“I felt my stomach drop upon the realization that all of my friends and family had always been simply creations of my own disturbed mentality, but even more so that I would be alone for all of eternity with only my thoughts to accompany me.”
“I feel parts of me go numb. I feel my heart start to give out but I pull it back to life. I am fighting to survive at this point, I have forgotten that I took a drug, I am alone in an eternal hell.”
“I became very restless because my mind was so incoherent. I wandered from bed to bed in the room, lying down and crawling into a foetal position in some attempt to make it stop. The trip was making every moment of existence complete and utter hell. I wanted to stop existing immediately in order to make it stop.”
These are all excerpts from various trip reports collected on the drug information website Erowid.org. They’re just a few of countless examples of people who have experienced the nasty side of psychedelics.
Psychedelics are extremely powerful drugs. Despite their enormous medical and spiritual potential (of which I’ve barely scratched the surface in this blog), they have the power to do harm when used irresponsibly.
‘Bad trips’, often highlighted in the media, have become synonymous with psychedelics in the public eye. But as terrifying as they seem, the risk is minimal when using psychedelics responsibly and with appropriate support and care. Current drug laws actually increase the risk of bad trips, by making it harder for users to know if their drug is pure, by shrouding drug use in a cloud of fear and misinformation, and by discouraging the responsible and ethical distribution of true and reliable drug information.
As part of my attempts at exposing the true potential of psychedelics, I feel it’s also important to spread some information about their safe and responsible use. I’ve compiled some typical advice and added my own experience and moderation that will hopefully help to fight some of the myths and misinformation out there, and help people interested in psychedelics avoid any harm.
1) Know what you’re taking
Although our current drug laws make it difficult to know if your drug is pure, you can legally purchase various test kits online that make sure your drug isn’t cut with anything nasty. This is especially important with psychedelics, as some copycat drugs could send you to the hospital.
It may seem like common sense, but don’t combine drugs unless you really know what you’re doing. For your first time with a psychedelic, you should never mix with any other drugs. Here is a useful chart to help you avoid unsafe drug combinations.
2) Know how much you’re taking
Be mindful of your dose; do some research online to find out exactly how much is too much, and what is a typical starter dose. If it’s your first time with a substance, don’t jump straight in at the deep end. Be safe and responsible, and don’t risk an overwhelming experience.
Dosage information is something really important that is currently missing in our society, causing considerable harm to naïve drug users. Hopefully future drug policy will include the requirement to provide detailed information about dosage to users; until then, it’s our responsibility to be safe and knowledgeable.
3) Don’t self-medicate
On this blog I usually discuss the various medical benefits that psychedelics might grant us. But this does not mean you should journey to your closest field and eat a bunch of magic mushrooms to cure your chronic depression. In all pilot studies investigating psychedelics for curing disease, drugs have been administered in very controlled environments, usually with psychotherapists on hand to guide participants through the trial.
If you suffer from any kind of medical condition, consult your doctor. Talk with your GP about alternatives, such as CBT, before jumping into the world of psychedelics.
4) Understand your motivations
Because psychedelics are drugs of the mind, you should understand your mindset before taking them. Your feelings and emotions may become extremely amplified on psychedelics, so any negative emotions have the potential to run out of control. If you approach psychedelics irresponsibly with a desire to get high or get given all the answers, you are drastically increasing your chances of having a negative experience. If you approach psychedelics with a balanced mindset, aware of your anxieties and doubts and conscious of your motivations, you are more likely to have a positive learning experience.
5) Choose your setting very carefully
Are you taking a psychedelic outside in a private, calm and restful place? Or are you taking a psychedelic in a stranger’s dark basement? It’s clear which scenario is more likely to lead to a bad experience. Psychedelic experiences can draw strongly from your environment, so it’s important to be somewhere comfortable and safe. Many people recommend being in a place where you are free to roam, and to avoid small rooms where you may feel unstimulated or trapped.
6) Don’t go it alone
Sometimes a psychedelic experience can make you feel lost and scared. Sometimes you just need some external support or guidance to get the most out of the experience. In all cases, it’s best to have someone there with you. Ideally your sitter will be sober and have experience with the psychedelic you are exploring. It should be someone you trust to help you get the most out of the experience, and guide you to better places if you start to feel overwhelmed.
7) Be prepared!
Information is power… do some research, find out about your psychedelic, and make a plan. Set aside however much time is needed, arrange for a sitter to be present, organise a comfortable environment. Try to plan what you’re going to do during the experience; not only what physical activities you might explore (i.e. listening to music, drawing, yoga) but where you want your mind to go. What places do you want your psychedelic to take you, and how will you get there? I would recommend meditating or relaxing for some time before your journey, to become fully aware of your goals and mindset.
Following these steps will make it more likely you will have a positive experience with psychedelics. Given that, my advice is to not try psychedelics at all – until we have drug laws that are focussed on the safety of the user, you are taking a health risk every time you take an illegal drug. Psychedelics have the potential to become positively ingrained in our society and healthcare; but until then, they are a powerful force that we don’t yet fully understand. Irresponsible use will only lead to more public distrust of psychedelics, and will postpone the medical and societal benefits we might gain from these substances.
I started this article with some excerpts from bad trips… I think it makes sense to end with an example of the kind of experience that should be synonymous with psychedelics:
“I learned once again that the purpose of existence is just to exist and that existence has always been there and will always be there. I perceived the real power, elegance and truth of the yin-yang symbol and how its dichotomous yet joined nature pervades everything… I could perceive the pervasive hidden patterns running throughout existence. I could truly understand the awesome power of cooperation and love.”
Disclaimer: This article does not condone or encourage the use of illegal drugs. This article aims to improve the welfare and safety of illegal drug users.