psychedelics meaning

What is the meaning of psychedelics?

Literal Meaning

Well the word ‘psychedelic’, as most psychonauts know by now, was invented by the British psychiatrist Humphrey Osmond. Osmond first coined the term in his correspondence with famous psychedelic enthusiast and scholar Aldous Huxley. He derived the word from the Greek words, psyche, meaning soul or spirit, and delos, meaning reveal or manifest. So the literal translation is ‘mind manifesting’, or ‘soul revealing’. In this original form it was used strictly to describe drugs which gave particular effects, those which have now been discovered to act on specific serotonin receptors in the brain (5-HT1A and 5-HT2A) such as LSD, psilocybin, mescaline and DMT.

Other Meanings

Of course the word has grown and broadened in terms of its use and psychedelic has gone on to be used to describe not only drugs but also music, arts, films, and literature. The word can be used to describe pieces of art which have been inspired by the use of psychedelic drugs.

Visual artworks may resemble visual attributes typical to the experiences, such as bright colors and kaleidoscopic patterns. Another interpretation, notable in films and literature, is that the piece demonstrates or exemplifies a type of mental or cognitive experience, such as non-linearity, or circular themes or narrative. It may also be that it is simply confusing and hard to follow. This meaning of the word converges with the word ‘trippy’, which is often used as a synonym for the word psychedelic.

It could also be that the way in which the artwork is viewed or perceived is not necessarily fixed, that it is open to multiple interpretations. This meaning reflects an aspect of psychedelic states, in which users may be able to see things from different angles or various perspectives. The offering of new perspectives is often what is appealing to many people. 

Anton Newcombe’s Definition

I also like Anton Newcombe’s definition of the word psychedelic. Newcomb, from the band The Brian Jonestown Massacre, has had his share of experience, and I once read on wikipedia that his understanding of psychedelic is that it simply means ‘mind expanding’. This broadens its potential use, and really anything could potentially be considered psychedelic. This could refer to travel or other such mind opening experiences.

Psychedelics and Profound Meaning

Psychedelics can induce induce profound alterations of human consciousness, emotion, and cognition. This can result in incredibly deep and profound experiences. These experiences bring up questions about the fundamental nature of reality. And these questions ultimately turn into matters of spirituality. Because of this I often think the term psychedelic can be used to describe anything which brings up those deep philosophical questions. Who are we? Why are we here? What is our purpose? Any type of deep experience which brings up those questions, be it a near death experience or a film, could also be described as psychedelic.

I find it very interesting that people discuss the meaning of the word psychedelics when psychedelic substances themselves bring up questions of meaning. Experiences can be tremendously meaningful to individuals. They can help us assign meaning to events in our lives, and our entire journeys as humans, individually and collectively. They can create meaning, or push us to ponder if there is any meaning. 

Final Thoughts

There’s not really any strict definition on what the term psychedelic means and I think it’s very fitting for the word to be open to many interpretations. Even the category of substances is debated, and these days it is also sometimes used to describe other substances such as MDMA and ketamine, which are also known as non-classic psychedelics, or now even a new term, ‘clinical psychedelic’, recently coined by Ben Sessa, on Twitter.

What does psychedelic mean to you? Let me know!

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mushrooms high doses psychedelics

As I begin to get feedback from readers about what they would like to explore next on their psychedelic journey, one thing I’ve noticed is that quite a few people want to take higher doses. People are interested in experiences of ego dissolution or oneness. I understand this perspective because it’s something I would like to explore myself more too. Something myself and my readers have in common 🙂 

One of the problems with exploring high doses is that the experiences can be very intense and difficult to handle. This can make people apprehensive about doing it, especially on their own, which they might feel comfortable doing on lower doses. In this post I’d like to look at possible solutions to this problem.

Start low and go slow

One possible solution, which is a common piece of advice, is to start on low doses and slowly work your way up, increasing the dose that you take on each subsequent session.

This is a generally good tact, however, many of us don’t have the time or the inclination to be doing sessions that often to steadily work our way up. Maybe we only have the time to do a single high dose session once within the next year, and we want to be sure that one counts.

If that’s the case, and we only have one session planned, this isn’t much of a solution. In which case, there are a couple of other options.

Attend a retreat

One option is to attend a psychedelic retreat. Psychedelic retreats are typically run by experienced guides and offer a held space for people to explore higher doses and more intense experiences that they would not otherwise feel comfortable doing. I am a co-founder of one such retreat company, and I think it’s an excellent place for newcomers to have their first high dose psychedelic experience.

The context provides a structured container, a safe space and built-in preparation and integration. The level of support and information is as good as it’s going to get, and I would say it’s the best way for someone to have their first psychedelic experience; on site, with professionals. It’s also an excellent way for a beginner to learn about taking psychedelics.

For other, experienced users, it can be nice to try psychedelics in a different setting, and a group retreat context can add a different dimension to the experience for those who have mostly used psychedelics alone or with friends. Many people report that the group dimension is one of the most beneficial and healing aspects of the entire experience.

However, retreats are not always the most attractive, or especially these days, convenient option. Our retreat company has not actually been able to facilitate any retreats since the start of Corona, though we do hope to return next year. Retreats are also a more expensive option because of all the costs that go into organising and running them.

If you’ve already been on a retreat, you may want to explore psychedelic trips outside of that context, and without all the extra travel costs and logistical concerns involved. It may also be that you’ve not been on a retreat but already have some psychedelic experiences yourself and retreats don’t appeal to you right now. In this case, you may consider organising your own session.

Self-organised session

Journeying outside of a retreat setting will, likewise, be a different experience. Your own home or apartment might well be the most psychologically safe space for you, which would make it an excellent choice to go on a deep exploration. Other people may also like to explore tripping in natural environments. The most important thing when exploring high doses is to have a safe, comfortable and controlled environment, where journeyers are able to lie down.

The benefits of a sitter

If organising your own high dose session, it can be very beneficial to have a tripsitter or facilitator. Having a tripsitter can be reassuring and help ease feelings of anxiety and nervousness. Having one can help one approach the session feeling more comfortable, as they know someone will be there to watch over them and ensure their physical safety, and offer reassurance for them in any challenging moments. That kind of support can go a long way in a session. It might be as simple as a reminder that they are safe and what they are going through is a temporary experience. That though it may be challenging, it will pass.

Finding a sitter

The question is then about finding a tripsitter. With the current legal status of psychedelics, that is of course very difficult as you cannot just search people openly online and hire someone. In this case your options would be to see if there’s anyone you know who could do it. If going this route, the ideal candidate would be someone who has their own experience with plant medicines, and is generally able to hold space and has the attributes of a good sitter.

It might be a friend who already has some experience with psychedelics or a member of a local community. The most important thing is that you are able to trust them. If deciding to work with someone for the first time I would recommend that you spend at least a few hours talking with that person beforehand so you have some familiarity and basic level of relationship with them. You should feel open to sharing with them and its important for the sitter to have a non-judgemental stance. You also want to talk about more logistical things such as music, setting, and what kind of role the tripsitter will have. You might also want to come to some agreements, which can also be not as ground rules, for the session.

Exploring options

If a high dose experience is something you know that you would like to explore but are currently unable to, ask yourself what would it take for you to be able to do that. What would you need to do to accommodate that?

This might mean opening up to someone close to you about your intention, with an honest request for help in your endeavor. You needn’t necessarily ask someone to sit you as a favor, as that would be quite a big favor to ask. You might ask if they would consider it, and explain that you could do something for them in return. You could explain that it’s something you would really like to do and that you’d really appreciate it if they would consider doing that for you.

Do you know anyone who might be a possible person that you could talk to? What might you be able to do for them that would make it a win-win deal? You might even ask your friend that very question. Of course you can explain that there is no pressure and that you are just exploring your options, and if it doesn’t work out then no worries. 

Physical safety 

Unless you are using mushrooms, or have tested your substance, I would caution against going for high doses, just for the fact that you don’t know exactly what you are taking. Pure LSD is non toxic, meaning that you can’t physically overdose, but unless you have drug tested it, you can’t be sure. The same is true of ketamine and 2cb. If wanting to go for higher doses with them the only reasonable thing to do would be to make sure it is tested well for purity.

Ideally, you’d grow your own mushrooms, then you can be sure of their source. Then on higher doses, even if you think you’re dissolving or dying (a not uncommon experience), you can be reassured that you are not, and can go ahead and allow yourself to dissolve and surrender into that experience of (ego) death.

Private session in the Netherlands

If lack of a reliable source is a problem, an option that you might consider is traveling to the Netherlands. Psilocybin truffles are legal there, and easily bought in shops. If you take care of most of the logistics such as accommodation and food, you could hire a tripsitter privately. If traveling there for this kind of experience, you might decide to go for two sessions in a row stepping up your dose, going from a low dose on the first day to familiarize yourself with effects, and stepping up to a high dose on the second day. Personally I think this is a pretty solid approach for someone who doesn’t have any psychedelic experience but would like to try a high dose. 

Final thoughts

Last year I had one of my highest doses with psilocybin truffles. It was an incredible experience, and I was fortunate to be able to have a friend tripsit for me. I’m grateful that I was able to have that experience, but it’s not always so easy. I would like to have another high-dose experience but to be honest tripsitters are not so easy to come by and it’s not always that easy to just ask a friend to take out the whole day to look after you.

Until we have decriminalization or legalization, organising high dose sessions will continue to be a problem. If you have any solutions or things that you have found to help with this issue, I would love to hear from you. And otherwise I wish you best of luck, safe and wondrous journeys.

community tree team psychedelic course

Later this year I will create and launch a course about psychedelics. In this post I want to share a little bit about it, my why, my hopes, intentions, and invite you to co-create with me.

My Intentions

My broader why of focusing on psychedelics is covered in my post: Why Psychedelics?

On a personal level, I would like to connect with fellow psychedelic explorers around the world, and I hope to create a place where other explorers can connect with each other too. I hope to be able provide a valuable and meaningful experience for people participating in the course, and I intend to help participants on their journey with psychedelics. I want to help people solve their problems and overcome their challenges.

I hope that by creating and facilitating such a course I can deepen my own knowledge on the topic, and in this way I hope the experience will be an exploration for myself as well as the participants.

Creating Psychedelic Community

Although I have not yet decided what the format of the course will be, for example, if there will be group calls, I would still see this as some kind of a group or community experience. At the least I think it would be good to have a chat group, such as a telegram or whatsapp group, where people on the course can connect, share insights, and talk about the material and exercises as they go through. This would also give everyone the opportunity to ask questions to other participants as well as myself. For me this aspect of the course is very exciting as I am very much interested in community building, a topic that as yet, is something that I have limited experience with.

My hope is that connections would far outlast the course and be beneficial for participants for years to come. In terms of the community that would be built, I think it would be great to have some kind of place online, potentially even in person events, for alumni to connect. I imagine it would be great to have private group retreat in the Netherlands.

This year I am trying to make more of an effort in my psychedelic work to focus on themes of collaboration and community. For this year‘s month-long-blog-post-a-day, PSYJuly, I opened up to guest posts. In the end I hosted posts from 14 other writers. This was an interesting experience in itself and I very much enjoyed connecting with others, but more on that another time.

Understanding People’s Problems and Desires

I’m currently in the research phase of this project and trying to find out what problems people would like help with and what areas they would like to develop or explore next. Last week I created a form with questions for readers to answer, and from the few people that have so far given responses, it has already proven to be very insightful. The answers are giving me a clear direction in terms of the kind of material to cover and discuss in the course, and how I can best help people who are interested in participating. I really enjoy getting this feedback and if you haven’t already, I invite you to fill in the form here. For some of the topics that don’t make it into the course, I may still write some articles and post on the blog.

I really enjoy getting people’s ideas because firstly it helps me to help people, with what they want help with. I’ve written many blog posts on ideas that I would like to share or things that I think would be useful to people, and many times that has been enjoyable and fulfilling. Sometimes my intuition has been right and those articles have been useful for people. I’ve found, however, that it’s most useful to hear directly from people what they would like to see or hear, and what they would like some advice or guidance on. Two of the most popular recent articles from the blog came from questions directly from readers or clients, and it feels great to know that they are proving to be valuable.

As some answers come in on the form, I’m finding that I actually like having a list of other people’s problems and aspirations. It’s nice to me because I like helping people solve their problems and reach their goals, and it feels good knowing that I might be able to do that and contribute to their lives in a meaningful way.

Co-Creation

I also enjoy receiving these ideas and inspiration from people because it makes the creation of the course and material into something of a co-creation and collaborative project. I am not just deciding the curriculum by myself in a vacuum, I am getting ideas from people and inviting input into what will be included. I will do a thorough review of all the answers before making final decisions on what to include. 

As with any new and big project I am feeling a mix of nerves and excitement but mostly excitement and I’m very much looking forward to to connect with like-minded souls and seeing where this journey goes.

Talk to Me

On this theme of connecting with and helping other like-minded people, I would like to speak with more readers of my blog. Yes, that includes you 🙂 So I am offering free calls, one per person, for the rest of August. We can talk about anything you’d like and explore any area of psychedelics. If you would like to talk with me you can go ahead and book a time on my calendar here and I’ll be in contact with a link for the call.

I look forward to connecting with you and wish you a great day,

John

healing relationship psychedelics

For today’s closing post of this year’s PSYJuly, I would like to share my thoughts on an aspect of long-term psychedelic integration. That is, how we relate to psychedelics.

I think improving our relationship with psychedelics is a key but mostly unrecognised piece of long-term integration. This piece is more relevant for the long term practitioner because you don’t need to have a good relationship with a one night stand partner. For something longer term, you do. 

If you are someone who has some kind of ongoing practice of working with psychedelics, how do you relate to them? What do you think about them? When you talk about them with others, how do you feel?

Healing and Understanding

Many users of psychedelics have feelings of guilt, shame, or embarrassment tied into their use. This is usually due to social stigma, cultural perceptions and drug laws, and many people remain closeted about their use.

Whilst opening up to friends and family members can be healing in some cases, it isn’t always the best option. Keeping the psychedelic part of ourselves hidden from others may often be the most pragmatic course of action. 

To enjoy a really healthy relationship with psychedelics, however, it’s important to resolve any feelings of embarrassment and shame that we have around them.

Exploring the roots of these feelings can be done by journaling. Writing answers to some simple questions, such as ‘Why am I embarrassed? What do I feel ashamed of? Why am I keeping this hidden?’ can begin to bring more clarity, understanding and healing to the relationship.

Trust

Did you ever come out of a session feeling disappointed? Maybe you felt like it was a little bit of a letdown? I certainly have many times, and trust is something I have had to learn over time.

Trusting in psychedelics, the experiences they provide, and the insights they reveal, will bring about a more fruitful journey with them. Can you let go of the seeds of doubt in your mind? 

‘You don’t always get what you want, but you get what you need”
– Psychedelics

This can also mean trusting in the process. Maybe you didn’t get what you were hoping for from a session. You still have the option to trust that on some level it was what you needed at this point in your journey, and that it will make sense within the larger context of your journey. Leaning into trust will ultimately benefit you and your relationship with psychedelics.

Patience

Through engaging with psychedelics continuously over a number of years, one of the most valuable but also hardest lessons I’ve had to learn is that of patience. This is intertwined with trusting that I am being given what I need when I need it, and that ultimately, where I am is where I need to be, not at some point further along where I think I’m supposed to be. This means being patient in allowing the unfolding of my own journey, letting it unravel in its own perfect time, without trying to push it.

psychedelic integration journey progress graph

Patience helps us allow ourselves to be where we are

An example of practicing patience would be in the integration process. Rather than trying to fix everything at once and improve all areas of your life simultaneously, realise that you are a human and have limits. It’s wisest to choose one or two key areas to focus on. As for all the other things, be patient, they will come in time. 

Respect

Psychedelics are incredibly powerful. They can can sit us on our ass, reducing us to babbling babies, and they can propel us to the far reaches of the universe to spaces we never even knew could exist. They can transform ourselves and the realities that we exist in, both inside and outside sessions. Psychedelics deserve y/our respect.

Gratitude

Practicing gratitude is one of the most powerful things we can do. I find it hard to express in words how much I love psychedelics. But beneath that, how grateful I am that they exist at all, and how incredibly fortunate I am to be in a position where I have access to them. Many people who would like to use them simply do not have the means, ability or access. There are people suffering from heavy depression, and others suffering with terminal cancer who are seeking access and are unable to receive it. I know because I’m contacted by these people and I do find the current reality around their access to be both upsetting and hard to accept. In those moments it’s again a chance to practice patience, and also gratitude for the privileged position that I find myself in.

Final thoughts

These are all overarching principles and lessons that I have received from psychedelics and I believe it’s a fitting response to reflect them back to the wonders which have bestowed these gifts upon me. 

I believe anyone wishing to work with psychedelics over the long term can benefit from establishing a relationship with psychedelics founded upon these core elements.

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Thank you for reading, and have a wonderful day!

drugs babies child psychedelics

Hello! Welcome to day 30 PSYJuly 🙂 Tomorrow we wrap up, but today, I’d like to talk about how drugs can make us like children, and what to do about it…

Drugs make us infantile

Drugs can make us childlike in many ways. How so? What are the upsides and downsides? And what does it mean in terms of how we approach taking them? I’m glad you asked.

Firstly, drugs can make us more open and playful. They can increase our sense of wonder, curiosity and awe. These effects have many positive implications, such as increasing feelings of enjoyment and appreciation, and for the most part, is a big reason why many drugs are so popular. 

Drugs can also make us more sensitive, and emotionally vulnerable. This can be useful to process feelings and experience other ways of being. However, it can also become uncomfortable, and heightened emotions should generally be handled carefully.

Another way in which drugs making us childlike, is that they can make us incapable of many ordinarily straightforward tasks. This type of debilitating effect can range from slightly inhibiting our abilities, to turning us into full-on babbling babies.

It’s hard to do things when high

Being high makes us less, or even un, able to perform a variety of tasks. This includes verbalizing thoughts into a comprehensible form i.e. speaking coherently; or successfully coordinating the body and mind to utilize motor skills of varying complexity, from carrying a tray of drinks across the room, to playing a musical instrument.

Being high can also interfere with our ability to conduct rational, linear, logical thinking. This can have all kinds of complications depending on the context and what one is trying to do or achieve. Trying to organize and book travel, such as a journey which requires multiple changeovers and modes of transports, for example, would be an absolute nightmare whilst high (I’ve tried it, it was unbelievably confusing). Using any kind of technical equipment can also be especially difficult. Basically, performing any task which requires thinking about and coordinating more than one thing at a time will become more challenging.

Maintaining focus and holding attention on one specific thing can also be difficult. The mind wanders more freely when high, and this is great for creative thinking, it also makes it very easy to forget or lose track of things.

Simply put, the simplest of tasks can become incredibly difficult, arduous, or just outright impossible.

Yes, we are like children, infants, or babies, when we’re high. There is even scientific research that shows a tripping brain is similar to a child’s.

“In many ways, the brain in the LSD state resembles the state our brains were in when we were infants: free and unconstrained”
– Robin Cahart-Harris |Reuters

How to treat our tripping selves

So, if our tripping selves are basically children, what does that mean about how we will approach a session?  Well, children need parenting, and I’d say the best way to approach that role is in a loving and caring way. Whether we’re looking after ourselves, or tripsitting for someone else, this can mean a number of things.

When it comes to setting, this can mean childproofing the space and setting everything up to be as simple and straightforward as possible.

When it comes to sessions where more challenging emotions or content arise, it can mean being sensitive to the vulnerable states of that person.

For group sessions, or tripsitting, it can mean clearly stating things which may usually seem obvious. This might take the form of explicit agreements to remove doubts around safety and engender feelings of trust. Agreements can define boundaries and limits, and this can create a clearly defined container for the experience. This might include agreements to not: engage in any sexual or violent behaviour, leave the space or go outside, or commit to any future plans within the group.

Overall, it means being aware that people who are either tripping or very high, are not thinking or behaving like a normal, logical adult.

Final thoughts

Even outside of psychedelic sessions, treating ourselves as children can quite often be a healthy way to relate to ourselves. Of course it won’t work for most of our day to day life, and can be patronising or even annoying, but aspects of the approach such as gentleness and patience can be very helpful in developing healthy relationships both with ourselves and others. 

I have personally found the mantra of “I can always be kind to myself” to be one of the most useful phrases for self talk that I’ve picked up, and especially helpful in the context of psychedelic sessions. If you have any tendency to be hard or tough on yourself then I encourage you to experiment with this phrase, and call it to mind in moments of uncertainty and doubt. This includes the totality of yourself, so being kind to your future and past selves, too. 

So, what are you waiting for? You can start right now…

How can you be kind to yourself?  🙂