A psychedelic experience creates both mental and physiological changes. While it’s the mental changes that most psychedelic users seek and enjoy, there are many changes in the body that work in conjunction with the mental, mood, and perception changes that make up the psychedelic “trip.” We’ve explored how psychedelics work in the brain, but it’s important to also recognize that psychedelics impact areas of the body beyond the brain.
In fact, most psychedelics will affect nearly every area of the body in one way or another, which leads to a variety of physical ‘side effects.’ Though negative effects are rarely experienced or short-lived, in some cases can lead to serious concerns. That said, there are certain harm reduction techniques that should be exercised.
- Use a drug testing kit to verify your substance and ensure there are no unwanted additives.
- Do not use psychedelics when pregnant.
- Exercise caution if you have a family history of schizophrenia or mental illness.
- Consult a physician if you have any health concerns that may be intensified with psychedelics (i.e. heart conditions).
- If you are taking a prescription drug, check for any drug interactions that could be dangerous.
- Start with a small dose and work your way up.
- Do not operate a vehicle or heavy machinery.
- Do not perform potentially harmful activities while impaired such as cooking, using a knife, blender, etc.
- Stay hydrated (but avoid drinking too much water) and try to keep your body temperature within a normal range (particularly important with substances like MDMA).
- Ensure that you are in a safe environment and have the support of a guide, trip sitter, or sober friend.
Psychedelics offer a range of benefits which, due to decades of regulation, we’re only just starting to realize and implement. If you’re on a personal journey to unlock some of these benefits, it is also your responsibility to do so safely and responsibly. Having the support of a psychedelic mentor who has successful firsthand experience can go a long way.
Together, we can share information, discuss insights and epiphanies, enjoy a safe space to ask questions, and be held accountable to our psychedelic journeys. If you’re one of the many individuals who’ve been waiting for a service like this, click here to get in touch with a psychedelic integration coach today.
Each individual body is unique, and inputs like set, setting, and the context surrounding your psychedelic use will also impact how the body is affected. For example, you may experience issues surrounding the throat and vocal chords if you are having trouble communicating with a loved one or voicing your needs in daily life. Or you may experience significant nausea and vomiting, which is related to the beneficial purging process associated with ayahuasca or psilocybin.
As we take a journey through the human body to explore the effects of psychedelics on the body, you’ll notice that these can be categorized as producing positive, neutral, or negative effects. It is also worth noting that some effects are related to specific substances, and the experiences and side effects of different psychedelic substances can vary quite a bit. The following is a guide to different potential effects on particular parts of the body and what may occur during a psychedelic experience.
Effects in the Brain, Head, and Face
Unfortunately, trisma and bruxia are particularly common with MDMA. While jaw pain may be experienced for the next couple days, excessive MDMA use (and therefore excessive grinding and tension) may, over time, wear down the teeth and crack the enamel.
Fortunately, you can help to prevent this by ensuring that you consume adequate levels of magnesium. Those who are magnesium deficient are more likely to experience bruxism, or teeth grinding, and while a one-time magnesium supplement won’t necessarily help, eating a diet rich in foods like black beans, avocados, bananas, cashews, and spinach might.
Effects in the Heart
When it comes to heart complications, these tend to be some of the biggest deal breakers for those considering psychedelics (including the reason Michael Pollan never tried MDMA for his book How to Change Your Mind). Many psychedelics cause changes in the heart and circulation, some of which can end up being fatal.
Of these, MDMA certainly presents the most risks, including blood pressure changes, increased heart rate, arrhythmias, and vasoconstriction. Anyone with a pre-existing heart condition should consult with a doctor before experimentation and, at the very least, should start out with very small doses.
Effects in the Stomach
While it’s not uncommon to feel nauseous or even vomit on most psychedelics, this isn’t necessarily a ‘bad’ thing. While uncomfortable, feeling nauseous isn’t a sign that something is “wrong” with the trip.
In fact, the indigenous cultures who have used psychedelics for millennia believe that with drugs like ayahuasca and peyote, vomiting is an essential part of the experience—a purge to cleanse the mind, body, and soul. To alleviate the chances of nausea, many people combine psychedelics with fasting (at least 4-6 hours) or make their last meal a light one.
There is also some new research exploring whether psychedelics can positively affect the body’s microbiome, the accumulation of all the bacteria, fungi, and other microbes in the human body. The microbiome is vital to the immune and nervous systems, helps regulate the heart as well as other things such as weight, mood, and serotonin levels. With over 3 trillion of these microorganisms in the stomach, psychedelics may potentially affect the gut-brain axis, balance the microbiome, and improve overall health.
Effects in the Appendages
Interestingly, the clammy cold feeling many people experience with psychedelics (and particularly LSD) has been linked to the book The Tibetian Book of the Dead and referred to as what Tibetians call “water sinking into fire.” This side effect, according to Timothy Leary and others, has been associated with consciousness moving around the body.
While it may feel awkward and uncomfortable, this effect can be thought of as a symptom of death, not death of the body but death of the ego. The body (ego) becomes uncomfortable at the onset of ego-loss and if someone should feel things like clammy, coldness, or tingling in the extremities, they should embrace the sensation and let it pass naturally, understanding that this is a physical reaction signifying transcendence.
In fact, most of the effects in the appendages (and in this entire guide) are temporary and can often represent a physical manifestation of a mental or spiritual process. So while psychomotor impairment may seem negative if you are actively trying to complete a complex physical task (not recommended during a trip!), it may aid in achieving transcendental or meditative states or allow your mind to have a healthy self-dialogue about major life issues.
Effects in the Sexual Organs
Just like the connection between spirituality and psychedelics, the connection between sexuality and psychedelics goes back hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Throughout all of history, humans have been on the search for aphrodisiacs—including those that are psychoactive.
There may also be a psychedelic connection to the sacral chakra, which is responsible for our emotions, relating emotions to others, creativity, and sexuality. Opening or balancing this chakra may also lead to a heightened sense of well-being, creation, oneness, and abundance. However, there have been some reports of temporary sexual dysfunction as noted above.
As many psychedelics help to facilitate emotional bonding, they can also intensify sensual bonding. One’s sensations are heightened, their inhibitions fall to the wayside, and the release of feel-good chemicals like serotonin and oxytocin can contribute to a positive and extremely meaningful sexual experience. Just make sure that ongoing consent is given, boundaries are established, and the environment is safe.
Effects in the Entire Body
It’s important to be mindful of the fact that psychedelics alter the way that you perceive your body. Thus, normal bodily functions like regulating temperature and pain levels become more erratic. You may notice that you are more receptive to minor changes in your external environment.
Be cognizant of the signals your body is giving you as they are typically physical manifestations of the subconscious mind. In our experience, these full body responses to psychedelics are unpredictable. Meaning sometimes you may have decreased pain perception, while other times, you may have increased pain perception. The difference in effects can be attributed to the various inputs that go into a psychedelic trip—substance, set, setting, dosage, and intention.
Hopefully, if anything, the above information lets you know that if you spontaneously burst into tears while on LSD (for no apparent reason) or feel nauseous when the psilocybin starts to kick in, you’re not alone. In fact, you could likely find anecdotal evidence of nearly any side effect under the sun. While some of these may be uncomfortable, they’re unlikely to be of any serious concern.
In fact, even the uncomfortable responses might be those that will end up becoming the most meaningful aspects of your experience. However, if you are concerned about any pre-existing health conditions or interactions with pharmaceutical drugs, we recommend that you speak to a doctor first. As always, make sure that you start with small doses and are in a safe and supportive environment. And remember that a difficult experience is not the same as a “bad trip.”
At Psychedelic Passage, we are here to support you on your healing journey with psychedelics—regardless of where you are in that process. Perhaps you experienced an uncomfortable physical sensation while taking psychedelics and you’d like help understanding its significance. Or perhaps your fear of physical discomfort is preventing you from pursuing the experience altogether.
These are normal occurrences that we help our clients work through. If you’re looking for guidance and support preparing for and integrating your psychedelic experiences, book a free discovery call with one of our psychedelic specialists today.