• Mia Cosco

Psychedelic or Entheogen in 2020

Definition & Origin

Now, you may or may not know what the term ‘psychedelic’ even means. The term ‘psychedelic’ actually means, in a literal Greek translation, “mind manifesting.” The term was coined by Humphry Osmond who was a British psychiatrist working in Canada, where I am from, in the 1950s. The word ‘psyche’ means ‘mind’ or ‘soul’ and ‘delos’ means ‘manifest.’

What does entheogen mean? From the Ancient Greeks again, entheogen means to ‘generate the divine within.’ ‘Entheos’ means ‘god’ or ‘divine’ and ‘genesthai’ means ‘to generate.’ The term was actually coined in 1979 by a group of ethnobotanists and mythology scholars including Jonathan Ott, R. Gordon Wasson, and others. Naturally, you’re thinking – hold up, 1979?! Psychedelics were around, what’s the need for a new term or name? Well, the term ‘entheogen’ was brought in to really veer away from the harmful reefer madness, swinging sixties, rock music, and wild parties that promoted this hallucinatory, out-of-control view that certain figures in psychedelic history had been promoting, for various reasons intentional and unintentional.


The major difference between psychedelic and entheogen, and you’ll see from Google Images even, is that the term and culture around psychedelics and psychedelia is notoriously tie-dye with loud colors and contrasting, almost hypnagogic visuals. For me, a little intense, however it is meant to simulate typically macrodoses or large, heroic doses of synthetic psychedelic visualizations when actually under the effects of psychedelics. Keep in mind, however, that the artwork is only really replicating the hallucinations from macrodoses, not microdose experiences, which are lesser in overall effect, from mood to visualizations.

Entheogen, on the other hand, is notably spiritual and shamanistic in comparison. You’ll often first see art by Alex Grey, a notable visionary artist and one of my personal favorites, and, although similar colors are used as in a search of ‘psychedelic’ on Google Images, you will find very eclectic visionary art that has more depth and shows more story than the typical hypnotizing psychedelic art.

In full disclosure, I have begun pivoting my own brand from using the word ‘psychedelic’ to the word ‘entheogen’ and this is because I have found that the term ‘psychedelic’ gets flagged a LOT more in Google searching and in most SEO everywhere, which really hinders me from being featured. As a branding coach and being self-employed, this is a real hindrance, as is the general journey when publicly advocating for controversial topics, even when one advocates for research-based discussions around and healing-based frameworks around radical healing modalities, illegal substances, etc.

With the term ‘entheogen,’ you may be wondering, okay, what is an entheogen and what is a psychedelic? To be perfectly honest and to give the short answer, not much is different.

A psychedelic experience is characterized the same as an entheogenic experience and, in case you’re not familiar with what that characterization is, a psychedelic and entheogenic experience typically is defined by 5 key tenets:

1. A mystical, unitive, and non-dual consciousness experience in which all is one and you feel united with It, God, the Tao, Brahman, etc. this feels timeless, ineffable, joyful and noetic (a knowing of this being true and not just a figment of your imagination).

2. This experience is actually also experienced by mystics in all known world religions. There are different terms used in different religions, however there is always one experience of ultimate reality and it’s relatively all the same non-dual experience. It is actually a theory touted by Aldous Huxley and other ‘perennialistics’ or those following perennial philosophy and known in religious studies as the ‘universal core of religious experience.’

3. While this experience has typically only occurred for ascetics like St Teresa of Avila and seemed rare or unpredictable, scientists dismissed this experience as just psychosis or an ego-regression. However, with predictable and replicable route to mystical experiences being identified in research, scientists can study these experiences in the lab and be measured using our newly advanced technology of brain scans, questionnaires like the Hood Mysticism Scale developed by American psychologist Ralph Hood, and others.

4. This scientific research can thus create an empirical spirituality or neuro-theology proving, or at least enhancing the credibility of, the transcendent and mystical insights.

5. Finally, these experiences will change the world. Humanity can join a religion based in the science of mystical experience and transcend our differences in language, nation, culture, religion, class, gender, and ethnicity. Homo sapiens will get the makeover it needs and be forever upgraded.

So, in essence, the psychedelic renaissance is a return to entheogens: psychedelics as medicine and plants as sacred spirits and wisdom keepers in their own right.

However, if we’re going to parse things out, one could say, erring on the side of caution to adhere to the Indigenous wisdom keepers and ancestors of our humanity experimenting with the plants and being divinely called to ingest certain plants for healing purposes, that an ‘entheogen’ is a ritualistic, shamanistic plant-based substance such as:

  • bufo,

  • bullet ant venom,

  • DMT,

  • psilocybin,

  • African dream herb,

  • Angel’s trumpet,

  • ayahuasca,

  • Bolivian torch cactus,

  • cannabis, etc.

Psychedelics are classically seen as more synthetic, such as the well known:

  • LSD,

  • MDMA,

  • ketamine,

  • 2C-P,

  • 3-MMC,

  • MDA,

  • Ethyl-K, and way more.

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