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The Myth of a bad trip

The term “bad trip” is often mentioned in the same breath as psychedelic drugs. Perhaps you’ve heard stories about someone “having a bad trip”, maybe you’ve witnessed someone in this state, or personal experience of a “bad trip” while under the influence of a psychedelic substance has made you intimate with the phenomena. When speaking of psychedelic substances we are commonly referring to LSD or “acid”, Ayahuasca and DMT, psilocybin “magic mushrooms”, MDMA “molly” or even Ketamine.

Psychedelics or hallucinogens are psychoactive substances that trigger altered states of consciousness, affecting mood, perception, and cognition. While hallucinogens are considered non-addictive and have low toxicity, they do come with a major pitfall. The drugs occasionally induce “bad trips” — intense negative reactions that can include anxiety, paranoia, panic attacks, and frightening hallucinations.

But what if these “bad” or “negative” experiences were actually beneficial, perhaps even necessary, to one’s journey. In a John Hopkins Medicine Q&A with Roland Griffiths and Robert Jesse, researchers on using psychedelics to treat depression, PTSD, and even alcohol and tobacco dependence, explore the potential positive outcomes.

“Our laboratory studies and this survey study support each other in showing that an unpleasant, “bad” experience can sometimes lead to positive outcomes. It doesn’t seem accurate, then, to call all of the negative psilocybin experiences categorically “bad.” That’s why we’re now saying “challenging experiences,” which acknowledges that when they’re handled well, as in the context of a clinical setting, they can lead to positive outcomes. But we don’t want to sugarcoat things. It can’t be said too often that it takes prudent safeguards and mature contexts of use to increase the likelihood that a challenging experience will lead to valued outcomes and minimize the chance of a “bad trip” resulting in problems or even lasting harm.

While we can never say for certain why someone may experience a negative or adverse reaction to a psychedelic substance that would result in a “bad trip”, we can take a harm reduction approach to better prepare for the experience next time and minimize the possibility of a “bad trip” occurring, allowing instead for “challenging experiences” to be welcomed.

This approach can include:

1 - Being cognizant of set and setting.

a) Set refers to your state of mind, mood, and openness to accept and welcome a psychedelic experience.

b) Setting refers to your physical space and surroundings. Being in a safe and comfortable environment often with a “trip sitter” can increase the chances of having a positive experience and decrease having a negative one.

2 - Making sure you have a “trip sitter”, who is knowledgeable in how to be a good trip sitter (blog post on this to come).

3 - Surrendering to challenging aspects of the journey and reminding yourself that whatever it is will eventually pass, and that the more you lean into difficult sensations, the more you’ll get out.

4 - Researching and checking that it won’t adversely react with any other medications you may be taking.

5 - Checking with a health-care professional to ensure that you are prepared and have a strategy in place for the ways your psychological history might react to such a mentally taxing experience.

6 - Measuring your substance dose to achieve the state of surrender you’re looking for.

7 - Making sure you have at least one person in your life who can remind you of who you are beyond your behaviours, and thoughts and emotions.

If you have questions about psychedelic integrated therapy, or have experienced a “bad trip” and wish to work through these challenges, book a free consult with one of our psychedelic psychotherapists. 

Sources psypost, john hopkins medicine

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By Angela Leong
Mar 28, 2022