A psychedelic experience is characterized by the perception of aspects of one's mind previously unknown, or by the creative exuberance of the mind liberated from its ordinary restraints. Psychedelic states are one of the stations on the spectrum of experiences elicited by sensory deprivation as well as by psychedelic substances. On that same spectrum will be found illusions, changes of perception, altered states of awareness, mystical states, and occasionally states resembling schizophrenia. The word psychedelic comes from a combination of two Greek words: psyche (ψυχή) and delos (δήλος). Literally, it means "soul manifestation".
The psychedelic experience is an intimate experience, but there are many common themes, and ranges from a sense of connectedness to everything in the immediate vicinity, to a sense of oneness with everything in the universe. Potentially, the range of the drug-induced psychedelic experience goes far beyond drugs.
Some who undertake such experiences come to see them as an ordeal, and mentally overbearing. For many, such experiences come to be seen as personal re-enactments of a hero's journey. Spiritual practices and psychedelic drugs can be used as a means to achieve states of mind in which novel perceptions can arise, unhindered by everyday mental filters and processes. The mental and emotional impact of the experience is positive and enduring for many.
Research that was done during the 1960s suggested that psychedelic drugs might have medical uses. More recently, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), the Heffter Research Institute, and the Beckley Foundation have continued studying the effects of the psychedelic experience.
The Erowid Psychoactive Vaults discuss Psychedelic Experience in an FAQ that partially overviews 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.
This level produces a mild 'stoning' effect, with some visual enhancement (e.g. brighter colors) Some short term memory anomalies. Left and right brain communication changes causing music to sound 'wider'. Can be achieved with low to medium doses of cannabis.
Bright colors, and visuals (ie. things start to move and breathe) some 2 dimensional patterns become apparent upon shutting eyes. Confused or reminiscent thoughts. Change of 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 higher doses of cannabis or low doses of psilocybin.
Very obvious visuals, everything looking curved and/or warped patterns and kaleidoscopes seen on walls, faces etc. Some mild hallucinations such as rivers flowing in wood grained or 'mother of pearl' surfaces. Closed eye hallucinations become 3 dimensional. There is some confusing of the senses (ie. seeing sounds as colors etc.) Time distortions and `moments of eternity`. Movement at times becomes extremely difficult (too much effort required) Can be achieved with normal doses of psilocybin or mescaline or LSD.
Strong hallucinations, that is, objects morphing into other objects. Destruction or multiple splitting 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 extra-sensory perception type phenomena. Blending of the senses.
Total loss of visual connection with reality. The senses cease to function in the normal way. One may feel like they are merging with space, other objects, or the universe, or feel oneness with the world. There are powerful, and sometimes brutal, psycho-physical reactions interpreted by some users as reliving their own birth. Feelings of reaching to the beginning or the end of space and time. The loss of reality becomes so extreme that it becomes ineffable. Dream or movie-like states, people have been reported seeing themselves in entirely different settings than their original setting. Many people experience religious phenomenon at this level. Often mentioned are an "all-powerful presence" or a "universal knowledge" which many equate to their idea of God or enlightenment. During experiences caused by substances such as DMT (which is an active ingredient in Ayahuasca), many people encounter conscious beings or entities that seem to be alien or something stranger and manufacture visual patterns of objects that are self-aware themselves inside an incredibly strange and alien reality. These experiences cause people to experience an extra-dimensional reality of geometric patterns. Earlier levels are relatively easy to describe in terms of measurable changes in perception and thought patterns. "Ego loss", or complete dissolution of one's awareness of the existence of self, is an essential trait of level 5 experiences; the boundaries between "self" and encompassing reality cease to exist, and all that one is conscious of is the abstract manifestations of the hallucination. Thoughts are not processed or realized in words or an "inner voice", as in everyday life; in the midst of a level 5 hallucination, it is essentially impossible to distinguish conscious thought from the hallucination itself. This feeling has been described, with tryptamine-based hallucinogens like LSD or high doses of psilocybin, as a sense of "oneness" with the universe; with extremely powerful entheogens such as DMT or salvia divinorum, the resultant hallucination is difficult to describe, but has been likened by some to being "transformed into a Picasso painting". Many people claim to have spoken to intelligent entities during their trips, to have experienced alternate dimensions, or to have existed for thousands of years - often not as a human but as an abstract entity such as a shadow or paint - though the trip itself, in the case of salvia and DMT, lasted only five to ten minutes. This effect can be produced in high doses of LSD, salvia divinorum, mescaline and psilocybin.
Literary man Aldous Huxley talks in his book The Doors of Perception about the Mind at Large. This is Huxley's theoretical state of mind which humans are normally obliged to, due to learned social norms and partially due to their biology. Huxley believed that the central nervous system's main function was to filter through irrelevancies and useless knowledge, by shutting out the majority of what we should actually perceive at any given point in time.
Through the pages of his book Huxley talks about the business of survival, and the information that is the most useful for survival. He believed that this was one element which was forcing the brain to filter out these perceptions. Huxley also believed that man was partially responsible for it, by asserting that society has made a symbolic system which structures our reality, in order to achieve a "reduced awareness."
Aldous Huxley discusses thousands of other worlds that were in some sense interconnected with our own. He said that humans dynamically make contact with these other worlds, all of which are with the Mind at Large. He believed that there were multiple ways of contacting these other worlds such as genetics, hypnosis, and the use of psychedelic drugs.
He then summarizes the psychedelic experience for himself, using the four statements below:
- The ability to remember and to "think straight" is little if at all reduced. (Listening to the recordings of my conversation under the influence of the drug, I cannot discover that I was then any stupider than I am at ordinary times.)
- Visual impressions are greatly intensified and the eye recovers some of the perceptual innocence of childhood, when the sensum was not immediately and automatically subordinated to the concept. Interest in space is diminished and interest in time falls almost to zero.
- Though the intellect remains unimpaired and though perception is enormously improved, the will suffers a profound change for the worse. The mescalin taker sees no reason for doing anything in particular and finds most of the causes for which, at ordinary times, he was prepared to act and suffer, profoundly uninteresting. He can't be bothered with them, for the good reason that he has better things to think about.
- These better things may be experience (as I experienced them) "out there," or "in here," or in both worlds, the inner and the outer, simultaneously or successively. That they are better seems to be self-evident to all mescalin takers who come to the drug with a sound liver and an untroubled mind.