Psychedelics (also known as serotonergic hallucinogens) are a class of psychoactive substances that produce profound alterations in perception, mood and numerous cognitive processes.

While the precise mechanism is not understood, psychedelics are thought to produce their characteristic effects by binding to and activating the receptors for serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine or 5-HT), particularly the 5-HT2a subtype. Serotonin plays a number of critical roles throughout the human body and is a key neurotransmitter involved in the functioning and regulation of sensory perception, behavior, mood, cognition and memory.

The term “psychedelic” was coined by the British psychiatrist Humphrey Osmond in 1956. It derives from the Greek words ψυχή (psyche, “soul, mind”) and δηλείν (delein, “to manifest”) which taken together mean “soul-manifesting,” with the implication being that psychedelics can allow one to access the soul and develop unused potentials of the human mind.

Unlike most highly prohibited substances, psychedelics are generally considered to be physiologically safe and non-addictive by the scientific community.

The use of psychedelics predates written history, and they were employed by early cultures in many sociocultural and ritual contexts. In modern times, psychedelic substances are used in a range of contexts spanning from the shamanic, religious and “spiritual”, or the transpersonal. They are sometimes referred to as entheogens (i.e. “generating the divine within”) by those who use them for these purposes, although they are also often used in purely recreationally.

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