Psychedelic Renaissance vs. Entheogenic Wisdom: A Tale of Synthetic vs. Natural

Category: Consciousness

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In the realm of consciousness exploration and spiritual journeys, two terms often emerge: psychedelics and entheogens. While they might seem synonymous at first glance, there are subtle yet significant differences between the two. Understanding these disparities can lead to safer and more profound experiences for those who choose to explore altered states of consciousness.

Let’s begin by defining each term:


The term entheogen, “revealing the divine within” (Ruck et al., 1979), was coined to overcome the bias and derogatory nature implicit in terms like “hallucinogen” and psychedelics..

Entheogens are natural substances that are used in a ceremonial, shamanic, or spiritual context to induce altered states of consciousness, often with the intention of healing,  connecting with the divine, exploring one’s inner psyche, or gaining insight into the nature of reality. While many entheogens overlap with psychedelics, not all psychedelics are necessarily considered entheogens.  They are also ALWAYS natural earth (plants, animals, mushrooms) compounds as opposed to synthetics, lab-made or tampered with by the human hand.


On the other hand, the word psychedelic means “mind revealing” which is one way to describe the powerful effects of psychedelic drugs (sometimes also called hallucinogens). They cause a shift in your sense of self and consciousness, as do lots of other drugs, like alcohol, cocaine, and opiates.

These are a class of mostly synthetic substances known for their mind-altering effects, often inducing hallucinations, changes in perception, and heightened sensory experiences. Psychedelics encompass a wide range of substances, including LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), psilocybin (found in certain mushrooms), DMT (dimethyltryptamine), and MDMA (ecstasy or molly).

We, at SpiritRivers, have made a clear subjective choice to refer to entheogens when describing Ancestral Medicines, as opposed to mostly lab-made psychedelic compounds (MDMA, Psilocybin, LSD or extracted tryptamines and mescaline) used in psychedelic circles.

Key Differences

Now that we have established the definitions, let’s delve into the primary differences between psychedelics and entheogens:

Use and distribution

In the contemporary landscape of psychedelic research and therapy, a notable contrast arises between the synthetic nature of many substances in the psychedelic renaissance and the inherently natural essence of entheogens. While psychedelic-assisted therapy clinics are emerging as promising avenues for mental health treatment, they primarily utilize synthetic or lab-made compounds due to regulatory constraints and standardization requirements. These clinics operate within a medical framework, emphasizing controlled settings and therapeutic protocols rather than the ceremonial contexts often associated with entheogenic use. Consequently, the incorporation of natural entheogens and ceremonial practices into psychedelic therapy settings remains largely unexplored territory, highlighting the divergent paths taken by these two realms of consciousness exploration. Despite this disparity, efforts to integrate indigenous wisdom and spiritual approaches into psychedelic therapy models are gaining traction, underscoring the importance of honoring the traditions and cultural contexts from which entheogens originate.


Cultural and Spiritual Context:

Entheogens are deeply rooted in religious and spiritual practices across various cultures and civilizations throughout history. They have been used in ceremonies, rituals, and healing practices for millennia. Psychedelics, on the other hand, emerged more prominently in Western societies during the mid-20th century, initially gaining attention for their recreational and countercultural associations.

Intention and Set:

Entheogens are typically consumed with a specific intention, often within a ritualistic or ceremonial setting guided by experienced practitioners such as shamans or spiritual leaders. These experiences are approached with reverence and respect for the substance’s potential to facilitate spiritual insights and healing. Psychedelics, while also capable of profound spiritual experiences, are often consumed in a variety of settings, including recreational use at parties or festivals, therapeutic sessions, or personal exploration without a structured framework.

Relationship with Nature:

Entheogens are exclusively derived from natural sources, such as certain plants, fungi, or cacti, or animal secretion, and are revered as gifts from the earth in many indigenous cultures. Examples include ayahuasca, peyote, and magic mushrooms, Bufo Alvarius and Huachuma. Psychedelics, are mostly synthetic or semi-synthetic compounds created in laboratory settings. This distinction underscores the spiritual connection and reverence for nature often associated with entheogens.

Legal Status and Social Perception:

Entheogens have varying legal statuses around the world, often dependent on cultural and historical factors. For example, peyote is legal for religious use by members of the Native American Church in the United States, while ayahuasca ceremonies are legally practiced in countries like Brazil and Peru. Psychedelics, however, have faced stricter legal scrutiny and stigmatization, particularly during the height of the War on Drugs in the latter half of the 20th century. Despite recent shifts in attitudes and research demonstrating their therapeutic potential, many psychedelics remain illegal or tightly regulated in many parts of the world.


While the terms “psychedelics” and “entheogens” are often used interchangeably, they represent distinct facets of altered states of consciousness and spiritual exploration. Entheogens carry with them centuries of cultural and spiritual significance, often used within structured ceremonies guided by tradition and reverence. Psychedelics, while capable of producing similar experiences, have a broader cultural context and legal landscape, encompassing both recreational and therapeutic applications.

Ultimately, whether one chooses to explore psychedelics or entheogens, it is essential to approach these experiences with respect, intentionality, and mindfulness. Proper preparation, set, and setting can significantly influence the outcome of the journey, fostering opportunities for personal growth, healing, and spiritual awakening. As attitudes toward these substances continue to evolve, it is vital to engage in open dialogue, education, and responsible use to harness their transformative potential while minimizing risks.