White wolf drinking water by Anonymous - This animation serves as an example of psychedelic visual drifting which is specifically in the form of flowing.
Drifting is the experience of the texture, shape, and general structure of objects and scenery appearing progressively warped, melted, and morphed across themselves. [1] [2] [3] These alterations gradually increase in intensity as a person stares, but are temporary and will reset to their normal appearance the moment a person double takes. This effect is capable of manifesting itself across the 4 different levels of intensity described below:
  1. Peripheral - At the lowest level, visual drifting can be described as a wiggling of straight lines within the external environment. This occurs exclusively within a person’s peripheral vision and cannot be directly looked at.
  2. Direct - At this level, visual drifting does not necessarily increase in intensity, but can now be directly looked at within a person’s central line of sight. This partially alters the appearance and form of shapes, objects, and sceneries within the external environment, causing them to subtly drift, bend, and morph.
  3. Distinct - At this level, visual drifting becomes powerful enough to drastically alter and transform the shape of specific objects within a person’s external environment. If one stares at a fixed point and keeps their eyes relatively motionless, the effect can be powerful enough to render objects progressively unrecognisable from their original form.
  4. All-encompassing - At the highest level of visual drifting, the intensity becomes powerful enough to distort not just specific objects, but every single point of a person’s vision and the entirety of the external environment. This creates the appearance of an extremely smudged, warped, and blended mass of unrecognisable visual data.
Drifting is often accompanied by other coinciding effects such as texture liquidation and tracers. [3] [4] It is most commonly induced under the influence of moderate dosages of psychedelic compounds, such as LSD, psilocybin, and mescaline. However, it can also occur to a lesser extent under the influence of certain stimulants and dissociatives such as MDMA or 3-MeO-PCP.


The various subtypes of this visual effect are defined by the continuously changing direction, speed, and rhythm of the distortion. This results in a small variety of different manifestations which are defined and listed below:


Morphing can be described as a style of visual drifting which is completely disorganised and spontaneous in both its rhythm and direction. It results in objects and scenery appearing to change gradually, morph, and warp in their size, shape, and configuration.


Breathing can be described as a style of visual drifting which results in objects and scenery appearing to steadily contract inwards and expand outwards in a consistent rhythm, similar to the lungs of a living organism.


Melting can be described as a style of visual drifting which results in the texture of objects and scenery appearing to completely or partially melt. It begins at lower intensities as a gradual distortion of an object's texture which causes them to subtly droop, wobble, and lose their structural integrity. This gradually increases until it becomes impossible to ignore as the lines, textures, and colour between solid objects melt into one another in an extremely fluid style.


Flowing can be described as a style of visual drifting which seems to occur almost exclusively on textures (particularly if they are highly detailed, complex, or rough in appearance). It results in the textures appearing to flow like a river in a seamless, looped animation. It is particularly common on wood grain or the fur of animals.

Style Variations

The specific differences between each potential style of drifting can be broken down into the following variations and may occur independent of effect intensity:
  • Intricate vs. Simplistic – Drifting can alter the external environment in a way that spreads out in many different complex directions and results in the original piece of sensory input becoming completely unrecognisable in appearance. Alternately, it can be simplistic in nature consisting of simple warping, wiggling and bending even at high dosages of psychoactive substances.
  • Slow vs. Fast – Drifting can manifest as alterations that progress at a sudden rate and produce fast movement in the visual field or it can manifest gradually and move slowly as a person stares into it.
  • Smooth vs. Jittery – Drifting can manifest as a smooth, fluid, and seamless movement or it can manifest as jittery with an extremely slow frame rate that moves in sudden and partial transitions.
  • Static vs. Fleeting – Drifting can either freeze in its distorted position until one performs a double take or can be extremely fleeting in nature, resetting almost as soon as a person tries to look directly at it.
  • Realistic vs. Unrealistic – Drifting can either look convincingly natural and life-like in its appearance and motion or can look extremely cartoon-like, exaggerated and unrealistic.


  1. Muthukumaraswamy, S. D., Carhart-Harris, R. L., Moran, R. J., Brookes, M. J., Williams, T. M., Errtizoe, D., ... & Feilding, A. (2013). Broadband cortical desynchronization underlies the human psychedelic state. Journal of Neuroscience, 33(38), 15171-15183. | https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2063-13.2013
  2. .Kleinman, J. E., Gillin, J. C., & Wyatt, R. J. (1977). A comparison of the phenomenology of hallucinogens and schizophrenia from some autobiographical accounts. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 3(4), 562-567. | https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/schbul/3.4.560
  3. [1][2] Bersani, F. S., Corazza, O., Albano, G., Valeriani, G., Santacroce, R., Bolzan Mariotti Posocco, F., ... & Schifano, F. (2014). 25C-NBOMe: preliminary data on pharmacology, psychoactive effects, and toxicity of a new potent and dangerous hallucinogenic drug. BioMed Research International, 2014. | https://dx.doi.org/10.1155%2F2014%2F734749
  4. Papoutsis, I., Nikolaou, P., Stefanidou, M., Spiliopoulou, C., & Athanaselis, S. (2015). 25B-NBOMe and its precursor 2C-B: modern trends and hidden dangers. Forensic Toxicology, 33(1), 4. | https://doi.org/10.1007/s11419-014-0242-9




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