Mind-altering drugs - Taylor Brandt


A selection of LSD-infused blotter papers, which release varying doses of LSD when placed on the tongue.
A selection of LSD-infused blotter papers, which release varying doses of LSD when placed on the tongue.

Mind-altering drugs found in plants and fungi have been used in past centuries for religious, medical and recreational purposes. Recent evidence has shown that Peruvian foragers have been chewing coca leaves for around 8,000 years to reduce hunger, aid digestion and decrease the effects of living in a high-altitude environment (BBC Article, Coca leaves...). In recent centuries, however, the compounds within these plants responsible for their psychoactive effects have been isolated, altered and concentrated, creating mind-altering drugs whose addictive qualities lead to abuse and dependence.


Hallucinogens are drugs which cause hallucinations or impaired perceptions of reality by seeing things, hearing sounds, and experiencing sensations that feel real but are imaginary. (Office of NDCP, Hallucinogens) They do so by interupting the neurotransmitter serotonin in the parts of the brain responsible for procesing hearing and sight. The three most common hallucinogens -- LSD, mescaline and psilocybin -- are based off of an indole ring. An indole ring is a benzene ring attached to a five membered heterocylic ring containing one nitrogen atom and a carbon carbon double bond.

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LSD contains 5 functional groups: a benzene ring, 2 alkenes, a secondary amine, a tertiary amine and a tertiary amide. The molecules are relatively large, non-polar and soluble in membranes so they can enter the brain easily. LSD comes from ergot, a grain fungus that is synthesized to create a potent hallucinogen. This hallucinogen creates distortions of the body, crawling geometric patterns, im
paired judgment, hypertension, dilated pupils, changes to body temperature and heart rate and unpredictable mood swings (good vs. bad trips). After consuming LSD it takes effect within 20 minutes and last for up to 12 hours and can cause trigger flashbacks or “latent psychosis.”

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Mescaline contains 3 functional groups: a benzene ring, a primary amine and three ethers.
The molecule is smaller and not soluble in membranes so it cannot enter the brain as easily. Mescaline is extracted from the flowering heads of the peyote cactus. Mescaline is about 1000-3000 times lest potent than LSD and causes subjective hallucinations which vary in each individual, anxiety, static tremors, psychic disturbances with vivid visual hallucinations, abdominal pain, nausea and diarrhea. Mescaline takes an almost immediate effect and lasts about 6 hours after which it is excreted into the urine.external image psilocybin_2d.jpg


Psilocybin contains 4 functional groups: a benzene ring, a secondary amine, a tertiary amine ion and phosphate. The psilocybin molecule contains ionic groups and is least soluble in membranes and therefore least able to enter the brain. Psilocybin is extracted from Psilocybe cubensis or “magic mushrooms.” Psilocybin produces subjective hallucinations that are milder than those produced by mescaline, either a pleasant or apprehensive mood, compulsive movement, inappropriate laughter, vertigo, dizziness, numbness, muscle weakness and drowsiness. When consumed the take effect quickly but have a shorter duration compared to mescaline.

Cannabis Drugs

Cannabis is know by many names -- pot, weed, grass, ganja, mary jane, marijuana, herb, and is the most widely used illicit drug according to the United Nations. Cannabis is an extract which comes from the leaves, stems, and resin of the plant Cannabis salvia and usually is either smoked or ingested to reach a high but can be injected into the body. The main chemically active compou
The chemical structure of THC contains a phenol, which is the OH attached to the benzene ring, an ether group and a carbon -- carbon double bond.
The chemical structure of THC contains a phenol, which is the OH attached to the benzene ring, an ether group and a carbon -- carbon double bond.
nd in cannabis is terahydrocannabinol or THC. Its structure is shown on the left. The high experienced by users is caused by the drug depressing the central nervous system causing euphoric feelings which can last anywhere from 15 minutes to 4 hours. Using cannabis lowers inhibitions, alters the user's perception of time and space, causes palpitations, loss of concentration, light headedness, weakness and a feeling of floating. At very high doses cannabis can cause respiration problesm and lead to collapse, especially when used in combination with other drugs. If used during pregnancy it can lead to low birth rate and impaired fetal development. Cannabis is metabolized in the liver and eliminated through bile and feces. Its use can be associted with withdrawl symptoms such as insomnia, anxiety and restlessness.

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Legality of Cannabis

Cannabis accounts for half the drug seizures in the world and is used by 147 million people worldwide. Those who argue for the continued ban on cannabis base their belief that it negatively impacts the body, diminishing one's sense of responsibility and causing dependence. There are also considerable medical costs for those suffering from the long term consequences of cannabis use. Some also claim that cannabis acts as a gateway drug leading those who use it to try harder drugs like opiates and hallucinogens. Those who argue for the legalization of cannabis claim there is no proof cannabis acts as a gateway drug and is no more damaging than alcohol or tobacco. Some believe that legalization would also protect users from dealing with criminal gangs to purchase cannabis. There are some beneficial medical effects as well. When used in the treatment of late-stage cancer and AIDS cannabis can provide relief from nausea and vomiting. It can also treat glaucoma, asthma and convulsive disorders.

Text Sources:
Brown, Catrin and Ford, Mike. Higher Level Chemistry. Pearson Baccalaureate: Edinburough Gate, 2009.

Picture Sources (in order of appearance):