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Does The Trip Get Tougher With Age? Life’s Impact on Psychedelic Responses

Psychedelic use is now more prevalent among adults over 26 years old, and studies suggest that age may have significant predictions on psychedelic trip quality. 

Find the answer to which is better: starting psychedelics young or waiting until later in life. 

    Once the emblem of youthful rebellion and spiritual exploration, psychedelics have transcended their stereotypical association with youthful hippie culture, and now are undergoing a significant demographic shift as we speak.

    In fact, research indicates that psychedelic use has “decreased among adolescents but increased in adults and is now estimated to affect more than 3 million adults aged 26+ years” (Livne et al., 2022). 

    While recreational use persists, the recent popularity of psychoactive drugs like LSD, psilocybin, and MDMA has followed a more therapeutic lens. So long to our image of young concert-goers lost in a frenzied trip of vibrant lights and loud music…

    For those new to psychedelics, apprehensions about negative experiences, “bad trips,” and ideas like “I’m too old for that” sometimes deter exploration. Nevertheless, this topic of whether or not psychedelic use is affected by age is relevant for every psychedelic-curious person, experienced or not. 

    This article explores how trip intensity, trip quality, and trip ease are all impacted by age, covering a range of cohorts and drawing on latest research and our own data from the work of our network of facilitators. Most importantly, you should know that psychedelic therapeutics apply to all appropriate ages!

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      Key Takeaways

      • Age influences psychedelic experiences differently, with older adults typically requiring more substance to achieve desired effects, as individual psychological and physiological factors play significant roles in these variations.
      • The set and setting, along with personal intentions, greatly affect the psychedelic experience, with older users often seeking controlled environments and therapeutic outcomes, contrasting with the exploratory and recreational motivations of younger users.
      • Research suggests that psychedelic experiences may become more manageable and pleasant with age, as studies indicate older individuals report fewer instances of challenging experiences and a trend towards more blissful states during psychedelic sessions.
      • Psychedelic Passage: Your Psychedelic Concierge — The easy, legal way to find trustworthy psilocybin guides, facilitators and psychedelic-assisted therapy near you in the United States.

      The Role of Subjectivity When Making Trip Predictions Based on Age 

      The role of age in shaping the intensity, quality, and manageability of psychedelic experiences is a complex interplay of numerous subjective factors. 

      While it’s tempting to assume that age directly correlates with how one might respond to psychedelics, the reality is that individual differences in biology and psychology often overshadow chronological age or complicate a clear cause-and-effect relationship.

      Conversations across the internet are full of anecdotal examples of people’s experiences, arguing either for greater ease earlier in life or the opposite. One user shared:

        While we later explore what modern research has found regarding this topic, not everyone shares the same sentiments. There are plenty of journeyers who feel that experimenting with psychedelics in youth is far easier.

        In the same thread, however, another user shared:

          Comment
          byu/OhHeyMrThing from discussion
          inPsychonaut

          We have found through the facilitation work in our network that the older you are, the more substance you need to reach your desired feeling. While physiological differences are clearly at play when it comes to age-related dosing needs, subjectivity should always be considered when planning a trip.

          The nuanced reality of individual psychological states also play a pivotal role, including the ability to surrender to the experience, and life experiences also are important elements when trying to predict trip quality.

          As we age, we accumulate more fears and reservations—akin to the hesitancy one might feel jumping off a high rock compared to the fearless leaps of youth. Our bodies and minds are less pliable; we have more to protect, more to break, and a lifetime of caution weighing us down.

          Considering psychological factors, younger individuals often bring a fearlessness into their experiences that can lead to more intense and uninhibited trips. Conversely, older adults might approach these experiences with more caution but also with a potential for deeper insight. 

          Their lives, typically more structured and settled, can mean that the impact of a psychedelic trip feels more disruptive, challenging well-established perspectives and possibly leading to profound shifts in understanding.

          The aging process also introduces factors such as potential medication interactions, age-related health concerns, and existential considerations about mortality and legacy. These elements must be carefully weighed as they can profoundly influence both the immediate and long-term impacts of psychedelics.

          Recommended Reading: Psychedelics for End of Life Care

          The subjectivity inherent in each person’s biological and psychological makeup makes it challenging to predict how age will influence the trip. Stereotypes and assumptions can lead to expectations that don’t hold true in the diverse reality of individual experiences.

          As we move forward, it becomes essential to consider these various factors rather than simply dosing an older individual with more and assuming their trip will be easier or less intense. 

          Understanding how to create a safe and supportive environment can be key to managing and maximizing the benefits of psychedelics, regardless of age. The next section will delve deeper into some of these elements more specifically.

          How Environment & Intention Interplay With the Age of Psychedelic Use

          The inner and outer environments of the psychedelic trip, colloquially known as “set and setting,” have long been recognized as pivotal shapers of the psychedelic experience, and this comes into play in a few specific ways for this topic of age.

          Firstly, younger individuals more frequently encounter psychedelics in vibrant, stimulating settings such as festivals or parties, where the external stimulation can reside as the focal point of the trip. 

          In contrast, older individuals resort to more controlled, tranquil environments in general, even when it comes to something as novice as a psychedelic experience. For example, journeying with a close friend or in small, intimate groups replace the excitement of journeying in larger and more chaotic settings.

          While recreational use can act as the gateway to more intentional psychedelic use, journeying in spaces which are concordant with introspection, reverence, and individual exploration may have a host of benefits that the alternative rarely provides.

          Such environments can reduce the potential for overwhelming experiences, or, at the very least, provide an opportunity to really face the difficulties with the right clarity and space.

          Recommended Reading: From Recreational to Therapeutic Psychedelic Use

          Secondly, older journeyers (in our experience) are more likely to approach psychedelics with specific intentions such as healing from past traumas, seeking spiritual depth, breaking limiting molds, or gaining insights into life’s later stages. 

          To starkly contrast is the more exploratory, curious, open and thrill-seeking motivations of younger users, which are beautiful and purposeful in their own right. However, one classic way to avoid getting lost in psychedelic terrain is through predetermining an intention for the experience. 

          For older cohorts, psychedelics tend to be used as tools for personal growth and understanding rather than mere avenues for recreational escape. This clarity of purpose and the desire for meaningful outcomes significantly influences the nature of the psychedelic journey, potentially leading to more profound and positive insights.

          Regarding the element of intention, one journeyer shared:

          Comment
          byu/Funkymushroom0-0 from discussion
          inPsychonaut

          Lastly, accessibility to safe, supportive settings becomes crucial, especially as the motivations and physical considerations of older users change. Services like those provided by psychedelic facilitators for safe usage offer guidance and controlled environments. 

          While many young people certainly prefer more introspective environments and many elders gravitate toward excitement, we have found the stated generalizations to be true in the majority of cases and relevant to how age could inadvertently alter trip quality and experience.

          Research on Age & Psychedelic Use: Does It Match Public Consensus?

          When browsing for public opinion on this topic, we found two primary arguments for why people believe that psychedelic trips are more manageable either at older ages or at younger ages. 

          One common thought is that tripping gets easier with age because of a lack of emotional maturity or resilience in younger journeyers. Contrastingly, many believe tripping is smoother when you’re young, because of the lack of accumulation of emotional baggage which is present in older demographics.

          However, one study by Ko and Colleagues conducted just in 2023 found that “age was negatively correlated with intensity of challenging experience,” meaning that older journeyers experienced fewer intense, challenging journeys in comparison to younger subjects. 

          One hypothesis of their study was that “increased age will positively predict the intensity of psilocybin-induced mystical experience and negatively predict the intensity of challenging experience” See the graph below for their results:

          Note: The experience of a “bad trip,” which is referred to in the study as “dread of ego dissolution,” was indicated as having lower scores in higher age categories, and, interestingly, the highest DED scores seemed to center around ages of 20s to 30s and then tapering off steadily.

          Another piece of research by Studerus and colleagues from back in 2012 utilized a “5-factor model of personality…including openness, neuroticism, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and extroversion” to compare older and younger test subjects for various trip outcomes.

          The study found that “compared to younger subjects, older subjects reported less Impaired Control and Cognition and also showed a trend for more Blissful State.” You can see below the graph of results for a more thorough look at outcomes.

          According to these results, you can look forward to overall more manageable and pleasant psychedelic experiences the older you get, but keep in mind that after prolonged use, sometimes the medicine lets you know when you’re done with it and it’s done with you!

          Summarizing the Pros & Cons of Doing Psychedelics When Young or Old

          Before we jump into this section, we invite you to check out our past article on the proper age to start psychedelics, because this previously addresses separate questions around when is too young in considering neurological development, hormonal stabilization, and many other physiological factors which can impact when young is too young for psychedelic use.

          Moving on to the pros and cons of starting psychedelics young (after the minimum age) or in later stages of life, we thought these concise points might be helpful. 

          Given that there is no research stating that psychedelic use is harmful in young adulthood (to the contrary), our prior points merely highlight that psychedelic use may get easier with age yet is still therapeutic at all appropriate ages.

          Why Start Now?: Pros to Tripping Young

              • Greater Malleability: Characterized by neural plasticity, receptivity, openness, and adaptability allow young trippers to have experiences with profound and lasting effects, with more room to bend without breaking.

              • Exploratory Spirit: Characterized by a heightened sense of curiosity and willingness to explore both their external world and their internal landscapes. This exploratory drive can make psychedelic experiences particularly rich, as they often seek out new, intense experiences that challenge their understanding of the world and themselves.

              • Carefree Approach: With fewer responsibilities and past negative experiences than older, younger individuals might find it easier to engage in experiences that require significant time and mental space. This carefree attitude allows for a more relaxed approach to psychedelics.

              • Heightened Sensitivity: Young people typically need a smaller dose in comparison to older trippers in order to reach their desired threshold. This heightened sensitivity obviously affects the intensity of the trip and allows for a deep and intimate exploration of the experience.

            Why Wait?: Pros to Tripping Later in Life 

                • Greater Stability: Stronger, sturdier, and resilient, older trippers may be better equipped to handle strong emotions and complex insights that arise.

                • Bigger Picture: Having lived through more phases of life, their broad perspective can enrich the insights gained. This depth of understanding can provide a fuller appreciation of life’s complexity and beauty.

                • Lower Intensity: As seen in the studies highlighted in this article, older trippers experience lower intensity trips on average than their younger counterparts, and it’s not hard to imagine why that could be appealing, especially to someone fresh to the world of psychedelics.

                • Uprooting Foundations: Older adults have established long-held patterns of thought and behavior, and psychedelics can offer a unique opportunity to reevaluate and revise. Whereas psychedelics in youth affect the laying of the foundation, later use aims to uproot and make room for something new.

              One of the beautiful things about psychedelic exploration later in life is the opportunity for positive impacts while allowing for a gentler and more grounded experience. 

              Comment
              byu/samimnot- from discussion
              inPsychonaut

              How Time Impacts The Effects of Psychedelics: A Guide

                  • First Time or Experienced?: This article teaches you how to navigate first-time trips and repeat journeys. 

                  • After Your First Trip: Find the answer to the pressing question of what to do after you’ve had your first psychedelic experience. 

                  • Lasting Benefits: The therapeutic benefits of psychedelics have been proven to last longer than expected. 

                Find Confidence & Clarity With Psychedelic Passage’s Guidance

                Hi there! We sincerely hope that you’ve found valuable takeaways that resonate with your current intentions. To explore research-based education, stay updated with psychedelic news, and benefit from practical how-to articles, we encourage you to head over to our resources page.

                If you’re seeking personalized advice and are prepared to take the first step toward a therapeutic psychedelic experience, we invite you to book a consultation with our team of experienced psychedelic concierges.

                This consultation is more than just a conversation; it’s an opportunity to be matched with a trustworthy local facilitator. You’ll be seamlessly connected to our rigorously vetted network of psychedelic guides, ensuring potential matches align with your needs.

                Psychedelic Passage offers confidence and peace of mind by alleviating the burden of having to guess who’s right for you. If you want to discover how Psychedelic Passage can help you, we empower you to learn more about our services and check out client testimonials from those who’ve gone before you.

                Your healing path is uniquely yours, and our commitment is to serve you at every juncture. Psychedelic Passage: Your Psychedelic Concierge — The easy, legal way to find trustworthy psilocybin guides, facilitators and psychedelic-assisted therapy near you in the United States.

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                    References:

                        1. Ko, K., Carter, B., Cleare, A. J., & Rucker, J. J. (2023, October 5). Predicting the intensity of psychedelic-induced mystical and challenging experience in a healthy population: An exploratory post-hoc analysis. Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10561760/   
                        2. Livne, O., Shmulewitz, D., Walsh, C., & Hasin, D. S. (2022, December). Adolescent and adult time trends in US hallucinogen use, 2002-19: Any use, and use of ecstasy, LSD and PCP. Addiction (Abingdon, England). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9994631/  
                        3. Studerus, E., Gamma, A., Kometer, M., & Vollenweider, F. X. (2012a). Prediction of psilocybin response in Healthy Volunteers. PloS one. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3281871/  
                        4. Studerus, E., Gamma, A., Kometer, M., & Vollenweider, F. X. (2012b). Prediction of psilocybin response in Healthy Volunteers. PloS one. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3281871/  

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