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A Quick Trip Through the World of Short-Acting Psychedelics

For those times when you want to meet a spiritual jester in an alternate dimension, but you’ve only got an hour to work with

Over the last two years, everyone’s lives have been thrown into disarray thanks to a little-known thing called “the pandemic.” So, it only makes sense that everyone’s been turning to sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll to get them through the tough times. And, when I say drugs, I specifically mean psychedelics. A 2021 survey found that an increasing number of people have been microdosing to improve their mental wellbeing during COVID, with Gen Z in particular favoring psychedelics over other vices, like alcohol or party drugs.

However, it seems a select few have one problem with this pivot to psychedelics: These dang trips are just so dang long! They have a point — the effects of the most commonly used psychedelics, LSD and shrooms, can last between four and 12 hours, which, especially for the psychonauts living back in their parents’ basements for the pandemic, isn’t always ideal. This explains why a number of them are dialing up their broadband to search for “short-acting psychedelics” — i.e., a quick trip that lasts roughly between 30 minutes and two hours.

Unfortunately, there aren’t that many on offer — outside of DMT, people seem hard-pressed to suggest shorter-lasting alternatives. Luckily, Michelle Janikian, a journalist and the author of Your Psilocybin Mushroom Companion, is here to take us through the limited options. But before we get into it, Janikian warns that the four psychedelics on her list are “really intense.” “Even though some folks might be looking for a shorter experience, I wouldn’t recommend these substances to someone without a lot of psychedelic experience,” she tells me. “They’re very hard to both navigate and process later.” 

Instead, she suggests you set some time aside for a four-to-eight hour mushroom trip. Those are my weekend plans, what about you?


DMT (N-dimethyltryptamine) is a hallucinogenic drug that’s famously known for producing an effect in the brain allegedly similar to a near-death experience. It’s traditionally smoked, but can also be injected or snorted — however, these methods are said to be more dangerous. Once smoked, the effects kick in after 20 to 40 seconds and can last between five and 20 minutes. The trip typically consists of intense hallucinations, distorted visuals and an out-of-body experience that can sometimes even make you believe in god.

Janikian describes it as a “brown-looking crystal” that you “can’t put a direct flame to” (that is, it’s hard to burn). Because of this, she explains, many people “sandwich it in hash, weed or some other flower,” or “smoke it out of all sorts of weird contraptions.” Speaking of her own experience “breaking through,” she says, “It’s like as soon as you realize what’s happening, you’re already coming down. It’s only five minutes, but you’re really deep in it. And it’s scary because it’s like another world — but it’s kind of pleasant once you get the hang of it. When I did come back, I had a really deep feeling, like I was recharged, but it didn’t last long. I think I saw an entity the first time I smoked DMT, which is kind of common.” (DMT is also known as “the spirit molecule.”)

Many people, including some experts, believe that DMT is naturally produced by the brain’s pineal gland — colloquially known as the “third eye,” which some think holds mystical powers. This theory was put forward by psychiatrist Rick Strassman in his 2000 book, DMT: The Spirit Molecule, who suggested that the drug “facilitates the soul’s movement in and out of the body and is an integral part of the birth and death experiences.” Scientists, however, still haven’t come to an official conclusion.


Similar to but “even more intense” than DMT, 5-MeO-DMT is a psychedelic drug originally found in the venom of the Colorado River toad (hence its nickname, “toad”). It’s smoked, kicks in between five and 60 seconds, and lasts for 20 to 40 minutes. As outlined by Drug Science, users often “report overwhelmingly intense experiences which can sometimes be difficult to remember,” including hallucinations, time and perception distortions and cognitive and emotional shifts. As such, 5-MeO-DMT is only recommended to be taken by those who already have extensive experience taking powerful psychedelics like DMT.

“I’ve heard 5-MeO-DMT has this weird after-effect, where people have flashbacks,” says Janikian. “[In a recent study], there was a substantial amount of people who had a scary few weeks the week after [they took 5-MeO-DMT], in which they were seeing visuals again. That can be caused by a bad facilitator giving you too much. But the thing with 5-MeO is that all facilitators are pretty new at it, so the chance of making a mistake is pretty high. I’d be very careful with 5-MeO.” 

According to Forbes, Mike Tyson credits 5-MeO-DMT with changing his life. Make of that what you will.

Salvia Divinorum

Salvia divinorum or, simply salvia, is a Mexican plant that causes hallucinations when its leaves are smoked. It takes 15 to 60 seconds to come up, and the trip can last between 15 and 90 minutes. Unlike DMT and 5-MeO-DMT, the legality of salvia in the U.S. varies by state. Janikian says that although most people in the West favor smoking salvia — which makes it very “fast and intense” — in indigenous villages in Mexico, “they chew it or make a tea out of it,” which results in the trip lasting much longer.

“People categorize [salvia] in a similar category to DMT, but they’re very different experiences,” Janikian continues. “When I was a teenager in New Jersey, salvia was pretty easy to get because it was legal. And so you could buy it, then you’d smoke it like weed in a ball or a bomb. It’s a little intense, scary and uncomfortable in the body. There’s a lot of people using it in different ways, but when smoked, I don’t know if anyone really loves it.”

Referring to a piece she wrote for Psychedelics Today in 2020, Janikian explains that — far from her teenage experience — salvia is now being used for its healing, meditative properties. “People believe it has a spirit,” she continues. “The Mexicans I talked to [for my article] believe that it has a mother’s spirit. Like, a harsh mother who’s teaching you something, but not in the easiest way. They call it ‘La Pastora’ (Spanish for ‘the shepherdess’).” For Mexico’s indigenous Mazatec community, a salvia-consumption ceremony takes between four and five hours, and requires 40 days of cleansing before and after.


I’ve been hearing through the grapevine (Twitter) that Americans have discovered ketamine — much to the dismay of British people, who love showing off about their “shit-smeared” rave experiences (me included, baby). Ket is commonly snorted, but can also be injected, swallowed as a tablet or “bombed” by wrapping a bump of powder in a Rizla and swallowing it (some people even “boof” it by putting it in their butt). It’s actually an anesthetic for both humans and animals, so it has a dream-like, relaxing effect on the body. Many people take ketamine alongside party drugs — it can take 10 to 30 minutes to kick in, and can last between 45 and 90 minutes. 

Ket isn’t typically psychedelic, unless you take a bigger dose and enter what’s known as a “k-hole.” Then, according to Janikian, you enter “another world.” “The first time I did ketamine, I k-holed,” she says. “It was kind of scary. I had this near-death experience, where I didn’t know who I was or where I was until I started coming off it. I was so glad to be back to myself, but I did feel kind of good and recharged after it. Ketamine has so many different levels of experiences.”

In recent years, ketamine has become increasingly popular as a treatment for depression, with dedicated ketamine clinics opening for treatment across the U.K., U.S. and Canada. There’s even a ketamine nasal spray on the market.

Anyway, hopefully that was helpful… See you in five to 45 minutes.