Over the centuries, and across cultures and continents, people have used psychedelic medicine throughout history as a way to heal various aspects of one’s human spirit. Science is beginning to catch up with these benefits, demonstrating the therapeutic effects of these compounds.
While there’s plenty of people out there whose lives have been positively altered by the power of psychedelic medicine, this doesn’t mean psychedelics are for everyone. Both natural and synthetic compounds carry with them immense potential to alter one’s consciousness and in many ways literally rewire their brain.
So with this great power that psychedelic medicines hold, comes great responsibility. Here, at Psychedelic Passage, we recognize this responsibility and prioritize reducing the risk of harm for anyone thinking of communing with these medicines.
Since there are many folks who shouldn’t use psychedelic drugs, this article will help break down what exactly could be risk factors and why, in hopes of keeping you and your loved one’s safe.
This article is part of The Psychedelic Safety Passage, a series which includes similar articles centered around safety, risk, and harm reduction in the world of psychedelics. Now, without further adieu, let’s jump right in: what type of person should NOT use psychedelic drugs?
Who is at Higher Risk When Using Psychedelic Medicine?
Women Who Are Pregnant or Breastfeeding
During pregnancy and the breastfeeding period, the baby absorbs a lot of what’s taken in by the birthing parent. Typically this process is beneficial to the baby, who takes in necessary nutrients from their birth giver in order to grow and develop.
This sharing of sustenance can be a beautiful process. Yet, it can quickly become harmful when the person carrying the child ingests toxins like alcohol, drugs, or those found in the environment, as the sensitive body of a baby is highly impacted by these factors.
While the effects of other substances, like alcohol use, have been studied thoroughly, the effects of psychedelic drugs on fetuses and infants are not well understood yet, hence, their use during pregnancy and breastfeeding is not recommended.
People Under The Age of 25
While people can technically take psychedelics at all different ages, and with the proper preparation, integration, and support can have positive experiences, these compounds still have a greater potential to cause harm for folks whose brains aren’t fully developed.
Since your prefrontal cortex (the rational part of the brain) isn’t fully developed until age 25, if you’re younger, you may not have the mental faculties to make sense of the thoughts and emotions that come up during a journey.
Psychedelics also hold the power to rewire, alter, and change one’s brain. When used with proper guidance at the right time, this power can be channeled into impactful positive changes, but when used irresponsibly at the wrong time, they have the potential to cause harm.
This is why we don’t typically recommend psychedelics to younger folks, as the developing brain can be more impacted by their effects. It’s much safer to wait until later in life when the brain is fully developed. However, our network of pre-vetted facilitators are able to service those 18+ because we understand that age can have little to do with mental health conditions.
People Taking Certain Medications
When we physically ingest something and absorb it into our body, it affects us from the inside out. Whether it be medications, plant medicines, or even something as simple as food and water, these all can have an impact on our physical, mental and spiritual bodies.
Taking in substances such as psychedelics or medications though in particular can have profound alterations on our individual biochemistry. Since medication can affect various functions in your body, often impacting hormone and neurotransmitter levels, it’s important to keep this in mind when taking psychedelics.
Psychedelic medicine doesn’t just interact with you, but it communes with your body as well. When your body chemistry is altered through the use of medications, this can significantly impact the way psychedelics interact with your body.
1. SSRIs & Antidepressants
Some medications like SSRIs and antidepressants can impact your brain chemistry, altering how your body processes important neurotransmitters like serotonin.
Since most psychedelic medicines are also serotonergic, impacting these same serotonin pathways that antidepressant medication does, the combination of the two compounds can result in varying effects.
For example, some antidepressants and prescription medications like Trazodone are known to blunt the effects of psychedelic substances. While on the other hand, other medications that are tricyclics (such as Elavil and Norpramin) are known to induce more potent psychedelic hallucinations.
So depending on the medication, metaphorically speaking, your trip could potentially feel like being on a crazy rocket ship taking off into space, or it could feel like you’re just not traveling anywhere at all, waiting for take off.
To put it in simple terms though, because antidepressants can work on the same serotonergic pathways in different ways, they have the potential to considerably impact the psychedelic experience in contrasting ways.
Taking psychedelics while on antidepressants can even be potentially quite dangerous, as they both impact serotonin levels. Specifically, mixing MAOIs with psychedelics could potentially cause an overabundance of serotonin in your system, resulting in serotonin syndrome.
So if you’re taking antidepressants, simultaneously embarking on a psychedelic experience comes with an added layer of risk. Due to this, it’s suggested to err on the side of caution, and to taper off antidepressants before one goes on a journey —always under the strict supervision and guidance of your psychiatrist.
2. Mood Stabilizers like Lithium
Helping to balance out both manic and depressive symptoms, many use mood stabilizing compounds such as lithium to treat mood disorders such as bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder.
While this medication can be beneficial for some, for those wanting to use psychedelic drugs, these compounds can be quite dangerous. Almost half of all online psychedelic experience reports involving lithium and a classic psychedelic (a non-microdose of LSD or psilocybin) involved seizures (47%) and 18% involved otherwise negative experiences.
Adding to this, 39% of these reports involved emergency medical treatment (Nayak et al., 2021). Since the likelihood of having such a severe reaction that requires medical care is so high, the combination of lithium and psychedelics is not recommended.
Not to mention, could you imagine experiencing such a thing while tripping? We want to avoid such a physically and mentally harmful experience at all costs, so we strongly discourage those who are on mood stabilizers such as lithium to take psychedelics.
3. Stimulants like Adderall
While stimulants can be helpful for some to improve focus and reduce impulsivity, mixing them with some psychedelics can be dangerous. Mixing stimulants like Adderall with MAOI-containing psychedelics such as ayahuasca can be risky for a few reasons.
One is that any stimulant drug can increase your risk for cardiac arrhythmia—or abnormal heartbeat—under ayahuasca. The other is that stimulants can also impact important hormone levels like dopamine and serotonin, increasing your risk for serotonin syndrome when combined with psychedelics.
With these possible endangerments, it’s highly recommended that if you’re taking stimulants like Adderall, to not take psychedelics while you still have these compounds in your system.
People With a History of Heart Issues or Seizures
Due to the way psychedelics can physiologically impact certain bodily functions, those with a history of heart conditions or seizures run more risks when communing with psychedelic medicine.
Psychedelics can often promote hypertension and tachycardia, which can further affect conditions involving your heart and ability to breathe. The over-stimulating sensations during the peak of a trip can also lead to increases in blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration rate, potentially worsening conditions.
Studies have also shown that classic psychedelic use may also increase the risk of seizures, but only for those with a personal or family history of epilepsy. So if you or a family member has epilepsy or experienced seizures, it’s best to stay away from psychedelics.
In general, it’s highly recommended that for those with conditions like these, in which a potentially overwhelming experience (such as a psychedelic journey) could worsen one’s state, to stay on the safe side and abstain from psychedelic use altogether.
Family or Personal History of Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, or Psychosis
When individuals experience states in which they’re losing touch with reality and are considered less stable, whether that be through disorders like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or any form of psychosis, it’s not advised to partake in psychedelic use.
While it’s beautiful how journeys often open our minds by showing us other ways to view reality, if we lack a secure sense of what is ‘real’, psychedelics can become a dangerous and ungrounding force, leading to some potentially traumatizing experiences.
Psychedelics also have the potential to trigger or worsen symptoms such as mania, delusional thinking, and psychosis for those who have a personal or even family history of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or psychosis.
For example, there have been cases where psychedelics are reported to trigger manic episodes or schizophrenic tendencies in people who are predisposed genetically, even if they’ve never experienced these episodes in the past.
Hence, gaining more insight into both your personal and family history of mental health conditions, and objectively evaluating the risks involved will be helpful in determining whether psychedelics are safe for you.
In general, if you’re predisposed to any mental illnesses whose onset could be triggered by a potent inner-environmental change (such as those associated with psychedelic journeys) you should refrain from taking any hallucinogenic substances.
People Who’ve Recently Undergone a Traumatic Event
When tragedy strikes, it can often feel like our sense of security in the world has been pulled right out from under us. So in the presence of a recent traumatic event, loss, or significant life change, ingesting psychedelics might not always be the most beneficial.
With uncomfortable changes happening in both our external and internal world caused by these life events, adding in another factor into the mix, especially one that alters your mind, can become too much.
In these times, our reality in a way can already feel like a bad trip, with one’s sense of security and emotional stability being out the window. Adding in any more powerful and life-changing factors such as a psychedelic experience is often too much for the human psyche to process.
Psychedelics also have the power to alter where we are in time, with certain psychedelics such as mescaline inducing flashbacks, which can put one at risk of being brought back to these traumatic events, potentially even retraumatizing an individual.
If you’ve experienced any type of traumatic event, significant change or feel you are in a sensitive place, it’s recommended that you wait until a truly optimal time arises, in which you can feel safer to be engaging with psychedelic medicine.
People Experiencing Self Harming or Suicidal Ideations
As you know, psychedelics have the power to warp our reality. During a psychedelic experience, there’s a potential for overstimulation, which could drive unhealthy, impulsive choices.
When harming oneself or ending one’s life is a serious consideration on a daily basis, partaking in substances that can affect your state of mind in unpredictable ways, such as psychedelics, is far too risky.
While there are some clinical trials that are working on examining the efficacy of psychedelic medicines on people with suicidal ideations, the results are still unclear. This type of psychedelic work is also done in a controlled medical setting, which is much different than personal use, which often comes with a higher risk for potential harm.
We recommend that if you’re experiencing suicidal ideations, you either wait until you’re in a more stable mental state, or participate in a clinical trial by reaching out to an experienced psychedelic facilitator that could guide you in the right direction.
People Who Lack Proper Support
Proper support is essential to increase the chances that one has a safe and therapeutic journey. A psychedelic experience can bring about a lot of change in a short period of time, as it alters our perspectives and ways of thinking. Proper support during the integration process is incredibly helpful to ensure you can fully process what you’ve experienced.
When journeying with Psychedelic Passage, one has the support of a knowledgeable facilitator. Even with this support, it’s also recommended to have at least one person who’ll be able to support them through the psychedelic therapy process.
Generally though, if you’re planning on communing with psychedelic medicines, support from friends, family and yourself are key factors to ensure the likelihood of a safe experience.
While psychedelics can provide some people with immense life improvements, are generally low risk in comparison to other substances, and are non-habit forming, there are still some circumstances where it is ill-advised to take psychedelics.
Even if any of the descriptions above don’t pertain to you, just like with any foreign substance entering the body, there’s always the risk of a bad reaction and possible harm. When making a decision regarding taking psychedelics, being empowered with research and ultimately having a sense of personal autonomy is important.
We hope this article empowered you in learning when it may be harmful to take psychedelics so that you can make an informed decision. If you have any other questions we empower you to check out our other blog posts on topics like these, or to book a consultation to speak with one of our knowledgeable psychedelic concierges for more information.
FAQs About Who Should NOT Use Psychedelic Drugs
Do I have to be off all medications in order to safely have a psychedelic experience?
Technically speaking, you don’t have to be off all medications in order to safely journey into the psychedelic realm, especially if these medications are ones that are keeping you alive and functioning.
That being said, medications do bring with them potential dangers as we previously discussed. This can depend on various factors, such as:
- the specific medication you’re taking
- the dosage and frequency
- how much your physical and/or emotional well-being relies upon its use
- how it interacts with the specific psychedelic you’re planning on ingesting
These are all factors to consider when determining whether or not to take psychedelics while on medications. It’s ultimately up to you to make the decision to either taper off medications (under the supervision of your healthcare provider), or not.
We empower you to always prioritize your well being by doing further research, and if you’d like to consult with a facilitator in our network, we’re here to help.
Are some psychedelic medicines potentially more harmful than others?
Depending on your individual body, mind, spirit, and life circumstances, some psychedelics may carry more risk for you than others. For example, as mentioned previously, certain psychedelics such as mescaline are known to induce flashbacks, so if you have PTSD, mescaline may carry more risk of potentially bringing you back to a trauma and causing more harm.
While we can’t go into all of the nitty-gritty details of each psychedelic in this article, if you’re curious about this topic, we’ve written a whole guide on how to choose what psychedelic substance is best for you.
For more personalized advice and information though, feel free to consult a facilitator in our network who will be able to help you determine what psychedelics could carry more or less harm for you.
Does personality impact who should take psychedelics?
While there’s been studies of how psychedelic therapy can affect personality, there’s still research lacking on the inverse; how your personality can affect the psychedelic experience.
Most of the reviewed studies on this subject are small in size, with a diversity of personality measures employed across different studies. Thus, it’s hard to draw any solid conclusions based on these measures without further replication and uniformity across measures.
That being said, some scientific reviews claim that there’s some personality traits that may influence the effects of the psychedelic experience, such as those scoring high in traits like neuroticism often having negative reactions.
So, there could be some personality traits that play a role in the outcome of the psychedelic experience, but there’s still more research that needs to be done in order to conclude whether it’s safer for some personalities to take psychedelics than others.