Psychedelics are a class of psychoactives whose primary effects are rooted in altering perception, causing a number of mental effects which manifest in many forms including altered states of consciousness, visual or tactile effects.
A difference between the common semantic and scientific uses of 'psychedelic' often occurs. Most psychedelic drugs are either tryptamines, phenethylamines or lysergamides, and these structural definitions often denote what constitutes a psychedelic proper. However, psychedelics are also part of a wider definition of 'hallucinogens,' which includes certain dissociatives and deliriants - these sharing in many of the typically 'psychedelic' effects of the classical psychedelic chemicals. A drug may not be strictly classified as a psychedelic, but shares in the semantic definition of a drug which causes the user to experience extra-ordinary forms of consciousness through alterations in cognition and perception, forming 'the psychedelic experience.'
Enhancement of vision
The first category of visual effects that I will go into is the enhancement of vision that is consistently reported at the lowest levels of psychedelic hallucination. It can be generally defined as an overall increase in the level of visual input attributed to the external environment that a person experiences and is manifested in a couple of different ways…
Increased visual acuity
Visual acuity is defined by the medical literature as acuteness or clearness of vision, which is dependent on the sharpness of the retinal focus within the eye and the sensitivity of the interpretative faculty of the brain. The lowest reported level of psychedelic hallucination is a sharp increase in visual acuity which can be described as a new found ability to comprehend the entire visual field at once, including the peripheral vision. Instead of just being able to perceive the small area that a persons eye is currently focused on, which is the case during sober living. This results in the level of visual detail attributed to external the environment heightening to the point where the edges of objects become extremely well defined. Making it appear as if all of the air has been pumped out of the room. Leaving the environment extremely well focused, clear and defined.
Enhancement of colour
Although this is one of the more basic visual effects, to be understood completely it needs to be experienced. During the onset of a trip almost all people notice that colours start to stand out more, becoming extremely bright and vivid. Reds will seem “Redder”, Greens will seem “Greener” and all colours will be become much more distinct, powerful and intense than they usually are. A consistent way to reproduce this visual is to be outside in nature.
Enhanced pattern recognition
This is an interesting visual effect as it does necessarily change the appearance of the external environment but rather the level of detail in which it is experienced in. During even a mild trip it is common for people to suddenly notice patterns and textures that they may have never previously appreciated or paid any attention to before. For example when looking at a carpet, a pavement or tree bark the complexity and beauty of the texture suddenly becomes obvious.
A person’s sense of Pareidolia is also increased many times over, this is the brains ability to recognize significant imagery (usually faces) in almost any vague stimuli. Common examples of this in day to day sober life include spotting faces in everyday objects and viewing clouds as fantastical objects. This is an innate ability of pattern recognition for human beings that is increased dramatically during a psychedelic experience. For example every single leaf on a tree might look like many tiny green faces, scenery may look remarkably like people or objects and clouds might appear to be easily recognizable as fantastical objects. Without any visual changes actually taking place.
The second category of visual effects that I am going to describe is called a distortion. They can be generally described as open eye alterations and changes in perception attributed to the external environment. They are always obviously grounded in reality and gradually increase as a person stares but are completely non permanent, meaning that they reset to normal levels once a person double takes on the hallucination. Distortions are manifested in a wide variety of ways…
Breathing is a very common place visual that can happen to any surface or object but is usually associated with the walls of a room. This effect makes objects appear to be steadily breathing in and out, expanding and contracting in the same way a persons chest does when they slowly inhale and exhale. A fairly consistent way to reproduce this visual is to stare at a blank wall and lose focus.
Flowing, shifting, rippling or moving textures on surfaces are a strong visual effect that can happen to virtually anything in a number of different styles. A classic example of this however could be wood grain or carpets flowing like a river in a seamless and looped animation. A consistent way to reproduce this visual is to stare at wood grain and lose focus. If the image to the right is not animated, click here to load it on a separate page.
Tracers are the simple experience of trails being left behind moving objects such as people, birds or cars. Tracers are usually very obvious and are similar in appearance to the same sort of trails found behind moving objects in long exposure photographs. Manifesting themselves as smooth trails or multiple layers of the same repeated image which progressively fades into the background with each repetition. The trails can be exactly the same colour as the moving object that is producing it or can sometimes be a randomly selected colour of its own. Usually floating in the air for approximately 2 – 3 seconds. The deepest or most extreme version of this visual effect happens when your entire visual field becomes encompassed by tracers. Giving the appearance that your visual field is smudging into a huge indistinct blur every time you simply move your eyes. A consistent way to reproduce this visual is to move your hand in front of your face or throw an object.
Quite often the colours of various objects, particularly brightly coloured out of place objects, will become subject to an effect that shifts and changes the colours through a repeated cycling of hues in a sort of strange fluid motion across its surface. For example Moss on a rock could physically shift from green, to red, to blue and then back to green again in a very short space of time. If the image below is not animated, click here to load it on a separate page.
It is not unusual to for objects and sceneries to be completely or partially melting. They begin at lower doses as a drifting of straight edges in the visual field. At higher doses they become impossible to ignore with the lines, textures and color between solid objects appearing to blend and morph into one another in an extremely liquid fashion. Often until the original object becomes completely unrecognizable. It is also common for objects to appear to be melting before your eyes despite never making any actual progress at the same time. This part of the effect needs to be experienced to be understood.
This is yet another visual effect that applies to textures. Instead of simply distorting textures or making them more interesting it seems to completely replace them with often fantastical versions of themselves. Seemingly generated through the textures suddenly beginning to repeat into themselves in a symmetrical nature, revealing new, previously unseen images and patterns. A consistent way to produce this visual is to stare at a rough surfaces such as grass, tarmac and gravel.
Depth Perception Distortions
It is very common to experience both extreme and subtle distortions in depth perception during a psychedelic experience. This is where the depths and layers of the scenery in front of you can become exaggerated, skewed or completely mixed up. A classic example of this is the swapping of layers in a scenery. This is where objects in the background come into the foreground and objects in the foreground get pushed into the background. Another example of skewed depth perception is a complete loss of it, when the different sections of a scenery both close up and far away will unify into one flat image momentarily. An almost consistent way to reproduce this visual is by laying down under a tree and looking through the branches at the sky. Consistently causing the sections of sky in between the branches to come into the foreground whilst the branches get pushed into the background.
Scenery slicing is a fairly uncommon visual but appears across multiple people and regularly enough to make it worth mentioning. This effect usually happens spontaieneously and makes the scenery appear as if it has been cut remarkably cleanly into separate slices with a razorblade. These separate slices can be as simple as 3 separate sections or as complex as multiple slices of a moving interlocking spiral that’s been cut into your field of vision.
The third category of visual effects that I am going to describe are known by the psychedelic community as visuals. They are the experience of a persons visual field becoming encompassed by fast moving geometric forms and are manifested in a wide variety of ways…
Visuals can be described as the sensation of a person’s field of open and closed eye vision being partially or completely encompassed by fast-moving kaleidoscopic and indescribably complex geometric patterns, form constants, shapes, fractals, structures and colour. Common descriptions of visuals are generally along the lines of the geometry being fractal representations of repeating forms, embedded within each other. This geometry commonly includes vast and intricate form constants that among many other things, take the style of webs, grids, checkerboards, spirals and funnels in a huge variety of colours.
Here are a collection of examples that I feel are somewhat accurate, how ever the vastness and complexity of true psychedelic visuals are impossibly more intricate, meaning neither of the gallery’s above even come remotely close to the real experience. Click the image to the right for a large gallery of examples of visuals that I have found within psychedelic art across the internet.
Click the image to the left for a large gallery of anthropological examples of psychedelic visuals. The Shipibo people are a large tribe in the amazon rainforest whose culture is heavily involved with ritualized ayahuasca use. These textiles patterns are deliberately made by the Shipibos as artifacts of ayahuasca hallucination, in my opinion capturing the specific styles of repeating forms better than anything else I’ve found on the internet.
Fractals are an extremely common feature of Psychedelic visuals. They are a concept that exists within mathematics and can be described as complex patterns that repeat infinitely into themselves allowing for the same self similar image to be found no matter how far you zoom into any part of the image. Below is a collection of psychedelic fractals similar in appearance to those found with visuals. Click the image to open up a gallery of example images.
Psychedelic visuals never stand still at any point and are extremely fast changing in terms of their shape and style within themselves. This happens whilst they are naturally drifting laterally or radially across the visual field to create overlapping webs of many arising and decaying geometric patterns, all of which are visible within a single perceptual frame. When experienced, visuals somehow have a deep sense of profoundness and importance attributed to them, and feel as if they are perfectly fitting geometric representations of your current mind state. There are 5 different levels of psychedelic visuals, each one increasingly dramatic and incomprehensible.
Visual Noise – This is the most basic level of CEV’s and can be experienced in a completely sober state. It can be described as the random light and dark red regions that can be seen under the eye lids.
Light / Dark Flashes – This level is also easily obtainable without psychedelics and usually appears as regions of fleeting dark / light flashes of colour.
Patterns, Motion and Colour – This is the level where things start to get distinctively psychedelic and complex indescribable shapes and patterns begin to show themselves. Reaching a level of detail that is brightly coloured and very fractal like. Only manifest themselves when a person is closing their eyes at first but eventually becoming laid across your field of vision as a flat translucent veil in front of your eyes.
3D Geometry – At level 4 the visuals will become fully three dimensional and sprawled out across the surfaces, walls, objects and furniture of your environment instead of displaying themselves across a simple flat veil.
Overriding Physical Perception – This is the point at which CEV’s have become so intense, vivid and bright that they have begun to block out and replace the external world. At level 5 the environment begins to be replaced by visuals, with objects and scenery transforming into sprawling masses of geometry. As this increases the environment eventually becomes completely replaced. Giving the sensation that you are breaking through into another reality.
Perceived oneness with the universe - The final and most profound level of visuals occurs when the environment has been completely replaced with visuals. As they reach their highest possible level, the mind feels as if every point within the brain has become completely interconnected with every other point. Leaving the tripper under the literal sensation of experiencing everything within the universe all at once. Something that can be described as an infinite see of geometry, concepts and fractals that is always perceived to contain within it, all of existence, all that there ever was and all that there ever will be. A vast ocean of mind that is not just seen in front of the eyes but physically felt through each of the senses in an incomprehensible level of detail across every point of itself. The experience is immediately perceived to be the “entire universe”, or at least “everything”. At it’s lower levels this effect is something which fluctuates wildly, pulling trippers in and out of the room in a fashion that many find extremely disorientating. Instead of remaining constant and static it is triggered by the experience of a concept. For example if somebody were to say the word “internet” to a person who is currently in this state, they would see the minds concept of the internet immediately manifested in a perfectly fitting geometric form. A form that quickly branches out from itself like some sort of ineffable spider diagram, enveloping the concepts which you associate with the internet and then branching out to include the concepts you associate with those. This spreads out exponentially and within 2 - 3 seconds, quickly grows in a sudden flash to include every single stored concept within the entire universe. Completely disconnecting the tripper from their external environment before re-stacking them back into the room, until something triggers the process again, usually immediately. Snapping trippers in and out of the room repeatedly as the process is triggered continuously. It can to a certain extent however, be held at bay through continuous physical movement, stopping the process from branching out into everything by not giving it the time it needs to lock onto a concept. As dosage is increased however the process becomes easier and easier to trigger whilst extending in length and duration. Eventually resulting in a stable state of complete disconnection from the external environment and a lasting sense of oneness with the universe.
The third sensory effect that I am going to describe the subjective experience of, is perhaps the most profound subjective sensory effect that the psychedelic experience has to offer. Hallucinatory states are the fourth and final category of psychedelic hallucination. They are extremely varied in their intensity but eventually become full on 3D scenarios that feel completely realistic. They are manifested in a wide variety of ways…
hallucinatory states, begin at lower doses as imagery embedded within the visuals. Which can be described as spontaneous moving or still scenes, objects, people, animals, concepts, places or anything you could possibly imagine. They are often formed out of visuals themselves and are displayed in varying levels of detail ranging from “cartoonish” in nature to completely realistic, rarely holding form for more than a few seconds before fading or shifting into another image. On certain psychedelics, the imagery is manifested as an exact visual representation of whatever you are currently thinking about in your minds eye, turning abstract ideas into a concrete image and completely limitles in its abilities. An experience which is also found by some people during hypnagogia (the state between awake and sleep) and is known by the scientific community as “auto-symbolism”.
Psychedelic transformations are essentially open eye imagery. They are progressive in nature, which means they form by arising from patterns or objects, and then over a period of seconds drift, smooth, or lock into an entirely new appearance of still or animated objects, people, animals, concepts, places or anything you could possibly imagine. Usually enhanced by the separate visual effect of enhanced pattern recognition. Causing vague stimuli which already look vaguely like abstract concepts thanks to our inbuilt sense of paredolia to transform into extremely detailed versions of what they were already perceived as. The process of smoothing or locking which transformations seem to be fueled by requires some minimal amount of focus and concentration to sustain. Losing concentration for an instant can cause the image to fade away or shift into another image. Holding the eyes still will increase intensity of progressive transformation.
As these states of imagery become increasingly elaborate (proportional to dosage), they eventually become all encompassing fully-fledged 3D hallucinations. These could be anything but generally fall under common archetypes such as induced mystical states, contact with autonomous entities, imagined landscapes, spirit dimensions and situations that seem so unlike anything previously experienced that they are in all probability untranslatable into English. Hallucinations often feel extremely mystical, spiritual and religious in nature regardless of the trippers theistic beliefs and it’s not uncommon for people to report that high level psychedelic hallucinations feel infinitely “realer” than anything the person has previously experienced. Contact with autonomous entities are very common, these entities generally appear to be the inhabitants of a perceived independent reality. They are expectant of your appearance and enjoy interacting with them in various ways. The behaviour of a typical entity is one of a loving kind intelligence that simply wants to show you as much of their hyper dimensional space, bestowing specific pieces of knowledge upon you as quickly as possible before you begin to come down or slip into another hallucination. This is often done by directly manipulating what you can see and view; intentionally propelling trippers in different directions at disorienting speeds, forcing them to view or pass directly through macro and microscopic scale settings, including: planetary systems, galaxies, quasars, natural environments, space habitats, technological utopias, neurons, DNA, mitochondria, trilobites, cephalopods, bryozoa, and artificial self-replicating machines. Once the comedown inevitably begins to happen they are genuinely saddened by your disappearance, often wave goodbye and encourage you to visit more often. Entities can literally take any form but common subconscious archetypes are definitely present and contact with bodiless super intelligent Humanoids, Aliens, Elves, Giant Spheres, Insectoids, Beings of Light, Plants and Robotic Machines are common. These creatures and entities are comprised of a non physical psychedelic visual based material. Communicating with trippers via a combination of telepathy, visual linguistics, mathematics and morphing coloured structures of different textures. This complex visual language is capable of expressing pure meaning in a way that our current system of small mouth noises will never be able to become close to matching. Lower levels of simple entity contact can be described as a sensed presence of “The Other” that is clearly there but unable to fully manifest itself and communicate with you due to too low of a dosage.
Miscellaneous, unique and rare visual effects
Although there are many universally experienced visual components of a psychedelic experience, you should not allow this guide to give you preconceived notions for two separate reasons. The first reason is that although I’ve done my best with these descriptions and images they will never come close to the real experience, the real thing is incomprehensible, logic defying and impossible to translate into two dimensional images and words. The unenglishable factor is one of the few things that all psychonauts can all agree on so keep it in mind. The second reason is that the psychedelic experience is still a subjective experience and not by any means confined and limited to these visual components. As occasionally, just occasionally rare and one time only visual effects seep their way into the trips. These effects can be anything and usually occur at higher doses. Unique visual effects are completely personal to you and something that nobody else on the planet has ever seen before or will ever likely get to experience again. Psychedelics have led me to the conclusion that the human mind has not even come remotely close to being fully explored making experiencing the unimaginable much easier than most people think. So remember, do not limit your perception to the components described above, because there is more to the psychedelic experience than words can ever say.
Despite many common and prevalent misconceptions around psychedelic use, many psychedelics (including LSD and 2C-B) remain among the safest drugs in common recreational use, often with a very low potential for addiction. Some psychedelics, such as LSD, are almost impossible to physically overdose on, though others such as NBOMes have very low thresholds for overdose. However, regardless of the physical safety profile of the drug, it is always important to make sure the dose is within reasonable realms, since physical side-effects will increase with dosage, along with a greater risk of a bad trip or negative mental side-effects both during and following the trip.
The major physical dangers while on a reasonable dose of a psychedelic is the potential for an accident while the user undertakes an activity, occurring due to the shift in their perception. For example, a user on a psychedelic will likely not be able to safely or accurately judge distances as they would be able to sober. For this reason, it is important to avoid any activities which pose any threat or danger, or which require sober mental attention. Avoid driving and operating heavy (and probably light) machinery.
Psychedelics are known to potentially cause latent mental illness to manifest. Those with mental illnesses should not use psychedelics. Those with a family history of mental illness, including but not limited to depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar should use psychedelics with extreme caution, if at all.
During psychedelic trips, a 'bad trip' may be a possibility. This happens when the user enters a negative mindset, often find it difficult to shift their mind from a negative thought path (named 'thought looping'). The chances of a bad trip are increased depending on many factors, including the mental and emotional stability of the user or the setting of the trip - to mitigate these factors, only trip in a comfortable and positive environment.
It is often relatively easy to escape a bad trip, through changing the setting, meditation or by simply talking to someone.
The figure differs (such as with DMT and NBOMes), but many psychedelics have a physical tolerance lasting between 1-2 weeks. However, many users report a mental tolerance which may last longer than the physical tolerance, and increases in duration depending on frequency of use. Psychedelics are often considered to be heavy mental experiences, therefore it is always recommended to leave a reasonable amount of time (often a month or more) between trips, to avoid any adverse psychological effects of chronic use.
Many psychedelics are also somewhat stimulating, and therefore may cause similar side-effects to stimulants, particularly in high doses. These may include sweating, vasoconstriction and dehydration. Be aware of this, and remain hydrated.