Jessica L. Nielson, Ph.D

Jessica Nielson, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Health Informatics at the University of Minnesota and founder of the Psychedelic Society of Minneapolis.
Jessica L. Nielson, Ph.D

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I’ve had a long-standing relationship with psychedelics, stemming from my exploratory days in high school and college to a spiritual transformation during a fateful trip to Amsterdam during graduate school. There was an awakening to something I couldn’t fully comprehend that was calling me to completely turn my life upside down, catalyzing a deeper immersion into the psychedelic community, a new perspective about how to approach my trauma research, and the maturation of my own psychedelic renaissance.

I’m a psychedelic researcher and the founder of the Psychedelic Society of Minneapolis (PSoM). The PSoM is a community-based organization dedicated to the legal regulation of psychedelics, entheogens, entactogens, and cannabis for therapeutic and spiritual uses. We are a local chapter of a larger international organization aimed at building community around psychedelics. We provide educational content about the responsible use of psychedelics, MDMA, and cannabis, and advocate for continued scientific research into their mechanisms to promote evidence-based drug policy reform and harm reduction for the public.

While I have categorized these as different types of psychonauts, I must admit that I view them as more related to the different phases of a psychedelic initiation.

Over the past year, I have screened nearly 1000 people who have wanted to join the PSoM. During those interactions—combined with all my years of being involved in various communities where psychedelics are integral to the experience, including festivals, Burning Man, psychedelic research, advocacy, and harm reduction—I came to see 5 types of people emerge. While I have categorized these as different types of psychonauts, I must admit that I view them as more related to the different phases of a psychedelic initiation. I have witnessed, and also embodied, these different types of psychonauts, each incredibly beautiful and humbling in their lessons about myself and the world around me. These categorizations will undoubtedly upset some people. I simply ask that if you find yourself having a strong emotional reaction to any of these categories, particularly one of anger, I encourage you to look deeply at the root of this response and whether it holds any truth for you and your unique experience or developmental stage in working with psychedelics.


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The recent user may be searching for a specific type of experience, often trying to out-do the experiences others have had, taking heroic doses in an effort to find the peak experience that others are talking about.

The experience seeker. The novice or recent user, obsessed with psychedelics and determined to find access or try and live in that state as much as possible. The novice experience seeker is searching for an experience that they have heard about through other sources, but not yet experienced themselves. They are curious and want to find out more about this thing that has become so popularized. However, depending on how new they are, some seem to either not know anything about their legal status, or they pretend not to know so they can inquire and try to solicit the community for guides and access to drugs. The recent user may be searching for a specific type of experience, often trying to out-do the experiences others have had, taking heroic doses in an effort to find the peak experience that others are talking about. The “heroic dose” is a concept coined by Terence McKenna, referring to taking a very large dose that catapults you into another reality; a dose that some feel will be a guaranteed peak mystical experience. Often, this subgroup is doing psychedelics so often (at least once per week) that they may start to lose touch with consensus reality. They are consumed by these experiences and feverishly search for meaning and purpose with increasing frequency and intensity. Another flavor of the experience seeker are members of ceremonial communities that meet regularly, either every week or every month, to take psychedelics together in a ritualistic setting.

The patient. People suffering from some ailment, having exhausted many other conventional options for therapy, now feel that the exciting new psychedelic-assisted therapy they’ve been hearing about in the press is their only hope for finding a cure. Some from this group have tried psychedelics in their past, while some may be approaching them for the first time.

Having experienced and witnessed the transformational power of psychedelics, and feeling like they’ve achieved enlightenment or tapped into the Godhead or Christ consciousness, the psychedelic messiah feels it is their calling to “save the world” through psychedelics

The psychedelic messiah. Having experienced and witnessed the transformational power of psychedelics, and feeling like they’ve achieved enlightenment or tapped into the Godhead or Christ consciousness, the psychedelic messiah feels it is their calling to “save the world” through psychedelics, either by starting a new community where they are the sole leader, setting up a retreat center to facilitate psychedelic experiences, or becoming some other kind of figurehead attempting to create a following focused on them as a healer, rather than relying on the psychedelics or the inner healer of their followers. This is more about promoting themselves than the power of psychedelics.

The jaded psychonaut. Those who’ve experienced the dark side of psychedelics and are skeptical of doing them again, but are obviously still curious, since they are inquiring about the psychedelic society. Some may be interested in trying them again after a long hiatus and hearing how they can be positive experiences in the right set and setting, while others may be searching for community and integration of their previous “bad trips” in order to heal from past trauma caused by them.

With years of experience, the veteran psychonaut has developed a humility and respect for the profound potential of the psychedelic experience.

The veteran psychonaut. With years of experience, the veteran psychonaut has developed a humility and respect for the profound potential of the psychedelic experience. These people may not be doing psychedelics frequently anymore, but they have found a way to tap into those states using other methods that they’ve spent years cultivating for their own wellness and spirituality. They want to spread the word about the responsible use of psychedelics in their communities to promote harm reduction and help the others pass through the phases of their own psychedelic initiation safely.

While these categorizations might be limited, they are based on my own personal journey, experiences, and skills of observation and pattern detection. If this theory is true regarding the various phases of a psychedelic initiation, combined with the rapidly growing popularity of psychedelics in the mainstream during the War on Drugs, it’s more important than ever to have resources in place to foster these developmental stages so individuals can move safely along the path towards psychedelic maturity. Just as our families and communities nurture our minds as our brains develop during childhood to maximize our potential, so too must the newly initiated psychedelic brain be nurtured and guided through the peaks and valleys of this incredible journey towards an expanded awareness and consciousness.  



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