Following our commitment with The Clearing, allow us to demystify the most used term in the field of mind-expansion. In order for us to do that, we need to make sure we’re all starting from the same page by taking a deeper look at what exactly a “psychedelic” really is. When you see the term "psychedelic", do you have an idea of which substances that actually includes? How about what it means? We often think of psilocybin, peyote, DMT, or ayahuasca, when we hear this term but which psychedelic compounds fall into this category and which hallucinogenic substances don't? With all the mind-manifesting resources that exist, it can be hard to navigate which psychedelic drug goes where. Let's go back to where the term "psychedelic" first began...
First Use of The Word "Psychedelic"
Unfortunately, the answer isn’t quite as simple as it should be and changes depending on who you ask. For some, a psychedelic drug is defined exclusively by the receptor binding nature in the brain. The classic psychedelics, such as magic mushrooms, ayahuasca, and Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) all engage a receptor in the brain called the 5HT2A serotonin receptor.
Humphry Osmond, psychiatrist, and researcher, was the first person to use the word psychedelic. In a letter written in 1956 to Aldous Huxley, the English author who gave a detailed account of his mescaline-induced psychedelic experience in The Doors of Perception, Osmond wrote, "To fathom hell or soar angelic, just take a pinch of psychedelic." At the time, it is likely to have been unbeknownst to Osmond just how influential his words would be. The term “psychedelic” was adopted, offering these mind-expanding substances identity and classification.
At the time, Ralph Gerard had been using the word psychotomimetic, not psychedelic, to describe drugs such as LSD and mescaline. His interest was in exploring the biological basis of schizophrenia, and he found that a handful of psychoactive drugs could produce some of the symptoms experienced by patients with this mental disorder. To him, these hallucinogenic drugs were tools that might be used to uncover the mysteries of schizophrenia. Thus, he preferred the term psychotomimetic, a word that highlights the psychosis-mimicking properties of these hallucinogenic molecules.
What Does it Mean?
Osmond seemed to respect Gerard's work. In fact, Osmond was among the first to note that certain psychoactive drugs could be useful in studying schizophrenia. However, he felt that the most important quality of these psychoactive substances was their mind-manifesting ability to access parts of the mind that were repressed, hidden, or otherwise difficult to access. Hence the word psychedelic, wherein Greek "psyche" means mind and "delic" denotes manifesting.
Hallucinogenic drugs that fell within Osmond's definition of psychedelic were known to produce changes in perception, thought, and mood with minimal disorientation, confusion, and memory loss. These psychedelic substances did not produce a general slowing down of cognitive processes like the side effects produced by alcohol, benzodiazepines, and barbiturates, nor did they produce a general acceleration of cognitive processes like caffeine, cocaine, and amphetamines.
Taking A Closer Look
LSD and mescaline would be classified as psychedelic drugs, as would molecules such as psilocybin and DMT. But where does this definition place psychoactive substances such as cannabis, ketamine, and MDMA? Cannabis can certainly produce changes in perception, thought, and mood. However, side effects can also include disorientation, confusion, and memory loss. Similarly to ketamine, which has all the hallmarks of a psychedelic drug, but at high doses, can certainly induce memory loss. MDMA seems to hit all the marks, but a lot of "psychonauts" will claim that it does not have the same mind-manifesting potential as other psychedelic compounds and therefore should fall into a separate category such as "empathogen" or "entactogen".
With further investigation, we can see that even LSD does not fit so neatly into the psychedelic drug mold. It is certainly a psychedelic drug for some people as the mystical experience produces profound mind-manifesting properties. For others, such side effects are only present at high doses or absent altogether. While a low dose of LSD can resemble the euphoric, clear-headed sense of focus induced by amphetamines. Individual responses to psychoactive drugs vary considerably with factors such as set and setting. The user's mental state, the environment in which the psychoactive drug is consumed, and dosage play an enormous role in shaping the psychedelic experience. Recent psychedelic research has shown the effects set and setting can have on the psychedelic experience.
This may be one of those many instances where language does little more than limit our perception of hallucinogenic drugs. They are psychedelics, psychotomimetics, entheogens, entactogens, hallucinogens, phantastica, antidepressants, anxiolytics—the list is as long as you want to make it, and the terms are not mutually exclusive. But let's not get overly attached to the labels we put on these hallucinogenic molecules like psilocybin, MDMA, and DMT.
The mystical experiences they produce are often beyond words and labeling these hallucinogenic substances based on their side effects and the state of consciousness they produce seems to bypass the purpose of these meaning-making psychedelic compounds. They are, after all, supposed to free our minds from the rigid structure inherent to categorization.
In the end, these psychoactive substances are beyond labels. If we get caught up analyzing all the different boxes they fit in, the categories of each altered state of consciousness they produce, not only will it be a monotonous task, but a never-ending one at that. This will only further deepen us into our monkey mind or the unsettled, restless, confused, and indecisive aspects of the human brain, doing the opposite of what these mind-manifesting medicines intend.
Understanding the effects of psychedelics through continuous psychedelic research of psychedelic substances like Peyote, DMT, Mescaline, psilocybin mushrooms, and more, we are able to better understand how therapeutic drug use can influence our mental health. We are able to navigate the long-term effects these hallucinogenic substances have on our overall well-being. As we focus our attention on the effects of psychedelics versus the categorization of these psychoactive substances, the psychedelic experience becomes less of a mystery and more of a tool we can use to expand our state of consciousness and our knowledge on the effects psychoactive substances have on the human brain. In recent years, psychedelic research on psilocybin, MDMA, DMT, and more has grown immensely. Whether it be a psychedelic, psychotomimetics, entheogens, or entactogens, the mystical experience not only shapes our understanding of the psychoactive substances, but shapes our evaluation of the human brain and the state of consciousness we experience as a collective.