With all of the talk of the decriminalization and medical use of natural psychedelics in the news lately, some may wonder what all that group consists of. 

There are several types of groups of organic compounds that occur naturally in plants, animals, and fungus, that have a psychedelic effect. People refer to the group of organisms that contain these compounds as entheogenic, hence the term entheogenic organisms. Humans and animals can access these compounds simply by ingesting these organisms. People can also extract the compounds out of the plants using fairly primitive methods in some cases. Very much the same way THC, CBD, etc. is extracted from the cannabis plant.

Today we’ll go over the more common compounds that make entheogenic organisms so magical. Those organic compounds are mescaline, ibogaine, psilocybin, and DMT. 


Mescaline (3,4,5-trimethoxyphenethylamine) is one of the psychoactive alkaloids found in certain cacti. What are psychoactive alkaloids? You’re asking the wrong person. I never even took high school chemistry. But from what I can tell, alkaloids are a group of nitrogen, carbon, hydrogen, and other plant atoms. Alkaloids must also have a profound effect on humans. Whether that be a strong flavor, a hallucinogenic experience, or poisoning. 

Those that have a hallucinogenic effect are phenethylamine alkaloids. Some of the cacti that contain the psychoactive phenethylamine alkaloid mescaline are peyote and to a lesser extent, San Pedro. There are many other psychoactive cactuses containing entirely different hallucinogenic compounds. But none as well-known or powerful as mescaline.  


Ibogaine, (12-Methoxyibogamine) is an alkaloid found in some plants in the Apocynaceae family of flowering shrubs. People most commonly use the Tabernanthe iboga plant from Africa to extract ibogaine. Rauvolfia serpentina and Catharanthus roseus also contain potentially therapeutic amounts of ibogaine. 

People use ibogaine for recreational and spiritual reasons, and to treat addiction. Those who have used ibogaine report an experience that causes a drastic perspective shift. While studies have shown that iboga may be useful in helping transition those in active addiction by essentially helping them detox and change their mindset. But there is some concern about proper dosage and the potential for damage, particularly cardiovascular damage and even death when the dosage isn’t attended to carefully. 


Psilocybin ([3-(2-Dimethylaminoethyl)-1H-indol-4-yl] dihydrogen phosphate) is a compound found in over 200 species of mushrooms. It’s what makes them magic! The most commonly used psilocybe mushrooms are cyanescens, cubensis, and liberty caps.

Psilocybin is having a bit of a moment right now. John Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research is conducting research on the therapeutic use of psilocybin. The research includes psilocybin’s effectiveness in treating anorexia, depression, Alzheimer’s, and more. Psilocybin research is a major factor in the move to decriminalize natural psychedelics.   


DMT (2-(1H-Indol-3-yl)-N,N-dimethylethanamine) differs from the other entheogenic organisms listed for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, the sheer variety of plants and animals that produce DMT is staggering. Those frogs you lick that get you high? They contain DMT’s close cousin and common companion 5-MeO-DMT. Trace amounts of DMT are found in the human body.

There isn’t a popular plant or fungus that is best-known for producing DMT. In fact Ayuahasca, the brew most famously associated with DMT doesn’t even contain DMT all of the time. The caapi vine, also known as the Ayahuasca vine itself doesn’t contain DMT, it contains harmala alkaloids, which serve as monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) and complement and enhance the DMT experience. People manufacture ayahuasca by mixing the caapi vine with plants that contain DMT such as Mimosa tenuiflora, Diplopterys cabrerana, and Psychotria viridis. Some folks also make chemical versions of ayahuasca using DMT extracts and synthetic MAOIs. 


 The effects of these medicines vary dramatically from person to person. Hallucinogenic drugs share traits like euphoria, visual hallucinations, and general altered awareness. These effects present differently in different substances and in different people. 

 When it comes to duration, DMT is the shortest-lasting compound at under an hour, and ibogaine tends to be the longest, lasting up to 72 hours. Psilocybin and mescaline are in between, with intense effects lasting a few hours, and lingering effects lasting up to a day. All have a wide variety in effect and duration depending on dosage and a wide range of mitigating factors.

Users have described the effects of these compounds in the following ways. Ibogaine has three stages, the first euphoric, the second lethargic and introspective, and the third stimulating. Psilocybin tends to be more love and emotion centric euphoria. Geometric hallucinations are common among users of mescaline. DMT also tends to be the most intensely visual, with full-on hallucinations of otherworldly beings commonly reported among users.

There’s a huge range of effects depending on the individual and the dosage.

Don’t Fuck with Nature

Most of these entheogenic organisms contain much more than their most intensely intoxicating compounds. Similar to how THC complements CBD and other rare cannabinoids, these plants often contain a multitude of compounds that enhance effects. The more chemical processes we use to extract and/or synthesize these compounds the further we get from enjoying them as intended by nature. And we’ll miss out on all the potential goodness and healing traits contained right in these plants. 


Image created by Emily Manke, please link to this page for reuse.