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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

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New Black Market Designer Drugs: Why Now?

2C-E and other illicit new drugs are a danger to users and a threat to psychedelic research, experts warn.

Why Do People Take Designer Drugs?

When Goldsmith talks about the psychedelic experience, it's clear he's not talking about fun and games on a Friday night. For the unprepared, he says, the experience is frightening. And even in the right context, it's not an experience one would seek out for amusement.

"It is certainly a difficult experience," Goldsmith says. "It is like spending a rainy four-hour afternoon in your clergyman's office, crying your eyes out about how you have wasted your life and then coming out into the sun breaking through the clouds and feeling optimistic for the first time in years."

Yet 19% of U.S. males and 11% of U.S. females reported having used hallucinogens in a 2009 survey, according to the U.S. Substance Abuse & Mental Health Data Archive (SAMHDA).

Why are so many people risking their lives and risking imprisonment in order to take psychedelic drugs on their own, in uncontrolled settings, and at doses they can only guess at?

In a 2004 paper, Nichols offers a clue. He notes that "in much of the counterculture that uses these substances, 'entheogen' has replaced 'psychedelic' as the name of choice, and we may expect to see this trend continue."

"Entheogen" is from a Greek word meaning "god within." It refers to the deep spiritual experience reported by many people who have taken psychedelic substances while in a positive state of mind and in a supportive environment.

A recent clinical trial of psilocybin by Johns Hopkins researcher Roland R. Griffiths and colleagues found that mentally healthy adults reported "mystical-type experiences" with "substantial personal and spiritual significance." They said the experience caused "positive changes in attitudes, mood, and behavior."

The Minnesota teens injured by 2C-E mistakenly thought taking a psychedelic drug might be a fun way to party. But Goldsmith says many people knowingly seek out the difficult psychedelic experience because of a basic human need: the "urge to transcend."

"Not just transcend in the dreamy, wasted, blissed-out sense, but to transcend in the sense of integration into something deeper, something more fundamental: the ground of your being, your soul, who you were when you were born," he says. "And that is really the purpose of psychedelics, to get you down to who you really are, and in many cases to bond you with others in your family or tribe. [The experience] is not just for better personal integration but better community integration as well."

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