What Is It With All This "Psychedelic" Stuff?

Dr. Raymond Turpin pens his second blog highlighting the history of psychedelics.

I would assume that many of you who visit this website already know a thing or two about psychedelics but there are some that are hearing the buzz about psychedelics being used in medicine and are curious about what is going on.In this blog, I would like to write about the origin and meaning of the term “psychedelic” as well as how this is an articulate yet very general early description of what is often occurring during psychedelic experiences. It also explains what has hindered this class of medicines from being historically understood and accepted by the medical establishment and the government representatives tasked with legislating the rules affecting access to these medicines.



The Term "Psychedelic"

The term “psychedelic” was coined by Dr. Humphrey Osmond, an English psychiatrist doing research in Canada, in 1957 while he was corresponding with the visionary English author, Aldous Huxley. A few years earlier, in May 1953 in Los Angeles, Dr. Osmond had introduced Huxley to mescaline, the psychoactive component of the peyote cactus, and Huxley wrote a lucid and flowing account of his experience in his book, The Doors of Perception. To this day, The Doors of Perception continues to be one of the best first-person descriptions of some of the perceptual and psychological experiences that can take place under the influence of a classical psychedelic. If folks are wondering how a dose of a classical psychedelic could be experienced by a naïve but intellectually superior human mind, check out Huxley’s artistic description of his hours under the influence of mescaline.


During their correspondence later, there was some discussion about how best to descriptively name an unusual and important substance like mescaline and Huxley proposed the term, “phanerothyme” and sent Osmond a couplet that read, “To make this mundane world sublime/Take half a gramme of phanerothyme.” Osmond thought that word would never catch on and responded with a couplet of his own: “To fathom hell or soar angelic/Just take a pinch of psychedelic.” From the Greek roots of the word, Osmond intended the term to mean “mind manifesting” which implies that the hidden and not-so-hidden contents of one’s mind are what informs and influences one’s experience. Although much was learned later about the importance of factors such as set and setting and intention, it was our individual differences that made each person’s psychedelic experience wholly unique and individualized.


“Osmond thought that word would never catch on and responded with a couplet of his own: “To fathom hell or soar angelic/Just take a pinch of psychedelic.” From the Greek roots of the word, Osmond intended the term to mean “mind manifesting” which implies that the hidden and not-so-hidden contents of one’s mind are what informs and influences one’s experience.”

Psychedelic Research Hits Roadblock

This lack of an ability to reliably predict the course and outcome of a psychedelic experience is what bedeviled many scientists and research designs in previous decades and this unpredictability, at times, could lead to difficult emotional and psychological experiences such as the re-living of past traumatic experiences. As psychedelics were finding their way out of the research lab and into the street, some recreational users were unprepared for the powerful psychological upheavals and found themselves in emergency rooms and psychiatric wards. Despite the pleas of many psychiatric and research professionals who had been legally and legitimately exploring potential uses of psychedelics as medicines, all formal psychedelic research was effectively ended in the United States in 1976 and remained that way until Dr. Rick Strassman received permission from the FDA to study DMT in healthy volunteers in New Mexico from 1990 to 1995.



Hope

Psychedelics are unique substances that can elicit powerful psychological and emotional experiences within the user. If improperly or casually used, psychedelics have the potential to cause psychological and emotional damage. However, if they are used intelligently and skillfully, there is a massive trove of scientific literature from the mid-1940s through the late 1960s that suggests these medicines can be safely used to potentiate deeply healing experiences. The United States and the world once again have an opportunity to further understand and learn how to use psychedelic medicines for growth and healing. It is hoped that this time around we, as a culture, have the wisdom, patience and maturity to give psychedelics a thorough, well-deserved objective re-examination.


“The United States and the world once again have an opportunity to further understand and learn how to use psychedelic medicines for growth and healing. It is hoped that this time around we, as a culture, have the wisdom, patience and maturity to give psychedelics a thorough, well-deserved objective re-examination.”
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