What are psychedelics?

Psychedelics are mind manifesting or psychoactive substances that intensify and temporarily change sensory perceptions. They belong to a wider class of drugs called hallucinogens—substances that affect our senses directly and therefore, our perception of the world—and are often used to explore human consciousness.

Psychedelics can cause significant changes in thoughts, perceptions, and emotions. Their effects are frequently referred to as mind- or consciousness-expanding, mystical, revelatory or transcending time and space.

Psychedelics are undeniably linked to human culture and its development. Psilocybin shrooms were portrayed in Algerian cave paintings dating back to 5,000 BC; the Aztecs of Mexico dubbed it teonanacatl or “flesh of the gods,” for use in their religious ceremonies.

Around the world and throughout history, it is the West that has been the exception in not valuing altered states of mind other than the one induced by alcohol.

In the 1960s, psychedelics (particularly LSD, invented in 1938) were widely embraced by the counterculture, touted for experiences ranging from ego dissolution and heightened sensitivity to music, to experiencing expansive consciousness. Before then, LSD was limited to research labs, military experiments or used by psychotherapists.

Associated with the counterculture movement and dismissed as merely hedonistic recreation, psychedelics were quickly made illegal and misrepresented, demonized and overlooked for the coming decades.

Today, however, psychedelics and psychedelic science are making a comeback. Organizations such as California-based MAPS and the British Beckley Foundation have studied psychedelics and found them safe, effective tools for treating addiction and depression. Silicon Valley professionals and tech nerds have started micro-dosing to jumpstart creativity and tackle problem solving from a unique perspective.

Clinical psychologist Bill Richards, whose studies on psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy research stem back to 1963, wrote in his book Sacred Knowledge that psychedelics are, “reliably potent in helping people actually experience deep, transformative states of human consciousness.”  They are not without risk (as with any substance) and experts like Richards warn psychedelics are not for everyone—bad trips do happen. Some argue that there are no “bad” trips, only difficult ones.

But when used intelligently in a trusted setting, psychedelics can catalyze long-term tangible benefits to mental health and psychological growth, from relieving depression to quitting smoking. Note that they are not a Golden Bullet; psychedelic insights still need to be acted upon back in consensus reality, the rent still needs to be paid, etc. This is why post-psychedelic experience integration is so important.

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