Are Natural Psychedelics Or Synthetic Psychedelics Better For Your Body?
The question of whether natural psychedelics or synthetic psychedelics are safer is a complex one. In some cases, natural psychedelics are better for the body. However, in other cases, the opposite can be true. And sometimes, there is no meaningful difference between safety.
With psychedelic drugs rising in popularity, we identify the differences between natural psychedelics and synthetic psychedelics.
Natural Psychedelics vs. Synthetic Psychedelics
Natural psychedelics refer to the types of psychedelics you would find in nature. They are plants and mushrooms that people have not manipulated through a chemical process (i.e. extracting the psychedelic compound from them). However, you can still prepare natural psychedelics in a certain way, with the product remaining natural.
For example, traditionally, you will take ayahuasca and San Pedro as brews. You may not be taking the psychedelic exactly as it’s found in nature or even whole (e.g. you consume only part of the peyote or San Pedro cactus). But you are still consuming plant material.
We can also think of the pure compounds of these plants and mushrooms as natural because they occur in nature. Examples of natural psychedelic compounds include psilocybin (known as magic mushrooms), mescaline, DMT, Salvironin A, ibogaine, and 5-MeO-DMT.
The distinction between natural and synthetic can get tricky, though. This is because you can synthetically create psychedelics found in nature, such as psilocybin, mescaline, and ibogaine.
Whether occurring in nature not, you obtain synthetic psychedelics through the chemical process of synthesis. This is when you perform one or more chemical reactions with the aim of creating a compound from simpler materials. The process is artificial. It does not involve the use of psychedelic plants or mushrooms (which contrasts with extraction).
There are other synthetic psychedelics that a chemist will invent in a lab. These are chemicals that do not exist in nature. Some of these have existed for a while (such as MDMA and 2CB), whereas others are newer — these are known as “research chemicals” (RCs).
What Is A Natural Psychedelic?
We can think of natural psychedelics as the following.
- Plants and mushrooms found in their natural state
- Preparations of these plants and mushrooms (e.g. brews)
- Extractions (i.e. removing the main compound from the plant through a chemical process)
- Synthetic, naturally-occurring chemicals
The last example would be a psychedelic that is both natural and synthetic. We can then distinguish natural psychedelics (including synthetic ones) from unnatural synthetic psychedelics. A chemical like LSD would somewhat fall outside this distinction since it is semi-synthetic. It is derived from the ergot fungus, but you still produce the compound through the process of chemical synthesis. LSD itself does not occur in nature.
Cases Where Natural Psychedelics Are Better For Your Body
There are many cases in which natural psychedelics are better for the body than synthetic psychedelics. According to the Global Drugs Survey, magic mushrooms are the safest recreational drug that exists. Previous data from researcher David Nutt also confirms that magic mushrooms are the least harmful drug.
Some synthetic psychedelics, however, can be physically harmful. For example, 25i-NBOMe, which dealers commonly sell as LSD, has harmful effects on the body. In some cases, ingesting NBOMe compounds can lead to a fatal reaction. We can also think of ketamine as a synthetic psychedelic. This is a compound that can cause damage to the organs (especially the bladder) if you use it heavily.
Sometimes Synthetic Psychedelics Can Be Safer
There is a mistaken assumption that if a psychedelic is natural, then it is automatically safer than a synthetic compound. Many natural psychedelics, however, are worse for the body than synthetic ones.
For example, there are a number of case reports where ingesting ibogaine (found in the plant Tabernanthe iboga) led to cardiac arrhythmias (heart rhythm problems), heart damage, cardiac arrest, and death. Research also indicates that ibogaine can cause heart issues in people without any underlying heart conditions or family history of them. In these cases, individuals are taking ibogaine in the normal dose range. In contrast, researchers highlight that using the synthetic psychedelic 2CB in a moderate dose is relatively safe. There are a limited number of cases reporting toxicity related to 2CB.
There are other natural psychedelics that can be worse on the body than synthetic psychedelics. For example, Amanita muscaria (or fly agaric mushroom) is a psychedelic mushroom. But it is also poisonous, in the sense that its psychoactive compounds can make you feel sick. Eating this mushroom can induce vomiting, delirium, agitation, and confusion. However, deaths from fly agaric are rare. Parboiling (partial or semi-boiling) can also help reduce the mushroom’s toxicity.
One of the safest psychedelics is the semi-synthetic compound LSD. From a physiological point of view, LSD is non-toxic and medically safe when you take it at standard doses. Brad Burge from the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) states that there is no lethal dose for LSD. This contrasts with ibogaine that can cause heart complications in standard doses and which has a lethal dose.
The Safety Of Synthetic Psychedelics Isn’t Always Certain
Many psychedelic RCs have a similar chemical structure to natural psychedelics (they are also known as chemical analogs). Examples of natural psychedelics and similar RCs include mescaline and proscaline, and psilocybin and 4-AcO-DMT. While the similarity in chemical structure could mean their risk profiles are similar, studies have not confirmed this.
RCs are newer compared to natural psychedelics. So we don’t have the same amount of evidence indicating their effects on the body. If the psychedelic RC is very new, then there may be no studies at all on its safety. It’s important to keep in mind that even small variations in chemical structure can change how the body processes the compound.
Synthetic Psychedelics Can Be As Safe As The Alternative
In most cases, a synthetic psychedelic is as safe as taking the natural psychedelic in the form of a whole plant or mushroom. For example, synthetic psilocybin is deemed safe in humans, as are the various psychedelic mushrooms which contain it. Nutt notes that it is “virtually impossible to die from an overdose of them [LSD and magic mushrooms]; they cause no physical harm…” Similarly, Burge underscores that there is no known lethal dose for pure psilocybin. Nutt’s reference to LSD also illustrates how a semi-synthetic psychedelic like LSD can more or less be as safe as natural psychedelics like psilocybin.
As we can see, there is no easy answer when comparing the safety of natural psychedelics vs. synthetic psychedelics in the body. Sometimes, natural psychedelics are physically safer, and, in other cases, synthetic compounds are less risky. However, many natural psychedelics have been used for longer and have been studied more extensively. In these cases, you can be more confident about their safety profile.
To figure out which drug is better for your body, it’s worth doing research into each individual compound, rather than deciding that, if it’s natural, it must automatically be safer.
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