If you think you may have permanently messed up your brain from using psychedelics, either because you feel totally not yourself or full of anxiety, trust me when I say that what you’re experiencing isn’t permanent. With a little bit of effort and time, you can fix it.
What you’re feeling is a normal reaction to a bad trip or taking too many psychedelics, and it has to do with the line between your subconscious and conscious mind. The subconscious mind can be tough to completely wrap your head around, so I’ll give you a different way to look at it:
How to think about the subconscious vs. conscious mind
Think of your conscious mind as a house where you live and conduct your daily business. Inside, things are warm, safe, and organized. There are different rooms for different things, there are certain logical rules, and (in general), you know what to expect.
Your subconscious mind is the outdoors that exists beyond the walls of this house, the great outdoors of who you truly are at your core. There, anything can happen. Things are less orderly and logical, or it’s at least more difficult to perceive the structure. There are beautiful things and scary things, and if you get lost out there, it can be hard to find the way back home.
In your house, there are doors and windows that lead outside because spending time in this “outdoors,” subconscious realm is beneficial to the mind and spirit, just as going outside in real life is. Most often, we visit this realm in dreams and gain the nourishment of our own nature when we are asleep. If you like to listen to music, play music, draw, or make art, you can think of these activities as looking out the windows of your house, which is why they can be so nourishing.
When bad trips tamper with subconscious or conscious mind
Following the house vs. outdoors metaphor, trips on mushrooms, LSD, DMT, or any other psychedelic act as trips into the outdoors: when you take the drug, it’s like taking a plane ride to somewhere in the unknown, outdoor realms of your subconscious mind. You don’t know exactly where you are mentally or how you got there, instead you’re just dropped off in some very strange part of your mind. When you come down, it’s like the plane ride back to your home. Just like in real life, vacations to new, far away places are often great, exciting, and beautiful. Sometimes, however, issues can arise.
Think of a bad trip as similar to a terrible vacation in real life: it’s awful, but eventually you do come back home to your conscious mind, whether things are more ordered and less scary.
Even when you do get back home, you might find that things are different. You may be feeling not yourself or dealing with a lot of anxiety now, even though the trip itself is over, and it’s important to understand that what you’re experiencing is normal. When I had began to have anxiety after my bad trip, I thought I may have permanently messed up my brain, or that I “broke my brain.” My brain chemistry felt way out of whack. I felt like there was a “before-me” and an “after-me,” and all I wanted to do was return to the way I was before. I just wanted to feel normal again.
You may be feeling the exact same way, but know that you did not break your brain and that you will get back to normal. You simply did NOT mess yourself up permanently. Here’s some insight into what might’ve actually happened, using the house vs. outdoors analogy:
1) All along, you had a broken window somewhere in your house, and the trip tore off the garbage bag that you had taped over it.
When I say a broken window, I mean some small aspect of your psyche that was compromised at some point during your life by a traumatic situation. By “trauma,” I mean anything that your subconscious perceived as life-threatening even if it wasn’t truly life-threatening in a practical sense, some examples are: a car crash, any type of mental, physical, verbal, or sexual abuse, having a troubled relationship with one of your parents, being bullied, intense fear of being abandoned or ostracized from a group, or even having your favorite toy taken away as a child. Any stressful event, no matter how big or small, can trigger trauma in the subconscious mind and lead to a “broken window.”
Over time, you learn to cope with the event or even suppress it (taping a garbage bag or tarp over it), but it’s still there, slowly letting cold air seep into your house. You didn’t fix the window itself. In some cases, you may not have even known the broken window was there, which was true in my case. I did not come to understand that I had suffered significant abuse during my early childhood until over a year after my bad trip. I had a broken window with the garbage bag blown off, and I’m thankful that the trip brought this to my attention.
What to do if you think this is the case:
- Start writing down your anxiety episodes in detail. I can’t stress this enough, because it will help you to understand the patterns and triggers more than anything. Once you start to do that, then you will better be able to identify the source of the anxiety.
- Write down any known traumas you’ve had in your life, or any hunches you may have. In my case, I had always had a feeling that I may have repressed abuse. Also, take note of whether or not you are overweight. From an emotional perspective, excess weight less than about 20-25 pounds can be considered life-style related (i.e. you go out to eat a little too much, you aren’t eating the right foods for your body, or you aren’t exercising enough), while excess weight beyond about 25 pounds is often “body armor.” This means that you’ve put on the weight for emotional reasons, such as not feeling safe or having been sexually abused. Here is a questionnaire that can help you understand if you might’ve been sexually abused, even if you don’t consciously remember it.
- Identify any compulsive behaviors you have, such as binge eating a certain food. A compulsive behavior is anything you tend to do impulsively and have a hard time getting yourself to stop. These behaviors are usually triggered by traumatic experiences.
- Write down everything you can remember about your bad trip, in as much detail as you can. Identify the scariest parts of the trip and try to trace them back to a problem or trauma you’ve had in your life. For example, if the scariest part was the lack of control you felt, and you seem to need to feel in control at all times during your normal life, try to trace this back to the first moment you felt out of control. For example, you may have felt out of control when your parents’ marriage was falling apart, and you felt like your entire world as you knew it was slipping away.
If you feel like this hidden trauma is the case for you, this is the beginning of a long journey towards personal healing which is not for the faint of heart, but it so worth it. Once you heal, you will feel so much better and so much stronger.
It is so vitally important to write down what you feel. I recommend buying a special notebook or creating a specific document on your computer where you keep all of your writing on this subject. Think of your experience as a giant jigsaw puzzle with a thousand pieces spread out on the table in front of you. Trying to work that whole puzzle in your head is going to be so difficult and taxing that it’s nearly impossible, but once you start laying out the pieces and trying to work them on the table, it will eventually come together and form a complete picture. This is what writing allows you to do.
2) You left a door open somewhere, and now there’s a draft of cold air coming in from outside.
In this instance, your trip(s) connected you to your subconscious mind in a way that is now hard to shut off. This tends to be the case when you’ve taken a really high dose of psychedelics, taken them too often, or smoked a lot of weed in your life. Many people have such amazing experiences on psychedelics that they can’t wait to take them again, and this was certainly the case for me. After my first acid trip, I was quickly asking, “When can I do this again?” If the friend who introduced me to LSD had said it was okay, I probably would’ve done it again that same week.
The problem is that, when you take too many psychedelics, it can begin to alter the way your brain works, blurring the line between conscious and subconscious and causing you to start veering down the road of becoming somewhat burnt out. I have known many people like this, and it’s not where you want to be.
Taking psychedelics too often is common in college, but it is truly a self-destructive behavior that is a symptom of a larger problem or longing that you have. Perhaps it’s a longing to feel like there’s more to the world and life, a longing to feel spiritually connected, or the desire to avoid the things you’re having to deal with in real life. Whatever the issue is, trust me when I say that you will not find the answer or peace you’re looking for by continuing to do too many psychedelics. Eventually, it will bite you in the butt.
How often should you do psychedelics?
This varies, but the quick answer is: infrequently.
Terrance McKenna, who I would say is a well-known “prophet” of DMT and mushrooms said that he felt like he was doing a lot if he had two trips per year. If a person says DMT is their favorite drug, and you ask them when the last time they did it was, you might get an answer like “1967.” These substances are so powerful and consciousness-altering that it can take months, years, or even a lifetime to fully process and understand what you saw, experienced, and felt in a 45 second DMT trip or an 6 hour acid trip.
If you’re doing full doses of psychedelics more than a few times year, it’s worth seriously contemplating why. Without fully realizing it, you may be using your brain as sort of an amusement park. This is a normal thing, especially in college situations, but you must truly understand that your brain is something to be treated with extreme respect. In this life, it’s really all you have.
How to know if the open door is what you’re experiencing:
- You’ve done a lot of psychedelics in a short amount of time or gone on some sort of a drug-binge
- You feel whacked out constantly, much different than you used to feel, or as if your personality has dramatically changed
- You have trouble remembering, concentrating, or doing logical tasks like math and science. Your grades are slipping, you’re having trouble at work, or you’re starting to have difficultly communicating with other people
- You feel like you may have permanently damaged your brain or gone too far with drugs.
If this is the case for you, here are some steps you can take to get back on track and close the open door:
- Take a long break from psychedelics (at least a year, ideally much longer)
- Stop using any other drugs as well as smoking pot and cigarettes. Trust me, I know how hard this can be – I’ve been there, but you need to give your brain chemistry a break.
- Stop drinking coffee/caffeinated beverages.
- Start drinking a lot of water (a gallon per day is a good place to start) and eating foods that promote brain health. Some examples include avocados, blueberries, salmon, walnuts, extra virgin olive oil, and turmeric.
- Exercise rigorously outside (such as jogging in nature) and take barefoot walks on the earth.
- Get 8-9 hours of sleep each night. If your daily schedule allows it, try to go to bed around 10pm.
- Introduce more logical, structured habits into your daily life. Right now, your subconscious mind has taken precedence, so doing structured activities can help your conscious, logical mind come back. Some examples are keeping a daily to-do list, waking up and going to bed at the same time every day, getting a simple job that gives you a daily routine and somewhere you have to be, and eating meals at the same time each day.
Getting back to normal after you’ve taken way too many psychedelics will be a process, but I’ve seen it done, and I know you can do it too.
I know from experience that having a bad trip or too many trips can leave you feeling totally out of whack. All you want is to get back to your normal self, but understand that if you go through with this self-work, you will end up better than you ever were before.
If you’d like some individualized help with this journey, I’m happy to do private sessions. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.