychedelics,” which include psilocybin (found in magic mushrooms), DMT (commonly consumed in ayahuasca tea), LSD, and mescaline are all serotonergic psychedelics—these share a method of action that is strongly tied to the serotonin neurotransmitter.
"At the molecular level, psychedelics affect the activity of neurotransmitters and receptors in the brain. Neurotransmitters work as chemical messengers, relaying signals between cells in the brain with messages picked up by specific receptors.
Serotonin receptors are found all over the brain but in particularly high levels in the cerebral cortex, the region of the brain responsible for higher order functions such as perceiving, thinking, understanding language, and memory." Mescaline and dopamine receptors "Mescaline, found in cacti such as peyote and San Pedro, works on serotonin receptors too, but additionally stimulates activity in the body’s dopamine receptors. Dopamine is involved in the pleasure and reward-seeking pathways of the brain. Surges of dopamine reinforce an association between the drug and the pleasure that results, leading to addiction. In the case of mescaline, however, the stimulation of dopamine is modest, and current research suggests mescaline use does not lead to addiction or dependence." Ketamine and glutamate "However, some psychedelics work on other neurotransmitters in the brain. One of the main mechanisms of ketamine is to allow greater release and circulation of glutamate in the brain. Decreased glutamate levels have been associated with depression. “Ketamine produces some similar effects to the classical psychedelics, but through a different mechanism,” explained Robison. “Ketamine works by blocking glutamate receptors.” The suppression of these receptors allows glutamate to surge into the brain, activating neural activity, enhancing communication between brain cells, and forming connections between different regions of the brain. “The result is rapid improvement in mood,” said Robison. “It’s like you’re waking up dormant neurons as you’d do by jumpstarting a car battery, letting the neurons fire and freely communicate again.”"