Why Psychedelics are Not the New Health Innovation of
the 21st-Century

Girl under lsd effect

For those of us who follow the medical news, we may have heard whisperings about the use of psychedelic drugs for addressing mental health issues. This is a relatively new movement, or at the very least, it's a new spin on the 1970s-era effort to create legitimacy for psychedelics in the field of mental health. Let’s take a look at the concept behind using psychedelic drugs to “improve” mental health conditions, and let’s explore the controversy behind this proposed approach.

What are Psychedelics?

First of all, what are psychedelics? Psychedelics refer to a set classification of drug, drugs which cause very pronounced, altered states of mind within users. Psychedelics are also known as hallucinogens. What makes a psychedelic drug different from other types of drugs is that psychedelics induce hallucinations and intensive sensory alterations. This could create a danger for not only the user but for those around him; if he is driving in the existing reality but operating in an altered reality, accidents and injury will probably ensue.

Most drugs create some kind of “high” or altered feeling, but psychedelics put one in a completely different state of mind. Such drugs cause people to believe that they are in a completely altered reality, a life-like hallucination, an entirely different physical setting, an unknown universe. Psychedelics have been in use for centuries all across the world, but they did not gain a strong foothold in the United States until about fifty years ago. This is disorienting at best and can be fatal at worst.

A Quick Look at America’s Most Popular Psychedelics

In the United States, psychedelics have jumped on and off the drug scene since the 1960s. These drugs were very popular during the Hippie Generation of the 1960s and 1970s. After federal organizations like the FDA and DEA increased their efforts to stamp out psychedelics, the 1980s and 1990s saw fewer psychedelics and instead an increase in hard narcotic street drugs like cocaine, crack cocaine, and heroin. But in the last few years, psychedelics have once again been making a strong appearance on the drug scene as some medical experts and opinion leaders are now saying that such drugs can be beneficial for our mental health.

Let’s take a look at three of America’s most popular psychedelics:

  • LSD, (also called lysergic acid), is probably one of the most well-known psychedelics. LSD was created on accident by Swiss chemist Albert Hofman in 1938. Hofman was trying to find medical uses for ergot. He stumbled across the hallucinogenic properties of LSD by getting some of the chemicals on his skin and experiencing a “trip” shortly after.
  • “Magic Mushrooms.” Magic mushrooms refer to any of several species of mushroom fungi that include a chemical called psilocybin. Psilocybin has mind-altering and hallucinogenic properties that can have a powerful effect on those who consume mushrooms which contain the chemical. Psilocybin can be found in some two-hundred species of mushrooms worldwide.
  • Mescaline. Mescaline is another mind-altering chemical, this one found in the Peyote Cactus, a cactus plant that is native to Mexico and some parts of the Southwestern United States. Mescaline hallucinations were an important part of the tribal culture for indigenous peoples across what is now Mexico and the Southwestern U.S. In the present day, drugs containing mescaline are used recreationally.

What One Expert is Saying About Psychedelics and Mental Health

Some experts are beginning to speak up on their viewpoints that psychedelics might be the 21st-century solution to mental health issues.

That’s a pretty huge claim.

The 1960s USA. American hippies on a psychedelic party.

In the 1960s and 1970s, millions of Americans used psychedelics as a method of spiritual self-exploration. Most did so with no thought for the adverse side effects or consequences of such drugs. Today, we are seeing a sort of “revisit” to this state of thinking, except this time people are supporting psychedelics as a solution to mental health problems, not a solution to finding spiritual empowerment and discovery.

Regardless of the reasons for why we are once again looking at psychedelics as an “okay” thing to do, the fact remains that we are walking on the thin ice of controversy any time we grant credence to the supposed “benefits” of mind-altering drugs. [2]

Let’s take a look at what one of the top opinion leaders in this space is saying about psychedelics. Michael Pollan, author of How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence, was interviewed by Time Magazine on the subject of psychedelics and their possible benefit to mental health.

In the interview, Pollan makes the statement that we’ve pegged psychedelics wrong all along, insisting that these “magic” drugs might be true solutions to addiction, depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems. Pollan says that “The biggest misconception people have about psychedelics is that these are drugs that make you crazy. We now have evidence that that does happen sometimes—but in many more cases, these are drugs that can make you sane.” [2]

Pollan goes on to discuss how the chemicals in psychedelics seem to diminish certain levels of activity in the brain. He talks about how not all brain activity levels are helpful to us, especially when certain areas of the brain become over-active or under-active. He touches on how psychedelics can reduce the brain activity that allegedly leads to depression, PTSD, addiction, anxiety, fear of death, etc. But the problem is, the science on the brain’s connection to one’s mental condition is still hazy at best. [2]

Pollan even admitted in his interview with Time Magazine that scientists and mental health experts still “do not really know” how psychedelic chemicals influence the human mind. And for some reason, Pollan and those who share his beliefs are all too willing to support a new take on mental health that has not even yet been fully understood or fully discovered.

Drug Use is Never the Correct Choice

Using psychedelics is sort of like playing the child’s game of “Pin the tail on the donkey.” We walk in, blindfolded, attempting to use our limited understanding of the brain, of our emotions, and of our mental state and we relate that to a drug which can “help.” But we don’t even know, fully, how these drugs even work.

And we don’t know fully how our emotions interact with the brain, or if the brain is even the governing instrument in our emotions. It’s a shot in the dark at best, to say that psychedelics will help John Doe improve his depression. Such a drug is just as likely if not more likely to cause adverse effects in the long run as it is to provide any real benefit to him.

And at the end of the day, using a drug to solve our problems is never the right solution anyway. It’s not the right solution because it’s not a solution, to begin with! Drug use, any kind of drug use that is purported as being a mental health solution is actually just an attempt at creating a band-aid to cover a gushing artery. Drugs are a quick action the doctor can do so he can see more patients in a day. The doctor may even be getting perks from the pharmaceutical company that manufactures the drug. Real treatment and therapy takes longer and may not be as lucrative.

Even when such drugs do have any positive results at all, drugs made for mental health only ever address the symptoms of a mental health crisis, not the cause of the problem itself.

This is why an approach to mental health that includes more drugging will never be the right answer. We have to confront and address our mental health issues and innovate real-world solutions to them that actually change the conditions in our day-to-day lives that are causing those issues, to begin with. Drugs are never the solution to our problems.


Clinical Review by Claire Pinelli, LADC, CCS, ICAADC, MCAP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.