How to Avoid Bad Psychedelic Trips and Turn Them into Profound Experiences

“Bad trips don’t need to be bad. With the right set, setting, and support, challenging psychedelic experiences can lead to healing and revelation.”

Psychedelics have incredible potential for healing and personal growth. However, they also come with risks, like having a “bad trip.”

In this post, I’ll explain what bad trips are, why they happen, and most importantly – how to avoid them or even transform them into profound learning experiences.

Psychedelic Experiences: What is a Bad Trip?

A “bad trip” is a disturbing, frightening or otherwise negative psychedelic experience. Each person’s bad trip will look different, but some common feelings include:

– Overwhelming emotions like fear, anxiety, grief, etc. These may feel more intense than anything experienced before.
– Nightmarish visions and imagery, like being chased or attacked by scary creatures
– Paranoia, confusion, and losing a sense of reality
– Feeling completely lost – either lost in the experience/hallucinations or lost in a vast, empty metaphysical space
– Looping thought patterns or repetitive mind-states that feel impossible to escape
– Physical discomfort like nausea, sweating, shaking, or sensations of body distortion

Bad trips can range from unsettling to completely terrifying. People often feel trapped and unable to pull themselves out, which only amplifies the fear and confusion.

The exact experience depends on the person, substance, dose, setting, and other factors. But the underlying thread is an overwhelming sense of distress.

Psychedelic Experience: Why Do Bad Trips Happen?

Psychedelics lower filtering mechanisms and coping strategies our minds use daily. This allows suppressed content to surface: repressed memories, unresolved traumas, fears, insecurities, etc.

We also become hypersensitive to emotions and sensory input. The distortions of psychedelics can turn even common anxieties into terrifying delusions. Bad trips often happen when someone resists, rejects or tries to escape negative emotions and visions that arise. This is understandable – it’s our natural reaction when facing something frightening or disturbing.

But resistance causes these phenomena to persist and amplify. The more we desperately cling to control, the more elusive it becomes.

Psychedelics diminish our ability to ignore, numb or distract ourselves from what arises. Whatever we fight against tends to fight back harder.

In a sense, bad trips reveal parts of ourselves we avoid facing sober. The medicine wants us to look at this shadow material we suppress day-to-day.

But it’s not equipped with an “off switch.” Once the process is set in motion, it’s difficult (if not impossible) to stop. Fighting the experience can trap us in a downward spiral.

That’s why skilled guidance in navigating challenging spaces is so crucial. More on that soon.

First, let’s discuss how to avoid bad trips through proper preparation…

Preparation is Key: Set and Setting in a Psychedelic Experience

With psychedelics, proper set and setting are absolutely crucial.

Set refers to your mindset going into the psychedelic experience:

– Your intention (or lack thereof)
– Expectations
– Fears
– Overall mental/emotional state

Setting means the physical environment and broader context:

– Location (indoors/outdoors, public/private, etc.)
– The space itself
– Atmosphere – music, lighting, decoration, etc.
– Other people present – sitters, guides, friends
– General vibe and energy

Set and setting account for 90% of how a trip unfolds. Put care into curating them both.

Some tips for the best set and setting in the psychedelic experience:

Have a clear, focused intention – Decide what you want to address, explore, learn, etc. Intentions help anchor challenging moments.
Let go of expectations – Don’t cling to a specific vision of how things will go. Be open to whatever arises. Flow with it.
Ensure total privacy and zero interruptions/distractions – Minimize external worries. Silence phones, lock doors, inform roommates you’ll be busy.
Make the space ultra comfy and visually soothing – Soft textures, warm lighting, calming nature imagery. Create a nest!
Curb side conversations – Limit talking not related to the experience. It can pull you out of key moments.
Have an experienced, trusted sitter/guide/therapist – Their grounded energy can diffuse distress. More on guides below…

When set and setting are dialed in, psychedelics create optimal conditions for healing and insight. But they can also amplify anxiety and turmoil when used recklessly. Set and setting help minimize that risk.

Why a Sitter/Guide/Therapist is Essential for your psychedelic experience

Even in ideal set/setting, challenging moments can arise. An experienced sitter or guide acts like an anchor in turbulent waters. Their key role is to provide a sense of safety, comfort and trust when you feel lost. They help you navigate emotions skillfully vs. resisting. What makes a good sitter/guide?

– Experience with psychedelic states
– Emotional maturity and wisdom
– Listening presence and compassion
– Patience and inner stillness
– Sobriety (no intoxication during session)

Their simple presence reminds you that you’re in a safe, temporary state of expanded consciousness.

They know it’s normal for difficult emotions and visions to arise at times. They help you lean into them vs. recoiling in fear.

If really lost, they gently guide you back to center. Their grounded energy can diffuse full-blown panic.

Some key skills good sitters/guides provide:

– Calmly acknowledging and normalizing your experience
– Light touch or hug to ground overwhelming moments
– Guiding you to breathe deeply
– Reminders to relax your body
– Encouraging surrender vs. resistance
– Suggesting changes of setting if needed – music, lighting, walking outside, etc

Even basic reassurance makes a huge difference. It reminds you this too shall pass.

Their role isn’t to “fix” your experience. Rather, to create conditions conducive for inner work.

If you feel ready to journey without a sitter, have one “on call” in the next room. Know your limits and don’t overestimate your readiness.

What to Do in Challenging Moments during your psychedelic experience

With proper set, setting, intention and support, you’ve minimized bad trip risks. But some distress may still arise. Here’s how to navigate it:

1. Breathe consciously – Slow, deep breaths. Feel the life-giving prana as you inhale. Let tension release as you exhale.
2. Relax your body – Notice areas of tightness. Soften them. Release clenched jaws, furrowed brows, hunched shoulders.
3. Get grounded – Feel your feet on the floor. Touch textures around you. Hear ambient sounds. Sip water. Feel your body’s weight.
4. Remind yourself “this too shall pass.” – Like a storm, even the most intense states are temporary. You’ll return to shore.
5. Surrender, don’t resist – Let go of desperate attempts to control the experience. Allow it to move through you. Lean into support.
6. Cry, scream, moan – Expressing trapped emotions can liberate them. Vocalize how you feel.
7. Talk it out – Verbalize your experience to your sitter. Put words to your visions, sensations, emotions.
8. Shift your setting – Change rooms, music, lighting. Step outside for fresh air. Have a light snack or herbal tea.
9. Ask for what you need – Comfort, silence, candlelight, handholding…you have resources. Draw on them.
10. Remember it WILL end – Like any state of mind, this too will pass. You’ll return to familiar ground.

With practice, you can learn to move through challenging spaces vs. desperately trying to escape them. This cuts off their escalating power. See the fear, feel the grief, embrace the unknown. Hard moments often precede growth.

When to Call in Help in a psychedelic experience

In extremely rare cases, distress reaches levels needing professional support. If someone exhibits any of the below, call emergency services:

– Uncontrollable screaming/wailing
– Violent behavior – towards self/others
– Inability to recognize faces/voices of loved ones
– Unresponsiveness to voices/touch
– Inability to speak coherently
– Prolonged motionless catatonia
– Seizures

Thankfully, most difficult psychedelic experiences don’t reach such extremes. But it’s good to know when to call for help.

With proper set, setting and guidance, you likely won’t need external support. But have emergency contacts handy just in case.

Better yet, trip with a guide or therapist specifically trained in psychedelic crises. They know how to navigate extreme states of consciousness.

Key Takeaways on bad trips

– “Bad trips” arise from resisting and panicking as suppressed material emerges.
– Proper set, setting and guidance minimize risks of distress spiraling out of control.
– Challenging moments are normal and can lead to breakthroughs if navigated skillfully.
– Lean into support, breathe deeply, vocalize your experience and remember it’ll pass.
– Rarely, professional help is needed if all else fails. But with proper preparation, this is unlikely.
– Psychedelics reveal parts of ourselves we avoid facing sober. The medicine wants to heal us. Trust in its wisdom.

Rather than “bad trips,” let’s call them “challenging experiences.” With courage and skill, they offer unprecedented potential for awakening.

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” – Rumi

By facing our darkness with compassion – both on and off psychedelics – we find the greatest light.

May your journeys inward be blessed with truth, healing and wisdom. Much love.

Find out more about our psilocybin assisted therapy sessions and psilocybin assisted retreat.

Photo by Flora Borsi