Defining the Psychedelic Trip
Using the standard definition of the word, a trip is an act of going to a place and returning; a journey or excursion, especially for pleasure. But in this article, we’re not talking about going on a vacation or taking a trip to the grocery store.
In the psychedelic sense, the term “trip” describes the hallucinogenic event that occurs after taking a certain dose of a psychedelic substance. Perhaps some might describe the experience as visiting or touring different realities.
The phrase was coined in the 1950’s in studies led by the Central Intelligence Agency by scientists who were experimenting with LSD for potential use as an interrogation tool. Despite the US government’s early attempts to use psychedelics for coercive purposes, modern scientific research has shown many potential positive mental health effects from psychedelic use, including alleviating symptoms of treatment-resistant addiction, depression, anxiety, and PTSD, to name a few.
Science has yet to determine the exact mechanics that cause a psychedelic trip, but anecdotally we do know that these altered states of consciousness can be profound, life-changing, and sometimes result in divine experiences.
However, there are reports of individuals who do not experience these hallucinogenic events, or any perceptible changes at all, even after taking a high dose of a psychedelic substance.
Are you one of these folks and are curious as to why this happened to you? In this article, we’ll explore the 5 major reasons you might not trip, as well as some thoughts on safety and harm reduction. But first, let’s dive into describing the common components of a psychedelic trip.
Common Components of The Psychedelic Trip
Though different depending on the particular substance, a psychedelic trip has common themes which include visual hallucinations, mood alteration, perceptual changes, and enhanced bodily sensations. Some users also experience a lowering of inhibitions, the recollection of repressed or significant memories, and an increased ability to healthily address difficult or challenging personal issues.
For most, the visual components of a psychedelic experience are unlike anything ever experienced before. They include things like increased visual acuity, sensitivity to light, and visual modulation of the surrounding environment.
Specific patterns or details that normally go unnoticed may draw in one’s attention and receive newfound appreciation for their beauty or complexity. Colors may be enhanced, appearing more intense and powerful than they do with sober eyes. Objects may also appear to be magnified or “zoomed in” relative to other things in one’s visual environment.
More complex visual components like the warping of objects and scenery may also be experienced. This may just be a distortion of an object that is already there and can happen both outwardly (with eyes open) and also internally (with eyes closed).
For some, this appears in the swirling of one’s face or the movement of the lines of the design on a rug. It may also produce a wall that appears to be breathing, with undulating light that may extend outwards to eventually encompass one’s entire environment.
With some psychedelics, particularly ayahuasca and DMT, the visual components are more intense and may include kaleidoscopic geometric patterns like shapes, colors, and fractals. These visuals may get so vivid that, in combination with specific body sensations, they fully override all visual and physical perception, leaving the psychonaut to feel like they’ve left their external environment have temporarily “broken through” into a new reality.
This imagery is also consistent with a state of consciousness where most transcendental, spiritual, or mystical insights are gained, an “ego death” takes place, or where a connection with spiritual entities occurs.
Some trips are not visually-dominant, and the user may experience changes in mood, body sensations, and thought patterns. Mood changes can range depending on the particular set and setting, from sorrowful to joyful, introspective to adventurous, or even anxious to calm.
The release of the “feel-good” neurotransmitter, serotonin, associated with psychedelic use may also create a pleasant body high. Temporary changes to your brain chemistry may allow you to shift the perspective of your thinking, connecting the dots and events in your life in a more meaningful way.
For many, the tripping mind is still clear and aware but becomes an ungovernable observer of these new and intensified senses. The relative control you have over your thoughts and emotions ebbs and flows as the power of the psychedelic takes over.
The psychedelic experience is inextricably linked with an element of surrender, a loosening of the reins, and the concept of entrusting your mind to the natural or synthetic substance they’ve consumed. This can be both exciting and absolutely terrifying.
No two trips are the same and many elements of the trip itself are ineffable and difficult to process (this is why we are so big on integration work). And some people don’t experience any of these phenomena at all.
So, Why Doesn’t This Happen for Everyone?
The reason we can spend so much time discussing the experiences that arise when one is tripping is because, comparatively speaking, we have a much greater understanding of what a trip is compared to how a trip works. Some scientists have tried to make some sense of how these experiences happen—of how our brain can produce the imagery we’ve mentioned here.
In fact, Euclidean geometry (math!) has actually been discovered as being one way to describe how the brain produces certain hallucinations. The patterns of connection linking the retina (the visual cortex) and its neuronal circuitry allow us to make sense of contours and edges. It’s thought that this is also the area of the brain that produces geometric hallucinations.
While scientists have devoted a tremendous amount of work to psychedelics and their mental health benefits, the scientific literature is almost entirely devoid of investigations as to the recreational practices of psychedelic use. Many people seek out the pleasurable “tripping” experiences for reasons outside of therapeutic potential, yet we still have relatively little understanding of the psychedelic “trip” itself.
Given the prohibition and federal scheduling of these substances, there’s a scarcity of research into how the trip occurs. For that reason, much of the evidence in this space is anecdotal.
Relatedly, it’s important to mention that experiences vary significantly, and it may be difficult to draw any conclusions about why you’re not tripping. However, through insight from our community, we’ve compiled 5 common reasons one might not experience a psychedelic trip.
Everyone experiences psychedelics differently. We understand the frustration of wanting to harness the healing power of psychedelics, only to have nothing happen after consuming the substance. Trust us, there is nothing wrong with you.
Regardless of the case, it’s helpful to be able to share experiences and feel supported by those who might understand where you’re coming from. If you’re tired of scouring internet forums only to be more confused than you previously were, Psychedelic Passage is here to give you the hands-on support and actionable knowledge you’ve been seeking. We have vetted psychedelic facilitators and integration specialists who are ready to help.
5 Reasons You Might Not Be Tripping on Psychedelics
Impact of Environment
Two of the most important words when it comes to psychedelics are set and setting, with set referring to your mindset and setting referring to your surrounding environment. The context in which the psychedelic experience takes place is absolutely crucial, not just from a safety standpoint, but also because it plays a huge role in the experience of the trip itself.
Early psychedelic research that neglected set and setting was associated with unpleasant experiences. Not only were these less positive, but they also many times resulted in someone not being able to feel the psychedelic substances.
Alternatively, when study participants were given a “psychedelic” (which in actuality was a placebo) along with an appropriately designed set and setting, many of them reported that they tripped. This shows the importance of set and setting in facilitating the psychedelic trip.
Considerations for set include an examination of your current state of mind as well as identifying stressors that may impact your experience. For example, you may be going through a difficult life circumstance where your mind is in survival mode, and therefore rejects the release of control often associated with psychedelic use.
The same may occur if you don’t have a thoughtful setting. The preparation of setting most notably revolves around feeling safe and comfortable in one’s physical environment. It can also involve preparation like fasting for at least three to four hours prior to a trip. If you’re interested in learning more, check out our guide for how to prepare for a psychedelic journey.
While the physical environment could be considered the setting of the equation, the ego also plays a major role in your mental state, or set. In psychoanalysis, the ego may be defined as the bridge between the conscious and unconscious mind and the mechanism behind reality testing. It is also responsible for your sense of personal identity, whether limiting or not.
Think of your ego as the culmination of your thoughts, beliefs, and feelings about yourself and your life. The ego is all about stability and familiarity to increase your chances of survival, but in this modern world, an overactive ego may have some drawbacks.
Though dependent on your intention, the mere curiosity of wanting to try a psychedelic substance threatens the ego because it means something may potentially change. Since psychedelics challenge our perception of reality and who we are on a deeply spiritual level, the ego may cause resistance to the psychedelic trip.
It goes without saying that it takes a certain level of comfort and acceptance for whatever will arise in order to fully experience psychedelics. It’s often easier said than done, but surrendering to the psychedelic substance will contribute to your capacity to fully experience it.
A certain level of anxiety is common before an encounter with psychedelics. If this persists, it can be thought of as the ego gripping too hard, preventing one from fully surrendering to the experience.
Similarly, the continuous thoughts that “it’s not working” may have an analogous effect. Given our tendencies to overthink and constantly evaluate our daily lives, it can be difficult to avoid doing the same during a psychedelic experience. It may seem scary, but fully letting go and trusting in the experience can help produce a smoother and more profound trip.
If it’s not already in your practice, a daily meditation routine will help you quiet the ego in ways that’ll also help you trip. Thoughtful discourse in preparation of the trip, including setting intentions, are also vital to quieting the ego.
Like with some other substances, a tolerance with psychedelics has been observed. Another reason you may not trip is tolerance, which can include your body’s natural tolerance (or conversely, sensitivity) to a specific substance, as well as temporary tolerance build-up from recently consuming a psychedelic drug.
In fact, several studies have discovered that there’s a very rapid tolerance to psychedelics like LSD. Interestingly, there has also been a cross-tolerance reported when study participants use both LSD and psilocybin.
Aside from DMT (which hasn’t been associated with cross-tolerance), many psychedelics involve the same mechanisms as well as a common pathway in the brain. It’s thought that if psychedelics are consumed two days in a row, use on the third day will produce few or even entirely non-existent effects.
For you to feel the effects of a psychedelic substance, it’s recommended to put at least a few days between trips—but it’s probably better to wait a week (or a few weeks). We’ve written an article that goes in-depth on standard psychedelic dosage.
Many other drugs, both legal and illegal, will impact the psychedelic experience. A full chart of drug combinations can be found here but it’s also important to emphasize that if you’re ever unsure, you should approach psychedelics with extreme caution.
- SSRIs (Antidepressants): SSRIs are a class of antidepressants that are generally understood to weaken the effects of psychedelics. However, with MDMA, the two drugs combined can not only lead to an awful hangover but can also lead to serotonin syndrome which can be fatal. That said, mixing MDMA and antidepressants is dangerous and should absolutely be avoided.
- MAOIs (Antidepressants): Generally speaking, MAOIs have similar effects as SSRIs. They lead to a decreased response to hallucinogens. However, MAOIs are actually required in order for someone to experience the effects of orally consumed DMT (ayahuasca is actually a combination of DMT and a MAOI). Like SSRIs, MAOIs should never be used in combination with MDMA as it can result in severe toxicity.
- Therapeutic Stimulants (ADHD Medications): Combining stimulants with MAOI-containing psychedelics (ayahuasca) can lead to serotonin syndrome and be dangerous. Combinations with MDMA haven’t been studied extensively, but it’s understood to result in an additive effect and may be dangerous—especially in high doses. When combined with the classic psychedelics (LSD and psilocybin), there is little mechanistic overlap and few risks. However, it may minimize the experience and should still definitely be approached with caution.
Unfortunately, due to the fact that psychedelics are illegal, you really never know what you’re receiving when you purchase them illegally. In some cases, this means that the consumed substance is not actually the substance you wanted, or there may be unknown fillers and additives.
At best, this could lead to a delayed or weakened experience or produce no “tripping” effects at all. Sometimes, people end up taking more in an attempt for it to “work,” which we do not recommend. At worst, consuming an adulterated substance could lead to health complications that may severely harm you.
Psychedelics are generally very safe. But lack of regulation means users don’t have transparent information regarding the sources, constituents, and concentrations of psychedelic substances.
Most of the complications that arise do so because of someone consuming too much or consuming something different than they expect. That being said, it’s highly, highly recommended that you have a reliable scale and drug testing kit to test each substance before consumption. Also, if you’re not feeling the drugs, we never recommend upping the dose.
When it comes to psychedelics, safety comes first. It’s more important than the trip and it’s more important than any anticipated benefits or expectations from the experience. Some people don’t trip when they consume psychedelics, and it’s always better to try again later with better preparation than it is to increase the dose.
Without legalization and an increase in research, we may never discover all the reasons that may prevent someone from tripping. If you’re someone who generally doesn’t feel psychedelics, you may want to discuss this with a guide or trip sitter. It may also be advantageous to discuss any drug interactions with a doctor.
Just remember that you are not broken and that there is nothing wrong with you. Your inability to trip may actually be a vital step to your healing journey. Or perhaps psychedelics simply are not for you. If this guide has been helpful to you and you want to learn more, we are available to give you the expert advice you are seeking.