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A psychedelic experience (known colloquially as a trip) is a temporary altered state of consciousness induced by the consumption of a serotonergic psychedelic substance such as mescaline, LSD, psilocybin, or DMT. For example, an acid trip is a psychedelic experience brought on by the use of LSD, while a mushroom trip is a psychedelic experience brought on by the use of psilocybin. Psychedelic experiences are interpreted in exploratory, learning, recreational, religious/mystical and therapeutic contexts.
The term psychedelic was coined by the psychiatrist Humphrey Osmond during written correspondence with author Aldous Huxley and presented to the New York Academy of Sciences by Osmond in 1957. It is derived from the Greek words ψυχή (psychḗ, "soul, mind") and δηλείν (dēleín, "to manifest"), thus meaning "mind manifesting," the implication being that psychedelics can develop unused potentials of the human mind. The term trip was first coined by US Army scientists during the 1950s when they were experimenting with LSD.
Despite several attempts that have been made, starting in the 19th and 20th centuries, to define common phenomenological structures of the effects produced by classic psychedelics, a universally accepted taxonomy does not yet exist.
A prominent element of psychedelic experiences is visual alteration. Psychedelic visual alteration often includes spontaneous formation of complex flowing geometric visual patterning in the visual field. 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. These visual effects increase in complexity with higher dosages, and also when the eyes are closed. The visual alteration does not normally constitute hallucinations, because the person undergoing the experience can still distinguish between real and imagined visual phenomena, though in some cases, true hallucinations are present. More rarely, psychedelic experiences can include complex hallucinations of objects, animals, people, or even whole landscapes.
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. 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. The researchers observed that psilocybin "occasions personally and spiritually significant mystical experiences that predict long-term changes in behaviors, attitudes and values."
Some research has found similarities between psychedelic experiences and non-ordinary forms of consciousness experienced in meditation and near-death experiences. The phenomenon of ego dissolution is often described as a key feature of the psychedelic experience.
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." 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."
A "bad trip" is a highly unpleasant psychedelic experience. A bad trip on psilocybin, for instance, often features intense anxiety, confusion, and agitation, or even psychotic episodes. Bad trips can be connected to the anxious ego-dissolution (AED) dimension of the APZ questionnaire used in research on psychedelic experiences. As of 2011, exact data on the frequency of bad trips are not available. Some research suggests that the risk of a bad trip on psilocybin is higher when multiple drugs are used, when the user has a history of certain mental illnesses, and when the user is not supervised by a sober person.
In clinical research settings, precautions including the screening and preparation of participants, the training of the session monitors who will be present during the experience, and the selection of appropriate physical setting can minimize the likelihood of psychological distress. Researchers have suggested that the presence of professional "trip sitters" (i.e., session monitors) may significantly reduce the negative experiences associated with a bad trip. In most cases in which anxiety arises during a supervised psychedelic experience, reassurance from the session monitor is adequate to resolve it; however, if distress becomes intense it can be treated pharmacologically, for example with the benzodiazepine diazepam.
The psychiatrist Stanislav Grof wrote that unpleasant psychedelic 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.[page needed] Drawing on narrative theory, the authors of a 2021 study of 50 users of psychedelics found that many described bad trips as having been sources of insight or even turning points in life.
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. 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; 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. 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.
Czech psychiatrist Stanislav 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.
In religious and spiritual contexts
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." 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."
According to Luis Luna, psychedelic experiences have a distinctly gnosis-like quality; 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.
Furthermore, psychedelic drugs have a history of religious use across the world that extends back for hundreds or perhaps thousands of years. They are often called entheogens because of the kinds of experiences they can induce. Some small contemporary religious movements base their religious activities and beliefs around psychedelic experiences, such as Santo Daime and the Native American Church.
- Cannabis and time perception
- Default mode network
- Eight-circuit model of consciousness
- Mind at Large
- Psychedelic microdosing
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