Psychedelic trips are unpredictable and often challenging by nature. In this episode, Jimmy and Nick will review some actionable steps that can be taken to prevent discomfort, dissolve self-judgment, and redirect the tone of your journey.
First, they’ll highlight some of the common themes of a bad trip. They’ll explain what ‘surrendering’ really means and how it applies to not only psychedelic experiences, but to life as a whole. They’ll also offer some examples of what a psychedelic facilitator might do to ease your mind during the intense parts of psychedelic experience.
Then our hosts will explain why having a psychedelic facilitator or tripsitter present can help you feel a more solid sense of being grounded and safe in your body and in your environment. Nick and Jimmy will clarify just how much personal autonomy you have over the course of your journey and why emotional transparency with your facilitator can be of immense benefit.
Episode 11: How To Mitigate The Chances of a Bad Trip, Part 2
Nick Levich: Welcome to the Psychedelic Passage podcast. My name is Nick Levich. I’m here with my partner, Jimmy Nguyen. We are the co-founders of Psychedelic Passage. Thank you for joining us today.
This week we are continuing our discussion around bad trips. Specifically, what we’re going to be addressing is how to navigate a bad trip or ideally avoid it altogether.
Last week we talked a lot about what comprises a bad trip, how that compares to an adverse experience, as well as just the labeling frameworks and understanding of what this all means in the context of our society as a whole, as well as just how we engage with psychedelic medicines.
And so today we want to focus more on tangible, actionable, practical steps we can take to really make the most of these experiences, how to navigate challenging or uncomfortable experiences, and how to avoid adverse experiences which are slightly different. So Jim, do you have a place you want to start?
Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah, I’ll first share with folks, go back and listen to the other episode because that’ll help to prime this. But let me just give some spark notes here for anyone who is doing real inner work with the aid of psychedelics as a catalyst in their own healing journey. Essentially you’re likely going to come upon some really challenging components of that healing journey.
And so a part of that is that, “bad trips” are inevitable. Now what we also said in the last episode is that bad trips are also different from adverse experiences where there may be instances of facilitator abuse or improper preparation or people taking advantage of you, whether sexually, physically, financially, whatnot.
So just know that is not okay, and that if you ever encounter that, it’s important for you to reach out to advocates and folks who can have your back in those situations. But we’re talking specifically here is the label of a bad trip in which we kind of noted in the last episode that those labels are somewhat limiting to the potential benefit and process of your healing.
So what I want to frame here is when we’re talking about ‘bad trips’, we’re talking about difficult to navigate experiences or parts of the experience that are really tough to move through.
And so this can be in a variety of different contexts, whether you’re on your own, whether you’re at a concert with your friends in a recreational setting or a house party or something, or you’re just in your own living room, with some loved ones, all the way to having professional support psychedelic facilitator trips that are around you.
So what I find is the way that I think about this, is that there are universal frameworks and tools that basically just help you navigate any and all experiences and then those are actually the ones that help you navigate the bad experiences fairly effectively.
So when I talk to folks about, let’s say there’s a client who’s seeing this really beautiful kaleidoscope of colors and they are getting this feeling of unity consciousness.
Well, I would tell them “well just be there in the experience and make sure that you’re just returning to your breath and just witness”. The same I would apply to somebody who’s going through an adverse part. Maybe they’re thinking about a really challenging event that happened in their life and they’re feeling all the emotions and all the stuff with that.
Well, I would share with them a lot of similar things. Witness the experience, really observe it for what it is and just continue to breathe knowing that you’re in a safe environment.
So I talk to my clients a lot about these what I call universal frameworks or these universal tools and skill sets that actually go beyond the psychedelic experience in general. But maybe what would be helpful is let’s talk about what a bad trip looks like.
What Does a Bad Trip Look Like?
So most of the time it’s feeling like you’re stuck. Meaning that you feel like somehow you’re in that experience forever and that you’ll not get back to sobriety. Maybe time has either slowed down or felt like it stopped.
Maybe there are some thoughts or memories or things that you’re wanting to resist or avoid. Other common things are trying to control the experience. I see that come up quite a bit. What are some other things that you see with clients that are markers of a bad trip?
Nick Levich: Feeling like you’re dying, feeling like you don’t know who you are anymore. Feeling like you don’t know what’s real. Feeling like you want to crawl out of your skin or like physically everything is uncomfortable, you just can’t get comfortable.
Jimmy Nguyen: Nausea, vomiting.
Nick Levich: Feeling like you can’t breathe. Feeling like you’ll never be normal again. All of those things are classic experiences that most people, when they’re going through it, would label them as bad. Now the first step that I would take to prepare someone for a journey is letting them know that all of this is normal. It is possible.
There are common themes of the experience. Just knowing that gives you so much more grace to hold it when it’s actually happening. We always tell our clients, “everything you experience is temporary”. You’re always going to go back to normal.
You’re always going to have your sense of identity and ego return. And just knowing that gives you the confidence and the comfort to go, ‘okay, it’s temporary’. And everything that you experience in the psychedelic experience is temporary. It’s never permanent.
It’s always going to go back to normal. With the caveat that you are adequately screened. For certain people with underlying mental health conditions that won’t hold true. But for the vast majority of people, if you’re screened and deemed safe to have this experience, you’re always going to go back to baseline.
Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah, this is also why it’s important just to have somebody with you in general. So regardless of whether it’s a friend or a family member, which is better than solo, but likely not recommended all the way up to having somebody who is a professional space holder in psychedelics, that level of reassurance that Nick is talking about is really hard for you to do for yourself while you’re in the midst of your experience.
And so if you do have something that comes up and you’re like, oh, I feel like something is really wrong with me. My temperature is going up and down, I’m getting hot, I’m getting cold, I’m getting hot, I’m getting cold. Like, is there something wrong with me?
Well, that feeling that something is wrong with you, that can take a foothold and really spiral into more anxiety and more panic around your experience.
But if you had somebody who had been through it and held 50 ceremonies or sessions with somebody who knows that temperature fluctuations is a common part of the psychedelic experience, that reassurance can help you be like, ‘okay, this is weird, but this feels normal, and then I can move on to whatever else is going on in the experience’.
Nick Levich: So let’s talk about some things we actually share with our clients to help them move through this. So first and foremost, one of the things that I make super clear is your body knows what it needs to do. Your physical body is capable of self regulating. In fact, that’s what it’s doing during the experience.
And so we typically share with our clients this model of trauma that comes from Peter Levine that basically says that all of your traumatic events are stored as excess energy balled up in your nervous system.
And the way that your nervous system discharges this energy is through things like Jimmy was talking about temperature fluctuations, jittering, shaking, convulsing, yawning, spitting, crying. Any of these bodily emotions that in any other circumstance may be weird are actually normal.
And when we allow our body to do what it needs to do, it flows. If we resist it and try to suppress it, and it’s like, ‘oh, my God, why is my body doing this? What’s happening? That creates far more discomfort than just allowing’.
Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah, I talk to my clients a lot about- one of the main goals that I’m doing is holding a supportive, nonjudgmental space for them. But in order to really hold a nonjudgmental space, they have to be free from their own judgment as well.
And so the moment that we’re like, something’s wrong here, or I shouldn’t be doing this, or I’m judging myself for feeling weird, for tapping or anything that I’m doing or any of these, like, psychosomatic processes, you’re actually removing yourself from the ability to just navigate that and just move through it in a really natural way of what you’re saying. The body already knows what it’s doing.
Nick Levich: So I had a client last weekend who was convinced he couldn’t breathe. He was forgetting to breathe, right? Because what was happening was his default mode network, his normal way of doing things is being turned off or down.
And this typically results in a loss of a sense of identity, a sense of self, which for a lot of people that in and of itself is scary. But then you realize, okay, well, if I’m not consciously there and I don’t have a sense of self, who’s doing the breathing for me?
And so we went through this whole process of- I was continuing to remind him your body knows what it’s doing. I’m feeling you breathe. And we had a whole discussion around consensual touch beforehand.
And so I put my hand on his chest and I’m like look, your chest is rising and falling. And so part of what we’re there to do as a facilitator is to mirror what’s occurring back to you because our ability to perceive what’s happening is very altered in these states.
How To Navigate a Bad Trip
Jimmy Nguyen: The breath is a really great anchor for just navigating secular experiences and life in general. I don’t know where this came from but it always stuck with me. Somebody said the breath is the only constant that stays with you from the moment you’re born to the moment you die unless you have COVID and you can’t breathe or you’re a deep sea diver or something like that.
But in general the breath is a really powerful anchor and as we know, can help regulate the nervous system. And so one very practical thing that I share with folks when things get a little too overwhelming, a little too challenging or a little too difficult is just returning back to their breath, meaning returning their awareness back to their breath, thinking about the mechanisms of how they’re breathing.
Even just noticing the sensation of the air traveling past your lips and your nose. All of those things can just help you get a little bit of what I call orientation. How do you reorient yourself so that you can feel like you’re a little bit grounded to navigate?
Because if you are, for those who have been through a bewildering psychedelic experience, if you’re feeling- ‘untethered’ is a word that I use where you’re just kind of floating out there and you’re just like at the whim of the experience that can be really unnerving.
The breath allows you to come back into not only your body, it can kind of connect what’s happening in the psychedelic experience to the effects of the body but also can just help you have a rhythm.
Help you have a little bit of a cadence so that if time is feeling like it’s sitting still but you’re feeling yourself going through cycles of breathing somewhere in your mind you know that time has to progress in order for you to proceed.
Nick Levich: Other really good anchors are a mantra. So a short string of words like ‘I’m okay, just relax into it, surrender and let go’. Whatever the short phrase is that feels true to you. I often phrase the mantra as “come up with it as if it’s the antidote to your fear’.
If your fear is that you’re never going to come back into your body, your mantra needs to be, I’m always going to come back into my body. So identifying your fears beforehand and then coming up with it with a mantra is really helpful. And then the other thing you can always go back to as an anchor is your intentions.
Remember why you’re there. This isn’t for fun. You’re there because you want to love yourself or you want to kick this self-destructive habit. That’s why you’re there. And when we have a greater purpose, we’re able to endure discomfort with a bit more grace.
One of the things that you touched on is this lack of judgment. And the antidote to judgment for me is surrender. But what I find is that we are, as a culture, conditioned to not really understand what surrender means.
What Does It Mean To ‘Surrender’?
Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah, we should talk about this. I’ll frame it this way, then I want you to take it from here. For society, when we think about wins and losses, surrender has this label to it essentially ‘giving up’. Yeah, like, ‘I give up’.
But actually what I find is that surrender is A: an action and an act, and B: it takes a lot of courage. So maybe I’ll prime it that way and then you can take it from there. As far as what that means for a psychedelic experience.
Nick Levich: Yeah, so this is the way that I explain surrender, active surrender. We all have a template of what things should look like, what it’s supposed to look like, and then there’s what’s actually happening. And if those two things don’t line up, we get incredibly frustrated, upset, angry.
That is actually the source of the discomfort, is that the templates don’t line up. And what your template of things should look like or what they should be is actually just a series of expectations, whether conscious or subconscious.
Jimmy Nguyen: Also this is not just in psychedelic experiences, this is just life in general. Any time that it doesn’t line up to the expectation, whether in work or relationships or friendships or any of that. What Nick is talking about also applies.
Nick Levich: Correct. But it’s brought forth in the microcosm of the psychedelic experience in such a way where you cannot ignore it. And in life you kind of can up to a point. You can try. There’s consequences, but you could try.
And so in the psychedelic experience, when we talk about surrender, it means letting go of that template of what it should look like to truly just accept what’s happening, which is way easier said than done.
And I’ve worked with a number of clients who we can call them type A, or control freaks, or very outcome oriented. And they always have a bigger challenge with this because these medicines bring you face to face with your relationship with control.
Jimmy Nguyen: Well, the mind is really powerful, honestly. It can convince you of anything and it can also convince you that the really profound psychedelic experience that you had doesn’t mean anything and you should just get back to the regularly scheduled program. It can also convince you that what you’re going through is really adverse and that you’re going to die and all of that.
It can also convince you that what you’re going through is actually the watershed event that you actually need to go through to unlock the healing that you’ve been seeking. And so we can go a lot of different ways here.
And so that’s why this contextual setting of what we’re talking about, the framing up of bad trips essentially, is so important. Because if it was just about bad trips versus good trips, we’re missing out on a whole part of the conversation here.
Nick Levich: Yes. So if you are on a journey and you are actively in a challenging or uncomfortable scenario, the first thing that I would ask myself is “what am I attached to right now? What am I hanging on to?”. Because there’s some part of you that’s hanging on to something, typically a template, typically the way things should look.
And if we could just release that thing, the discomfort passes. I’ve said this in the last episode, but it’s worth repeating. Whatever you resist, persists. And so in a psychedelic journey, if we’re pushing something away, it’s going to fight back even harder.
And when I say ‘it’, I mean the mushrooms or the LSD or whatever it is, the spirit of that substance is going to fight back even harder. And so it’s actually by letting go that the discomfort passes very quickly. But if we think we’re going to win and we’re in control, you’re in for a long, turbulent journey.
Jimmy Nguyen: And this can apply to something physical like nausea all the way to something very deep and profound like soulful content that I felt like you were kind of approaching as well.
And the nausea, just in very practical terms, I find folks who are like feeling the nausea, ‘I really want it to go away. I don’t want to have this nausea, it’s going to take away from my experience’, those are typically the folks for which the nausea sticks around.
For other folks who just acknowledge, ‘oh, I’m having nausea and it’s coming up and I’m just sitting with it and I’m just noticing it and I am just breathing through it’, like eight times out of ten that nausea then dissipates on its own. So just a real tangible example of what you’re talking about there.
Nick Levich: Yeah, there’s a couple of other practical things we can point to when it comes to this. So something as simple as taking care of your needs. Sometimes the physical discomfort is because we haven’t peed in like 3 hours or we need to drink some water.
And so checking in with your body to just see bodily function wise, what it is that you need, if anything, can be incredibly relieving for some of the sensory experiences that we’re having.
Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah, every hour, hour and a half, I’ll remind my clients ‘okay, just do a little check in with your body. Check in with your needs’. Seeing what’s happening because those little pieces of discomfort or that pressure on your bladder or maybe you’re sitting or laying in a way where your arm falls asleep. Those little things of discomfort can then spill over into heightened anxiety and all of that really quickly.
And here’s where I think people run into the biggest issues, especially with psychedelic experiences. One is like you’re saying, not acknowledging their needs, the second is actually asking for help when you need it. It’s so hard for people just to do that in life. In general it gets really hard when you’re in the middle of a really challenging psychedelic experience.
And so I for sure have been like this myself and then also with my clients, where sometimes it can be a little embarrassing or you may feel a little embarrassed or a little ashamed or a little whatever, when you’re like ‘man, I really need a pee and I can’t get up to do it, can you help me get up and go to the bathroom?’.
Or even just identifying that it’s a challenging experience. It’s so therapeutic if you’re going through something really challenging, but you’re trying to lock it in there and you won’t even admit it out loud for sure in recreational experiences like around your friends and stuff, but it’s just like ‘wow, I’m just going through something challenging’. And once you say that out loud, it can relieve a lot of pressure there.
Nick Levich: A good facilitator will be tracking you, but they’re not mind readers. And so if they don’t know that you’re going through something challenging, they’re not able to help you. And so that’s part of the reason that you engaged. A guide, a facilitator, tripsitter or somebody, so that if and when something challenges comes up, you have a resource.
Jimmy Nguyen: Or what’s worse is when it looks challenging on appearance. Let’s say somebody is deeply crying and we know that crying is medicine in the work that we do. But if a facilitator then tries to come in and insert themselves into that experience and actually interrupt what’s going on with you, then that actually can be something that can backfire, it can be a disservice to you.
So this is where it’s so important that you as a journeyer know that you have a lot of agency, you have a lot of power of choice and it’s so important for you to identify, ‘oh, I’m going through a challenging moment.
Or I’m crying, but. I’m also good. Like I’m going through this deep crying but I feel like I’ve been crying out stuff for years that I’ve needed to cry out’ and some folks want to continue through that process.
Only you will be able to identify something that you need support with and something that you don’t. One of the ways that I always ask clients to identify that they’re in a challenging situation or they’re in something that is overwhelming and that you need a little help with, I’ll just ask them what might be supportive for them.
So the first thing that I tell people is that you always have a choice. You always have a choice on what you want to lean into in the psychedelic experience. You also have a choice to get a little bit of redirection or changing the framework or the setting if you want. So even some very little things like you’re laying down, let’s change your posture, let’s have you sit up.
Or maybe let’s change the music because maybe the music is causing a little bit of this loop or maybe you’re inside and you feel like you just need to step outside into a safe, contained environment to get some sun, or something like that.
So those little things can also go a long way as far as these little tactical things that might help you to reorient yourself and rebrand yourself, but at the same time you want to make sure that is not in an effort to distract yourself from the experience itself. I’ve also had clients who are basically going through something overwhelming and again their mind kicks in and they just start talking.
They just start talking and having a conversation and then they’re talking for hours. Which you do whatever you need to do to navigate your experience, but only you’ll know inside whether that thing that you’re doing to self soothe is actually helping you to meet your intentions or something that’s actually distracting you from the whole reason why you’re in that psychedelic experience.
Nick Levich: In general, yeah, verbal reassurance is really helpful. Other things are sometimes just somebody holding your hand or grabbing your ankle or foot. Just a supportive touch is really nice when things get overwhelming.
I will caveat that with that any touching should be consensual and non-sexual in nature and agreed upon before you’re in an altered state. But assuming all that’s been done, physical touch can be so healing. Especially when things get overwhelming, challenging and uncomfortable.
Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah, or even just having somebody just sit next to you. So the proximity of where I’m at with my clients, I’m constantly thinking about it and so I always share with my clients that they have agency.
And I’ll ask, ‘would you feel more supported if I’m just sitting here next to you or just across the room’ and you have your choice as a journeyer on what that looks like and what that is for you. But ultimately you have the ability to express yourself through these psychedelic experiences in whatever way is the most conducive for you.
So what I find is that for some folks who let’s say their legs start shaking or they have some type of like a somatic process or maybe they’re doing something tactile with their hands or their feet, oftentimes that is actually a soothing mechanism that can help them navigate whatever that challenging or overwhelming part is.
But then in your mind, if you’re like, ‘well, I’m going to look like a weirdo if I make these vocalizations that sound like gibberish but they feel really beneficial to my process’, or ‘if I’m getting up and moving around or if I’m singing and shaking and all that’, then only you know what your medicine is.
Only you know what would be beneficial for you to navigate that and hopefully you find somebody. This is why family and friends only take you so far, right? Because family and friends, sure, they’ll hold that space, but they’re in your life like they may judge you without realizing they’re judging you. You know what I mean?
Nick Levich: You can pick up on it as a journeyer.
Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah, you’re so sensitive to all these little micro-cues and all these little things because your instruments are so open and you’re just processing information in a different way when you’re in a psychedelic experience. That’s the best way that I can describe it.
All these things should be on the table and so only you decide whether you need a little redirection or if you’re like ‘I’m identifying that this is a challenging experience, but I want to lean into this. I want to lean into this content because I know that this is the thing that I’ve been needing to address for a very long time’.
And so all of what I’m speaking about is that you’re not a victim to overwhelming and challenging portions of this. You do have some agency and some say in how this all goes about. What are some other tactics or things that can help folks navigate challenging or overwhelming portions of their experience?
Nick Levich: Well, I want to touch on one thing which is what not to do. And self-medicating is typically not the answer as you’re working through this. So deciding that it’s too much and you’re going to take a benzodiazepine like Xanax to just shut it all off is really not the answer. It can be done in emergencies, but it’s really important for people to understand why they’re there.
Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah, it’s also really important for people to complete the process as well.
Nick Levich: And so oftentimes when people want that scapegoat out, you’ll hear a facilitator say something like, well, are you sure that’s what you want? Is what you wanted to rely on something external again to get you out of your challenging situation? Or do you want to find strength from within?
There are certain non-medical supplements, lavender, valerian root, and other things that can help. Once again, the question is, do you want to complete the process on your own or are you looking to bail out part way through? And only you know the answer to that as a journeyer.
Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah. And then one important thing that we’ve kind of been dancing around a little bit, but it’s worth saying is the role of the witness or the observer in these psychedelic experiences, but also in life in general where sometimes when we have a very acute or a challenging or overwhelming part, we’re really living it out.
And sometimes it’s really helpful just to zoom out and just observe the process, just to kind of watch it. Then you can have somewhat of an objective look on whether that thing is serving you or not. And if that thing is serving you, then it then is your choice on how much you want to lean into that or not. And that is really core.
One of those universal skills or tools that I share with folks is that at its base principle, if there’s anything to do is just zoom out, observe, breathe and just be with it. And in that being you may find that there are ways to navigate whatever this overwhelming or challenging portion is.
Nick Levich: Yeah, basically once again, the whole thing is temporary. So even the extreme overwhelm, even the extreme physical discomfort, even the sense of feeling like you’re dying, it’s all going to end. And if you know that, you’re going to feel better after you can get through it. And so that’s why these things are framed as rites of passage. That’s why these are initiations of sorts.
I mean that we’re a culture that lacks rights of passage into adulthood. And so for a lot of people, regardless of your actual age, this is a rite of passage into a state of maturity because it brings you face to face with your perceived limitations and allows you to break through them. And that’s where so much of this profound healing power is. And that’s why people feel better after being pushed to the edge.
Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah. And the rite of passage doesn’t end after the psychedelic event, it doesn’t end after the ceremony. Because the whole point of a rite of passage is how do you emerge into the world as your true and whole self. Meaning that in order to emerge in the world you have to go through *ding, ding* integration, which most people who skip integration, they don’t complete this process.
And that can be really disruptive to just your way of being. And this can go from integrating overwhelming experiences to integrating very beautiful and smooth experiences. The integration is what actually completes the cycle of this rite of passage.
If you don’t go through integration and you don’t bring forth all of the things that are possible to bring forth into your life (you choose whatever that looks like), then what is the point of all the challenging stuff you went through?
What is the point of going through that deep memory processing if you don’t take any of it with you into your life? What’s the point of navigating psychedelic experiences if there’s no integration? So I just can’t emphasize enough that your mind is very powerful and without integration, you’re just going to fall back to your default.
You’re going to fall back to your default stuff because like Nick said, it’s all temporary. That applies to the bad, challenging, overwhelming also applies to the positive benefits of psychedelics too. It’s all temporary.
Nick Levich: And so when you’re talking about integration, what you’re referring to is the ability to take the shift, the insights, the realizations and implement them into your everyday life without requiring a psychedelic medicine that takes work. And I think we should have a whole episode devoted to what that process looks like.
So keep an eye out for that. We’re at time for today. Thank you all for listening and for joining us as we discussed how to navigate this concept of a bad trip.
You can download episodes of the Psychedelic Passage podcast. Subscribe via Apple Podcast, Amazon, Spotify, IHeartRadio, or wherever else you get your podcast. Once again, thanks for joining us today and we look forward to speaking with you guys next week.
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We hope that today’s discussion offers you some new tools for navigating not just challenging experiences in a psychedelic trip, but also in the general scope of your day-to-day life. If you’re interested in exploring a therapeutic psychedelic experience for yourself, we encourage you to book a consultation with us.
Our network of highly experienced and healing-driven facilitators are just a couple of steps away. To learn more about everything-psychedelic, be sure to check out our blog page. It’s stocked with an extensive library of helpful resources, just like this one. Well, that’s it for today, friends. Safe and mindful journeying!