How to Manage a Bad Trip on Psychedelics

Here's what to do if you're having a bad trip, and measures to take to prevent one from happening

A psychedelic trip is often portrayed as a colorful, kaleidoscopic journey through wonderland, but they can also be telescopes into the darkest corners of the subconscious mind, and you might not like what you find in there.

If you don’t know what you’re dealing with, you might find yourself trapped in terrifying states of consciousness, and have no idea how to get out. That’s why it’s important to learn how to manage a psychedelic journey, to prevent it from turning into a bad trip.

If you’re familiar with the headspace, you’re probably well aware of the potential for a pleasant trip to turn into a living nightmare. Many people will have a bad trip at some point, especially when they’re unfamiliar with the psychedelic headspace. That’s why it’s important to know what to do, and how to handle one.

What is a bad trip?

Person having a bad trip

A bad trip is when a psychedelic experience takes a dark turn and becomes overwhelming. Considering there’s no off switch to a psychedelic journey, when it becomes too much, people may end up panicking because they don’t know how to make it stop.

So they end up getting caught in a negative spiral while drumming up more fear which becomes a relentless cycle. Your thoughts take a turn for the worst and you start worrying if you’ll ever be normal again.

Since you’re not exactly in the most rational state of mind when tripping on psychedelics, you might believe you’ve gone mad which opens up the floodgates of painful thoughts and feelings.

Although there is no real risk from a bad trip, they can be terrifying to experience. These unpleasant experiences tend to bring up a lot of unresolved issues as you’re trapped with your deepest primal fears and emotions.

What causes a bad trip?

Psychedelics shine a light on the hidden aspects of yourself. If they’re illuminating something that you’re not ready to deal with (fears, traumas, worries) and you become avoidant, this can cause a lot of stress. Since you can’t escape yourself, it feels like you’re backed into a corner and this is where things can become dark.

Psychedelics also exacerbate your current state of mind. Therefore, when you have a lot of negative things happening in your life, trips will inevitably force you to look at these situations.

On the bright side, this is how psychedelics are used as therapies because they force you to confront your darkness. But if you don’t want to confront that darkness, the trip can become a living hell.

Therefore the difference between a bad trip and a therapy comes down to your management of the experience, and how you decide to utilize it.

Can every psychedelic induce a bad trip?

Every psychedelic has the potential to cause a bad trip as there are common themes with every psychedelic. Although a bad trip might manifest in different ways depending on what you’re taking, it’s really your inability to handle the disorienting headspace that causes a bad trip.

The positive side of a bad trip

On the positive side, bad trips can be leveraged for some serious growth. The most inner work happens during the dark side of a trip when you feel like you’re not in control. This is where you do the real shadow work, and heal some of your deepest, core wounds.

This is because you’re forced to deal with all the nasty stuff that’s going through your head. A bad trip dredges up everything wrong with you, and you’re forced to take a long hard look at why you are the way you are. In turn, this allows you to find solutions to your problems, and heal the root cause.

What happens during a bad trip?

Bad trip artwork

It’s hard to say what exactly happens during a bad trip as everyone experiences them differently. The psychedelic experience is very personalized, but there are some common themes.

Often, people experience a sense of being overwhelmed and start to panic when they realize they can’t make it stop. A trip can become too much to handle at times, especially if the person is inexperienced, dealing with a difficult situation in life, or ill-prepared for the mental flight.

As the ego loves to be in control of the situation, this can cause a lot of distress for some people. It’s common to feel like you’re dying, or something has gone wrong which adds to the fear.

Here are some common signs that you’re having a bad trip:

How does a bad trip happen?

A bad trip usually occurs when you have gone deeper into a psychedelic experience than you intended, expected, or prepared for. You can refer to this guide below:

Psychedelics grant access to the deeper levels of your consciousness, and strip away reality in front of your eyes. Needless to say, this can be very disorienting, especially to people who don’t have much experience with altered states of consciousness.

Bad trips are easier to avoid for people who know how to stop resisting. Unlike disciplinary practices like meditation or yoga, psychedelics are very much a jump into the deep-end approach to spirituality.

It can be sink or swim on larger doses. When people can’t stay afloat and don’t know how to surrender to the experience, they get caught in an unpleasant limbo-like state.

Getting caught in the torment loop

Overthinking can also result in the trip turning south. When you get fixated on negative thoughts, it can be difficult to break out of that headspace. It’s not difficult to drum up fear and paranoia during a trip if you’re fixated on something negative.

Incessant thinking about your safety or well-being can also result in a bad trip, as you’re feeding, and believing into these negative thoughts. This creates a torment loop because you’re perpetuating the frightening experience.

Bad trips are also common when you take psychedelics in an unfamiliar setting. It’s important to be in a familiar place with people that you trust when you trip. If you start losing your mind when you’re in a strange place or around people that you don’t know well, this is a recipe for disaster.

If you smoke weed, you might be one of the many people who become anxious when you smoke around people. Now imagine this same phenomenon, but ten times stronger. Psychedelics push you far out of your usual mind and identity, where things can get weird, to say the least. Tripping in a bad set or setting can also lead to overthinking and paranoia, which can quickly onset a bad trip.

How to avoid a bad trip

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Prepare the set and setting

When you’re taking any sort of psychedelic, you want to be in a comfortable setting. If you’re somewhere where you’re not entirely comfortable, or you need to keep your wits about you, you’re setting yourself up for a bad trip.

It’s always best to take psychedelics at home, or in a private location that you’re familiar with. Trip in a safe space where you won’t be disturbed, and you have a comfortable setting to do the inner work. Ceremonies with like-minded people are also a good setting where you have a support network and a trained facilitator.

If you’re taking psychedelics recreationally at a music festival or something of the like, I would be conservative with your approach. Avoid taking any psychedelics if you’re in an uncomfortable setting. Even just being around people at a park can be overwhelming. The last thing you want is to lose your grip on reality when you have nowhere to retreat to.

Be around people you trust

If you’re taking psychedelics with a nonrecreational intent, I would suggest going on the journey alone. The only exception I would make to this is if you’re inexperienced and want someone with you for support.

In this case, make sure you have a deep trust in the person. If it’s someone you don’t know, things can start spiraling out of control very quickly. Your good mate will understand, someone who you don’t know well might not.

If you’re in a group, same thing. I recommend only taking psychedelics around people you know and trust. If there are people in the group who you feel uncomfortable around normally, just imagine how that’s going to feel when you’re balls deep in a trip.

Don't provoke yourself

Avoid exposing yourself to footage or information that is dark, gruesome, or depressing. You want to try to keep the experience clean and surround yourself with things that are calming, not things that will provoke emotions like disgust or worry.

For example, watching a horror movie is probably not a good idea. Exposing yourself to footage of ongoing wars, crime, or drug abuse can make the trip go in a bad direction. If you’re wandering into some mysterious corners of the internet where you’re seeing content that really isn’t pleasant, it can also offset a bad trip.

So keep it light. I suggest staying off the internet and focusing on simple, grounding activities such as meditating, playing music, making art, or sitting in nature. Take it real gentle and be present with the here and now.

Take care of all pressing matters beforehand

As psychedelics dredge up all of your hidden emotions, any pressing matters will create a cesspool of difficult emotions such as stress and worry. Therefore, it’s best to clear your mental slate before embarking on a psychedelic journey.

Something as little as forgetting to message someone you were meant to can turn into a big ordeal.  When you’re in the midst of a trip, it’s easy to overthink everything and jump to the worst-case scenario. 

Now imagine if it’s something that is a bigger deal. Your relationship is on the hinges, you have business to attend to, or there’s some sort of pressing matter that just can’t wait.

You can start spiraling into a bad trip very quickly in an altered state of consciousness, because you’re not in a rational frame of mind to deal with these things. Even if there are no actual consequences, you might think there are when you’re tripping.

So turn off your phone, lock your doors, and make sure nobody is trying to get a hold of you. Think about what could potentially be an issue when you’re tripping, and make sure that any pressing matter is taken care of before taking the psychedelic.

Have everything prepared before your trip

Make sure you’ve got everything set up and ready to go before your trip.

As mentioned before, minor issues can evolve into big problems when you’re in an altered state of consciousness. Sometimes these issues can just be frustrating, othertimes, those issues can cause you to spiral into a bad trip.

Imagine if you’re deep into a psychedelic trip and realize you have no toilet paper. Now, when you’re in a sober, rational state of mind, there could be a simple solution here. When you’re on the brink of reality, it most certainly won’t be a simple solution.

If you don’t have enough warm clothes, it can very much change the trajectory of the experience. Likewise, if you’re out in nature and have no water, it might become a much bigger worry than it needs to be.

Likewise, something as simple as having the speakers connected to your phone and not having to hassle with tedious things can help smooth out the trip a lot. Therefore, it’s best to be prepared for all situations. Make sure that you have things like water, a bed, access to a toilet, earphones, etc. Set it all up before you take any psychedelic.

Set your intentions

I never realized just how important it is to set intentions when taking any form of psychedelic until I started using them as a spiritual tool. Likewise, in every ceremony I’ve participated in, setting intentions is a foundational part of it.

There’s a reason for this.

Your intentions act as your compass while in the depths of your subconscious mind. Without intentions, it’s easy to get lost, disoriented, or freak out.

When you hold your intentions close, a deeper part of you will kick in during those frightening moments. That little voice will tell you ‘I’m here for a reason’, and as a result, you get on with the work that you’re there to do.

Knowing why you’re taking the psychedelic and what you’re looking for out of the experience it’s like a safeguard. When things start to get dark, the intentions that you set beforehand should take over and help you turn the curse into a blessing (because the most growth occurs in the dark scary corners of your subconscious).

Baby steps are a wise option

It’s best to build up your dosage rather than plunge into the deep end, especially if you’re inexperienced with the psychedelic headspace. If you take a conservative dose, you might be a little disappointed that you didn’t go deeper, but it beats the alternative (with a stick!).

I’m a plunger. Throw me into the primal abyss of infinity, and I’ll have a good time. But there have been times when I most certainly regretted it, and that’s with a lot of experience with these substances.

Especially if you’re new to plant medicines, it’s wise to slowly work your way up to bigger doses so you don’t go too much deeper than you anticipated. If you go deeper than you’re expecting and don’t know how to manage those alien states of consciousness, you’re gonna have a bad time.

Go in with a clean bill of health

During my time working at an Ayahuasca center in Ecuador, most of the guests who came through took part in a dieta. A dieta is essentially a very raw, clean diet to purify your vessel which allows the medicine to work with it better.

Although it’s not entirely necessary, you should have a clean body for the psychedelic to work with. Plant medicines interact with all of your bodies, and the physical body is no exception. The trip will also be a lot better if you haven’t been drinking, and if you’re not under the influence of anything else.

A clean body = a clean trip.

An unhealthy body = a dirty trip.

For cleaner, better experiences, your body should as clean of a platform for the medicine to work with. If you are sleep-deprived, have been eating crap, and generally not feeling good, there’s a much higher potential for the trip to be unpleasant.

So let’s recap.

To avoid having a bad trip, you should:

What to do during a bad trip

Person meditating to avoid a bad trip

When a trip starts going in a dark direction, there are some important practices to know. By following the guidelines written below, you will have the knowledge to prevent yourself from slipping into that terrifying rabbit hole called a bad trip.

Here are some tips and tricks for when a trip is getting the best of you.

Declutter

It’s important to declutter by shutting off any external stimuli and sitting with the experience. You want to create a calm mental environment, and the best way to do this is by sitting with your thoughts in silence.

I know, it seems contradictory.

People often put on music, turn on the TV, walk around, and do whatever they can to distract themselves from the negative thoughts and feelings that they’re experiencing. This is not a good approach because it’s essentially glorified escapism.

Therefore, turn off any screens. Turn off any music. Turn off any flashing lights, sound, or whatever is competing for your attention, and just be in silence with the experience. It might be stressful to start with but find that stillness in the middle of the chaos, and you can turn a frightening experience into a blissful one.

Ground Yourself

Once you start having a bad trip, it’s important to ground yourself. That is to anchor yourself to the here and now by doing activities that bring you into your body.

I suggest that you try meditating and going deeper into the uncomfortable feelings. Meditation is probably the best thing you can do when you are feeling overwhelmed because it can help you find a state of emotional osmosis.

Grounding activities such as yoga, stretching, dancing, and singing can also help bring you back to the present. If you can, try sitting in the garden by some nature as nature has a strong calming effect.

Don't fight it

Naturally, the first thing people do when a trip turns bad is try to fight their way out of it. This is the problem. You try to force the trip to come to an end or hold onto reality for your dear life.

Fighting the experience leads to resistance. Resistance leads to pressure. Pressure leads to an implosion. This is where you’ll begin to panic and have a really bad time. Resisting the experience is an ineffective coping mechanism, and just causes more pain in the end.

Letting the trip have its way with you seems counterintuitive, but it’s necessary. Whether you like it or not, the trip is stronger than you. 

So instead of fighting, to the best of your capabilities, just let it happen. Let it hurt, let it suck. Lie down on your bed and do nothing but feel it. Be present with the terrifying experience you’re having, and I can assure you that it will come to an end.

This certainly won’t be easy at the time as your survival instincts will kick into action, but this deeper awareness before going into the trip can help.

Surrender to the experience

When a trip becomes unbearable and you don’t know how to deal with it, surrender to it. If you have taken a very large dose, this will probably happen whether you surrender gracefully, or go out kicking and screaming.

You probably won’t believe it during that time, but a bad trip is a gateway. A bad trip has enormous potential to result in mind-blowing phenomena such as breakthrough trips, ego death, and rebirth. If you’re able to let go of reality, you can have some profound experiences.

But it takes trust, and a whole lot of it.

Despite how much it feels like you’re dying, surrendering to a bad trip is a good thing. So when it gets too much, lie down, do nothing, and allow your identity to disintegrate, knowing that you will be okay.

Focus on your breath

A bad trip can be scary because nothing is consistent anymore, but your breathing always is.

No matter how different everything appears to be, your breath is always a consistent factor, and you can use it to anchor yourself into the present moment.

Focus on your breath and put all of your attention on it. Breathe deeply into your diaphragm, and take slow and controlled breaths. Try to regulate your breathing patterns, as this will reduce the activity in your mind, and bring you back to a present space.

Purge those dense energies

Sometimes when you’re going through it, you just need to let it all out. Vent, scream, cry, pray. Ramble to yourself, blame yourself, blame god. Just get it all out and don’t hold back, it does help.

Therefore, allow yourself to go through the motions and leverage catharsis to help depressurize yourself when you’re having a bad trip. Once you purge all of these painful energies, you will find a stillness afterward.

Realize that it's temporary

Even though you might know that it’s temporary in the back of your mind, during the peak of a bad trip, it certainly doesn’t feel that way. As rational thought goes out the window, you might think you’ve done permanent damage to yourself, gone psychotic, or that you’re stuck in that state forever.

Often, what makes a bad trip so bad is that you think it’s never going to end. Your mind becomes your worst enemy in this case and just makes the issue a whole lot worse.

Therefore, reinforce this idea to yourself that it is temporary, and you just need to wait it out. No matter what happens or how bad it gets, it will come to an end. Nothing lasts forever, and despite how freaked-out you are during the trip, I can assure you that this is no exception.

Reassure yourself

How many times have you been in real trouble and thought you weren’t going to make it? Yet every single time, you’re still here, alive, and well. Well, a bad trip is no different.

Even though it might feel like the end of your journey on this planet, you will always come through to the other side unscathed, if not stronger than you were. But it’s not good enough for me to tell you this. You need to believe it. You need to become your own best friend during a trip and activate the higher self.

It also helps to set your intentions before the trip. Before you go on the trip, reaffirm to yourself that everything will be okay despite how bad it gets. Write it down if you need to. As it’s hard to believe in yourself during a bad psychedelic trip, remembering what you said before the trip can reinstate your confidence, that sober you knows best.

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