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Psychedelic experience

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Title: Psychedelic experience  
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Subject: Psilocybin mushroom, Psychedelia, Psychedelic literature, Bad trip, Psychedelic drug
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Psychedelic experience

A psychedelic experience is a temporary altered state of consciousness induced by the consumption of psychedelic drugs (such as LSD, mescaline, psilocybin mushrooms, salvia divinorum, cannabis, and DMT). An acid trip refers to psychedelic experiences brought on by the use of LSD.

The term "psychedelic" derives from Greek words meaning "mind revealing". Psychedelic experiences are used in exploratory, learning, recreational, religious/mystical and therapeutic contexts.


  • Definition 1
  • Etymology 2
  • Dynamics of the psychedelic experience 3
  • Levels 4
    • Level 1 (Mild) 4.1
    • Level 2 (Moderate) 4.2
    • Level 3 (Strong) 4.3
    • Level 4 (Profound) 4.4
    • Level 5 (Ineffable) 4.5
  • Bad trip 5
  • Usage 6
    • Mystical and religious experience 6.1
    • Personal development 6.2
      • Aldous Huxley's Mind at Large 6.2.1
      • Psychedelic psychotherapy 6.2.2
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


Psychedelic experience is a temporary altered state of consciousness induced by the consumption of psychedelic drugs (the best known of which are LSD and psilocybin 'magic' mushrooms). The psychedelic altered state of consciousness is commonly characterised as a higher (elevated or transcendent) state relative to ordinary (sober) experience, for example the psychologist Benny Shanon observed from ayahuasca trip reports: “the assessment, very common with ayahuasca, that what is seen and thought during the course of intoxication defines the real, whereas the world that is ordinarily perceived is actually an illusion.”.[1]

Similarly psychologist Stanislav Grof described the LSD experience as: “complex revelatory insights into the nature of existence... typically accompanied by a sense of certainty that this knowledge is ultimately more relevant and “real” than the perceptions and beliefs we share in everyday life.”.[2] Also the philosopher Alan Watts likened psychedelic experiencing to the transformations of consciousness that are undertaken in Taoism and Zen, which he says is: “more like the correction of faulty perception or the curing of a disease...not an acquisitive process of learning more and more facts or greater and greater skills, but rather an unlearning of wrong habits and opinions”.[3]

The LSD experience was described by Alan Watts as: “revelations of the secret workings of the brain, of the associative and patterning processes, the ordering systems which carry out all our sensing and thinking”.[4]


The term 'psychedelic' derives from Greek words meaning 'mind revealing' because the psychedelic experience is said to reveal aspects of cognitive processing that are hidden from view in ordinary (sober) experiences. An acid trip refers to psychedelic experiences brought on by LSD.[5]

Dynamics of the psychedelic experience

An attempt (in no way capable of exhaustively covering the "tremendous range" of psychedelic experience) to give "a more general view of their [psychedelics] effects on perception, thought, and feeling" follows:[6]

First, sensory perceptions become especially brilliant and intense. Normally unnoticed aspects of the environment capture the attention; ordinary objects are seen as if for the first time and acquire new depths of significance. Aesthetic responses are greatly heightened: colors seem more intense, textures richer, contours sharpened, music more emotionally profound, the spatial arrangements of objects more meaningful. People may feel keener awareness of their bodies or sense changes in the appearance and feeling of body parts. Depth perception is often heightened and perspective distorted; inanimate objects take on expressions, and synesthesia (hearing colors, seeing sounds, etc.) is common. Time may seem to slow down enormously as more and more passing events claim the attention, or it may stop entirely, giving place to an eternal present. When the eyes are closed, fantastically vivid images appear: first geometrical forms and then landscapes, buildings, animate beings, and symbolic objects. The emotional effects are even more profound than the perceptual ones. The drug taker becomes unusually sensitive to faces, gestures, and small changes in the environment. As everything in the field of consciousness assumes unusual importance, feelings become magnified; love, gratitude, joy, sympathy, lust, anger, pain, terror, despair, or loneliness may become overwhelming, or two seemingly incompatible feelings may be experienced at once. It is possible to feel either unusual openness and closeness to others or exaggerated distance that makes them seem like grotesque puppets or robots. The extraordinary sensations and feelings may bring on fear of losing control, paranoia, and panic, or they may cause euphoria and bliss. Short-term memory is usually impaired, but forgotten incidents from the remote past may be released from the unconscious and relived. Introspective reflection with a sense of deep, sometimes painful insight into oneself or the nature of humanity and the universe is common; often the experience seems somehow more real or more essential than everyday life. There are also profound changes in the sense of self: the ego may separate from the body (dissociation), or the boundary between self and environment may dissolve. At deeper levels, drug users may regress to childhood as they relive their memories, or they may project themselves into the series of dreamlike images before their closed eyelids and become the protagonists of symbolic dramas enacted for the mind's eye. Actions, persons, and images in this dream-world or even in the external world may become so intensely significant and metaphorically representative that they take on the character of symbols, myths, and allegories. Loss of self may be experienced as an actual death and rebirth, undergone with anguish and joy of overwhelming intensity. In some cases the culmination is a mystical ecstasy in which for an eternal moment all contradictions seem reconciled, all questions answered, all wants irrelevant or satisfied, all existence encompassed by an experience that is felt to define the ultimate reality, boundless, timeless, and ineffable. Some of these effects are more common than others, but none are guaranteed to occur. Many recreational users have probably never experienced the more profound and extraordinary effects, which are usually produced by larger doses, closed eyes, and deep introspection. At any dose, a great deal depends on the time, the place, and the persons involved. Each drug experience is a unique journey of exploration into the mind.


The Vaults of Erowid discuss the psychedelic experience in a FAQ that provides a partial overview of ideas expressed in Timothy Leary's book The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead. They classified five levels of psychedelic experience.[7]

Level 1 (Mild)

This level produces a mild 'stoning' effect, perhaps with some low degree of visual alteration/enhancement (i.e. brighter colours). Some short-term memory anomalies. Music can sound richer and more vibrant. This level of psychedelic intoxication can be achieved with common doses of cannabis and MDMA, light doses of MDA, and light doses of psilocybin mushrooms.

Level 2 (Moderate)

Bright colours and visuals (i.e. things start to move and breathe). Some flowing geometric 2-dimensional patterns become apparent upon shutting eyes. Confused or reminiscent thoughts. Change in short-term memory leads to continual distractive thought patterns. Vast increase in abstract thought becomes apparent as the natural brain filter is bypassed. Can be achieved with very strong doses of cannabis, common to strong doses of hash oil, light doses of LSD, light to common doses of psilocybin mushrooms, light to common doses of mescaline, strong to heavy doses of MDMA, and common doses of MDA and 2C-B.

Level 3 (Strong)

Very obvious visuals, everything looks curved and warped, patterns and kaleidoscopes seen on walls and faces (Albert Hofmann, the discoverer of LSD, described how during his bicycle ride home after his first deliberate LSD self-administration: “Everything in my field of vision wavered and was distorted as if seen in a curved mirror”). Some mild hallucinations such as rivers flowing in wood grain or 'mother of pearl' surfaces. Remarkably vibrant and powerful flowing colourful multi-dimensional geometric patterns are seen when the eyes are closed. There is some confusion of the senses (synesthesia). Time distortions and 'moments of eternity'. Movement at times becomes extremely difficult (too much effort required). Can be achieved with common doses of LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, mescaline, and ayahuasca. Can also be achieved with very high doses of cannabis (usually reachable only by oral administration).

Level 4 (Profound)

Strong hallucinations, i.e. objects morphing into other objects. Destruction or multiple splittings of the ego. Things start talking to you or you find that you are feeling contradictory things simultaneously. Some loss of reality. Time becomes meaningless. Out-of-body experiences and ESP type phenomena.[8] Blending of the senses (especially seeing sound/music). Can be achieved with strong doses of LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, mescaline, and common to strong doses of ayahuasca.

Level 5 (Ineffable)

This type of experience occurs during high-dose, high-intensity psychedelic sessions. Experiences include total loss of visual connection with reality (unable to tell if eyes are open or closed). The senses cease to function in the normal way (synaesthesia). Total loss of ego. Merging with space, other objects or the universe. The loss of reality becomes so severe that it defies explanation. The earlier levels are relatively easy to explain in terms of measureable changes in perception and thought patterns. This level is different in that the actual universe within which things are normally perceived, ceases to exist. Satori enlightenment (and other such labels) (**).[9] Classic religious/mystical phenomena are commonly reported at this dosage/intensity level; in particular the experience of mystical death/rebirth. Trippers have described experiences of connection to an "all-knowing presence" or a "universal knowledge", which many equate with extra-terrestrials, artificial intelligence, God, love, nothingness/void, transcendent unity, or enlightenment. Can be achieved with strong doses of vaporized DMT, very strong doses of psilocybin mushrooms, very strong doses of LSD, strong doses of salvinorin A, and high but sub-anesthetic doses of ketamine.

Bad trip

A "bad trip" ("drug-induced temporary psychosis" or "psychedelic crisis") is a disturbing, unpleasant, frightening and possibly traumatising psychedelic experience. Bad trips are more common at high doses, where the psychedelic effect is more intense.

The manifestations can range from feelings of vague anxiety and alienation to profoundly disturbing states of unrelieved terror, ultimate entrapment, sheer insanity or cosmic annihilation. Psychedelic specialists in the psychotherapeutic community do not necessarily consider unpleasant experiences as unhealthy or undesirable, focusing instead on their potential to greatly benefit the user when properly resolved. Bad trips can be exacerbated by the inexperience or irresponsibility of the user or the lack of proper preparation and environment for the trip, and are reflective of unresolved psychological tensions triggered during the course of the experience.[10]


Mystical and religious experience

Psychedelic experience includes the full range of mystical or religious experiential phenomena. Two scientific studies have concluded that psilocybin (a typical psychedelic compound that occurs naturally in psilocybin mushrooms) reliably triggers mystical-type experiences.[11] The more recent study at Johns Hopkins University identified mystical experiences by means of several questionnaires designed to categorise altered state 'non-ordinary' experiences, including one questionnaire called 'the mysticism scale'.[12]

Furthermore, psychedelic drugs have a long history of religious use across the world, they are often called entheogens because of their propensity to cause these kinds of experiences.[13]

Several modern religions exist today that base their religious activities and beliefs around psychedelic experiencing, such as Santo Daime and the Native American Church. In this context, the psychedelic experience is interpreted as a way of communicating with the realm of spirits or ancestors.

Personal development

There is a distinctly gnosis-like quality to psychedelic experiencing, it is a learning experience that elevates consciousness and makes a profound contribution to personal development. For this reason, the plant sources of some psychedelic drugs such as ayahuasca and psilocybin mushrooms are sometimes referred to as "plant teachers".[14] Similarly, in a follow-up to the psilocybin and mysticism study at Johns Hopkins, researchers observed that psilocybin "occasions personally and spiritually significant mystical experiences that predict long-term changes in behaviors, attitudes and values".[15]

Aldous Huxley's Mind at Large

In his book The Doors of Perception, author and psychonaut Aldous Huxley presents the idea of the Mind at Large in order to explain the significance of the psychedelic experience. The mind at Large is a state of mind which humans are normally oblivious to, due to learned social norms and partially due to their biology. According to Huxley, the central nervous system's main function is to shut out the majority of what we perceive.[16] According to Huxley, the brain filters out those perceptions which are useful for survival. Society aids to this filtering, by creating a symbolic system which structures our reality, which reduces our awareness".[16] According to Huxley, thousands of other worlds exist that are interconnected with our own. Humans can make contact with these other worlds, using multiple ways of contacting such as genetics, hypnosis, and the use of psychedelic drugs.

Psychedelic psychotherapy

Psychedelic therapy refers to therapeutic practices involving the use of psychedelic drugs to facilitate beneficial exploration of the psyche. In contrast to conventional psychiatric medication which is taken by the patient regularly or as-needed, in psychedelic therapy, patients remain in an extended psychotherapy session during the acute activity of the drug and spend the night at the facility. In the sessions with the drug, therapists are nondirective and support the patient in exploring their inner experience. Patients participate in psychotherapy before the drug psychotherapy sessions to prepare them and after the drug psychotherapy to help them integrate their experiences with the drug.[17]

An early practitioner of psychedelic drug based psychiatry was Humphrey Osmond, a British psychiatrist who was responsible for coining the word 'psychedelic' in the first place. Osmond claimed that his own personal use of LSD had helped him to understand the inner mental states of his schizophrenic patients.[18]

Another important practitioner in this field is Stanislav Grof, who pioneered the use of LSD in psychotherapy.[19] Grof characterised psychedelic experiencing as "non-specific amplification of unconscious mental processes", and he analysed the phenomenology of the LSD experience (particularly the experience of psychospiritual death and rebirth) in terms of Otto Rank's theory of the unresolved memory of the primal birth trauma.[20]

This use of ego death can allow many terminally ill patients (e.g. those with end-stage cancer) to rationally approach their deaths from outside of the usually egotistical value one places on themselves. Trials have proven that this release is capable of causing the pains associated with eminent, unavoidable death to become manageable and understandable; realizing that the passage from life to death is simply another step in living. This work was most actively pursued by Charles Grob at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.

See also


  1. ^ Shanon, Benny (2002). The antipodes of the mind : charting the phenomenology of the Ayahuasca experience (Reprinted ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. p. 205.  
  2. ^ Bennett, Stanislav Grof with Hal Zina (2006). The holotropic mind : the three levels of human consciousness and how they shape our lives (1st paperback ed., [Nachdr.] ed.). San Francisco, Calif.: HarperSanFrancisco. p. 38.  
  3. ^ Leary, Alan W. Watts ; with a new introduction by Daniel Pinchbeck ; foreword by Timothy; PhD; PhD, Richard Alpert, (2013). The joyous cosmology : adventures in the chemistry of consciousness (Second ed.). p. 15.  
  4. ^ Leary, Alan W. Watts ; with a new introduction by Daniel Pinchbeck ; foreword by Timothy; PhD; PhD, Richard Alpert, (2013). The joyous cosmology : adventures in the chemistry of consciousness (Second ed.). p. 44.  
  5. ^ Thorne, Tony (2014). Dictionary of Contemporary Slang. A&C Black. p. 21.  
  6. ^ Grinspoon, Lester, & Bakalar, James. B. (Eds.). Psychedelic Reflections. (1983). New York: Human Sciences Press. p. 13-14 ISBN 0-89885-129-7
  7. ^ "Gnosis". "The Psychedelic FAQ". Erowid Psychoactive Vaults. 1996.
  8. ^ Luke, D. (2012). Psychoactive substances and paranormal phenomena: A comprehensive review. International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 31, 97-156 [2]
  9. ^ "psychedelic FAQ". 
  10. ^ Stanislav Grof, LSD Psychotherapy; passim
  11. ^ (PDF) 
  12. ^ Openness,
  13. ^ Rätsch, Richard Evans Schultes, Albert Hofmann, Christian (2001). Plants of the gods : their sacred, healing, and hallucinogenic powers (Rev. and expanded ed.). Rochester, Vt.: Healing Arts Press.  
  14. ^ 
  15. ^ (PDF) 
  16. ^ a b Huxley, Aldous (1954) The Doors of Perception. Reissue published by HarperCollins: 2004. p. 22-25 ISBN 0-06-059518-3
  17. ^ "A Manual for MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy in the Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder" (PDF).  
  18. ^ 
  19. ^ LSD psychotherapy (4th ed.). [Ben Lomond, Calif.?]: Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. 2008.  
  20. ^ Grof, Stanislav (1976). Realms of the human unconscious : observations from LSD research. New York: Dutton. p. 98.  

External links

  • Publicly expressed thoughts and ideas about the effects of psychedelic drugs.
  • Online Lecture - Psychedelics and Mental Health - Dr David Luke
  • ERIE (Entheogenic Research, Integration, and Education) 501(c)(3) provides support to individuals navigating their psychedelic integration process.
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