A psychedelic experience (known colloquially as a trip) is a temporary altered state of consciousness induced by the consumption of psychedelic drugs like mescaline, LSD, psilocybin, and DMT. For example, the term acid trip refers to psychedelic experiences brought on by the use of LSD. Psychedelic experiences are interpreted in exploratory, learning, recreational, religious/mystical and therapeutic contexts.


The term psychedelic was coined in 1953 by the psychiatrist Humphrey Osmond, during written correspondence with author Aldous Huxley. Psychedelic derives from two Ancient Greek words, psyche meaning "mind" or "soul," and delos meaning "reveal" or "manifest."[citation needed]

The term "trip" was first coined by US Army scientists during the 50s when they were experimenting with LSD.[1]


Although, starting in the 19th and 20th centuries, several attempts have been made to define common phenomenological structures of the effects produced by classic psychedelics, a universally accepted taxonomy does not yet exist.[2][3]

Visual alteration[edit]

Probably the most common, widely recognised psychedelic experiential phenomenon is the alteration in visual perception; this includes surfaces in the environment appearing to ripple and undulate.[citation needed] Psychedelic visual alteration also includes spontaneous formation of complex flowing geometric visual patterning in the visual field.[3] When the eyes are open, the visual alteration is overlaid onto the objects and spaces in the physical environment; when the eyes are closed the visual alteration is seen in the "inner world" behind the eyelids.[3] These visual effects increase in complexity with higher dosages, and also when the eyes are closed.[3]

Mystical experiences[edit]

A number of scientific studies by Roland R. Griffiths and other researchers have concluded that high doses of psilocybin and other classic psychedelics trigger mystical experiences in most research subjects.[4][5][6][7][8][9] A 2011 study from Johns Hopkins University identified mystical experiences by means of psychometric questionnaires, including the States of Consciousness Questionnaire (using only a relevant subset of items), the Mysticism Scale, and the APZ questionnaire.[5] The researchers observed that psilocybin "occasions personally and spiritually significant mystical experiences that predict long-term changes in behaviors, attitudes and values."[5]

Research has found similarities between psychedelic experiences and non-ordinary forms of consciousness experienced in meditation[10] and near-death experiences.[11] The phenomenon of ego dissolution is often described as a key feature of the psychedelic experience.[10][11][12]

Individuals who have psychedelic experiences often describe what they experienced as "more real" than ordinary experience. For example, the psychologist Benny Shanon observed from ayahuasca trip refers to "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."[13] Similarly, the psychiatrist 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."[14]

Bad trip[edit]

A "bad trip" (also called "drug-induced temporary psychosis" or a "psychedelic crisis") is a disturbing, unpleasant, potentially dangerous, and possibly traumatizing psychedelic experience. The manifestations can range from feelings of mild anxiety and alienation to profoundly disturbing states of unrelieved terror, ultimate entrapment, sheer insanity or cosmic annihilation. Bad trips are more common at high doses, where the psychedelic effect is more intense, and in unfamiliar environments, where anxiety and paranoia are more likely to arise.[citation needed]

Bad trips can be exacerbated by the inexperience or irresponsibility of the user or the lack of proper preparation and environment for the trip (known as "set and setting"). At the extreme, the occurrence of bad trips without proper preparation can result in a tripper committing self-harm or harming others, suicide attempts and contact with law enforcement. For this reason, a person who plans on taking a psychedelic is often accompanied by a trip sitter. Due to the synesthetic nature of psychedelic experiences, having a preconception of a bad trip can form a framework for a negative/uncomfortable segment of a psychedelic experience to become self-fulfilling; if the concept of a bad trip is unknown, there is no framework for such an experience to attach itself to whereas a preconception about the nature, duration or influence of a bad trip might make themselves true.[citation needed]

Stanislav Grof, a psychiatrist who has written extensively on psychedelic therapy, writes that unpleasant experiences are not necessarily unhealthy or undesirable, arguing that they may have potential for psychological healing and lead to breakthrough and resolution of unresolved psychic issues.[15]

Interpretive frameworks[edit]

Link R. Swanson divides scientific frameworks for understanding psychedelic experiences into two waves. In the first wave he includes model psychosis theory (the psychotomimetic paradigm), filtration theory, and psychoanalytic theory.[3] Aldous Huxley was a proponent of filtration theory. In his book The Doors of Perception, he presents the idea of a mental reducing valve in order to explain the significance of the psychedelic experience. According to Huxley, the central nervous system's main function is to shut out the majority of what we perceive;[16] the brain filters those perceptions which are useful for survival. Society aids in this filtering by creating a symbolic system which structures our reality and which reduces our awareness.[16] Huxley postulated that psychedelics lessened the strength of the mind's reducing valve, allowing for a broader spectrum of one's overall experience to enter into conscious experience.

In the second wave of theories, Swanson includes entropic brain theory, integrated information theory, and predictive processing.[3]

In religious and spiritual contexts[edit]

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."[17] Watts further described the LSD experience 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."[18]

According to Luis Luna, 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 mescaline-containing cacti are sometimes referred to as "plant teachers" by those using those drugs.[19]

Furthermore, psychedelic drugs have a long history of religious use across the world. They are often called entheogens because of their propensity to induce these kinds of experiences.[20] Several modern religions exist today that base their religious activities and beliefs around psychedelic experiences, 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.[citation needed]

Psychedelic psychotherapy[edit]

Psychedelic therapy refers to therapeutic practices involving the use of psychedelic drugs to facilitate beneficial emotional processing and 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.[21][22]

An important practitioner in this field is Stanislav Grof, who pioneered the use of LSD in psychotherapy.[23] 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.[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ Preller, Katrin H.; Vollenweider, Franz X. (2016). "Phenomenology, Structure, and Dynamic of Psychedelic States". In Adam L. Halberstadt; Franz X. Vollenweider; David E. Nichols (eds.). Behavioral Neurobiology of Psychedelic Drugs. Current Topics in Behavioral Neurosciences. 36. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg. pp. 221–256. doi:10.1007/7854_2016_459. ISBN 978-3-662-55878-2. PMID 28025814.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Swanson, Link R. (2018-03-02). "Unifying Theories of Psychedelic Drug Effects". Frontiers in Pharmacology. 9: 172. doi:10.3389/fphar.2018.00172. ISSN 1663-9812. PMC 5853825. PMID 29568270.
  4. ^ R. R. Griffiths; W. A. Richards; U. McCann; R. Jesse (7 July 2006). "Psilocybin can occasion mystical-type experiences having substantial and sustained personal meaning and spiritual significance". Psychopharmacology. 187 (3): 268–283. doi:10.1007/s00213-006-0457-5. PMID 16826400.
  5. ^ a b c MacLean, Katherine A.; Johnson, Matthew W.; Griffiths, Roland R. (2011). "Mystical experiences occasioned by the hallucinogen psilocybin lead to increases in the personality domain of openness". Journal of Psychopharmacology. 25 (11): 1453–1461. doi:10.1177/0269881111420188. PMC 3537171. PMID 21956378.
  6. ^ Garcia-Romeu, Albert; Griffiths, Roland R.; Johnson, Matthew W. (2014). "Psilocybin-occasioned Mystical Experiences in the Treatment of Tobacco Addiction". Current Drug Abuse Reviews. 7 (3): 157–164. PMC 4342293. PMID 25563443.
  7. ^ Barrett, Frederick S.; Johnson, Matthew W.; Griffiths, Roland R. (2015). "Validation of the revised Mystical Experience Questionnaire in experimental sessions with psilocybin". Journal of Psychopharmacology. 29 (11): 1182–1190. doi:10.1177/0269881115609019. PMC 5203697. PMID 26442957.
  8. ^ Barsuglia, Joseph; Davis, Alan K.; Palmer, Robert; Lancelotta, Rafael; Windham-Herman, Austin-Marley; Peterson, Kristel; Polanco, Martin; Grant, Robert; Griffiths, Roland R. (2018). "Intensity of Mystical Experiences Occasioned by 5-MeO-DMT and Comparison With a Prior Psilocybin Study". Frontiers in Psychology. 9. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02459. PMC 6292276. PMID 30574112.
  9. ^ Johnson, Matthew W.; Hendricks, Peter S.; Barrett, Frederick S.; Griffiths, Roland R. (2019). "Classic psychedelics: An integrative review of epidemiology, therapeutics, mystical experience, and brain network function". Pharmacology & Therapeutics. 197: 83–102. doi:10.1016/j.pharmthera.2018.11.010.
  10. ^ a b Millière, Raphaël; Carhart-Harris, Robin L.; Roseman, Leor; Trautwein, Fynn-Mathis; Berkovich-Ohana, Aviva (2018). "Psychedelics, Meditation, and Self-Consciousness". Frontiers in Psychology. 9. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01475. PMC 6137697. PMID 30245648.
  11. ^ a b Timmermann, Christopher; Roseman, Leor; Williams, Luke; Erritzoe, David; Martial, Charlotte; Cassol, Héléna; Laureys, Steven; Nutt, David; Carhart-Harris, Robin (2018). "DMT Models the Near-Death Experience". Frontiers in Psychology. 9. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01424. PMC 6107838. PMID 30174629.
  12. ^ Letheby, Chris; Gerrans, Philip (2017). "Self unbound: ego dissolution in psychedelic experience". Neuroscience of Consciousness. 3 (1). doi:10.1093/nc/nix016. PMC 6007152. PMID 30042848.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ Stanislav Grof, LSD Psychotherapy; passim
  16. ^ a b Huxley, Aldous (1954) The Doors of Perception. Reissue published by HarperCollins: 2004. p. 22-25 ISBN 0-06-059518-3
  17. ^ Watts, Alan W. (2013). The Joyous Cosmology: Adventures in the Chemistry of Consciousness (Second ed.). p. 15. ISBN 9781608682041.
  18. ^ Watts, Alan W. (2013). The Joyous Cosmology: Adventures in the Chemistry of Consciousness (Second ed.). p. 44. ISBN 9781608682041.
  19. ^ Luna, Luis Eduardo (1984). "The concept of plants as teachers among four mestizo shamans of Iquitos, northeastern Peru" (PDF). Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 11 (2): 135–156. Retrieved 10 July 2020.
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ "A Manual for MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy in the Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder" (PDF). Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. 4 January 2013. Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 September 2014. Retrieved 31 May 2014.
  22. ^ Sessa, Ben (2015). Psychedelic Drug Treatments. USA: Mercury Learning & Information. p. 60. ISBN 978-1936420445.
  23. ^ Grof, Stanislav (2008). LSD psychotherapy (4th ed.). [Ben Lomond, Calif.?]: Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. ISBN 978-0979862205.
  24. ^ Grof, Stanislav (1976). Realms of the human unconscious : observations from LSD research. New York: Dutton. p. 98. ISBN 0-525-47438-2.

Further reading[edit]

  • Grinspoon, Lester, & Bakalar, James. B. (Eds.). Psychedelic Reflections. (1983). New York: Human Sciences Press. p. 13-14 ISBN 0-89885-129-7