- This entry pertains to the word "psychedelic", its origin and uses. For general information on psychedelic drugs, see the entry for the synonym, hallucinogenic drug.
The word psychedelic is a neologism coined from the Greek words for "mind," ψυχη (psyche), and "manifest," δηλειν (delein).
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 fetters. Psychedelic states are one of the stations on the spectrum of experiences elicited by psychedelic substances. On that same spectrum will be found hallucinations, distortions of perception, synaesthesia, altered states of awareness, mystical states, and occasionally states resembling psychosis.
The term was first coined as a noun in 1956 by psychiatrist Humphry Osmond, as an alternative descriptor for hallucinogenic drugs in the context of psychedelic psychotherapy. The term featured in a now-famous exchange with Aldous Huxley, in which the ill-fated term phanerothyme was suggested:
- To make this trivial world sublime,
- take half a gram of phanerothyme.
- To fathom Hell or soar angelic,
- just take a pinch of psychedelic.
The use of psychedelic drugs became widespread in the mid-1960s. Timothy Leary, who was largely responsible for the popularization of the term "psychedelic", was a well known proponent of their use, as was Aldous Huxley. The fashion for psychedelic drugs gave its name to the visual style of psychedelia, and to a rock music style that became known as psychedelic music.
The impact of psychedelic drugs on western culture in the 1960s led to meaning drift in the use of the word "psychedelic", and it is now frequently applied to describe any brightly patterned or coloured object. In objection to this new meaning, and to the pejorative meanings of other synonyms such as "hallucinogen" and "psychotomimetic", the term "entheogen" was proposed and is seeing increasing use. However, many consider the term "entheogen" best reserved for religious and spiritual usage, such as certain Native American churches do with the peyote sacrament, and psychedelic left to describe those who are using these drugs recreationally.