Science | Mescaline: A Neglected Tool for Psychotherapy
Sam Woolfe looks at the unique characteristics and therapeutic potential of mescaline.
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The term “research chemical” (also known as NPS – new/novel psychoactive substances) has been tossed around by the media in recent years, but what exactly does it mean? Commonly, a research chemical (referred to from now on as an RC), is an all-encompassing term for almost any compound produced in a laboratory setting – that is, synthetically derived. The term has gained more popularity in recent years, due in part to the fact that more RCs are available now than ever before.
Although commonly known compounds, such as Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), Ketamine, and 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) could arguably be called RCs since they were made in a laboratory, usually the term applies to those more recently developed (most often within the last 30 years), that are in some ways chemically related to these and other compounds.
Some researchers devoutly oppose RCs as long-term effects are unknown, side effects can be unpredictable and research is scarce. Other researchers greatly enjoy them, often saying that there is little to no difference between the research chemical compound and the parent compound it was modeled after. Through careful experimentation, there are even some who claim that more recently developed RCs serve an even higher function and provide better results.
If compounds like LSD, Ketamine, and MDMA already exist, why bother creating research chemicals that are chemically related to them? One of the driving factors for the teams of chemists who create new RCs is to hopefully create new therapeutic compounds, which may allow for medicinal use and treatments, personal growth and healing, while at the same time remaining within the law. There are some individuals who have built their life off of this philosophy.
One such individual is the famous chemist, Alexander (Sasha) Shulgin. This man is known for the creation of nearly 200 psychoactive compounds with a plethora of effects that were carefully documented in his works: PiHKAL and TiHKAL. Many chemists have recreated some of these discoveries, while others have tried to tinker with various chemical makeups in order to create new compounds. There are many in the research chemical world who aspire to follow in his footsteps to this day.
Aside from the desire to create new substances for the purpose of facilitating growth, research chemicals are sometimes created merely as a means to circumvent the law. There are some chemists who spend countless hours devoting their time to developing alternatives that are just a bit different than the parent compound, which usually results in the newly made compound being “legal” as its chemical structure is not defined by any laws.
For instance, there are some compounds such as 1P-LSD, 1cP-LSD, and LSZ which are chemically related to LSD. MDMA has analogs as well, including 6-APB and Methylone (bk-MDMA). Even Ketamine has several analogs, though 3-Methoxyphencyclidine (3-MeO-PCP) and 2-Fluorodeschloroketamine (2-FDCK) seem to be the most common at present. These are just a few of the 1000’s of research chemicals that have been discovered so far.
No matter the cause for the existence of these compounds, it is worth noting that there is a global demand for psychoactive substances, creating a large market and therefore a system of supply and demand between research chemical vendors and researchers that only seems to be growing in scope.
What usually happens is that a chemist will stumble upon a unique and powerful research chemical, and they share their findings and personal research with the world. This compound gets manufactured and mass research begins. As the compound becomes more popular, the probability of misuse occurs, which can attract the attention of the media. Once the media gets word of the problematic RC, the compound is now on the radar of local governments, and it is up to these governments to halt the spread of the compound if they so choose. Additionally, governmental advisory bodies also record new compounds through postal, customs, and law enforcement seizures and gauge the popularity of the compound in this manner. The compounds that are uncovered more frequently have a greater likelihood of being scheduled over time.
Some countries, such as the United Kingdom, have a blanket ban on anything that may be psychoactive, which technically includes virtually all research chemical compounds. Other countries, such as the United States, take the initiative to ban research chemicals explicitly one at a time, including Methylone and Methoxetamine (MXE). It seems every country has its own method of handling newly discovered RCs. Please make sure you check the rules and regulations of your country!
Just like many industries that exist today, serious RC vendors are registered, tax-paying businesses, and thus have more time and money invested into the success of their establishment. It is the truly accomplished vendors that follow good ethical principles, which are able to build the most fruitful business. Failure to provide excellent customer service and provide quality products can result in serious consequences for researchers as well as the business itself.
When searching for a vendor, adequate research must be done. Time should be taken to search through products offered on their website to see if there are helpful and genuine reviews. Since there is the possibility of false reviews, look to third-party websites, such as TrustPilot, to see reputable reviews of an RC vendor. Traditionally, the greater the reputation of a vendor on these types of third-party sites, the greater the likelihood of an honest and valid transaction. Something else that may be observed, though it seems to be less common, are vendors who provide proton nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) results, which give a direct look at what the molecular structure of the compound should be.
For more information on how to buy RCs, please see our page on the subject here.
Hypothetically, let us say that a researcher has access to LSD and 1P-LSD. Knowing that much less research has been done on 1P-LSD versus LSD, why would the individual even consider 1P-LSD? Aside from the legal availability, which was highlighted above, the RC variant of the parent compound is usually cheaper. Not only this, but the effects of the RC are often so similar to the parent compound, that most individuals will be unable to differentiate between the two substances.
A seasoned researcher may recognize that LSD has a longer duration of effect than its 1P-LSD cousin, among other differences, but a novice will likely have no idea. Some would argue that it is safer to get a chemically similar compound from an RC vendor who has a reputation to maintain than to try to acquire a chemically related illicit compound from a “street-grade” vendor. Additionally, although it has yet to be directly proven, there are some that argue that a more recent RC compound may be even more effective than the parent compound it was modeled off of, allowing for an even greater depth of research.
It is because of these allegedly similar effects between parent compounds and newly created RCs, that we are confronted with one of the primary dangers of RC production: Black market distributors who are looking to make an easy profit by selling compounds. If most researchers are unable to differentiate between the illegal compound and its newly formulated legal RC counterpart without expensive laboratory equipment, then why wouldn’t the distributor simply sell the RC equivalent? Indeed, this is happening more and more often and many researchers unknowingly purchase a cheaper, chemically similar substance than the one that was initially advertised to them, resulting in occasional unpredictable and unpleasant effects.
As was stated earlier, the most common deterrent seems to be the possibility of unknown long-term effects. If the compound was only synthesized for the first time within the last few years, how can anyone possibly know if there are any serious ill-effects that will occur 15 or 20 years after research? Just because compounds are somewhat similar chemically, it does not guarantee that the long-term effects are the same.
Another potential danger is the possibility of unpredictable effects. An experiment that reacts one way to a parent compound, will likely not react exactly the same way to a more recently created analog. Though the difference is usually slight, sometimes it is enough to result in unpleasant effects.
One of the lesser-known causes for concern is the possibility of an allergy when handling a specific chemical. Though it is exceedingly rare, there have been instances where researchers who tolerated one particular compound, may be allergic to an analog RC. Chemical allergies can be very difficult to address, which is why it is usually advisable to initially conduct research with a very small amount as an allergy test, especially if the researcher is prone to allergies.
Truthfully, there is no way of knowing if the researcher will achieve similar research results from an RC when compared to the parent compound until the RC is actually experimented with. The primary advice here is to do adequate reading and research before experimenting with any RC. Much time should be taken consulting online forums, message boards, or similar internet safe-havens. Since the research is sparse due to how recently many of these compounds have been synthesized, the researcher will be unlikely to find any established technical information and will have to rely on anecdotal evidence from others. Please be aware of the danger of this if that is the case!
So far, Ketamine, LSD, and MDMA have been mentioned multiple times, but are there other types of RCs that are different from these? There certainly are! For almost any commonly known substance, be it Cannabis, Benzodiazepines, or even Opioids, there is usually a multitude of RC variants. Perhaps this is best illustrated by some examples:
In Cannabis, the primary active cannabinoid is ∆9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Some years ago, companies sought to replicate this naturally occurring cannabinoid in a synthetic form, which gave rise to Synthetic Cannabinoids. Many varieties of these have been developed over the years, most notably by chemist John W. Huffman in the “JWH” series (popular chemicals: JWH-018, JWH-122). A lot of these synthetic cannabinoids found their way into “Spice”, “Incense”, “K2”, and other herbal smoking blends around the years 2005-2015, purported to cause a cannabis-like intoxication. Other examples of synthetic cannabinoids include UR-144, AKB-48, CP-55-940, and AB-FUBINACA.
When it comes to Opioids, there is no shortage of supply of RC variants. The most common RC Opioids are likely the relatives of Fentanyl, which is a notoriously powerful Opioid responsible for the overdose deaths of millions worldwide. Some RC analogs of Fentanyl include 3-Fluoro-fentanyl, Alpha-methyl-fentanyl, and Acetyl-fentanyl. It is likely that some of these analogs found their way into street-grade Heroin that has been circulating throughout the planet, resulting in some of these aforementioned overdose deaths.
More recently, Benzodiazepine RCs have become more readily available. Clonazolam, which looks remarkably like Clonazepam in its name, but differs slightly in chemical structure, has become quite popular. Other RC Benzodiazepine relatives include Flubromazolam, Diclazepam, and Flualprazolam.
As for psychedelics, LSD is not the only compound to have chemical relatives. Psilocybin, the active chemical in psychedelic mushrooms, also has chemical cousins, such as 4-AcO-DMT (Psilacetin). Mescaline, the chemical notorious for its presence in South American cacti, has allowed for N-methylmescaline, Escaline, and Proscaline to be created.
These examples are merely meant to be a vague indicator of just how expansive the market for RC compounds is. There were only a few examples of each compound mentioned above, but if adequate research is done, the researcher will likely uncover information about hundreds or even thousands of other chemicals.
There are many online resources that curious explorers turn to when trying to find more information about these chemicals. Doing a simple Google search usually does not achieve the intended result. A common recommendation is to go to the popular online forum site, Reddit, and search for relevant compounds there. Other locations include Psychonaut Wiki and Blue Light.
We have an article taking a detailed look at 1cP-LSD you can read here.
As for some parting notes, it cannot be stressed enough how important it is to do adequate reading and research before deciding to personally research RCs. Just because one chemical may have affected a researcher one way, does not mean that a similar-looking chemical will yield similar effects! Please be safe!
Master Horus | Guest Blogger at Chemical Collective
Master Horus is the Author of Drugs of The Universe, a FREE harm reduction and education handbook you can read here.
Sam Woolfe looks at the unique characteristics and therapeutic potential of mescaline.
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