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Redefining Psychedelics: Language and Perception

redefining psychedelics
in this article
  • Medicine
  • Entheogen
  • Nootropic

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Chemical Collective or any associated parties.

Have you ever considered the ways language can alter your and others’ perceptions of psychedelic substances?

The fields of linguistic psychology and language framing show that the words and language we use have an impact on how we view and experience things. It affects how we interpret information. For example, using the word “opportunity” instead of “challenge” can help to have a more positive mindset toward a specific event. 

The language we use around psychedelics can shape our experience of them.

As psychedelics continue to be integrated into Western society and our culture as a whole, their usage is becoming an accepted part of our lives. Progress is also being made in the legalization and decriminalization movements and as this happens, it is worth considering how we continue to describe these powerful substances.

In this article, I will explain how four different words can influence our perception, interaction with, and relationship to psychedelic substances, as well as how this might impact how they are integrated into our culture. 

  • Medicine
  • Drug
  • Entheogen
  • Nootropic

The purpose of this article is not to offer a complete list of descriptors or any definitive ways for you to receive these words. Rather, it is an exploration into how they may shape the associations we have with psychedelics and how they might change your perception of them and associated psychedelic experiences.


redefining psychedelics

By referring to psychedelics as “medicine,” we acknowledge and appreciate their capacity for healing, and highlight their therapeutic potential. This terminology aligns with the increasing acknowledgement of psychedelics in mental health treatment, addiction recovery, and overall well-being. The healing that they can provide can occur across different domains. For example, psychedelics are a promising treatment for cluster headaches, treatment-resistant depression, and end-of-life anxiety. 

Describing psychedelics as medicine may also prompt a discussion about the historical use of psychedelics in more traditional healing practices. Indigenous cultures have long regarded certain psychedelic plants as sacred tools for healing ailments and accessing wisdom. By describing, and therefore viewing psychedelics as medicine, we therefore invite the possibility of honouring and integrating this ancient wisdom into current-day discussions about mental health and healing. We are also more likely to approach our experiences from a therapeutic angle. This might include combining it with methods such as talk therapy and developing a therapeutic relationship with a tripsitter or facilitator. It might also influence how we design the setting for our psychedelic experiences. This might mean setting it up like a comfy therapist’s office, as has been the case in most of the clinical trials so far.

This therapeutic perspective invites a deeper exploration of how psychedelics can be incorporated into psychotherapy, potentially leading to further breakthroughs in treating conditions like PTSD, depression, and anxiety. Furthermore, using the word medicine implicitly advocates for the integration of psychedelics into mainstream healthcare, and this in turn emphasizes the importance of further research and clinical trials. I see this as a positive move forward as further scientific research can help us better understand psychedelics and how to use them safely, as well as continue to develop effective therapeutic protocols. Overall I see this as contributing to the growing body of evidence that supports the integration of psychedelics into mainstream healthcare practices.

Finally, exploring psychedelics as medicine can also invite us to reconsider societal attitudes toward these substances. It challenges the stigma associated with recreational drug use and encourages an appreciation and understanding of the therapeutic potential that psychedelics offer. This shift in perception aligns with ongoing efforts to destigmatize psychedelics.


redefining psychedelics

The word entheogen was first coined by an informal committee studying the inebriants of shamans. It comes from Greek, and means:

Becoming divine within. 

Describing psychedelics as entheogens emphasises their capacity to induce spiritual experiences and their role as potential agents for expanding consciousness, dissolving ego boundaries, experiencing a sense of unity, and facilitating a profound sense of interconnectedness with all of existence.

Framing psychedelics as entheogens also acknowledges the role of sacred plants and substances that have been utilised in religious and shamanic practices throughout history. Together, these two views help to bring about a sense of respect and reverence for these substances.  This highlights the importance of approaching entheogenic experiences with respect, humility, and a deep understanding of the cultural and historical contexts in which these practices originated. This can have a positive effect on people’s use of psychedelics as it helps to underscore the importance of intention, ritual, and the sacred context in which these experiences may take place.

However, all associations might not be positive. In a world where atheism is on the rise and religion is in decline, people may feel resistant to the term and talk of spirituality may deter or cast a negative light on psychedelic usage.


redefining psychedelics

The word “nootropic” suggests a cognitive-enhancing substance. This emphasizes the potential of psychedelics for positive effects on mental function, highlighting psychedelics’ effects on creativity, problem-solving, and overall cognitive performance.

Linked with the function of the brain, this term also encourages a closer look at the neuroscientific mechanisms underlying psychedelic experiences. Research already shows that psychedelics influence neurotransmitter systems, particularly serotonin, leading to altered states of consciousness that impact cognitive processes. The term, along with this early research, bridges the fields of neuroscience and pharmacology and offers a promising avenue for exploring the future of human development.

By considering psychedelics as nootropics, individuals may approach these substances with the intention of enhancing not only their mental acuity but also their creative capacities. Many notable people from both scientific and artistic world have commented on the impact psychedelics have had on their lives. This challenges the view of psychedelics as solely mystical or spiritual tools and expands the conversation to include their potential contributions to the fields of cognitive enhancement and personal development.

As society continues to grapple with issues like stress, anxiety, and cognitive decline, the nootropic perspective also invites a reevaluation of psychedelics as tools that may offer unique insights and potential solutions for mental health challenges.

A potential downside of using the word nootropic is that it might sell psychedelics short. Many people see many of the social, political, and economic crises in the world as linked to spiritual crises. If psychedelics can be used as tools for spiritual change, and therefore global change, then using a term that focuses more on individual performance enhancement may contradict this.

Terence McKenna, spoke extensively about how language can shape our reality. I believe he was onto something and that it’s only right that we carefully consider our choice of words when we talk and think about these powerful substances.

Words shape our attitudes, influence our experiences, and contribute to the evolving narrative around psychedelics.

In the spirit of linguistic mindfulness, we would do well to continue to explore and question the variety of descriptors that we use and how they shape and define our relationship with these extraordinary substances. In doing so, we can continue on a path of understanding, respect, and conscious integration of psychedelics into the diverse landscapes of our lives and cultures.

John Robertson| Community Blogger at Chemical Collective |www.mapsofthemind.com

John Robertson is one of our community bloggers here at Chemical Collective. If you’re interested in joining our blogging team and getting paid to write about subjects you’re passionate about, please reach out to David via email at blog@chemical-collective.com

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23 days ago

I think we should be allowed what we can do with ourselves, only to unleash our true potential!

1 month ago

Really interesting thank you.

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