How to understand a bad psychedelic trip

Truly understanding what happened to you during a bad trip can take a lifetime, but beginning the process of analysis, processing, and understanding is one of the best things you can do to demystify the experience and make it less hauntingly frightening. What you experienced was a journey through subconscious landscapes where nothing is masked or covered up and nothing is logically founded. Logical reasoning and masking things (aka lying to yourself) is a skill unique to the prefrontal cortex of the conscious mind, a structure of the brain that is indispensable in daily life. Because your trip was so subconscious, trying to make sense of it as it happened is going to be very difficult, but you can make a lot of headway by employing your more logical, rational conscious mind in the process.

Step #1 (or better yet, #0) when dealing with a bad trip is to write down everything you can remember about the experience. Make sure to write down the substance, whether it acid, mushrooms, DMT, or something else, and the dosage. No matter how long it takes, no matter how much may dislike writing, no matter how painful it is to recall, you must get this experience out of your head and onto paper.

If you’ve ever had to hold onto a dark secret or unjust experience, you’ll remember the relief you felt when you were finally able to tell someone you trusted – this is no different. Translating this from a purely mental experience to one that exists concretely on paper is the first step to bringing things back into balance between the subconscious and conscious minds. Once you’ve gotten things written out, you can begin analyzing the experience. It’s no help to do this process in your head.

The purpose of this article is to show you one way of analyzing a trip, which is definitely not the only way. I’ve pasted excerpts of the writing that I did about a very bad trip of my own as quotes, and below each quote I’ve analyzed the experience as well as provided some things to consider about your own trip. You trip will likely be very different than mine because each trip is unique to the person, mindset, setting, substance, dosage, and so many other factors. This is merely to serve as a guide and starting point in order to help you think about how to analyze your trip.

Processing and understanding a psychedelic experience

Trip details: LSD and 4aco DMT, exact dosage unknown. Tripping in my apartment with my then-boyfriend (referred to as “he”), beginning at around 5pm and lasting until daybreak.

In previous trips, I would occasionally test my mental faculties by trying to remember my birthday. Most of the time, I knew that I knew what it was, but I just didn’t care to remember. In the beginning of this trip, though, I couldn’t hold onto any thoughts at all. It was like the entire contents of my brain and memory had been dumped out as movie stills and put in a blender.

Thoughts and images were whirling past me like colorful confetti, there one second and gone the next. I tried to catch one, to think of something, to remember my birthday, but I couldn’t. It seems that the only thought that I could hold onto was the fact that I couldn’t hold onto any thoughts. I got scared. Would I ever get back to normal? What was happening to me? Was I going insane?I tried to catch the flurries of brain-matter as it whirled by me, but to with no success. It was like my hard drive was being corrupted or wiped…

What is described above is part of ego death – when psychedelics cause our body-specific identities to dissolve for the course of the trip. This is part of the great lesson of psychedelics: you are an unending, unchanging, eternal consciousness that is not limited to this life, this body, this identity which you are now in. Previously, I had attempted to hold onto a part of my identity – my birthday – as a way to keep myself “grounded.” What I really should’ve worked on grounding myself in the feeling of my true, eternal consciousness, which is the only true “ground” or foundation we really have. By holding onto this life’s birthday (a tiny, insignificant datum), I was resisting this ultimate lesson. I resisted it and resisted it, until I got a big slap in the face.

In this experience, my eternal consciousness watched as everything about my little Earth identity was flashed before me as expendable stills in a movie, whirling together until they meant nothing. As I realized that I could no longer hold onto that “foundation” of an identity, I became terrified. But there was one thing I didn’t realize: if I truly couldn’t hold onto the thoughts, how was I understanding what was going on?

What I didn’t realize is that I was in the true “Me,” my eternal consciousness, but still attached to my Earthly existence and notion of myself. If I had stopped trying to exert control over the situation for one moment, I might’ve realized this. If I had stopped being so afraid, I would’ve realized where I was and finally learned the lesson. Your consciousness goes so far beyond your Earthly conception of yourself. Your consciousness is what you truly are. Your consciousness does not stop at death. Your consciousness is eternal.

Things to consider 

  • Did your trip “ask” you to let go of your earthly identity in a way that made you uncomfortable or scared?
  • Was there a point in which you tried unsuccessfully to exert control over the experience?
  • Looking back, was there a time when you were embodying your true, eternal consciousness without realizing it?
  • Was there a time when you were “watching” as things happened to your earthly identity?

I was in a colorful, living landscape of blue and orange jewel tones. He was there too, wearing a wizard’s robe that had images of stars and planets and morphed into the ground he was standing on. A link was formed between us, and he began to transmit some kind of ancient and esoteric information that fascinated me. I felt as though I was being given special knowledge that the living aren’t supposed to consciously know, and I was excited but scared.

A common reaction to thoughts you may have during a psychedelic experience is to see them as incredibly profound during the trip yet be unable to remember them afterwards. This also occurs in dreams – in fact, it happened to me just last night. I remember having a dream in which I was learning about the profound factors in my grandmothers life which caused her to be the way she is, yet I can’t remember hardly any of the things I learned. Is this profound information, learned in trips and dreams, lost to us in waking reality?

Not at all. Trips and dreams are similar in that they are subconscious experiences, and the subconscious mind knows all things deep and profound. In these experiences, we see blips of our true scope of knowledge and capacity for learning, and we want to hold onto it for dear life because it all is so profound. But, while we get access to this vast source of knowledge in moments of intuition, but it’s not knowledge that is meant to be consciously known. It serves as fuel for our emotions, but to know the entire contents of the subconscious would make functioning in normal life near impossible.

Things to consider

  • Was there a point in your trip that alarmed you because of the deep, profound nature of what you were experiencing?
  • Were you afraid because you felt that you were seeing things you shouldn’t see or learning things you shouldn’t know?
  • Did the knowledge you seemed to gain make you feel as though there was no way back to normal existence?

After the transmission, I was standing at a marriage altar of sorts with him. He produced a magic bouquet out of thin air and gave it to me. I realized that this was a binding ceremony, and thoughts of fear rushed in – I didn’t want the ceremony. He instantly knew. In the trip, he tried to convince me, producing a home and lawnmower out of nowhere. It felt like he was trying to show me that we could have a white-picket-fence life together, but it was strange. I didn’t want him as my husband or partner. I said no no no no…

Outside of our heads, the dynamic changed. The problem with having the minds so open is that it seems like I couldn’t hold back a thought that popped into my head. He was different, now that I think about it: I didn’t know everything that was happening in his head, and I don’t really know if he knew everything that happened in mine. I definitely wasn’t able to hold back my reaction to the ceremony.

Things went cold and he shrank away from me, feeling rejected. He said he’d better leave and go back to his place, but I wouldn’t let him because he was so high. It was odd at this point because the cat was out of the bag – I didn’t want him in that way, and now it felt like we were just two people, unknown to each other, who were stuck together in this strange experience. I didn’t know him anymore, and that was all the more alarming and upsetting to me.

When taking psychedelics at the same time as someone else (especially a significant other), things can go wrong. It’s possible that what happens during the trip will change your relationship forever because it removes the masks you wear. Psychedelics strip away personality, attitude, and behavior, allowing you to see the raw reality of a person. Sometimes, you may not like what you see. In this case, it appears that my then-boyfriend’s feelings for me were much different than my feelings for him, and neither of us could really hide how we felt or reassure the other one during this experience. It was raw, real, confusing, upsetting, hurtful.

This is another example of what I refer to as a slap in the face. When you ignore or cover up something in real life for much longer than you should, psychedelics will definitely force you to take a good, hard look at it. They make appear to take you out of reality for a number of hours, but they definitely won’t let you shrink away from it. When a psychedelic experience does this, the result is often unpleasant, but it is exactly what you need. Regardless of how upsetting it was to feel like total strangers during the trip, it was exactly what I needed to be forced to look at. I didn’t really know that person on an intimate level like I thought I did, and I wasn’t interested in making a longterm commitment to him. We were both better off moving on.

Things to consider

  • Did your psychedelic experience show you something about yourself, your life, or another person that you had been avoiding thinking about, ignoring, or pretending not to see?
  • Were you forced to take a good, hard look in the mirror and upset by what you saw?
  • Did you have less self-knowledge going into the trip than you probably should’ve?
  • Were you hoping for a beautiful, exciting experience but instead got a raw, uncomfortably real one?
  • Were you tripping with a person you thought you knew, only to realize that you didn’t really know them at all?

I became psychotically afraid that he was going to kill me, because I was convinced that I couldn’t go back to reality knowing that telepathy was possible and knowing all that ancient knowledge that was given to me. I became convinced that I had heard of this happening – people would give their significant others drugs that would allow them to get married in the 4th dimension or something, and then you would be stuck together for eternity in this odd sort of artificial higher dimensional limbo place made of strange colors and shapes where you could telepathically communicate.

I didn’t want that. I was so afraid, because I thought the only thing left was for him to actually kill us so that we would go to that place fully. I was so scared. I wanted to talk to my mom, because I couldn’t imagine the pain of her finding me dead with some stupid guy in my apartment. He wouldn’t let me, which made things worse, but it was probably the right thing because I probably would’ve said something strange or alarming to her. I wanted to go outside, to know that I wasn’t trapped, waiting to die. He wouldn’t let me, and that made me even more scared, but looking back that was the right thing because I probably would’ve bolted the second we got outside.

To this day, I’m not sure where I got the idea that this was something that happened to people, but it was an unshakable fear. In one way, I was realizing how much I didn’t want to be with this person – the thought of spending eternity alone with him was horrifying. I think that our true selves get fed up with our egocentric selves living inauthentically and in denial of things we know to be true, so when they get center stage, they let us have a “piece of their mind.” In another way, this was a lesson in not being attached to our earthly lives and not being afraid of death. When I felt the fear of death, I went straight back to my child self and wanted the comfort of my mother, rather than turning to the only true comfort – our divine creator. If you are going to die, no one on earth will be able to save you. Doctors, mothers, priests, etc. will all be powerless against the hand of the divine, the origin of your soul. The only true comfort you will be able to find is in the arms of your soul’s creator – that is ultimate peace and comfort.

Another lesson in this is that the consciousness or soul cannot be trapped somewhere, unless you allow that to happen. No one can come and take your consciousness to cosmic jail and force it to stay there – your true self is eternal, nonphysical, everywhere and nowhere all at once, unchanging, and inextricably connected to the creator. The idea of being trapped or imprisoned is a largely physical idea, and while you can be trapped in a state of mind, it is truly only because you allow yourself to be trapped.

Things to consider

  • Was there a point in your trip when you developed a strange rationalization for what was happening, which upset you even more?
  • Is there a place in your life where you are holding onto inauthentic habits or beliefs that stem from a being in denial about something? Did these things come out of hiding during the trip in a way that was upsetting?
  • Was there a time when you gave away your own power, allowing yourself to be trapped somewhere or in some state of consciousness?

I could never shake the feeling that I was ultimately going to die. The best thing he did for me was to play the Sgt. Pepper Beatles album. It was so familiar and comforting, and it was something I could hold onto. But at the same time, he started touching me to the rhythms of the music, and I became convinced that the Beatles had encoded a secret technique for programming people within the rhythms of their songs. I thought he was using these rhythms to, again, make some sort of contract with my soul, especially because he was doing these rhythms with his knuckles along my spine.

He was trying to get me to calm down and be less anxious. He told me “Don’t you want to explore your mind? Don’t you want to be creative and brave and see the psychedelic world? Or do you want to be just an idiot who doesn’t know any of this and lives life in ignorance?”

As he said these things, I saw myself become the shell of a person with a few attributes now made meaningless and empty. I was so afraid of that becoming my reality, and I felt like the “codes” he was putting into my spine had the power to make it so. I begged and pleaded that no, I wanted to explore and be brave and creative and spiritual. I believe what I was being shown is what life would be like without a divine spark and soul, what it would be like to be a lifeless character.

Music is a dynamic, complex art form, and different vibrations, meanings, and energies can certainly be written into the rhythms and melodies. While it is possible that the Beatles wrote Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band as a manual for people under the influence of LSD, there is not necessarily a way to confirm this. What is more important here is that I did not realize that any kind of rituals or soul contracts he could’ve tried to perform would’ve been powerless without my consent. Looking back, it is sad to see that I believed he had the power to take away my divine spark, because no one has the power to do that to you. No one has the power to enter into a contract with your soul unless you consent to it, and I wasn’t aware of my own power in the situation.

A beautiful part of the trip is that, in that moment, I did get to experience what it would be like to be without a divine spark – a lifeless, meaningless shell that is given basic attributes incapable of evolving into anything more, like a character in a book or movie. In a strange way, I was being shown all that the divine spark (or soul) gives us, and how it makes us different from a character or how it would be if all that we were was our Earth identity. This is another wonderful lesson in the nature of consciousness, which I sort of learned despite being filled with fear.

Things to consider

  • Was there a point in your trip when were scared because you thought you had no ability to protect yourself or your soul?
  • Did you believe that someone around you had power over you, not realizing that the only way they can have that is if you give it to them?
  • Did the music or the actions of those you were tripping with upset you more?
  • Was there a lesson in the nature of consciousness that was so upsetting you didn’t realize it was a beautiful, profound lesson?


As I said before, this is simply a starting point, written to help you begin the process of understanding and incorporating your difficult trip into your life. There is no one way to process the events of a trip, you must simply begin to try. The best advice I can offer is to think of your trip as blessing and a serious of difficult lessons from a no-nonsense teacher from a different planet, who isn’t well versed in the niceties of life on Earth. Having this attitude will open you up to the vast possibilities for healing and help prevent you from wandering in a desert of bitterness, regret, anxiety, and sadness.

If you aren’t able to make sense of everything about your trip when you begin, don’t worry. Psychedelic experiences are so complex, profound, and life-changing that it may take years or even your whole life to fully understand. While I’ve written a basic analysis of many parts of the bad trip above, there are so many more levels to what happened that I haven’t touched on and don’t even see yet.

In 20 years, I may have a new insight that changes everything, but for now, I must trust my judgement. You must do the same. Part of this should be an experiment in beginning to rely on yourself, your own inner voice, and your own understanding of the world. Try to see beyond simply what I have written, and instead take a penetrating look into the depths of what you experienced. Only you can truly know what happened and why.

I would suggest that you write your trip and you do your analysis all in one dedicated notebook or document that you can come back to again and again until you feel completely at peace with the experience. The more you can add and write, the more you will see the full picture. I know that this may be a difficult, painful, and time-consuming process, but you are worth it. Once you start to process this stuff, you will gain wisdom and understanding that you never even considered. You will become an even better version of yourself than you thought possible.

Hope this helps,