What is a bad trip, and what can you do about it?

As psilocybin and other psychedelics become more present in recreational settings, so do the numbers of individuals experiencing psychedelics. The majority of the time these experiences are safe, but on rare occasions things can take a turn. We call this turn – a bad trip.

A bad trip is a combination of psychological and/or physiological discomforts that end up leaving an individual feeling as if they’re losing their sense of control. This could potentially leave someone in a heightened state of fear, physical discomfort, and sometimes in an elevated state of terror. 

The triggers for bad trips are usually factors including: mood, intention, lingering thoughts, immediate surroundings, sounds and sights, drug interactions, alcohol, and other social influences.

Now, what do you do if somebody is having a bad trip?

We’ve compiled an orderly process based on reputable sources that outlines what to do if somebody in your group is having a difficult psychedelic experience or a “bad trip”.

Step 1: Check to see if the person is concerned about their physical safety.

The first step that should be taken when a person is on psilocybin mushrooms or maybe some other drug is to connect with the person and ask calm, but clear questions about how they are feeling, and if they are worried about any physical danger.

If they feel they are – Call emergency services immediately. 

The person may not be in any real danger, but thinking they are can have serious implications if they accidentally injure themselves or someone else.

If not – The first priority is to make sure the individual is in a setting in which they feel both comfortable and safe. Once this is accomplished, proceed to step 2. 

Step 2: Find out what drug was taken, and at what dose.

When someone who thinks they’re on a bad trip confirms they do not feel in danger, the next step is to calmly ask them which drug they think they consumed, and how much. It’s easy enough with psilocybin, but not so for tabs and pills since some may not be pure or even contain the same drug. 

This allows individuals to help predict how the experience might unfold. Lower doses don’t cause as pronounced of effects as higher doses (relative to the substance), and having knowledge of which drug was taken at what dose plays a vital role in helping determine the right course of action.  

Step 3: How long ago was the dose taken?

By knowing how long ago the drug was taken, someone assisting a person in crisis can have a rough estimate about how much longer the experience is likely to last, provided they have some basic knowledge of the drug.

Step 4: Is there a potential for interactions with other medications, drugs, or alcohol?

Finding out if anything else other than the psychedelic has been consumed is the next critical step. If other substances are present in the body, there could be a potential for drug interactions. Although rare, these can cause bad trips to be even worse because more than one compound is affecting the person. 

Alcohol and psychedelics are commonly mixed with cannabis in recreational settings. These don’t cause dangerous physical interactions, but could intensify a psychedelic experience further. 

Note: Do NOT induce vomiting in someone having a psychedelic experience. It serves no purpose and can cause unnecessary harm.

Step 5: Sit with, but don’t interfere.

Once all the above steps have been completed and an individual appears to be in no physical danger, the person who is having the bad trip can be led to a safe space by a sober individual who can now sit with them. 

It’s important for a sitter to understand that the role they have in keeping a person safe while on a bad trip does not involve guiding them. Even with good intentions, this often goes wrong and distracts the person on the trip from experiencing whatever their subconscious is feeding them.

It can take several hours for a trip to subside. In that time, safeguarding a person’s physical safety and allowing them to let the trip happen is the best course of action. Your job is just to make sure they feel safe.

Conclusion

The physical risk factors of most psychedelics that are used recreationally is low, but the psychological risks are not. Always ensure you are prepared with the right information if you or your group decide to take psychedelics.

Learn and follow the steps, and build your knowledge further by searching for additional resources, or visiting the listed reference sources. 

References

How to Work With Difficult Psychedelic Experiences – MAPS

Darrick May: Examining “Bad Trips” on Psilocybin – Positive & Negative Consequences

Risk assessment report relating to psilocin and psilocybin, Utrecht, 12 August 2004https://www.erowid.org/plants/mushrooms/mushrooms_health1.pdf 

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