It’s nearly impossible to discuss psychedelics without someone bringing up the notoriously feared “bad trip.” We’ve already written an article that discuss in detail what a bad trip is and why they are important—the gist is this: a bad trip refers to a challenging or difficult experience while being under the influence of a hallucinatory substance such as psilocybin mushrooms, LSD, ayahuasca, or even cannabis.
Challenging Psychedelic Experiences Result in Growth
While we generally try to avoid these experiences altogether, the simple fact remains that bad trips are an inextricable part of the psychedelic experience. We maintain the belief that bad trips, though difficult to endure, are actually the most crucial part of the psychedelic experience as they result in the positive mental, physical, and spiritual growth we all desire.
Although these experiences are part of the psychedelic journey, there are steps you can take to make a challenging psychedelic experience easier to endure. In fact, by implementing the 10 tools we’ll discuss below, you can significantly lower your chances of experiencing a bad trip, and arm yourself with the tools to cope with one should it occur.
Whether you’re currently experiencing a bad trip, trying to help a friend through one, or want to reduce the likelihood of having one in the future, these 10 tips will help you safely navigate a challenging psychedelic experience.
10 Ways to Navigate a Bad Trip
- Prepare in Advance. The best way to prevent or mitigate a bad trip is to have the proper preparation. This step is the most important and happens to be one of the main reasons our clients work with us. This includes learning about the specific substance, choosing the correct dosage, preparing mentally and physically, as well as preparing your environment for the trip itself. Writing down your intentions before your trip can help anchor your thoughts. Proper rest, hydration, and good nutrition prior to the trip will also help your endurance. Pre-made food, snacks, and readily available water can help nourish yourself during a bad trip. Setting up a comfortable area with little to no external interruption may also create an inviting and safe environment for your experience. There is no substitute for adequate preparation. Click the link to speak with one of our coaches about the psychedelic preparation process.
- Do Not Judge Yourself. We understand that even the most prepared person can have a bad trip, and it is important to not judge or talk negatively to yourself for having one. Be gentle on yourself. These negative thoughts can spiral out of control, making your experience that much more stressful.
One tactic that we’ve found useful is to write (in advance) a letter to yourself highlighting the things you love most about yourself and the lessons you hope to learn from your psychedelic experience and read it during your bad trip. Bad trips do not mean you are a bad person or stupid. You have to remember that you have the strength and resolve to survive the experience.
- Remember it is Temporary and That You Are Safe. Bad trips can feel like they will last forever or make you feel like you are permanently damaged. Remember that many people encounter bad trips, and all of them are temporary. This means that the negative or uncomfortable sensations you are feeling will pass with time. Sometimes just the mere reminder that your experience is temporary gives you the endurance to safely get through your discomfort. Repeating the mantras “This too shall pass”, or “Time heals all” can also help remind you.
- Take Care of Your Needs. In the height of the excitement, we sometimes forget that our consciousness lives within a human shell, which has needs that must be fulfilled to survive. You may be experiencing symptoms of a bad trip when in actuality your body is signaling something as simple as eating, drinking water, using the bathroom, or that you are too hot or cold. Start by taking care of those basic physical needs, then move up to exploring your psychological needs, and ultimately your self-actualizing needs. Addressing some, or all of these needs will likely help you work through your bad trip and gain significant insight from it.
- Breathwork. Breathing techniques have been scientifically proven to lower anxiety, depression, and stress. If you are feeling overwhelmed, start by taking deep breaths in through your nose, hold the air deep in your stomach for a couple of seconds, exhaling fully and deeply, and repeating. Do this for at least a minute, and repeat whenever you are feeling negative symptoms arise. You may also try alternate nostril breathing, which has been shown to lower stress and anxiety, improve cardiovascular function, and lower your heart rate.
- Change Audio and Visual Cues. Audio and visual stimulation can help stabilize your mind during a bad trip. Giving your mind something to do often helps it from wandering uncontrollably. Put on some of your favorite songs (playlists are recommended so you aren’t constantly required to make choices), or a funny or visually appealing movie or show to temporarily give your mind something to focus on. Choose something you’ve already seen before as the familiarity can help ground you. If it is too difficult to look at a screen, options like a book of art or poetry are good alternatives.
- Change Your Environment. Sometimes navigating a bad trip can be as simple as changing the environment. As mentioned earlier, creating an intentional, comfortable, and safe space for your experience is important.
Pay attention to things like tidiness, lighting, comfort, and room temperature. If you are still feeling claustrophobic or stuffy, explore a different room or walk throughout your house.Step outside to your backyard or another private area to get some fresh air, but avoid being out in public as you are less in control of your environment. Nature is often a refreshing venue to re-ground and re-establish a sense of inner peace.
Sometimes your body needs to be in motion and changing your environment can give you a great excuse to move around. Even adjusting your posture or hand placement can make a huge difference in these altered states.
- Surrender to the Experience. Sometimes a very interesting phenomenon happens during a psychedelic experience where the more you try to control it, the more intense and uncontrollable the experience becomes. The previous tips are all about mitigating and preventing a bad trip. But if you’ve tried all of the above and are safe, yet feel like the bad trip is still ongoing, the best thing to do is to lean into the experience and surrender to it. Surrendering does not mean giving up or harming yourself. In spiritual terms, surrendering means setting aside your own will and trusting your thoughts, ideas, and actions to the will of a higher power, whether it be god, ancestors, or the psychedelics themselves. Surrendering to the experience is saying, “I know I am safe, I know this is temporary, and I surrender myself to the experience and wherever it takes me, knowing I will come out the other end just fine.”
- Do Not Self Medicate. No matter how negative the experience can get, never mix drugs or drink alcohol while taking a psychedelic. There can be extremely negative consequences and harmful effects on your body. Even prescribed antidepressants and benzodiazepines, like Xanax, can have an adverse effect while under the influence of psychedelics.
However, non-medicated supplements, such as lavender, valerian root, b-complex vitamins, and vitamin c have anecdotally been stated to reduce anxiety during a bad trip. If you are predisposed to specific mental conditions, please seek a medical professional before doing psychedelics.
- Connect with Someone. Having someone you trust to serve as a trip sitter can help you navigate a bad trip. You may think that your best friend or partner is the ideal person for this because they know you intimately, but those people likely don’t have the experience, emotional capacity, or skills to help you navigate the experience in an unbiased way. Trip sitting is best done by an experienced individual who knows that you are undergoing a psychedelic event, is familiar with that particular substance, and is trained in trip sitting and harm reduction techniques. If you feel you are in immediate danger, express that to your trip sitter and have them help you. If it is a serious medical issue, your trip sitter can help call 911 or take you to the emergency room. However, please bear in mind that most hospitals will simply give you a sedative and monitor your vitals—and continuing your trip in a sterile and unfamiliar environment like an emergency room can exacerbate your bad trip. Having a qualified trip sitter will help you determine the right course of action.
Just Had a Bad Trip and Not Sure What to do Next?
The most important thing to do is to acknowledge both yourself and the sanctity of the powerful experience you just had. Bad trips are quite literally sacred events in indigenous cultures who work with psychedelics ceremonially. Congratulations on your rite of passage! Now the real work of integrating the experience begins.
Integration refers to making sense of the psychedelic experience so that the lessons learned can be incorporated into a new way of being. In other words, unpacking the often bewildering psychedelic experience so that the insights and realizations can be implemented in your everyday life.
Psychedelics have the potential to change your life, but they aren’t inherently life changing. Making lasting change takes work on your part, and integration is that work. Fortunately, you don’t have to do the work alone. Active support from a qualified psychedelic coach is the best way to integrate these experiences into everyday life.
In fact, these mind-blowing experiences can make us feel like we are going crazy if we don’t have anyone around to help us process and unpack them. If you are looking for unbiased support and accountability as you integrate your challenging psychedelic experience, we suggest you talk to one of our integration coaches today.