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A row of buried Cadillacs painted in rainbow hues Cadillac Ranch in Texas (9313106739).jpg
A row of buried Cadillacs painted in rainbow hues
Liquid oil projection using a powerful lamp has been used to project swirling colours onto screens since the 1960s Liquid Oil Projection.jpg
Liquid oil projection using a powerful lamp has been used to project swirling colours onto screens since the 1960s

Psychedelia refers to the psychedelic subculture of the 1960s and the psychedelic experience. This includes psychedelic art, psychedelic music and style of dress during that era. This was primarily generated by people who used psychedelic drugs such as LSD, mescaline (found in peyote) and psilocybin (found in magic mushrooms) and also non-users who were participants and aficionados of this subculture. Psychedelic art and music typically recreate or reflect the experience of altered consciousness. Psychedelic art uses highly distorted, surreal visuals, bright colors and full spectrums and animation (including cartoons) to evoke, convey, or enhance the psychedelic experience. Psychedelic music uses distorted electric guitar, Indian music elements such as the sitar, tabla, [1] electronic effects, sound effects and reverb, and elaborate studio effects, such as playing tapes backwards or panning the music from one side to another. [2]


A psychedelic experience is characterized by the striking perception of aspects of one's mind previously unknown, or by the creative exuberance of the mind liberated from its ostensibly ordinary fetters. Psychedelic states are an array of experiences including changes of perception such as hallucinations, synesthesia, altered states of awareness or focused consciousness, variation in thought patterns, trance or hypnotic states, mystical states, and other mind alterations. These processes can lead some people to experience changes in mental operation defining their self-identity (whether in momentary acuity or chronic development) different enough from their previous normal state that it can excite feelings of newly formed understanding such as revelation, enlightenment, confusion, and psychosis. Individuals who use psychedelic drugs for spiritual purposes or self-discovery are commonly referred to as psychonauts .


The smoking clover, a computer-generated image of psychedelic artwork Smokingclover.png
The smoking clover, a computer-generated image of psychedelic artwork

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. [3] It is irregularly [4] derived from the Greek words ψυχή psychḗ 'soul, mind' and δηλείν dēleín 'to manifest', with the meaning "mind manifesting," the implication being that psychedelics can develop unused potentials of the human mind. [5] The term was loathed by American ethnobotanist Richard Schultes but championed by American psychologist Timothy Leary. [6]

Seeking a name for the experience induced by LSD, Osmond contacted Aldous Huxley, a personal acquaintance and advocate for the therapeutic use of the substance. Huxley coined the term "phanerothyme," from the Greek terms for "manifest" (φανερός) and "spirit" (θύμος). In a letter to Osmond, he wrote:

To make this mundane world sublime,

Take half a gram of phanerothyme

To which Osmond responded:

To fathom Hell or soar angelic,
Just take a pinch of psychedelic [7]

It was on this term that Osmond eventually settled, because it was "clear, euphonious and uncontaminated by other associations." [8] This mongrel spelling of the word 'psychedelic' was loathed by American ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes, but championed by Timothy Leary, who thought it sounded better. [9] Due to the expanded use of the term "psychedelic" in pop culture and a perceived incorrect verbal formulation, Carl A.P. Ruck, Jeremy Bigwood, Danny Staples, Jonathan Ott, and R. Gordon Wasson proposed the term "entheogen" to describe the religious or spiritual experience produced by such substances. [10]


From the second half of the 1950s, Beat Generation writers like William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg [11] wrote about and took drugs, including cannabis and Benzedrine, raising awareness and helping to popularise their use. [12] In the same period Lysergic acid diethylamide, better known as LSD, or "acid" (at the time a legal drug), began to be used in the US and UK as an experimental treatment, initially promoted as a potential cure for mental illness. [13] In the early 1960s the use of LSD and other hallucinogens was advocated by proponents of the new "consciousness expansion", such as Timothy Leary, Alan Watts, Aldous Huxley and Arthur Koestler, [14] [15] their writings profoundly influenced the thinking of the new generation of youth. [16] There had long been a culture of drug use among jazz and blues musicians, and use of drugs (including cannabis, peyote, mescaline and LSD [17] ) had begun to grow among folk and rock musicians, who also began to include drug references in their songs. [18] [nb 1]

By the mid-1960s, the psychedelic life-style had already developed in California, and an entire subculture developed. This was particularly true in San Francisco, due in part to the first major underground LSD factory, established there by Owsley Stanley. [20] There was also an emerging music scene of folk clubs, coffee houses and independent radio stations catering to a population of students at nearby Berkeley, and to free thinkers that had gravitated to the city. [21] From 1964, the Merry Pranksters, a loose group that developed around novelist Ken Kesey, sponsored the Acid Tests, a series of events based around the taking of LSD (supplied by Stanley), accompanied by light shows, film projection and discordant, improvised music known as the psychedelic symphony. [22] [23] The Pranksters helped popularize LSD use through their road trips across America in a psychedelically-decorated school bus, which involved distributing the drug and meeting with major figures of the beat movement, and through publications about their activities such as Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968). [24]

Leary was a well-known proponent of the use of psychedelics, as was Aldous Huxley. However, both advanced widely different opinions on the broad use of psychedelics by state and civil society. Leary promulgated the idea of such substances as a panacea, while Huxley suggested that only the cultural and intellectual elite should partake of entheogens systematically.[ citation needed ]

In the 1960s the use of psychedelic drugs became widespread in modern Western culture, particularly in the United States and Britain. The movement is credited to Michael Hollingshead who arrived in America from London in 1965. He was sent to the U.S. by other members of the psychedelic movement to get their ideas exposure. [25] The Summer of Love of 1967 and the resultant popularization of the hippie culture to the mainstream popularized psychedelia in the minds of popular culture, where it remained dominant through the 1970s. [26]

Modern usage

A retro example of psychedelia; the dancer combines 1960s fashion with modern LED lighting. PsychedelicVACHulaHoop.JPG
A retro example of psychedelia; the dancer combines 1960s fashion with modern LED lighting.

The impact of psychedelic drugs on western culture in the 1960s led to semantic drift in the use of the word "psychedelic", and it is now frequently used to describe anything with abstract decoration of multiple bright colours, similar to those seen in drug-induced hallucinations. In objection to this new meaning, and to what some[ who? ] consider 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 for recreation, psychotherapy, physical healing, or creative problem solving. In science, hallucinogen remains the standard term. [27]

Visual art

British rock and blues guitarist, Eric Clapton's "The Fool" (replica shown) is one of the world's best-known guitars and has come to be symbolic of the psychedelic era The Fool guitar (replica).jpg
British rock and blues guitarist, Eric Clapton's "The Fool" (replica shown) is one of the world's best-known guitars and has come to be symbolic of the psychedelic era

Advances in printing and photographic technology in the 1960s saw the traditional lithography printing techniques rapidly superseded by the offset printing system. This and other technical and industrial innovations gave young artists access to exciting new graphic techniques and media, including photographic and mixed media collage, metallic foils, and vivid new fluorescent "DayGlo" inks. This enabled them to explore innovative new illustrative styles including highly distorted visuals, cartoons, and lurid colors and full spectrums to evoke a sense of altered consciousness; many works also featured idiosyncratic and complex new fonts and lettering styles (most notably in the work of San Francisco-based poster artist Rick Griffin). Many artists in the late 1960s and early 1970s attempted to illustrate the psychedelic experience in paintings, drawings, illustrations, and other forms of graphic design. In the modern era, computer graphics may be used to produce psychedelic effects for artwork.[ citation needed ]

The counterculture music scene frequently used psychedelic designs on posters during the Summer of Love, leading to a popularization of the style. The most productive and influential centre of psychedelic art in the late 1960s was San Francisco; a scene driven in large measure by the patronage of the popular local music venues of the day like the Avalon Ballroom and Bill Graham's Fillmore West, which regularly commissioned young local artists like Robert Crumb, Stanley Mouse, Rick Griffin and others. They produced a wealth of distinctive psychedelic promotional posters and handbills for concerts that featured emerging psychedelic bands like Big Brother and the Holding Company, The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane. Many of these works are now regarded as classics of the poster genre, and original items by these artists command high prices on the collector market today. Peter Max's psychedelic poster designs helped popularize brightly colored spectrums widely, especially among college students.[ citation needed ]

Contemporary with the burgeoning San Francisco scene, a smaller but equally creative psychedelic art movement emerged in London, led by expatriate Australian pop artist Martin Sharp, who created many striking psychedelic posters and illustrations for the influential underground publication Oz magazine, as well as the famous album covers for the Cream albums Disraeli Gears and Wheels of Fire . Other prominent London practitioners of the style included: design duo Hapshash and the Coloured Coat, whose work included numerous famous posters, as well as psychedelic "makeovers" on a piano for Paul McCartney and a car for doomed Guinness heir Tara Browne, and design collective The Fool, who created clothes and album art for several leading UK bands including The Beatles, Cream, and The Move. The Beatles loved psychedelic designs on their albums, and designer group called The Fool created psychedelic design, art, paint at the short-lived Apple Boutique (1967–1968) in Baker St, London. [28]

Joplin's Porsche 356C in "Summer of Love - Art of the Psychedelic Era" at the Whitney Museum in New York City Janis Joplin's Porsche 356 convertible.jpg
Joplin's Porsche 356C in "Summer of Love – Art of the Psychedelic Era" at the Whitney Museum in New York City

Blues rock singer Janis Joplin had psychedelic car Porsche 356. The trend also extended to motor vehicles. The earliest, and perhaps most famous of all psychedelic vehicles was the famous "Further" bus, driven by Ken Kesey and The Merry Pranksters, which was painted inside and out in 1964 with bold psychedelic designs (although these were executed in primary colours, since the DayGlo colours that soon became de rigueur were then not widely available). Another very famous example is the Rolls Royce owned by John Lennon – originally black, he had it repainted in 1967 in a vivid psychedelic gypsy caravan style, prompting bandmate George Harrison to have his Mini Cooper similarly repainted with logos and devices that reflected his burgeoning interest in Indian spirituality.


The fashion for psychedelic drugs gave its name to the style of psychedelia, a term describing a category of rock music known as psychedelic rock, as well as visual art, fashion, and culture that is associated originally with the high 1960s, hippies, and the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco, California. [29] It often used new recording techniques and effects while drawing on Eastern sources such as the ragas and drones of Indian music.

One of the first uses of the word in the music scene of this time was in the 1964 recording of "Hesitation Blues" by folk group the Holy Modal Rounders. [30] The term was introduced to rock music and popularized by the 13th Floor Elevators 1966 album The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators . [30] Psychedelia truly took off in 1967 with the Summer of Love and, although associated with San Francisco, the style soon spread across the US, and worldwide. [31]

The electronic dance music scene is strongly linked to the consumption of psychedelic drugs, particularly MDMA. Drug usage in the EDM scene can primarily be traced to British acid house parties and the Second Summer of Love, which marked the beginnings of rave culture; these movements, however, were distinct from and mostly unrelated to 1960s psychedelia.


Psychedelic Festival in Brazil Rave xxxperience bh.jpg
Psychedelic Festival in Brazil

A psychedelic festival is a gathering that promotes psychedelic music and art in an effort to unite participants in a communal psychedelic experience. [32] Psychedelic festivals have been described as "temporary communities reproduced via personal and collective acts of transgression ... through the routine expenditure of excess energy, and through self-sacrifice in acts of abandonment involving ecstatic dancing often fuelled by chemical cocktails." [32] These festivals often emphasize the ideals of peace, love, unity, and respect. [32] Notable psychedelic festivals include the biennial Boom Festival in Portugal, [32] OZORA Festival in Hungary, Universo Paralello in Brazil as well as Nevada's Burning Man [33] and California's Symbiosis Gathering in the United States. [34]


In recent years there has been a resurgence in interest in psychedelic research and a growing number of conferences now take place across the globe. [35] The psychedelic research charity Breaking Convention have hosted one of the world's largest since 2011. A biennial conference in London, UK, Breaking Convention: a multidisciplinary conference on psychedelic consciousness [36] is a multidisciplinary conference on psychedelic consciousness. In the US MAPS held their first Psychedelic Science conference, [37] devoted specifically to research of psychedelics in scientific and medical fields, in 2013.

See also


  1. New York folk musician Peter Stampfel claimed to be the first to use the word "psychedelic" in a song lyric (The Holy Modal Rounders' version of "Hesitation Blues", 1963). [19]

Related Research Articles

Psychedelic rock is rock music that is inspired, influenced, or representative of psychedelic culture, which is centered on perception-altering hallucinogenic drugs. The music is intended to replicate and enhance the mind-altering experiences of psychedelic drugs, most notably LSD. Many psychedelic groups differ in style, and the label is often applied spuriously.

Summer of Love 1967 social phenomenon in San Francisco

The Summer of Love was a social phenomenon that occurred during the summer of 1967, when as many as 100,000 people, mostly young people sporting hippie fashions of dress and behavior, converged in San Francisco's neighborhood of Haight-Ashbury. More broadly, the Summer of Love encompassed the hippie music, hallucinogenic drugs, anti-war, and free-love scene throughout the West Coast of the United States, and as far away as New York City.

Timothy Leary American psychologist and proponent of psychedelic therapy

Timothy Francis Leary was an American psychologist and writer known for his strong advocacy of psychedelic drugs. Evaluations of Leary are polarized, ranging from bold oracle to publicity hound. He was "a hero of American consciousness", according to Allen Ginsberg, and Tom Robbins called him a "brave neuronaut".

Hippie Person associated with 1960s counterculture

A hippie, also spelled hippy, especially in UK English, was a member of the counterculture of the 1960s, originally a youth movement that began in the United States during the mid-1960s and spread to other countries around the world. The word hippie came from hipster and was used to describe beatniks who moved into New York City's Greenwich Village, San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district, and Chicago's Old Town community. The term hippie was used in print by San Francisco writer Michael Fallon, helping popularise use of the term in the media, although the tag was seen elsewhere earlier.

Psychedelic drug Hallucinogenic class of psychoactive drug

Psychedelics are a class of hallucinogenic drugs whose primary effect is to trigger non-ordinary states of consciousness via serotonin 2A receptor agonism. This causes specific psychological, visual and auditory changes, and often a substantially altered state of consciousness. The "classical" psychedelics, the psychedelics with the largest scientific and cultural influence, are mescaline, LSD, psilocybin, and DMT.

Humphry Fortescue Osmond was an English psychiatrist who expatriated to Canada, then moved to work in the United States. He is known for inventing the word psychedelic and for his research into interesting and useful applications for psychedelic drugs. Osmond also explored aspects of the psychology of social environments, in particular how they influenced welfare or recovery in mental institutions.

Acid rock is a loosely defined type of rock music that evolved out of the mid-1960s garage punk movement and helped launch the psychedelic subculture. Named after lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), the style is generally defined by heavy, distorted guitars, lyrics with drug references, and long improvised jams. Much of the style overlaps with '60s punk, proto-metal, and early heavy, blues-based hard rock.

Psychonautics Methodology for describing and explaining the subjective effects of altered states of consciousness

Psychonautics refers both to a methodology for describing and explaining the subjective effects of altered states of consciousness, especially an important subgroup called holotropic states, including those induced by meditation or mind-altering substances, and to a research cabal in which the researcher voluntarily immerses themselves into an altered mental state in order to explore the accompanying experiences.

Set and setting, when referring to a psychedelic drug experience, means one's mindset and the physical and social environment in which the user has the experience. This is especially relevant for psychedelic experiences in either a therapeutic or recreational context. According to the book How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan, the concept of set and setting was observed by the "Johnny Appleseed" of LSD, Al Hubbard visiting mushroom ceremonies in Mexico. The terms were used at least as early as 1958 by Ludwig von Bertalanffy and popularized by Timothy Leary in 1961, and became widely accepted by researchers in psychedelic therapy. Norman Zinberg has also discussed this in Drug, Set, And Setting: The Basis for Controlled Intoxicant Use (1984).

History of lysergic acid diethylamide

The psychedelic drug lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) was first synthesized on November 16, 1938 by the Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann in the Sandoz laboratories in Basel, Switzerland. It was not until five years later on April 19, 1943, that the psychedelic properties were found.

Psychedelic art artistic efforts to depict the inner world of the psyche

Psychedelic art is art, graphics or visual displays related to or inspired by psychedelic experiences and hallucinations known to follow the ingestion of psychedelic drugs such as LSD and psilocybin. The word "psychedelic" means "mind manifesting". By that definition, all artistic efforts to depict the inner world of the psyche may be considered "psychedelic".

A psychedelic experience is a temporary altered state of consciousness induced by the consumption of a psychedelic substance. 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 feature alterations in normal perception such as visual distortions and a subjective loss of self-identity, sometimes interpreted as mystical experiences. Psychedelic experiences lack predictability, as they can range from being highly pleasurable to frightening. The outcome of a psychedelic experience is heavily influenced by the person's mood, personality, expectations, and environment.

The Psychedelic era was the time of social, musical and artistic change influenced by psychedelic drugs, occurring from the mid-1960s to mid-1970s.

Ego death is a "complete loss of subjective self-identity". The term is used in various intertwined contexts, with related meanings. In Jungian psychology, the synonymous term psychic death is used, which refers to a fundamental transformation of the psyche. In death and rebirth mythology, ego death is a phase of self-surrender and transition, as described by Joseph Campbell in his research on the mythology of the Hero's Journey. It is a recurrent theme in world mythology and is also used as a metaphor in some strands of contemporary western thinking.

Psychedelic music is a wide range of popular music styles and genres influenced by 1960s psychedelia, a subculture of people who used psychedelic drugs such as LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, mescaline, DMT, and marijuana to experience visual and auditory hallucinations, synesthesia and altered states of consciousness. Psychedelic music may also aim to enhance the experience of using these drugs and has been found to have a significant influence on psychedelic therapy.

Counterculture of the 1960s Anti-establishment cultural phenomenon

The counterculture of the 1960s was an anti-establishment cultural phenomenon that developed throughout much of the Western world between the mid-1960s and the mid-1970s. The aggregate movement gained momentum as the U.S. Civil Rights Movement continued to grow, and, with the expansion of the American Government's extensive military intervention in Vietnam, would later become revolutionary to some. As the 1960s progressed, widespread social tensions also developed concerning other issues, and tended to flow along generational lines regarding human sexuality, women's rights, traditional modes of authority, Rights of the non-white people, End of the Racial segregation regimes based on the idea that defends the racial superiority of the white European race, experimentation with psychoactive drugs, and differing interpretations of the American Dream. Many key movements related to these issues were born or advanced within the counterculture of the 1960s.

The hippie subculture began its development as a youth movement in the United States during the early 1960s and then developed around the world.

"Turn on, tune in, drop out" is a counterculture-era phrase popularized by Timothy Leary in 1966. In 1967, Leary spoke at the Human Be-In, a gathering of 30,000 hippies in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and phrased the famous words, "Turn on, tune in, drop out". It was also the title of his spoken word album recorded in 1966. On this lengthy album, Leary can be heard speaking in a monotone soft voice on his views about the world and humanity, describing nature, Indian symbols, "the meaning of inner life", the LSD experience, peace, and many other issues.

A hallucinogen is a psychoactive agent that often or ordinarily causes hallucinations, perceptual anomalies, and other substantial subjective changes in thought, emotion, and consciousness that are not typically experienced to such degrees with other drug classifications. The term hallucinogen almost invariably refers to any drug which causes what is called a "trip". The common classifications for hallucinogens are psychedelics, dissociatives and deliriants. Although hallucinogens all can induce altered states of consciousness with some overlap in effects, there are quantifiable as well as vast qualitative differences in the induced subjective experiences between the different classes of hallucinogens due to differing and distinct pharmacological mechanisms. Contemporarily, certain potentially hallucinogenic GABAergic drugs such as muscimol, gaboxadol and zolpidem may be grouped into a distinct, separate or new category of hallucinogens that may be referred to as hypnotics despite many hypnotic and GABAergic drugs not being hallucinogenic like the three previously mentioned compounds. Additionally, cannabinergic compounds may also be considered distinct from the other categories as well despite sharing characteristics; specifically with both the psychedelic and dissociative classes.

Philosophy of psychedelics

Philosophy of psychedelics is the philosophical investigation of the psychedelic experience. While psychedelic, entheogenic or hallucinogenic substances have been used by many traditional cultures throughout history mostly for religious purposes, recorded philosophical speculation and analysis of these substances, their phenomenological effects and the relevance of these altered states of consciousness to philosophical questions is a relatively late phenomenon in the history of philosophy. Traditional cultures who use psychedelic substances such as the Amazonian and Indigenous Mexican peoples hold that ingesting medicinal plants such as Ayahuasca and Peyote allows one to commune with the beings of the spirit world.


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