Those of you who have endured a psychedelic experience understand their potential to heal the mind, body, and spirit. You also probably had a very entertaining time while exploring these states of altered consciousness. However, many of you are equally nervous about the probability of becoming transfixed in what has been termed a “bad trip”. If you or someone you know has experienced this, this article will help you understand what you went through. But before we go any further, let’s break down what a bad trip really is, why they are important, and how to navigate one.
What is a Bad Trip?
Unfortunately, the War on Drugs in America has created a lot of misinformation when it comes to psychedelics, particularly with regards to the bad trip. You may have heard rumors that even one experience with lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) can make you perpetually trip or permanently insane. Scare tactics like these have been used over the past several decades to demonize psychedelics and deter their use.
Though these myths are untrue, it is important to note that individuals predisposed to mental illness, such as schizophrenia, may have adverse effects from a psychedelic experience, including psychosis, and that proper mental health screening should be conducted before engaging in any psychedelic activity.
So what defines a bad trip? A bad trip refers to a challenging or difficult experience while being under the influence of a hallucinatory substance such as psilocybin mushrooms, LSD, ayahuasca, or even cannabis. Although it is common for occasional unpleasantness, such as nausea or bewilderment, to occur temporarily during a psychedelic experience, bad trips are defined by prolonged or seemingly uncontrollable episodes.
During these experiences, symptoms can range from unpleasant to traumatic, with some experiencing anxiety, paranoia, resurfacing of repressed memories, or overwhelming stress. Physical discomforts, such as an upset stomach, sweating, overheating, or soreness may also occur.
To be clear, “good” and “bad” are arbitrary labels we assign to our experiences. And generally, people use “bad” to describe discomfort or pain. But like a weightlifter who endures temporary discomfort to build muscle, so too can a psychedelic explorer endure a bad trip to receive long-term benefits. The caveat is that the user must prepare in advance of the experience, exercise safety during, and take care of the body and mind well after. And just like the weightlifter, results do not happen overnight.
What is the Likelihood of Having a Bad Trip?
It is often difficult to predict if you will have a bad trip. In actuality, it’s not really a question of if, but when, as bad trips are actually unavoidable milestones in the psychedelic journey. When you do experience one, it may be comforting to know that you are not alone and that adverse effects are temporary.
According to the Journal of Psychopharmacology, a study surveyed 1993 psilocybin users. Of this, 39% labeled the experience one of the most challenging of their lives. However, 84% of the total participants stated that this challenge was a positive experience in the long term. What’s more is that the study concluded that risky behavior or enduring psychological distress is extremely low when psilocybin was given to screened, prepared, and supported participants.
Not only does this mean that bad trips are generally safe, but it further supports our belief that bad trips, though difficult to endure, are actually the most crucial part of the psychedelic experience as they result in the positive mental, physical, and spiritual growth we all desire.
Why Bad Trips Are Important
If you ask someone experienced in psychedelics if they’ve had a bad trip, an overwhelming majority would say yes. This matters because it suggests that discomfort is part of the psychedelic journey. You are typically not in control of the events or outcome of a psychedelic experience, thus putting you outside of your comfort zone.
This often results in opening up and exploring your fears, anxieties, and analyzing unwanted aspects of our personalities. This experience is accompanied by a series of mental, physical, and emotional triggers and releases.
Bad trips are misunderstood experiences that have a misguided social context. Many of these “bad” trips can actually lead to prolonged mental and physical healing. Though healing isn’t always comfortable, it is necessary to make a significant change in your life.
Healing requires confronting the traumas and pain that limit our lives to truly embrace and love all the facets, both the light and the shadow, the “good” and “bad” parts of ourselves. Like a lobster that molts its shell each year to grow larger, the psychedelic experience, particularly bad trips, can provide a venue to undergo this challenging yet vital evolution.
This isn’t to say that you should be specifically seeking bad trips. These difficult trips are most common for inexperienced users and those who did not adequately prepare. A higher dosage is typically related to an increase in adverse reactions, so proper dosage and preparation are key.
Even the most seasoned psychonaut has a chance of experiencing a taxing psychedelic experience. Ironically, if you are equipped with the framework to work through these difficult experiences, they turn out to be very rewarding. If you happen to undergo a “bad” trip, these tips may help you navigate the trip, mitigate risks, and stay safe during these stressful episodes.
What Should I Do If I’m Currently Having a Bad Trip?
This is a great question, and thankfully, it’s not too late to take the edge off of your discomfort. While we always maintain the position that preparation is most important, there are certainly some tips you can use to make a bad trip more pleasant.
The number one thing to keep in mind is that it is temporary—you aren’t stuck like this, you will return to your normal self with time. That said, we’ve put together a list of 10 tools to help you safely navigate a bad trip, which you can find here.
I’ve Recently Had a Bad Trip. Now What Do I Do?
First off, congratulate yourself for having the strength to endure a challenging and taxing experience. We understand how wild and confusing that process can be. Now the real work can begin for you to use the experience of a bad trip to positively affect your life.
Fortunately, we are smack dab in the middle of the psychedelic renaissance where support services are more available than they have ever been. If you feel a lasting negative effect from taking psychedelics or want to discuss your trip in-depth to gain further insight, we suggest connecting with one of our psychedelic mentors who has first-hand experience and can help you integrate these powerful, profound experiences.