Having a difficult, negative, or scary experience with psychedelics can leave you with so many lingering questions: Why do bad trips happen? Why did I have a bad experience, when everyone else I was tripping with was having a great experience? Is there something wrong with me?
The answer is no, there is nothing wrong with you. You’re going to be just fine, because what you’re going through is normal.
The pursuit of higher consciousness
For thousands of years, people have been using various methods to bring about altered states of consciousness that allow us to access aspects of ourselves, spirituality, God, and connectedness with all beings that we aren’t normally able to access in our waking consciousness. Humans are always seeking to understand things like, “who am I” and “where did I come from.” That is a totally normal and beautiful pursuit for understanding.
Some of these methods include yoga, meditation, prayer, fasting, and psychedelic substances. The difference between psychedelics and all other routes to achieving this state is that the other routes take hours and hours of dedication, devotion, study, and discipline to achieve the same thing that psychedelics allow us to effortlessly access. Sounds great, right? An issue can arise because, through all those countless hours of discipline and dedication, you are training yourself to be able to handle the experience.
Why do bad trips happen? Lack of preparation
Think of two people who want to run a marathon. One trains every single day for several years in order to finally achieve his goal of running about 26 miles, a feat that few people achieve. After all that training, he’s an experienced runner who knows exactly what to expect from so much running, how it affects his body, and how it affects his mind. The other person does no training, and on the day of the marathon, he takes a magic pill that allows him to physically run 26 miles. While his legs are running, other parts of his body may start to act strangely, because they’re not use to running. Afterwards, he may have to spend days in bed recovering physically and mentally, because he was not prepared in any way for such an intense experience. There is value in taking the long road and preparing.
If you a scary or negative trip, it’s because you were not prepared to deal with what you experienced. That does not make you bad or worse than other people who may have taken acid at the same time as you, in the same place as you, and with the same dose as you.
Many people experience a trip in which their friends are having a great time, and their cowering in a corner and terrified out of their minds – it is very common, and it doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with you at all. So, why do bad trips happen?
A problem that arises with psychedelics is that people treat them as a fun social activity even though they are intensely powerful substances that help you to commune with your subconscious mind and, if you will, your soul or spirituality. Everyone reacts to that differently. It’s important to remember that psychedelics can be your best teacher, but sometimes you are not consciously ready to hear what they have to say – kind of like how your parents might’ve lectured you and you didn’t really want to hear it.
If you had a “bad” trip, the first thing is to stop thinking of it as a bad trip and start thinking of it as a blessing or a difficult lesson or a transformative experience. I know that can be difficult because these trips can be truly traumatizing and terrifying and leave us scarred for years – believe me, I’ve been there – but to change the way the experience affects you, you must change the way you think about it.
Why do bad trips happen? Too much or mixing substances
When you take a psychedelic, don’t take other substances at the same time. Just don’t. When you take something like LSD and then add something even as simple and “harmless” as weed, things can quickly get out of hand. Typically, people see weed and psychedelics as a good pair, but I would highly recommend having a clean experience with psychedelics. Especially if it’s your first time. Just because psychedelics mixed with other substances works well for other people doesn’t mean it will work well for you.
Second, don’t take a lot or up your dosage because “it seems like nothing is happening.” Taking a heroic dose (i.e. a massive dose) is unnecessary unless you’re extremely experienced with psychedelics and have a real, spiritual reason for doing so. Even if you have some experience with psychedelics, it’s important to ask yourself why you want to take a heroic dose. It’s most likely that you’re looking to show out or experience something “epic,” which is a big mistake. Using psychedelics in this way will often lead to a terrible trip.
As a rule of thumb, stick with an average dose, especially for your first time. Here’s a link to Erowid’s dosage page.
Additionally, I advise against boosting doses (i.e. taking more of a particular substance if the original dose doesn’t seem to be kicking in). This is a very common element of bad trips. If you aren’t getting the results you want from a particular substance within the time you think it should take, just wait til next time to take more. Everyone reacts to different dosages and substances differently. Everyone takes a different amount of time to come up. It’s better safe than sorry, and you’ll always have another opportunity to experience the substance.
Why do bad trips happen? Fear of death
One of the most common experiences you can have during a trip is the feeling that you’re going to die. I really believe that not being afraid of death is one of the most important lessons psychedelics have to teach us. If you feel or felt very afraid of dying, realize that it’s extremely common to feel this way. You are not actually going to die. Many people get the “I’m about to die
Second, start to try to understand why you were so afraid of dying. Is it because you feel like you’re wasting your life? Or because you’ve been living wrong? Or you’re not comfortable with your ideas about the afterlife? Examine that and start to do some work on death and your views of it.
Why do bad trips happen? Trying to stay in control
Perhaps strange things were happening or strange thoughts were occurring to you, and you tried to force or direct them. Maybe thoughts, images, and memories were flowing past you at light speed, you tried to stop them or hold onto thoughts, and your inability to do so made you panic, wondering if you were going crazy or ruining your mind. Maybe the walls were breathing or your arm appeared to be melting, and you tried to make it stop but couldn’t.
Psychedelics often help us learn the lesson of letting go, experiencing the moment, and being okay with not being in control, and so when you try to exert control during the trip, things can go downhill quickly. Take it as an opportunity to look at your need to feel in control and how it’s affecting other areas of your life – chances are, things would get a lot better if you worried less about being in control.
Why do bad trips happen? Tripping with the wrong people
A possible cause is that the people you were tripping with are not good influences on your life, and your subconscious mind was trying to show you this. I’ve also experienced this. This could show up as feeling very uncomfortable, wanting to leave, feeling like a certain person is going to kill you or that they have it out for you, or feeling like something is wrong with them. This is also great news. It’s time to seriously consider how that person is truly affecting you. When you do psychedelics with someone, it’s your subconscious and their subconscious together, and that’s the deepest way you can know someone. If you don’t jive with them, on psychedelics, even if you like them in normal life, what that means is that you don’t jive with who they truly are at their core.
Why do bad trips happen? Ignoring red flags in life
Are there general red flags about your life decisions that you’re ignoring for some reason? Are you in the wrong career? Are you in the wrong place? Are you not treating someone right? Are you compromising your true values and ignoring your true dreams? If communing with your subconscious scares you and feels unfamiliar to you, there’s a chance that you’re seriously going against what you know is right, what you really believe in, what you really want out of life, and who you truly are at your core. Your subconscious, true self was jumping up and down, waving in your face, screaming, “I’m here!!! Remember me? Don’t forget about me, or I’ll make you remember!!”
In this case, start by taking an inventory of your life, your jobs, your relationships, your major decisions, your financial situation, and ask, “Did I go wrong somewhere?” Make a list of the things you loved to do as a child, before you were as programmed by society; did you completely shift away from who you were then? Try to incorporate things you loved to do as a child into your life now, and be prepared to make some changes that lead you towards living a life more authentic to who you really are.
Why do bad trips happen? Past trauma
There may be some hidden trauma deep in your past that is weighing on you subconsciously, even though you may not realize it consciously. In the trip, it comes out. This was the case for me. Think of your conscious mind as a house and your subconscious as the plumbing and electrical work. Somewhere, in one of those pipes, there may be a poison gas, although you never feel the consequences because the pipe is sealed.
Your scary psychedelic experience may have been, metaphorically, the pipe busting, and now it’s seeping gas into your living environment and wreaking havoc on your life. In the trip itself, you may have experienced general terror, panic afterwards, and the feeling that there is a “before you” and an “after you.” In this case, I’m so glad that you had that experience, because you now have the opportunity to locate the leaking poison pipe and remove it from your life.
These are just a few of the possible reasons why you may have experienced a difficult trip, but there are a million reasons, and each one is unique to the individual who experienced it. The universal idea in all these experiences, though, is that your subconscious, true self is trying to communicate something very important to you, which you’ve probably been ignoring for a long time. It’s time to listen.