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The Origin of the Word ‘Psychedelic’

To fathom hell or soar angelic / Just take a pinch of psychedelic…

psychedelic-origin-beard-bros-pharms

These simple instructions were written by a British psychiatrist named Humphry Osmond in a letter he penned to the popular author Aldous Huxley in the 1950s, simultaneously encouraging and warning the word-weaving polymath of the power of psychedelic substances. Huxley was eventually peer-pressured by Osmond into a heroic dose of mescaline, a mind-bending experience that inspired the 1954 novel The Doors of Perception, an autobiographical account of Huxley’s tryst with the naturally-occurring psychedelic substance the year prior.

While this may seem rather mundane in today’s psychedelic awakening, this was groundbreaking science and experimentation following Albert Hoffman’s successful synthesis of lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD, in 1938, and his now infamous ingestion of the mysterious substance and hallucinogenic bike ride home from the lab five years later.

This was so new in American culture that the word ‘psychedelic’ had not even been coined yet. That’s where Osmond and Huxley entered the hushed conversation.

Implored by Osmond to help succinctly classify the indescribable experience a person can have while on LSD, 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

This is when Osmond quipped back:

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

Derived from the Greek words ψυχή psychḗ ‘soul, mind’ and δηλείν dēleín ‘to manifest’, and the loose translation being “mind manifesting”, the implication was engrained that psychedelics can tap into unused potentials of the human mind.

The term stuck with Osmond who referred to it as “clear, euphonious and uncontaminated by other associations”.  Osmond clearly had some influence within the global research community as future leading psychonauts like Timothy Leary latched onto the designation as well.

timothy-leary-psychedelic-beard-bros-pharmsOf course, next came the 1960s. Fueled by lab-leaked LSD and so-called “magic” mushrooms, the term “psychedelic” evolved into a zeitgeist, becoming a cornerstone for an entire jaded generation who were ready to “Turn On. Tune In. Drop Out.” as instructed by Timothy Leary in a 1967 speech to 30,000 hippies at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California.

From music, to clothing, to art, to entire lifestyles, to this day in most peoples’ minds the word ‘psychedelic’ conjures nostalgic themed imagery of bright colors, flowing shapes, and specific fonts. For those who have taken “the trip”, though, the term represents the deepest probing of human consciousness, for better or worse.

Much as it was maligned by some in the wake of its entry into American lexicon, the word ‘psychedelic’ is under assault once again today, with the ultra-woke insisting that the word ‘entheogen’ be substituted instead. However, just as many folks seem to consider the term “entheogen” best reserved for religious and spiritual sacrament, as certain Native American religions do with peyote, tobacco, and other plant medicines. This leaves ‘psychedelic’ left to describe those who are using these drugs for recreation, psychotherapy, physical healing, creativity, and problem-solving. In most lab environments, the term ‘hallucinogen’ is still employed.

This is somewhat reminiscent of the ongoing debate of “cannabis vs. marijuana”. Here at Beard Bros Media, we try to avoid the use of the term “marijuana”, as it has roots in racist rhetoric, but much like with entheogens, psychedelic substances, or whatever you want to call them, we’d prefer to have nomenclature debates AFTER these natural, beneficial, “mind-manifesting” options are legal and available to those who can benefit from them.

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