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The Psychedelic Afterglow – How, What, When, & Why?

“The Psychedelic Afterglow – How, What, When, & Why?” covers everything you need to know about the afterglow period, including what it is, how it affects you as a journeyer, when it typically starts and ends, and why its effects can help restore a journeyer’s sense of curiosity, presence, and gratitude. 

Jimmy and Nicholas break down the post-psychedelic ceremony timeline to highlight the differences between the afterglow period and the integration stage. They describe the physical sensations and mental perspectives that encompass the psychedelic afterglow.

Later, our hosts examine in-ceremony factors that may affect if and how you experience a psychedelic afterglow. What should journeyers do when the momentum of an afterglow fades? How can you use it to inspire and reinforce the trajectory of your integration process?

Jimmy and Nicholas discuss how enhanced sensitivity associated with the afterglow period can be a double edged sword. Thus, our hosts share helpful tips on how to navigate the process while listening to your intuition and moving forward with self-compassion and authenticity. 

Episode 35: The Psychedelic Afterglow – How, What, When, & Why?

Nick: Welcome to the Psychedelic Passage podcast. My name is Nick Levich. I’m here with my co-host, Jimmy Nguyen. Thank you so much for joining us today. This week we are talking about the afterglow period, specifically, what is the afterglow period? 

Why does it happen? How do we, as journeyers grapple with this kind of extreme high that we can often experience right after a journey? When that kind of rug gets pulled out from under us, what do we do? How do we hold it? What does all this mean? 

For purposes of our discussion today, I really want to focus on how this is held by a journeyer. In other words, how does this impact you as a journeyer? Not necessarily the full integration period as a whole, but specifically this afterglow period. I think the best place to start with this is what is the afterglow period. Do you want to take a stab with that one, Jimmy?

What is The Psychedelic Afterglow Period?

Jimmy: Yeah, and I also think inherently in what you were saying, you’re creating this distinction between the afterglow period and integration, which they do overlap to a degree, but it’s important to note that it’s a different component of the psychedelic process

When we recognize it as a different component, then we could take the best advantage of it and to be aware that, “Oh, there is kind of this liminal space between post ceremony and real integration work.” I use a lot of imagery and do visualizations.

So, I recently got back from travel and the afterglow period is what I define as like your– it’s really related to travel. Let’s assume you prepared, you’re in the preparation process, you’ve packed your bags, you got your itinerary, you got so on and so forth. 

Maybe the psychedelic experience itself is like getting onto the plane and putting on your seatbelt and all those things. At some point, you know that the plane, the landing gears are going to come out, the wheels are going to come down, and you will land. 

That landing process is– it doesn’t happen abruptly, hopefully. Hopefully, you have a really good pilot, then maybe in this sense the plant medicine or the fungi medicine, and you start this descent process, meaning you’re going to land back down into linear and sober reality. 

Now when you land, you got to think, well, you got to taxi the plane and then you got to get off the plane and then you got to find your baggage and then you got to go through all these steps and then get to where you’re going.

And so, that afterglow period is that period where you definitively know, intuitively, that the peak psychedelic experience is over. But you may still have some effects of the peak experience. And that’s not just in the hours after the psychedelic event. 

The afterglow period can actually last up to two weeks where you’re feeling a change in some of your own emotional states, or the way that you’re processing information, or the way that you are connecting dots and having aha moments. That’s what we’re going to focus on in this episode, is really from the moment that your peak experience is over, probably up to–?

Nick: Two to three weeks?

Jimmy: Probably two to three weeks in this afterglow period. The reason why we call it an afterglow period is– I mean, it’s so appropriately named because sometimes there’s this like– 

I might define it as like a buzz or like an energetic difference or this kind of glowy ethereal kind of process. This in-between space from you moving from– I just went through a deep psychedelic experience to, okay, I’m officially back and in this world, and in my normal reality.

Nick: Yeah. To those who’ve never experienced this before, I would almost characterize it as like seeing the world through a fresh pair of eyes, where you start to restore some of that same curiosity, wonder, and awe, that we experience living life as a child. The sun is a little brighter, the wind is a bit more present against your cheeks, you’re sensing almost from this place of like you’ve never sensed before. 

Two of the most predominant afterglow effects that we see reported by journeyers are a sense of interconnectedness with other humans, the planet, spirit, and then just an overall enhanced mood. Like, “I just feel better, I’m flowing with my life. It doesn’t feel forced, things aren’t bothering me that used to,” like I am moving.

Jimmy: “I feel super present, I’m really just here in the moment.” I also want to highlight that usually with the afterglow period, probably the majority of folks who go through experiences see this more positive benefit than Nick is talking about. 

There’s also a world where if your psychedelic experience was challenging, difficult, overwhelming, maybe it brought up a lot of things, just remember that psychedelics are what are called nonspecific amplifiers, which means that the things that need to get brought forth in your work will likely get brought forth. 

I also just acknowledge that there are some folks who have somewhat of a rough landing after psychedelic experiences too. That’s a separate conversation. We’ve done some episodes on bad trips and how to find support after psychedelic experiences

I just want to acknowledge those folks who might be listening to this and hear all of this afterglow stuff that we’re talking about. They’re like, “Well, that’s not me, that’s not what I’m experiencing.” Just know there’s nothing wrong with you. 

You’re very valid in your experience as well, and that there are potential ways of working with maybe even a more challenging afterglow in your benefit, in your own process of your healing.

Nick: Yeah. Interestingly enough, we’ve actually reviewed research studies that have indicated that a subjective positive trip will produce some more intense afterglow effects. There’s a direct correlation between how we experience the afterglow and then subjectively whether we view our actual journey as being positive or not.

Jimmy: I’ve also seen folks who go through a really challenging time. One client, in particular, is like, “That was the most challenging yet meaningful experience that I’ve ever been through.” What they actually found was they went through a challenging experience but then the afterglow was actually really graceful. 

They were like, “I’m just lying in front of the fireplace just drinking tea, just like sitting and just being, and boy, what a relief that is with all the work that I went through in my experience.” Just know there’s gradients to this stuff. We’re going to try to encapsulate the major pieces that might be helpful in your discovery of afterglow.

Addressing The Fear of Regression After a Psychedelic Experience

Nick: Yeah, and so the reason that this was such an important topic for me is because I have had a number of clients, and I’m sure you have too, that go, “Man, I was really riding this high for about two weeks after ceremony, and all of a sudden, I feel like I got dropped out of the sky and right back into all my old sh*t.” 

And I’m wondering, “Am I slipping backward?” That’s where this leads to almost every journeyer is like, “Oh f*ck, did I just regress? Did I just go backward?”

Jimmy: Yeah. Or other versions of this are like, “I feel great, I don’t need integration. I’m healed. I’m good. The work is done. This thing’s been lifted off of me.” And then after a couple of weeks, the afterglow effects fade and they’re like, “Ah, I’m feeling that heaviness again, I’m feeling that weight. 

Did this even matter? What’s the thing here?” Another funny iteration is folks who are in their afterglow and they go too quickly into microdosing and if they have like a small microdose that ends up not being a microdose because you just had a peak psychedelic experience.

They’re like, “I had to kind of check off from work for two to three hours because I was hallucinating again.” Just some funny [laughs] iterations of what that looks like.

Nick: Totally. The thing that I want to stress here is that awareness is what keeps us from slipping backward. In other words, if you’re worried about not wanting to go backward, you’re not going to.

It’s like this stopgap that prevents you from regressing past a certain point because you’re minded to keep moving forward. The issue is what you alluded to where if you think you healed it and it’s all gone and you just turn off your awareness, that’s when you actually go backward for real.

What I always arm my clients with is this understanding that as long as your awareness is oriented around trying to continue moving forward, you’re going to have days where you take a step back, but you’re going to take two forward. 

There’s this give and take, but you’re generally tracking in the right direction. That’s really, really important because we’ve touched on this. Integration is not linear. This does not move up a perfect staircase up into the right.

Jimmy: Well, you’re saying a lot, but one thing that I’m taking away from your words is that, just the mere questioning or wondering if you’re slipping backward or if you’re on the right track or if you’re doing everything that you can or being in the right cultivated place. 

Just asking those questions is also an internal checks and balances. The whole fact that you are asking means that it’s in your awareness, which means that you can track it.

Nick: Precisely.

Jimmy: Yeah.

Maximizing the Afterglow: Tips and Strategies

Nick: The issue is when that’s not in your awareness, because you’re feeling so good, you’re going to go have four beers. You know what I mean? That’s not the answer here. The other thing that I think it’s important for us to address in this episode is like, “Well, if you are feeling really good in this afterglow period, what can you do to nourish that?

Jimmy: Right.

Nick: What are the things to stay away from, so that you don’t knock yourself out of that afterglow on day two?

Jimmy: Yeah. This is much more than just productivity in your process. I think that it can serve as a really great litmus test. I’m reminded of when you did your diet sensitivity things, and you had to go, like, full clean slate, and then you had to go and try things individually to see– 

“Does that cause inflammation? How do I feel when I eat this? How do I feel when I do that?” And so, it’s actually pretty similar. I don’t know why I thought about that but it’s really appropriate right now where one way that I think about it, Nick, you were talking about what cultivates this feeling and then what detracts from it. 

I also think about this in expanded versus contracted states where the expanded state is when you’re feeling fully participatory, fully open, fully engaged, and making those decisions from that really grounded expanded state versus the contracted state–

Which might be a little more protective, might be a little more defensive, might be a little more guarded, might come from a different place. That’s just a very brief description of expanded versus contracted.

That’s also another cool litmus test when you’re in your afterglow, because usually when you’re in your afterglow and you’re present and you’re in the flow, most folks are really tuned into their intuition as well.

That intuition will tell you, “Oh, does this dinner that I have planned with these six people that I’m going to that I know really well, how does that make me feel? Does that put me in an expanded state or a contracted state?” 

“Oh, this food that I’m eating, this exercise that I’m getting or not getting, this being in nature, the nature of my work, do I show up to work and I realize that I’m absolutely miserable? 

Or do I show up to work and realize, oh, I actually do love and appreciate what I do?” This is why this period is so, so, so important. And then also to not jump right from peak experience into integration as well. There’s a lot to be gained from this afterglow.

Nick: What I hear you saying, if I’m understanding this correctly is that when you take actions that result in you feeling an energetic state of expansion, you are nurturing this afterglow period and then vice versa.

Jimmy: Yeah, I think it’s both. I think it’s how do I nurture the afterglow period and keep it going for as long as I can? And then the other side is how do I use my sensitivity and acuity to be tuned into my body and to be tuned into my mind and my spirit to learn a lot from the afterglow period? So, I think both of those things.

Nick: Yeah, because one of the interesting things about the afterglow period is it almost sets up a new benchmark of how good we can feel on a daily basis. It’s like raising the bar for our capacity to feel good on any given day. 

When we get a taste for what that’s like, all of the sudden, we realize that’s available to us. It’s like, no one knew that a four-minute mile was possible until they experienced it. You know one person did it and then we knew, “Oh, wait, it can be done.”

Jimmy: Oh, and then a whole bunch of people did it afterwards.

Nick: Yeah, exactly. This is a similar thing for me, where once that neural pathway, that neural connection has been built, and you’ve got a feeling for, like, a true direct experience of what that feels like, however, you’re perceiving the afterglow in your own reality.

Jimmy: Yeah.

Nick: The important thing to me is that it is available to you. You have experienced it. And for most people, nothing changed externally. Due to a series of internal changes, they’re now feeling potentially better than they ever have, so the natural thing is like, “Well, how do I maintain this?” 

What I always tell people is stick with your practices, stick with your meditation, stick with your journaling, stick with your movement, stick with your nature time, like whatever it is that you were doing in prep and you’re hopefully also doing in this integration period, stick with it because those are the things that nurture that state of presence and your state of being, which includes your emotions.

Jimmy: Yeah. From a neurological standpoint, from a nervous system standpoint, to an emotional state, to your spiritual state, you’re creating a template that this is possible. And then once you understand that it’s possible, then it is more attainable, more tangibly. I’m not talking about the woo-woo stuff. 

Like if I just think positive, all of my bad sh*t is going to go away. It doesn’t work like that either. But It’s really important to signal to your body and your being like, “Oh, this is possible.” Especially when the mechanism of action of the medicine has clearly worn off. 

When you’re feeling like this, I don’t know, two weeks, three weeks later, and this is what Nick was talking about having the four beers. Like, “Look, I’m not going to shame you if you want to have some drinks or whatnot.” But it adds another variable to your analysis. 

And so what I try to share with folks, the same way that you want to have as clear of a baseline possible going into a psychedelic experience. It’s also worth doing that in the afterglow and then also integration. 

But if you’re feeling like, “Oh, I’m getting more rest at night and I’m waking up with more energy,” but then you’re also taking your sleep aids and you’re maybe having four or five drinks in the night before you go to bed, then who knows if it’s actually the alcohol? Maybe it’s a sleep aid, maybe it’s the afterglow. You would benefit from keeping it simple and removing some of the variables from this process.

Nick: Yeah, I mean, if I could sum that up, it’s like be mindful of your inputs when you’re in the afterglow period because each one of those inputs can alter how you perceive that period.

Jimmy: Right.

Importance of Choosing What You’re Exposed to During the Afterglow

Nick: So, what I typically recommend avoiding if you’re in the afterglow period, assuming you want to make the most of it and continue to feel the positive effects, is to avoid booze, drugs, toxic relationships, toxic inputs, whatever’s going to knock you out of that state–

Because when we talk about states, what we’re talking about is a frequency of vibration, some way of being. And these inputs can adjust that frequency. And so we want to make sure that we’re maintaining this really high vibe, so to speak, without ingesting inputs that would alter that.

Jimmy: Yeah. For those of our listeners who are not as woo-woo as Nick and I, I would add a parallel to what Nick just said, and say it in different words that maybe apply to our Western society, which is that you have a nervous system response for every experience and every piece of stimuli or every input that you go through in your day to day. 

And so whether that’s from food, or whether that’s from a conversation, or whether that’s from self-care, whether that’s from the news, you have a nervous system response and that nervous system response then fires off different hormones and different chemicals and different things.

So, for example, there’s a lot of people who get addicted to the feeling that they get when they watch the news, for example. If you’re not aware of what’s going on from an internal mechanism standpoint and look, there could be a lot of narratives. 

You might care a lot, you might be super involved in politics, you might just be wanting to be updated on world affairs. Totally valid for all of those. But there can be that neurochemistry behind it too. 

Everybody has to find their own path and their own way with this. But there are things that will promote this afterglow period. This feeling of, let’s say, easefulness or feeling of being fully present and participatory in life. Or conversely, this feeling of, “Ah, this thing keeps nagging at me,” and I know that’s the area where I need to focus my work on next. This thing keeps showing up. 

And it actually may be super uncomfortable, by the way, because what happens in the afterglow period is that you have a heightened sensitivity to stimuli people, environments, places, food, like all types of stuff that can be really beneficial. That could really suck if you don’t have some parameters around this.

Nick: It’s like the same thing that makes the sunset look prettier is also what makes that annoying guy, he’s shouting in the bar more annoying.

Jimmy: Right. [laughs]

Nick: It’s like the sensitivity cuts both ways. What’s beautiful appears more beautiful, and what’s ugly, it appears more ugly. You are seeing things through this very heightened sensory state, regardless of what it is. And so what I hear you saying is like, boundaries around what you choose to expose yourself to or not when you’re in this very heightened state is important.

Jimmy: Yeah. And a piece of advice to everybody. When you’re looking at a sunset, don’t look at the sun directly in the eye. When there’s a belligerent patron at the bar, don’t look them directly in the eye either. 

It will probably avoid a lot of issues for you, but you bring up a really good point that maybe you’re having a dynamic issue with somebody in your life. Maybe there’s a challenging work issue or something like that. You don’t have to solve any of that right away. 

If you find that it benefits you to just be in this afterglow period and just cultivate that state of being, then maybe down the road, you can have that conversation with them. Maybe down the road, you choose, “Hey, I’m not going to have that conversation with them.” 

You know what I mean? Just know that with the heightened sensitivity, there’s also this heightened potential to be triggered, and that triggering only you’ll know whether that’s beneficial to your process or not. I’m not talking about avoiding.

What I’m saying is that, because the afterglow period is dynamic, because there are a lot of meanders and ups and downs and all of that. Nick is very well describing that this is not a linear, like, locks up process. 

Then you might benefit from giving yourself a little bit of room, a little bit of leeway to swim with it a little bit too, especially with challenging things and triggering things in your life. I always share with folks like the afterglow period, Nick’s talking about ways to optimize it. 

But what I actually find can be a real detriment to the afterglow period and integration, again, two separate things, is when we over-intellectualize that process. When we try to only think about it mentally and cognitively, you just end up leaving a lot on the table if you’re just processing it through your CPU in your brain. 

I tell folks, “Just get out of your own way and just be for a little bit and just like enjoy it for a little bit and just like enjoy if for a little bit, because like you say, Nick, the puzzle pieces know how to put themselves back together. 

It’s then when we’re trying to take a hammer and jam two pieces together and stuff like that. That’s where you can find some potential pitfalls in this process.

The Difference Between Afterglow and Long-term Benefits

Nick: Totally. I want to also differentiate between the afterglow effects and the positive behavioral, psychological, and spiritual effects because there is a difference. The afterglow period is far less durable and it is this very known period after serotonergic psychedelics ingestion that lasts for about two weeks. 

And it diminishes over time, which also means that that day one, after the journey, you’re going to have a stronger afterglow typically than two weeks after the journey. There is good research and science around. 

While those afterglow effects are roughly two weeks, the behavioral, psychological, and spiritual psychedelic effects are sustained for two plus years in 50% of participants in some of these studies. What we’re saying here is not that you’re never going to feel better or that there’s no more benefits or anything of the sort. 

It’s really this word of warning that the afterglow period is normal. If we can expect it and honor it for what it is at that two-to-three-week mark where those effects start to wear off, we know what’s happening. It’s a normal part of the process. It’s not a failed treatment.

Jimmy: It also doesn’t, or it may help to avoid setting up these false expectations. We talk about setting intentions and removing expectations on how it looks or when it looks and all of that. 

We talk a lot about being detached in this work to specific feelings or stories and things like that. And the same thing with afterglow. If you’re worried, “Oh man, this thing’s going to fade in two weeks, and then what am I going to do?” 

Likely you’re going to miss out on all the cool sh*t that comes with the afterglow period. So, just be there with it. And then when it fades, just know that’s a normal part of the process and then you step into integration. And those things can overlap but I want to define as well that to me, one of the big distinctions between afterglow and integration, actually probably two things.

One is that I define afterglow as– the most important component of it is the experiencing, the being in it, the being present, the feeling, the existence of the afterglow or integration to me is much more about, “Okay, now I’ve taken this whole psychedelic experience. Now, what do I do about it?”

“What are some things that I can try? What are some things that I can experiment with? What are some things that I can test and try in my life?” That’s for me to say that I’m not saying that the mental cognitive part of us is not important. 

What I’m saying is that there’s time for that later, because we have so many folks and we had an episode on this before about people who are like, “Well, I only have two weeks to integrate because I’m in my afterglow. 

I have to jam it all in and integrate everything, or else I’m going to miss this window.” And that is not the right thing to do [laughs] first and foremost and can create a lot of pressure.

Nick: Pressure.

Jimmy: And a lot of expectations for you. If you’re so focused on getting the A on the test, then you may miss out on the actual learning. You have time for this because there are folks who, like you said in your thing about the emotional, psychological, spiritual benefits potentially lasting two and a half years. 

There’s folks who have one psychedelic experience and they’re integrating that thing for their entire lives. They have a psychedelic experience and they’re like, “I actually need to come back because there’s more work to do.” And they come back in a month and then– we’ve done an episode on the timing of psychedelic experiences as well.

Just give yourself a break a little bit and don’t put so much pressure on yourself. Just know that there will be time for you to unfold in your process. So long as the self-awareness is there, so long as the commitment to the work is there, so long as the honesty with yourself of what’s working and what’s not working is there. Those are the things that are going to keep you on track to your process.

Nick: Yeah. And just this very clear reminder that just because you’re out of the afterglow period doesn’t mean there’s no more benefit. We just separate out that the afterglow period is a very distinct phase of integration immediately after the peak experience, and it fades, but the benefits are more durable.

Jimmy: Yeah.

Nick: I almost think about it as this period of heightened sensitivity is different than the period in which we start to realize a lot of the benefits. They’re part of each other, but just because you’re not feeling like you’re on top of the world anymore it doesn’t mean that it’s a failed experience. 

That’s where most people tend to internalize it is, “Oh, man, it didn’t work. Two weeks worked and then it’s not working anymore.” We have to learn how to show up in our lives as a way that we want to. 

It does take time to step into the way of being on a daily basis that we want. I mean, the afterglow period almost feels like it’s handed to us on a silver platter, but then we have to really work at it still to make our new life’s reality into the future.

Jimmy: Yeah. What this brings up for me, and I know in the future we’re going to do an episode about social conditioning. But as you were talking, what came up for me is, it’s not your fault as a journeyer that you expect that because it’s the way that our western society engages and has relationships with medicines. 

It’s about taking something and having a mechanism of action and then it wearing off. Usually those are to alleviate symptomatic things. The work in psychedelics is different. This work in psychedelics is different because these medicines can catalyze a healing process of which we still need to be fully participatory in. And so, it’s different than just relying.

Nick: It’s not a done-for-you service.

Jimmy: [laughs] Right.

Nick: Exactly. 

Jimmy: Sounds sweet, but I don’t know if it would work that way.

Nick: Yeah, it does sound cool.

The Dynamics of Integration: Active vs. Passive Approaches

Jimmy: I do want to clarify one thing too because I know in a past episode, we were talking about integration and we were saying, “Well, when does integration start?” And our answer was like “Integration starts the moment that the peak experience is over.” That is true in addition to this afterglow period being true. We’re not saying that they are mutually exclusive. What we’re saying– 

Nick: I think about the–

Jimmy: Yeah, go ahead.

Nick: It’s like the square and the rectangle thing. [Jimmy laughs] Afterglow is part of integration. But not all integration is an afterglow.

Jimmy: Right. What I want to define is that the same way that there’s a dynamic kind of weaving process, ebb and flow process in afterglow is the same integration. 

There’s times where integration can look really active and action-oriented and there’s times where integration is like, “I’m just sitting here being and allowing life to happen a little bit for me to connect some dots like here and there.” And so I just wanted to define that distinction. 

And perhaps I might end our episode here with any client who’s worked with me knows that I have two golden rules after a ceremony. And they sound so cliche, like so stupidly, hallmarky and cliche. You would be surprised at how awful we are at doing these two things.

The first one is being really kind and sweet and gentle to yourself. That’s the thing that I’m talking about, about not putting pressure, not putting a timeline, not beating yourself up, not having this self-critic in there. 

You got to be really sweet to yourself in the afterglow, and integration and in life in general, I’ll just say. But especially in afterglow, because if you are your own ally and give yourself a little bit of a break, a little bit of understanding, a little bit of compassion, likely your afterglow will be stronger and continue for a longer period of time.

The other one, listen, I know how stupid this sounds, but it’s so appropriate. You got to take care of your needs. And that’s a physiological need, that’s a need for alone time, that’s a need for social interaction, that’s the need for stimulating environments and activities. 

That’s the need for non-stimulating environments and activities. You have to be a steward of yourself here and take care of your needs. And if you can’t take care of your needs, and then that’s a time to ask, that’s a time to get some support and some help. That is really, really important in the afterglow period as well.

Nick: You got to be your own biggest advocate out there.

Jimmy: Yeah.

Nick: That’s really key in anyone that’s embarking on any kind of psychedelic healing journey. It’s like you got to be your own advocate because you’re the one that knows you the best and only what you need to feel satiated, and it requires getting really clear on what those things are. Anything else that you want to add today, Jimmy?

Jimmy: No, I feel good. I suspect that our conversation with the afterglow, and rightfully so, we’ll probably raise more questions than we’re answering in this short format of time, but just even defining that it’s a thing and the afterglow crash like you’re talking about it can be really jarring if you don’t know that it’s coming. 

That’s totally normal. It is totally, totally, totally normal. I hope that all of our listeners and viewers got a little something out of our conversations today.

Nick: So many of our episodes just result in a setting of expectations or rising of expectations, but it’s true that’s what’s needed to make this type of work successful. I hope this was helpful to you all. If you have questions that have been unanswered, please reach out to us. 

You can download episodes of the Psychedelic Passage podcast on all major streaming platforms, whether it’s Apple Podcast, Amazon, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcast. If you like the show, please rate and review us. It means a lot to us and it also helps others find our show. And we’ll see you all next week. Thank you so much.

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