To many Americans, psychedelic drugs conjure images of the drug-addled ‘60s and ‘70s. From the Grateful Dead to Eric Clapton, musicians and actors famously used LSD and other psychedelic substances during the countercultural movement.

However, Medicine Daily reports that today’s generation is as likely to use psychedelic drugs as baby boomers in the 1960s, marking a significant rise over the past three decades. Despite being associated with the counterculture, psychedelic drugs have a long history of use throughout the world.

Native American Culture

In dry, hot areas such as southwestern Texas and Mexico, a small cactus with major psychedelic properties grows in the desert. Called peyote, the cactus is known to contain psychoactive alkaloid chemicals such as mescaline. Archaeologists have found evidence of Native Americans using peyote as early as 5,500 years ago.

Although not all Native American tribes used peyote, it was commonly used in religious ceremonies and healing rituals among the Apache, Utes, and Navajo tribes. Today, the United States considers peyote use among members of the Native American Church legal.

Other native peoples of the Americas have a rich tradition of psychedelic substance use. For example, indigenous people living in the Peruvian Amazon region have used ayahuasca for hundreds of years. Ayahuasca is a hallucinogenic mixture created from infusions of several types of plants. It is administered as part of a religious sacrament, in which users experience hallucinations and spiritual awakening.

LSD in the mid-20th Century

The power of psychedelic substances came into the public eye with the popularity of LSD in the 1960s counterculture. LSD (short for lysergic acid diethylamide) was originally derived from a grain fungus called ergot in 1938. In the 1940s and 1950s, LSD was primarily used in government research on mind control and as a psychiatric drug thought to be helpful in treating mental illness.

Then, famous counterculture members and intellectuals, such as Timothy Leary and Aldous Huxley, began promoting the use of LSD. Proponents of the drug claimed that it induced mystical experiences that profoundly changed one’s outlook on the world. Soon, however, the U.S. government took notice of the drug’s effects and declared it illegal in 1968. Despite it becoming illegal, LSD remained an important part of drug experimentation for artists and musicians, including the Beatles, Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead, and Jimi Hendrix.

Today’s Psychedelic Drugs

Although use of LSD and other psychedelics dropped in the 1980s and ‘90s, approximately 17% of today’s Americans have tried a psychedelic substance at least once, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Rather than using LSD or peyote, however, today’s youth are more likely to experiment with psilocybin. The rise of Internet resources on how to cultivate mushrooms may be a significant factor in their popularity.

lthough there are some differences among these psychedelic substances, all act upon the same receptor in the brain and cause similar effects.

Looking to the Future

Many of the popular psychedelics used in the past — peyote, psilocybin, LSD — are at least partially derived from natural compounds. However, drug researchers believe that the future will bring a rise in synthetic psychedelics. Amateur drug enthusiasts attempt to synthesize new chemicals with greater hallucinatory and mind altering effects.

These drugs often blend several existing types of psychedelics, creating compounds that exist in a legal grey zone. The new drugs are in a similar class as existing psychedelics, but their chemical formulas differ, making them different from the substances that the government makes illegal.

One of the primary worries of drug experts is that these new synthetics often have dangerous — even lethal — side effects. Understanding the effect of these drugs on the brain and body will be an important step in dealing with substance abuse and addiction among users of these synthetic psychedelics.