Photo credit: Nanihta.
The ground is unsteady, the world is turning, and something seems horribly off. The regret and dread of a bad trip seeps through the body and it feels as if there’s no way out.
For Bernardo Verdiguel-Gillet, an experienced psychedelic user, a recent bad trip proved traumatic.
Verdiguel-Gillet started taking LSD when he was in high school and has experimented with micro and full doses of mushrooms, cannabis, and MDMA. He believes that he has experienced the best emotions of his life while high on these substances.
“I always feel an afterglow after [a high],” he said. “I feel more grounded, and it helps me realize, even if just for a little bit, that the things that I’m worrying about aren’t that serious, and that I’m okay. Life is okay, and I’m going to get through just fine.”
Verdiguel-Gillet described his experiences as “beautiful and wonderful.” But despite his positive experiences, his most recent trip was not what he expected.
He was on a cabin trip in the mountains with his closest friends and girlfriend, and was surrounded by people he loved and trusted, and decided to take some LSD.
He said that he had the best day in the fresh air and laughed as hard as he ever had in his life.
“We laughed about the dumbest things like how weird the word “bonus” was, but it was just so nice, all of us together,” he explained.
Verdiguel-Gillet on a hike with two roommates during his trip. Photo courtesy of Verdiguel-Gillet.
The Beginnings of a bad Trip
Later on in the day, Verdiguel-Gillet and his group headed back to their cabin. However, more people that he did not know had arrived. He started to feel nervous as he was not always comfortable socializing with new people. As the evening went on, he felt more emotionally distant from his group. They made attempts to include him, but something made him feel as if he did not belong.
“I felt incredibly cold and empty, and I didn’t know how to communicate with my girlfriend because she was having such a good time and I didn’t want to bring her down,” he explained, “I just didn’t know what to do, I’d never felt like this before. I felt like I was never going to feel a good emotion again.”
Verdiguel-Gillet tried to compose himself by taking some time alone in his room. But, he found that made his despair worse. Eventually, his girlfriend came to check on him. Alone with her, he was finally able to communicate how he felt, and she helped him through his negative feelings.
“I feel like my girlfriend saved my life. She was so supportive and loving and it was everything I needed,” he said.
Verdiguel-Gillet still has a positive association with psychedelics. But he describes his bad trip as incredibly traumatic. He has found that talking about it has helped him heal from it and did not want his experience to discourage people from trying them.
What can Cause a bad Trip?
Bad trips can have serious effects on one’s mental health and well-being. They can come as a result of substances ranging from cannabis, to MDMA to LSD, magic mushrooms, and more.
According to Forbes, more and more people are self-medicating with psychedelics, in part because psychedelic-assisted therapy is still incredibly expensive. While many have safe, powerful experiences outside of therapy centers, it’s important to now the risks, dosage and benefits of a trip.
Several factors can lead to a bad experience under the influence of psychedelics. According to a survey in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, there are a handful of circumstances that can make someone more prone to having a bad trip. Some of these are:
- Mixing with alcohol or other substances
- Lack of physical comfort or social support
- High dosage
- Usually one is able to tell if they’re not okay. But if someone starts experiencing extreme paranoia, mood swings, or negative hallucinations, they might be having a bad trip.
Fortunately, there are resources for those who are about to start their journey, or in the midst of one already.
Emerald decided to deep dive into resources that help prevent bad trips or get through an active one. These resources are particularly useful for those who are anxious about their first trip; those looking for help during a bad trip; or to aid in healing post-trip.
Tips to Prevent a Bad Trip
The Zendo Project is an organization made up of scientists whose mission is to “provide professional comprehensive harm reduction education and support communities to help inform and transform difficult psychedelic experiences into opportunities for learning and growth,” according to their website.
- Safe space: stay hydrated, warm, and calm. Keep to quiet spaces and avoid loud or crowded areas. In order to protect one’s mental wellbeing, Zendo suggests taking care of one’s physical well-being by being comfortable.
- Sitting, not guiding: let the experiences occur as they come; don’t try to get ahead of the experience, and act preemptively. The surroundings should feel safe and secure, and there should be trust between all individuals present. Zendo also stresses peace and compassion while one takes psychedelics.
- Talk through, not down: while tripping, talk through the sensations or feelings arising instead of resisting them or trying to distract from it.
- Difficult is not bad: discomfort is common while tripping. However, this is where growth can happen. Do not be alarmed by new experiences or feelings, learn from them and approach the situation with an open, curious mind. Even Verdiguel-Gillet noted that “it is not bad to feel uncomfortable because that feeling has led to some powerful realizations.”
These tips can help keep a conscious and calm mind so an overwhelming feeling can be appreciated instead of fear-inducing.
When looking at the factors that led to Verdiguel-Gillet’s negative experience (he was alone, with new and unfamiliar people), it makes sense why The Zendo Project’s tips are helpful.
Aside from Zendo’s tips, many experts recommend that those who are about to trip have a trip sitter nearby.
Trip Sitting is a common term used for a sober person who keeps someone on a trip company. They can help guide them through the trip and reassure the person that they are not alone.
If someone is not around people they know, a bad trip can be difficult to get through.
But, if having a trip sitter is not feasible, or something unexpected happens, there is another extremely useful resource that aids those on trips: The Fireside Project.
Fireside Project’s got Your Back
The Fireside Project, a volunteer and research organization, is a peer helpline that helps guide people through their trips. Their phone lines, which are available to anyone having a psychedelic experience, are open from 3 p.m.- 3 a.m. PST. Trippers can call or text 62-Fireside. Volunteers are there to offer comfort, support, and advice to deescalate a bad situation.
They also fund research on psychedelics and work to educate the public without bias. The peer helpline is primarily there to “minimize the risks and fulfill the potential of [people’s] psychedelic experiences,” according to their mission statement.
The California-based organization also has an app with information and tips on it. The app immediately connects users with volunteers if they are unable to call.
Fasten Your Seatbelt, sit Back and Relax
The Zendo Project and The Fireside Project are just some of the great resources available to use when nervous about a trip or in the midst of one. Having a trip sitter, being comfortable, staying hydrated and with kind and supportive people may lead to more beautiful experiences and personal growth.
Verdiguel-Gillet still has faith in psychedelics and would advise people anxious about experimenting to, “know yourself, know your comforts, your limits. Know what you need to feel good, and know what makes you feel bad.”
These support systems are important to a safe and fun trip. Similar to precautions taken when flying, it is essential to take care of one’s mental and physical well-being. Before a vacation, people make lists, book flights, pack their bags and plan ahead. The same system can be applied to trying psychedelics, plan ahead and embrace the spirit of a new adventure.