Are Bad Trips Just A Myth?
WHEN THINGS GO WRONG…
I once lost my mind while on LSD.
I couldn’t control myself in front of people, and as a result, I said some weird, disturbing things. It turns out people feel uncomfortable when a stranger with buggy, dilated eyes walks up to them and tells them, “I can call my mom whenever I want.”
Saying odd things to strangers was just the start. Later, I approached some picnicking strangers. I sat down next to them and looked deeply into their eyes, saying nothing for a while. Then I asked for their food, which they politely declined. Satisfied, I stood up, and just as I was leaving, grabbed a handful of their salsa and shoved it into my face. I skipped away laughing to myself and heard them cursing me in the distance.
Still, it got worse. After the salsa incident, I walked into a stranger’s back yard. They knew I was tripping and tried to usher me out calmly. But I impishly declined to leave. Eventually, things got physical. As we were shoving each other, the man who lived at the house dropped and broke his phone. He looked down at his phone and then up at me, frustrated and helpless. That, finally, was enough to signal the severity of the situation, so I quickly left.
All of this occurred without my consent. It was as if someone removed my agency, and I could only watch as they took over the controls.
It took a while before I could critically examine and laugh about my trip. At first, I only felt violated. I felt betrayed by psychedelics. I had always known that fear and anxiety were possible, but I never expected to be so completely hijacked by a substance. Psychedelics, I realized, carried frightening potential.
I had a long break from LSD after that. The next time I took some, I cut my dose in half and proceeded with virgin caution. From then on, my perspective toward psychedelics changed. They were no longer drugs. They were no longer a fun way to spend a day. I saw psychedelics as potent tools that deserved respect, preparation, and understanding. Slowly I came to realize that what I had feared so much about my trip was exactly the point.
Perhaps my worst trip was my most insightful.
Listen to our podcast with Dr. Ingmar Gorman and Dr. Elizabeth Nielson to find out How best to handle “bad trips” or Click here to read the transcript
HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING
AND LOVE BAD TRIPS
Every day, we speak to the same people, think the same thoughts, and go the same routes. Occasionally we change things up, and this gives us a glimpse of a different slice of life. But even that glimpse is filtered and diluted by our own cognition, by our habitual ways of understanding.
In a way, we are like water, flowing through rocks. The water eventually carves itself a path to travel through, making it easier and easier to travel along that same path in the future. Taking a psychedelic is like having someone scoop up the water from the stream and splash it upon the rest of the rocks.
Psychedelics remove us from our usual, default mode of thinking. This default mode holds us back from deep insights and transformation. It removes our control by tunneling our vision.
I’ve met plenty of people who are big fans of psychedelics. They talk about it as a fun, psychedelic ride. They mix it with alcohol, drop it and attend big parties and festivals, and tell plenty of stories about their experiences. They consider the primary effects hallucinations, euphoria, and silliness. These are usually the people who have never had a genuinely uncomfortable trip. And to an extent, these are the people who are fundamentally misunderstanding the substance.
If you take a psychedelic to get something—bliss, peace, creativity, hallucinations— you are abusing it. You are imposing your “self,” with all of its desires and ambitions, onto something that is valuable precisely because it undoes that “self.” It’s why we talk about psychedelics as substances, instead of drugs. It’s why we call it a trip, and not a mission.
A bad trip teaches you things. For one, you realize that despite your good intentions, you can’t help but hope your trip will go a certain way. And then when your trip goes left instead of right, you learn a very simple and profound truth about life: fear and struggle abound, situations can go wrong, and you will have to deal with it.
THE GIFT OF SANITY, AND THE VALUE IN LOSING IT
A bad trip will give you an appreciation for the gifts that we commonly take for granted.
Nothing will make you appreciate your sanity like losing it for a while. After a bad trip, you will relish the fact that you can conduct yourself appropriately in a public place, or that you can hold a conversation with a stranger. These aren’t vapid privileges. Many people with mental illnesses are denied proper care and respect because others cannot easily understand their condition.
The philosopher and neuroscientist Sam Harris noted that challenging psychedelic trips help bridge this gap of misunderstanding. “If nothing else, these excruciating experiences can become a source of compassion. I think it may be impossible to imagine what it is like to suffer from mental illness without having briefly touched its shores.”
“A bad trip will give you an appreciation for the gifts that we commonly take for granted.”
There is joy in being a regular, boring person, in flowing through the path that you have carved for yourself. But after spending too much time going through the same routine, we often forget how lucky we are just to be. A bad trip will remind you of this better than a good one. A bad trip will provide you with the insight to empathize with some of society’s most neglected and misunderstood.
Experiencing a loss of sanity and self-control led to a lot of changes in my perspective. I began to appreciate the harmony in everyday life. For weeks after my frightening trip, I felt unbelievably grateful and content to live as a smooth, functioning cog within a giant social machine. I thought often about severe and debilitating mental illnesses. I understood more how people could lack the capacity to fit into society since I had, very briefly, lost the capacity myself. I noticed that I had a much harder time ignoring people on the streets who were asking for help. The people I saw weren’t abstract anymore—I felt closer to them now, their problems more relatable.
The realizations I made from that trip, though they have faded in their intensity, will not leave me anytime soon. A bad trip teaches you through immersion and experience. You are thrown into a problem, and only really understand it after suffering and crawling your way out. This sort of education is much different, and much more effective, than learning on a conceptual level.
Psychedelics are going through a renaissance. Their spiritual, psychological, and therapeutic benefits are returning to the public’s attention. But the psychedelic image is still tarnished by decades of criminalization and naïve, hedonistic use.
The embrace of bad trips will play a vital role in defining the new psychedelic. To the noble truth seekers, they will teach us compassion for the most marginalized in our society. They show us the beauty in our everyday lives. They help us accept what we cannot control, dissolve our rigid, habitual selves, and profoundly reexamine our world views. Fundamentally, finding value in “bad trips” means you are giving up your selfish desires for higher truths.
The next time you take a psychedelic, keep in mind that no matter how challenging your trip is, how you deal with it and what you learn from it ultimately defines whether or not it is “good” or “bad.” It is an invaluable skill to find beauty and meaning in ugliness and fear. The real power lies within you. Go forth, and trip with confidence!
i love you. i respect you!! kudos to you for helping me through this blog.. 🙂
A challenging trip is often referred to a bad trip, however Every Psychonaught has had a BAD! TRIP! and if you haven’t well just wait, you’ll get you chance. I know people who have literal PTSD from bad trips, and Ive seen even more people have psychotic breaks from bad trips so when people say there is no such thing as a bad trip i realize most of them are either parroting something they heard some spiritual con man say while gaslighting a client out of a bad trip, or they just don’t know what they are talking about
I feel like bad trips are completely subjective to the person. They can be defined as so many different things, ranging from something that you experienced (lack of control), to intense fear and terror of awful hallucinations. Its impossible to sum up a bad trip as one thing… and for some (including me), I can’t take anything positive out of my bad trip simply because of the trauma that I experienced in the aftermath. All I could take away was that the drug was so much bigger than I could have estimated, and also that our brains are incredibly sensitive and fragile. You only realize this when you’ve come super close to the depths of hopelessness and anxiety that I have. The drug can be bigger than you. Its not a “outlook” question, of simply you defining whether it is a good or bad trip. We are not always in control, I wish I was able to do that whilst I was experiencing the bad trip, but it was too big for that. It’s a massive risk you take. Some trips are so awful and scary that you can’t “embrace” them. Try having your worst demons immortalised in front of you, and even when you close your eyes they are still there. That is pretty hard to embrace. 🙂 It frustrates me when people say things like this… bad trips are created from your imagination.. they are your worst nightmares. No one can say that the solution to a bad trip is simply your state of mind. I feel like that is ignorant.
I agree with everything you said. I had a bad experience with LSD myself. The way i think about it is a bad trip is a psychosis. I created a way of thinking and an theory about what and how everything is. And in the past i would’ve said something like damn i need to calm down, i’m losing my mind. Somehow it doesn’t feel that way, it feels like the opposite. I am in a depression and since my bad trip it became worse but it feels right. I think I need to take my time to process and learn how to apreciate everything again. Now that i had this extremely incerdible special experience, nothing will amaze me anymore. For me anything can happen and that kinda scares me. Even though i can take alot mentally.
beautiful article very well worded! #usenotabuse
Mr. Mojo Risin says
There’s no such thing as a “bad” trip…until you’ve actually had one. Your anecdote is pretty tame compared to stories I’ve heard, and one exceptionally horrible experience of my own. A twelve hour nightmare filled with absolute fear and negativity, where I was sure I had lost my mind and eradicated the very person that I was. It did do that, and I am now grateful for it, but it took years of panic attacks, anxiety, and deep personal integration work to deal with. I wouldn’t change a thing but I’d never want that experience again. You must approach these substances with full respect and the proper intention, and do the necessary work during, and after. You must also be brave and do the proper things when it goes south, during. Also doesn’t mean you can’t have fun as well.
How do you go about ‘deep personal integration work’?
Karina Swenson says
Hi there, you can learn more about psychedelic integration here: https://thethirdwave.co/guide-to-wakeful-integration/ Hope this helps 🙂
Karina, Third Wave Team
Psychedelic usage can bring many character traits to the surface. Meditating after a bad trip can help to understand the underlying fear. Fear of abandonment and lack of accomplishments can help to motivate to strive for goals of fulfilment and love.
There are times that you are by yourself, yet you do not fear them. For example, before you go to sleep, your last thought is only yours and for the dreams to keep.
What are you afraid of most? Some fears are justifiable, like fear of heights ensures that you will not take risks and life happily to the next day. It is perfectly fine to be afraid.
If you are tempted to understand your fear, try a safe setting and always find a seater.
If you are struggling to find a sitter, find a community of people who share some passions and interests, something to talk about when trip goes bad.
There is a strong connection between music and psychedelic usage. Connection is there for a reason, music and community helps to even out the journey bumps.
If you are afraid of a bad trip, it is a good symptom. Think about it, wait for some time, months, years maybe and revisit psychedelics when you are in a different mental state.
Psychedelics can cause a lot of damage and it is a one way ticket.
I will give an example: I always liked pizza and could have it every day of the week, it was a commodity. Then, I was offered a slice of an most amazing pie. Since then, all of other pizzas in my memory have lost their flavour in comparison to the best one.
But then I discovered that I was just eating too much and forgot to cherish the important moments, even as simple as rediscovery of art of cooking.
Be aware of your surroundings, check consequences of your actions and use common sense. Then, a comfortable setting and a good time, not rushed, can be reallly enjoyed, no matter what it brings.
And as for the pizza story, I have learned how to make my own, and that is a treat too:)
Mr. Goldstein says
“Keep collecting rattlesnakes long enough and your going to get bit.”… My father.
Simple yet appropriate adage.
Everyone of us who ventures into psychedelics does so for a variety of reasons. Unfortunately, the vast majority of (especially first time) users see psychedelics as a recreational party drug. You can not correct this behavior nor more than you can correct the societal issue of generalized stupidity. The only thing you can control is your own conduct and whom you choose to associate with.
A “bad” trip is going to happen eventually to each and every one of us. It is well known that it can (and will) happen even to those uneducated in psychedellics. Assuming that it will not is the equivalent to playing poker and assuming your never going to lose.
Accept your bad trip and learn from it. Do you believe that you developed as a person from only the sunniest parts of your life? It sucks. Truly. Remember… Personal growth often comes from painful places.
Oddly enough i have had more bad trips than good. And i appreciate a bad trip a lot more than a good trip. It forces you to face your demons and examine yourself to an extent no good trip can.
I have had bad trips where lost souls cursed at me for walking through a graveyard 1am in the morning, i have had the predator stalk me from the tree tops, demons melting into reality from dark shadows and moments where i could only observe my body walking down an empty road from 50 feet above as if i was a drone flying and controlling the body.
But none of the bad trips were as intense and frightening as dying repeatedly from ailments. Heart attacks, i would meet god and leave this world only to be thrust back into the body to start a new death from another ailment. At some point i got in the bath with all my clothes on and then got back in bed… in the middle of winter and i recall keep asking my wife why am i so cold and she kept reminding me because i am soaked and so is the bed.
That night taught me many valuable lessons.
Atanas Baychev says
Like WOW, you had some experiences going on there. I guess the moral of the last experience you mention was to learn not to be afraid of death, in whatever way may happen.