Hallucinogens are a wide group of drugs with a diverse range of capabilities. Some have been proven to alleviate ailments like PTSD and anxiety; others will definitely make you crap your pants while thinking your roommate has turned into a giant crane. The two most popular hallucinogens are magic mushrooms and LSD, technically known as lysergic acid diethylamide. While they have similar effects, both drugs have enough differences between them that any potential user should be less than chill about considering them the same.
Here’s the science you need to know to understand how LSD and magic mushrooms affect the body in their own, trippy way:
Magic Mushrooms Are Natural, LSD Is Not
While LSD was invented in 1938, mushrooms containing the naturally occurring psychedelic compound psilocybin can be found in regions within South America, Mexico, and the United States. It’s estimated that there are over 200 species of psychedelic mushrooms.
LSD was synthesized by Swiss scientist Albert Hoffman, who later famously took the drug himself and went on a bike ride on April 19, 1934. The clear, odorless, and tasteless drug is made from lysergic acid, which is found on the fungus that typically grows on grains.
Both Drugs Trip Out the Brain, but One Lasts Way Longer
Magic mushrooms and LSD involve chemicals that bond with the brain’s serotonin receptors. When someone takes LSD, their sympathetic nervous system is stimulated, which causes a rise in blood-sugar levels, an increase in body temperature, and pupillary dilation. The body confuses LSD for serotonin and sends it towards the brain’s synaptic cleft. This allows LSD molecules to bind to serotonin receptor proteins.
LSD and Mushrooms May Both Be Future Antidepressants
An increasing swath of scientific evidence demonstrates both substances have the potential to treat addiction, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and PTSD. In a small study conducted in 2014, scientists found that it could be magic mushroom’s impact on serotonin receptors that causes heightened emotions and a slight loss of identity — which may be why the substance helps with anxiety. A brain on mushrooms, they note, is much like a brain that is dreaming.
The more researchers examine a tripped out brain, the more they’ll be able to leverage the power of these drugs to help us out in the future.