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Why Psychedelics, Big in 1960s, Draw New Interest Now: QuickTake

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Magic Mushrooms May Help Ease Depression Source: Bloomberg

People have been blowing their minds with hallucinatory substances for millennia -- at least since the ancient Greeks drank a psychoactive brew thought to contain a barley fungus, ergot, in one of their sacred rituals. Today, many researchers are convinced that trippers are onto something good -- that the alteration of consciousness induced by psychedelics can be a tonic for mental health. Though these substances are largely outlawed, dozens of startups betting on legal changes are seeking to develop treatments based on them for illnesses like depression and anxiety. Not everyone is sold on the idea, and there are risks that come from manipulating the brain’s chemistry.

They are a subset of mind-altering drugs distinguished, in the words of researcher J.H. Jaffe, by their ability to induce “states of altered perception, thought and feeling that are not experienced otherwise except in dreams or at times of religious exaltation.” Those with a history of use for spiritual purposes are called “entheogens,” from Greek roots meaning “to generate,” and “God within.” Psilocybin or “magic” mushrooms were used in Mesoamerican civilizations and possibly even prehistoric Europe. Ayahuasca is a brew of vines and shrubs native to the Amazon basin, while peyote is a small cactus that grows in the U.S. southwest and northern Mexico. LSD, which stands for lysergic acid diethylamide, is synthesized from a chemical present in ergot. These so-called classic psychedelics do not include the party drugs ketamine and MDMA (also known as ecstasy or Molly), nor the herb salvia, which is common in southern Mexico and Central America, nor ibogaine, which is extracted from the root of the iboga tree native to Africa; these are sometimes referred to as hallucinogens but have different mechanisms of action on the brain. Regardless, they are all being talked about as a new scientific and investment frontier.