How to understand a bad trip and start the healing process

Bad psychedelic trips are incredibly common. If you’ve recently had a bad trip and are struggling to understand it, you’re in the right place. This site is dedicated to helping you understand a bad trip that you’ve had (that’s what we’ll do in this post) and heal from it.

The first thing to do is write down all of the details of your trip that you can remember in chronological order. Writing it all down will help you take the edge off. As long as you leave the trip bottled up in your mind, it will just continue to loom in the background like the memory of a nightmare. As long as it stays in that looming, scary, haunting state in your head, it will be almost impossible to understand a bad trip. To see an example of how to do this writing, take a look at my bad trip story. Once you’ve gotten everything you can written down, you can start to analyze and understand a bad trip more easily.

The truth is that, when you take psychedelics in the right way, having a bad trip isn’t very likely at all. Yes, there is a right way to take psychedelics – if you’re looking to avoid a bad trip, that is. You can certainly take psychedelics in any way you like, but you run a serious risk. When you understand the right way to take psychedelics, you’ll probably have “duh,” moment. It will likely be very obvious to you why you had a bad trip, which can be a healing realization. So: let’s learn how to understand a bad trip, starting with the circumstances.

This post will go hand-in-hand with questionnaire or checklist that you can use to evaluate your trip. If you’d like to fill out the questionnaire, you can click here for the Google Doc. This link takes you to a read-only version of it, so you’ll need to click File>Make a Copy in order to save it to your own Drive and edit it.

Understand a bad trip: setting and surroundings

The setting in which you take psychedelics is extremely important. In classic guides on taking LSD, mushrooms, mescaline, etc., “set” (i.e. mindset) and “setting” are the two top considerations. If you’re looking to avoid having a bad trip, you should take psychedelics in a relaxing, familiar environment that provides comfort and stability. It should be place that doesn’t have a lot of negative vibes or bad memories associated with. Also, it should ideally be pretty simple, without a lot of busy decorations or things going on. Things should be relatively quiet (i.e. no TV or movies), but having some gentle music without words is generally a good idea.

For many of you, this description will probably sound like the opposite of the setting in which you tripped. Perhaps you tripped in a hotel room that was completely unfamiliar to you or at friend’s house where you didn’t feel particularly at home. Maybe you rode around from place to place in a car. I’ve even heard of people having trips while on a boat in the middle of a lake at night – not a good idea. Another bad idea is tripping at a party or club where there is a lot going on that you can’t control: people, loud music, strange lights, and cramped surroundings. This will send you into overload-mode really quickly.

How setting impacts you during a trip

When you’re on a psychedelic substance, it’s a delicate time. Your brain is not operating in its usual way, and you’ve cut out the “sub” in subconscious. The subconscious part of your mind is not logical. While on psychedelics, your ability to logically understand where you’re at and why you’re there goes out the window. Your brain is open to make all kinds of irrational associations and blow small things out of proportion. This can send you spiraling into paranoia and a bad trip.

Think about it this way: your conscious mind is your outer shell which protects the most delicate, sacred part of you. Your subconscious mind is that sacred part which is so beautiful, creative, and delicate – it’s the true you. Do you really want to expose that sensitive, sacred true you to a crazy party environment without the outer-shell to protect it? For me, the answer is no. I hope it is for you too.

When you’re tripping, it’s best to factor out any variable that could cause you to get freaked out, overstimulated, or overloaded. Know that, even if you love those kinds of environments on other drugs, psychedelics are different. Even if your friends can handle those environments while on psychedelics, know that everyone reacts to these substances differently. You’re you. You’re not your friends, so it doesn’t really matter what they’re doing or how they like to take psychedelics.

Understand a bad trip: people you were with

Another extremely important factor is the people you were tripping with – they can make or break an experience with psychedelics. Ideally, you should be with a supportive person (or a few people) who genuinely care about you and want to help guide you through a positive experience. It really helps to be with people who are a bit older than you or at least wiser when it comes to psychedelics – especially if it’s your first time. This person/these people should be caring and nonjudgmental. If you’re not a long-time psychedelics user, I would not recommend tripping alone.

Here again, many of you will have had opposite experiences to this. Perhaps you tripped with a large group of people who you didn’t really know that well or just a few people who you thought were good friends. Maybe the people you were with scared you or messed with you, showing that they weren’t that great of friends after all. Another difficult situation – tripping alone – makes it easy to spiral into a bad trip because there’s no one there to help bring you out or help ground you. It’s always best to have a trip sitter.

How people impact you during a trip

During a trip, you’ll likely react to a certain person differently than you do in normal life. This is because you’re fully embodying your subconscious mind, which sees all and can’t tell a lie. Your conscious mind, on the other hand, is the part of you that decides things, makes up stories, and tells yourself things that may or may not be true. In short, your conscious mind is the one that lets you lie to yourself. Often times, we may think we know or like someone. In reality, we have just convinced ourselves of such. When you take psychedelics around someone, you’re really meeting them for the first time – truly meeting them.

This can be totally shocking. Trust me, I’ve been there. During my worst trip, I was with a guy I thought I really liked. We had been dating for a few months, and I felt like I knew him. Once we were in the trip together, though, I felt totally different about him. My reaction to him was actually what started to spark the bad trip. A trip can completely mess up a relationship (I have an entire post on this), but you have to understand that it’s for the better. If someone freaks you out during a trip, that means that your true self does not jive with that person. Why would you want to hang around someone who, at your deepest level, you don’t like or feel comfortable with?

This is also true of the people who mess with you, purposely scare you, or aren’t willing to support you during a trip. Run and hide from those people, even if they’re your “best friends.” Your true best friends are the ones who treat you with kindness, care, and respect at all times, but especially during a psychedelic trip. When you’re tripping around someone who freaks you out, the best thing you can do is call someone else to come get you. The bad trip will likely persist until you get away from them.

Understand a bad trip: dosage and other substances

When you take psychedelics, you should take a comfortable dose. Also, you should not mix psychedelics with other substances nor boost your psychedelic dose. Many people take way too much of a certain psychedelic or boost their dose multiple times and then proceed to smoke weed or take ecstasy, etc. on top of the psychedelic. This is asking for trouble, because things can get out of hand extremely quickly.

Ask yourself: what’s the point of taking a heroic dose? To feel extremely fucked up? To seem epic or outlandish to your friends? To push yourself to the edge? To have an intense mystical experience? Often, taking a heroic dose is self-destructive and not at all necessary. If you’re looking for an intense mystical or spiritual experience, it’s best to work yourself up. Taking 10 hits of acid early on in your psychedelic life is just not a good idea. You’ll have no way of knowing what you’re getting into. Start small and perhaps increase your dosage a little bit each time you trip.

When taking psychedelics, don’t rely on other people to tell you what to take or how much to take. Do your own research. I can’t stress this enough. Everyone reacts to substances differently, and you need to look out for your own self and psyche. Your friend may need 250µg of LSD to have an intense experience, but you may only need 50µg. Start off lighter rather than heavier in order to learn how your body and mind react. Also, just don’t boost. Boosting is an easy way to spark a bad trip by taking more than you realize or can handle. If you don’t seem to be coming up soon or intensely enough for your preferences, just wait until next time. Life is long, and you’ll have another chance.

Please refer to Erowid’s dosing guide for more information on dosage.

Understand a bad trip: trip experiences

There are a few common trip patterns that cause bad experiences for many people. Feeling like you’re dead, dying, or going to die is certainly the most common one. I have an entire post dedicated to fear of death caused by psychedelics. In short, this is the psychedelic substance trying to show you that your consciousness does not stop at death. Many of us are not used to confronting ideas about death when we take psychedelics, so the thought of dying becomes terrifying. Before you go into a trip, it’s extremely important to thoroughly understand what risks are involved – for example, LSD is just not going to kill you. It will very often make you feel like you’re going to die, but you won’t actually.

If you felt like you were going to die during a trip, you probably got extremely scared and tried to resist it. Perhaps you even called 911. Resisting is the worst thing to do. It will usually cause you to spiral into a terrible trip. Know that the best thing you could’ve done – and the best thing you can do right now – is to make peace with the idea of death. Know that death is not the end of your existence or consciousness. It’s simply a birth into the next stage of your existence as a spirit.

Some other common experience that can provoke a bad trip is feeling like you’re out of control or can’t control your thoughts, experiencing unwanted telepathy, getting out of your body, or switching bodies with someone else. Like the feeling of imminent death, this is the psychedelic substance’s way of showing you that your consciousness is more than your physical existence. I truly believe that psychedelics are the best teachers we could ever ask for, but they’re not easy. If you had one of these types of experiences, know that it wasn’t some evil trick. It was a cosmic lesson that you were resisting. The best thing you can do now is to (while sober) try to learn the lesson that psychedelics were trying to teach you.

Understand a bad trip: leading into it

As I mentioned earlier, “set and setting” are the two of the most important factors for having a good experience, according to classic guides on taking psychedelics. Set refers to your mindset or where you are mentally when you go into a trip. When you take a psychedelic for the first time, you should be calm, relaxed, and willing. If you’re scared, anxious, depressed, overly hyped up, or worried about a bad trip, it’s probably best not to take the substance at that time. These types of attitudes can readily bring on a bad trip. It’s also very important to thoroughly research the substance before taking it. It’s easy to get lax about doing that, which can lead to a bad experience because you didn’t know quite what to expect. Personally, I feel that if I had done thorough research before my worst trip, it probably wouldn’t’ve been bad at all. All of my previous trips had been blissful and easy-breezy. No one ever sat me down and told me “You will feel like you’re definitely going to die, but you won’t,” nor did I do my own research. This isn’t someone else’s responsibility to tell you. Researching your substances is your responsibility.

Second, it’s important to consider your psychedelic lifestyle leading into a trip. It’s not a good idea to repeatedly take psychedelics for the purpose of having fun or getting a joyride. Many people do this. Many people convince themselves that they’re not doing this. Inevitably, if you use psychedelics like “drugs” that allow you to escape reality, you will likely end up having a terrifying or uncomfortable trip. You always get the trip you need, even if it’s not the trip you want. I call these unpleasant trips a “slap in the face.” They force you to confront yourself and the errors in your behavior.

Was there ever a time when your parents punished you or refused to let you do something in a way that made you so angry at the time? Now that you’re older, though, do you see how that bit of strictness was actually beneficial to you? I hope to help you get away from being angry at psychedelics and towards seeing how they were truly trying to help you.

Ideal situations leading up to a trip

Ideally, you should take psychedelics to expand your consciousness. To learn something about life or the universe. To get in touch with your true self or the Divine. To spark your creativity. Taking psychedelics for fun or to “trip balls” or because your friends are doing it is asking for a bad time.

Ideally, you should take psychedelics no more than once every six months. That probably sounds insane, but I’ve talked about this in a few other posts:

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. It’s highly unlikely that you’re taking time to truly understand what you experienced. Without fully realizing it, you may be using your brain as sort of an amusement park. 

This amusement park mentality is common, especially in college situations. Unfortunately, it’s a lot like walking over the ocean on a tightrope when you could be walking on a bridge. Even though psychedelics offer wonderful experiences that are so much more interesting than daily life, you have to avoid overusing them. You can read more about this here.

Understand a bad trip: lifestyle and choices

This is probably the most difficult (but important) part of a trip to confront. Psychedelics often force us to confront the darker parts of ourselves. They show us where we’re going wrong. If you took psychedelics under the “perfect” circumstances and still had a bad experience, this is where you should focus. In order to understand a bad trip, you have to look deeply into yourself.

The best thing you can do is really take an inventory of where you are right now in life from all perspectives. It’s all about taking that good, hard look in the mirror and not shying away from what you see. Most of us live our lives in ignorance of who we really are, what we really feel, and what we really want. When I use the word “ignorance,” I’m not talking about being stupid. If you take a look at how the word is spelled, you’ll see the word “ignore” inside of it (minus the e). What I mean is that we have gotten so numb to our true selves that we live our lives in a state of ignoring our true selves.

The questionnaire asks a variety of questions that can help you identify how out of touch you are with your true self. Here are some examples:

  • Do you feel like you had been ignoring/running away from problems in your life?
  • At the time of the trip, were you happy with who you were? Did you like who you had become?
  • Do you feel like you had/have a dark past or skeletons in your closet?
  • Were you in the habit of changing your mind frequently or having a hard time staying the course with things you started?
  • Were you in the habit of doing what other people wanted you to do more than what you wanted to do?

I believe that this is one of the most beautiful things a trip can do: make you confront yourself. Often, this isn’t a fun or pleasant thing to do. It’s a long, difficult journey that will lead you to a place of true happiness and fulfillment. No purely pleasant thing has the power to do that. If you’ve had a bad trip, it’s time to start confronting those skeletons in the closet and healing from them. Part of this may involve dealing with repressed trauma, as was the case for me. I’ve got a full post dedicated to healing from trauma.

Understand a bad trip: how to use this post

Taking a psychedelic trip largely means taking a trip into the subconscious mind, which is devoid of logic. The subconscious mind is a place of raw intuition. The conscious mind is what infuses that intuition with logic and allows us to function in daily life. The illogical nature of the subconscious mind is part of what makes it so hard to understand a bad trip. While having an intuitive experience is beautiful and powerful, it won’t help you here in the 3rd dimension unless you can logically process and understand it. That’s the goal of this post: to help you infuse logic into the situation so that it’s easier to understand a bad trip. By doing this, you’ll help the memory of the trip to become less haunting and confusing. AND you’ll start to heal from the terrifying experience while integrating its lessons into your daily life.

Use this post as a starting point when you’re trying to understand a bad trip. Make a copy of the Google Doc I provided and fill it out for yourself. You can also take a look at the version of the questionnaire that I completed to get a better understanding of how it can be used.

Remember that there are no “bad trips,” only difficult lessons. That statement is coming from someone whose entire life was turned upside down for years by a bad trip and the resulting panic attacks. You will get through this.