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For those charmed in the psychedelic experience, most dream of viewing life through kaleidoscopic filters, while evolving from cocoon to butterfly to heal their body, mind, and spirit. However, there are those equally nervous about the probability of becoming transfixed in what many call a bad trip. If you or someone you know has experienced this, you have stumbled upon the right tab. 

However, let’s try to not call it a bad trip, but rather a challenging speed bump in the healing journey. So, before we remove this vernacular, let’s break down what a bad trip really is, how to recover, and why it may be a positive step for your spiritual, physical, and mental health. 

A very vibrant image of a man behind a water-covered glass window to articulate what a high experience may be like.
Photo by Stewart MacLean on Unsplash

What is a bad trip?

A bad trip refers to a negative experience while being intoxicated by a hallucinatory substance or psychedelic drug such as psilocybin mushrooms, lysergic acid diethyl-amide (LSD), ayahuasca, or even cannabis. 

Now, during this negative experience, symptoms can range from unpleasant to traumatic, with some feeling out of control through paranoia, psychosis, overwhelming hallucinations, or chaotic and stressful emotions. Sound familiar? 

Although it is common for occasional unpleasantness to occur during a psychedelic experience, that does not equate to having a bad trip, as these feelings can pass quickly and be transformed into a joyful or amusing event. So make sure you are not confusing a fleeting emotion with a full-blown bad trip

And sorry to burst any bubbles, but unfortunately, there are no guarantees if you will have an easy or difficult psychedelic experience, as entheogens change your perceptions of the world around you.

It may seem scary, but you are not alone!

It is also important to note that if you do experience a bad trip, you are not the only one. 

According to the Journal of Psychopharmacology, a study was conducted that surveyed 1993 psilocybin users. Of this, 39% labeled the experience one of the most challenging of their lives, however, over 80% stated that this challenge was a benefitting experience in the long term. So, even though it may seem bleak while going through the darkness, you can emerge with a positive perspective just like other users.

And, let’s not forget that bad trips were and still are common among indigenous cultures who use psychedelics. 

A hand holding up unspecified mushrooms.
Photo by Tania Malréchauffé on Unsplash

Bad trips are indigenously sacred 

One of the earliest accounts of magic mushroom usage was found in Huatutla de Jiménez by Spanish missionary priest Bernardo de Sahagún. He observed the indigenous Mexican peoples’ reactions would range from dancing and singing to weeping about visions of death, wild beasts devouring them, being taken captive in war, and committing adultery. But, when they were clear-headed, they spoke with those around them about their visions and moved forward with wisdom and positivity. A good tip to have in your back pocket…

There are also ethnobotanical studies surrounding Bwiti tribes in Western Africa who traditionally consume iboga to heal their deepest traumas and memories, describing the experience as intense and sometimes terrifying. 

And, in the late 1970s, scientists discovered that Native Americans were customarily raised with traditional peyote ceremonies. Those nurtured around it were able to prepare their minds for any negative experiences that may arise while consuming the substance. So, preparation is key when taking psychedelics. 

Indigenous shamans believe that all negative episodes are actually dark spiritual energies purging themselves from the body.

So, what can you actually do to recover from a bad trip?

  1. Remember it isn’t real. If you feel overwhelmed, sometimes the simplest solution is to surrender to the experience. Bad trips can feel perennial, but the trauma itself might be something repressed from childhood; a shadow you NEED to work through. We live in a culture that prioritizes pleasure over pain. But, just like mistakes, we also learn from pain. So, try your best to turn on, tune in and drop out.
  2. Take care of physical needs. At the height of the excitement, we sometimes forget that our consciousness lives within a human shell, which needs nourishment to survive. Sometimes your body is actually signaling something as simple as eating something (i.e fruit tends to be a tripper’s choice) or drinking water. Onset and duration vary greatly from each psychedelic substance, so it is important to be prepared with proper knowledge and make sure your body is comfortable with the sustenance it needs.
  3. Connect with someone. Having someone you trust and care about close to you can really help bring about comfort and positivity. There is nothing worse than going through a bad acid trip alone! Sometimes all you need is a trip-sitter. This refers to someone who stays sober to watch over your health and wellbeing and offer support when needed. If you ever feel you are in immediate danger, make sure to express your concerns to your trip-sitter and have them help you. If it is serious, they will take you to the emergency room or call 911.
  4. Do not self-medicate. No matter how negative the experience can get, never mix drugs or drink alcohol while taking a psychedelic. There can be extremely negative consequences and harmful effects to your body.
  5. Change the scenery. Sometimes recovering from a bad trip can be as simple as changing the environment. Go for a walk outside barefoot. Soaking up the ions emitted from the earth will calm down stress or anxiety. If you wish to stay inside, go to another room to uplift the mood. Listen to some music you love or watch a funny show. Do something creative like draw or write. Remember, although you cannot turn off the drugs, just moving around and promoting circulation is a great way to regulate your expression.
  6. Breath. Pranayama breathing is a scientifically proven technique to lower anxiety, depression, and stress. If you are feeling overwhelmed, try this technique involving breathing through one nostril while holding down the other and alternating. Talk about relaxing! While doing this, imagine your mind is a tributary, steaming energy and flowing through your channels with universal love. This can help promote a transformative experience.
  7. Integration practitioner. We are so lucky to be smack dab in the middle of the psychedelic renaissance! If you do feel a lasting negative effect from taking psychedelics, consider going to an integration practitioner. These are experts, shamans, and clinicians who use education programs and harm reduction techniques to administer proper dosages and honor spiritual traditions while integrating psychedelics into your life. They can help work through trauma and understand why things went astray. 
A person walking barefoot on the beach.
Photo by Michael Held on Unsplash

Molly Helfend

Molly Helfend is an herbalist, ethnobotanist, and writer. She possesses a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies and Holistic Health, a Masters of Science in Ethnobotany, She started her journey as an environmental activist with Greenpeace and Rainforest Action Network. She later used her passion for plants to travel the globe, working as a clinical herbalist and using cultural competency to influence her work in USA, Australia, New Zealand, England, Indonesia and more. She has worked as a content writer, product developer and creative marketing consultant for prominent health and wellness companies around the world. Whether through the alchemy of herbalism, the research of indigenous plants, or the healing practices of being a practitioner, Molly has educated countless people about how to improve their own health and work with plants.

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