Psychedelic experience

For the book authored by Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner and Richard Alpert, see The 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, DMT and 5-MeO-DMT). An acid trip refers to psychedelic experiences brought on by the use of LSD.

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


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] 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 Humphry Osmond meaning 'mind manifesting' deriving from a Psychedelic's ability to express effects upon the psyche (e.g. Psyche-).[5] An acid trip refers to psychedelic experiences brought on by LSD.[6] The term "trip" was first coined by USA Army scientists during the 50s when they were experimenting with LSD.[7]

Bad trip

Main article: 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.[8]


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.[9] 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'.[10]

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.[11]

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".[12] 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".[13]

Aldous Huxley's Mind at Large

Main article: 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.[14] 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".[14] 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

Main article: Psychedelic therapy

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.[15] [16]

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.[17]

Another important practitioner in this field is Stanislav Grof, who pioneered the use of LSD in psychotherapy.[18] 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.[19]

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. ISBN 978-0-19-925292-3.
  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. ISBN 9780062506597.
  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. ISBN 9781608682041.
  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. ISBN 9781608682041.
  5. Goldsmith, Neal. Psychedelic Healing.
  6. Thorne, Tony (2014). Dictionary of Contemporary Slang. A&C Black. p. 21. ISBN 978-1-4081-8180-5.
  7. Lee, Martin A. (1985). Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD: The CIA, The Sixties, and Beyond. Grove Press. p. 39. ISBN 0-802-13062-3.
  8. Stanislav Grof, LSD Psychotherapy; passim
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  10., Openness psilocybin
  11. 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. ISBN 0892819790.
  12. Missing or empty |title= (help)
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  14. 1 2 Huxley, Aldous (1954) The Doors of Perception. Reissue published by HarperCollins: 2004. p. 22-25 ISBN 0-06-059518-3
  15. "A Manual for MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy in the Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder" (PDF). Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. 4 January 2013. Retrieved 31 May 2014.
  16. Sessa, Ben (2015). Psychedelic Drug Treatments. USA: Mercury Learning & Information. p. 60. ISBN 1936420449.
  17. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  18. LSD psychotherapy (4th ed.). [Ben Lomond, Calif.?]: Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. 2008. ISBN 0979862205. |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  19. Grof, Stanislav (1976). Realms of the human unconscious : observations from LSD research. New York: Dutton. p. 98. ISBN 0-525-47438-2.

Further reading

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