Timothy Leary's Five Levels Of Psychedelic Experience
3 min

Timothy Leary's Five Levels Of Psychedelic Experience

3 min

Taking psychedelic drugs can be downright daunting. With a little foreknowledge though, you can prepare yourself and greatly reduce the chance of a bad trip. In fact, most trips are amazing; you just have to be open to whatever happens. Using Timothy Leary's five levels of the psychedelic experience, we're here to guide you through.

Psychedelic drugs are wonderful. However, for those who have never taken them, they can be a scary prospect. There is much misinformation surrounding psychedelics, and the sad irony is that many people have bad experiences because they've been told to expect they will. Taking drugs doesn’t need to be bad. Knowing what to expect can help ease you into your first trips, so we’re here to help. Using Timothy Leary’s five levels concept, developed from The Tibetan Book of the Dead, we will break down what to expect from your psychedelic trips.

Planning Your Psychedelic Experience

Planning Your Psychedelic Experience

It’s important not to rush into a trip. Take your time, do some planning, and you’re sure to have a great experience. As is common knowledge, set (mindset) and physical setting are essential to ensuring a comfortable trip. If you’re not feeling it, don’t do it. There will always be another opportunity. So many people are put off by psychedelics for life because they fail to take them in a suitable environment and at a suitable time. As a result, they think they hate the drug itself, when often it was just that one bad experience.

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Though each person reacts differently to psychedelic drugs, and it is important you listen to yourself most of all when deciding what is right for you, each type of drug has typical characteristics we can associate with it. Famous psychonaut Timothy Leary has broken the psychedelic experience down into five categories.

Who Is Timothy Leary?

Timothy Leary was a psychologist and psychonaut from the US. Whilst psilocybin and LSD were both still legal, he pursued research into their psychiatric uses. Throughout his lifetime, he continually advocated their potential benefits. Using psychedelic drugs, he developed a philosophy of mind expansion. His book, The Psychedelic Experience, uses ancient Tibetan philosophy (based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead) to deal with issues surrounding consciousness and reality raised by taking drugs.

Timothy Leary’s Five Levels of Psychedelic Experience

Timothy Leary’s Five Levels Of Psychedelic Experience

The five levels of the psychedelic experience range from very mild sensations to full blown, expansive hallucinations. These levels are a useful guide when learning what to expect from a psychedelic experience. But, just keep in mind that there are really no boundaries between these levels, and you can easily slip between the states mentioned below. They can be used to indicate what you should expect, but never go into a trip thinking, “Today I’m going to have a level 3 experience”. The beauty of a trip is that the most profound ones often take you by surprise.

Level One Psychedelic Experience

Level One Psychedelic Experience - Timothy Leary

This is a low level experience. It is rarely life-changing and often very comfortable.

Effects of Level One

  • Light synaesthesia (mingling of the senses) and heightened awareness—this will be especially noticeable with music.
  • Whilst your experience of the world will change in this state, it will still feel like the same world.

Level One Psychedelic Drugs

  • Cannabis

Level Two Psychedelic Experience

Level Two Psychedelic Experience

This is where things start to get interesting. It is the first stage that many people would recognise as a “psychedelic experience”.

Effects of Level Two

  • Warping, breathing, and other visual effects
  • Strong emotional responses
  • Light closed eye visuals (CEVs)

Level Two Psychedelic Drugs

  • Light doses of psilocybin
  • Light doses of peyote
  • Medium doses of MDMA

Level Three Psychedelic Experience

Level Three Psychedelic Experience - Timothy Leary

At this point, you are likely to consider yourself "tripping". It is in this stage and beyond that you will begin to have profound realisations and question reality.

Effects of Level Three

  • Fractals, tracers, and strong visual hallucinations
  • Deep thoughts of the self and the universe
  • Thought loops
  • High sensitivity to physical stimuli
  • Light visuals and auditory disorder
  • Uncontrollable laughter

Level Three Psychedelic Drugs

  • Regular doses of psilocybin
  • Regular doses of LSD
  • Regular doses of peyote
  • Regular doses of “the 2Cs”
  • Low–medium doses of Salvia divinorum

Level Four Psychedelic Experience

Level Four Psychedelic Experience - Timothy Leary

Now things are exciting. Departing the world as you know it and entering other realms, expect to come back changed.

Effects of Level Four

  • Powerful, otherworldly visuals
  • Visions
  • Dissolution of reality
  • Out-of-body experiences
  • Profound realisations

Level Four Psychedelic Drugs

  • High doses of psilocybin, LSD, peyote, the 2Cs, and salvia

Level Five Psychedelic Experience

Level Five Psychedelic Experience - Timothy Leary

By this point, you will have transcended, and things will never be the same again. Reality will be but a faint memory, and you will have let go of your ego. After this, you can consider yourself a true psychonaut.

Effects of Level Five

  • Ego death
  • Communication with otherworldly beings
  • Total eradication of reality
  • Very little difference between having your eyes open or closed
  • Propulsion at great speed
  • Audiences with god-like beings
  • Strangely sober, rational mental state

Level Five Psychedelic Drugs

  • DMT
  • Extremely high doses of other psychedelic drugs

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What To Do if You Have a Bad Psychedelic Experience

What To Do If You Have A Bad Psychedelic Experience

Bad trips are always possible, and acknowledging that is one of the best ways to avoid them. If precautions are taken, then you will greatly mitigate the risk of an unpleasant experience. At first, if you’re new to it, start small and get used to being on psychedelics. In doing so, you will come to know yourself better and be more able to judge how you will handle further excursions into the wonderful world of psychedelics. A guide can get you started, but ultimately you will learn what you need to have a good time. It’s really no different from normal life, just a little more confusing.

For more information on what to do if your trip on psychedelic drugs begins to go a little awry, check out this article for some great tips to get you back in a good place.

Luke Sholl
Luke Sholl
Luke Sholl has been writing about cannabis, the wellness potential of cannabinoids, and the positive influence of nature for over a decade. Working with several cannabinoid-centric publications, he publishes a variety of digital content, supported by strong technical knowledge and thorough research.
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