What is a 'trip'?
A trip is a period of intoxication from a hallucinogenic drug, such as lysergic acid (LSD) or magic mushrooms (psilocybin). It is called a trip because your perceptions of the world change so dramatically, it feels as if you have taken a trip to a strange, new land. You hope that it will be a pleasant experience, and it might be, but it can quickly turn unpleasant, and sometimes, it is unpleasant from the beginning .
What is a bad trip?
A bad trip is a highly individual experience, but these are some aspects that are often described by people who have had a bad trip -
- time dilation - this is the experience of time standing still. This can make it feel as if the other unpleasant aspects of the trip will never end .
- Tip - If someone is having a bad trip, it can be reassuring to tell them it won't go on forever, even if they feel as if it will.
- negative reinterpretations and paranoia - previously positive or neutral interpretations of life or relationships can suddenly become negative. Someone having a bad trip might feel that their life is worthless, that they or someone else they normally feel fine about is bad or acting against them, or that the whole world is bad or corrupt. These feelings can be all-consuming, and can cause the person having a bad trip to panic and try and get away from the people around them .
- Tip - Generally, it is unwise to allow someone who is having a bad trip to go off on their own, but be aware that acting confrontational or following them may increase their feelings of antagonism or paranoia. Try to have a trusted friend accompany them, saying they want to help them stay safe. However, a stranger who comes across as caring, genuine and calm may be more acceptable. Although involving police or medical personnel may be highly upsetting for someone having a bad trip, it is preferable to having them hurt themselves.
- hallucinations - most of the hallucinations that people have while tripping take the form of visual distortions - such as walls 'breathing', coloured or geometric formations, or illusions. Sometimes these distortions are extremely vivid, such as a familiar person's face morphing into that of a demon. Occasionally, hallucinations take the form of seeing beings or objects that don't even exist .
- Tip - Usually, people who are tripping are aware that these hallucinations are the effects of a drug, and can be reassured that what they are seeing is part of the trip.
- mood swings - your mood can change dramatically when you are tripping, and feelings of sadness and despair can reach new depths, while anxiety can quickly develop into panic .
- Tip - Although acts of violence or self-harm are unusual while tripping, tell someone as soon as possible if you are having any thoughts about harming yourself or someone else - you are not thinking clearly and indulging in these thoughts may have regrettable consequences. If someone else who is tripping seems at risk of harming themselves or someone else, get help immediately call 999 if necessary.
- feelings of loss of control,
- disorientation or confusion,
- negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, grief, anger or agitation,
- fear of going insane,
- violent or unpleasant imagery or sounds,
- reliving painful memories or traumas,
- fear of death .
How to stop a bad trip
Although it is not possible to 'switch off' the effects of hallucinogenic drugs, a bad trip can be transformed into a more positive experience if the person having the trip is open to being supported or comforted. Often, lying down and listening to soothing music in the presence of a calm support person can help. The most intense period of the trip typically occurs from one hour to three hours after the drug is consumed, so time will usually ease the most intense aspects of the trip, but the effects will often continue for an additional six to ten hours after that, during which time the person will not be able to sleep.
If the person is open to receiving medical help, which they may be if they think the intensely unpleasant aspects of the trip could be alleviated, you could accompany them to Accident & Emergency. There may be medical interventions that could help. However, never attempt to self-medicate by taking other drugs - this is risky and could worsen the effects of the trip or cause drug interactions.
The best way to avoid a bad trip is to not take hallucinogenic drugs. While you may be intrigued by the idea of tripping, there is a reason that people don't usually take them for long - sooner or later, they usually have a bad trip, and never want to repeat the experience. So ignore peer pressure, don't take magic mushrooms, and that way, they won't give you a bad trip .
- Hartney, E., What is a 'bad trip'?, 2016, https://www.verywell.com/how-to-cope-with-a-bad-acid-trip-21889
- Tackett, B., Side Effects of DMT Use, 2016, http://drugabuse.com/library/side-effects-dmt/