The ‘BAD TRIP’:
Why This Terminology is Holding
You Back & How To Escape It.
I’m going to make a statement that some people may find rash or offensive.
The phrase ‘bad trip’ carries an undertone of immaturity which reflects upon those who use the expression to describe certain psychedelic experiences.
Let me explain.
As most know, ‘bad trip’ is a phrase that’s used by many to describe an unpleasant, horrible or torturous experience that follows the ingestion of a psychedelic substance; when really what this is, is a preconceived notion of what the journey becomes when one fights and struggles against unpleasant aspects of the psychedelic experience.
There’s a few reasons why this might happen:
- The mindset of the person.
- The immediate environment.
- Unresolved personal issues and internal conflict.
- A stronger dose than one was expecting.
And perhaps of more importance in this situation:
- Their perspective on psychedelics.
- Their relationship with psychedelics.
- Their intention for using psychedelics.
I use the term 'bad trip' in this context as a reference point to showcase my own infantile perspective on psychedelic substances and experiences in the past.
Without having the appropriate respect, understanding and maturity to see that psychedelics can be viewed as both sacraments and tools that hold tremendous healing potentialities to better one’s life (don’t get me wrong, they can also be used for recreational purposes too), it can be difficult to have the wisdom to surrender into the discomfort of an unpleasant experience, and to still see the benefit in a challenging ordeal.
With irresponsibility, lack of knowledge, and the unpredictability of how the experience can play out, we can see how someone could carelessly overlook any inherent value attributed to the trip and unconsciously dismiss the opportunity for deeper introspection, assimilation and integration of the experience into a path of growth and self healing.
Hence, the label ‘bad trip’ can be applied to a situation where one doesn’t yet have the appropriate qualities to see beyond their current perspective.
In a way, 'bad trip' seems to be an off-the-cuff remark to brush off an unpleasant experience without contemplating the deeper implications of what lessons, teachings, or insights could be gained, or what meaning we assign to our experience in the aftermath of the ordeal.
If you haven’t noticed, the psychedelic renaissance is among us.
An incredible amount of clinical research is being conducted in the fields of neuroscience, various therapies & healing modalities, and the greater importance of integrating shamanism and psychedelics into Western culture and society, with deep discussions about what that means for humanity as we progress into the future.
But even still, many detrimental dogmas and stigmas continue to permeate society, and they probably will for a long time to come.
I think the language we use to articulate the psychedelic framework, and the way we express it, is something we need to be critical and conscious of.
Not only to aid our own evolution & understanding, and to expand & refine our own maps of the psychedelic framework, but to both showcase and allow others to gain mature perspectives on the healing potentialities these substances can hold.
A Glimpse Into My Past That May Surprise Some Of You...
Many years ago, before I was on this medicine path, I considered myself an amateur mycologist. In basic terms: I grew magic mushrooms.
I restyled one of the spare rooms into a sterile grow centre, complete with automated fans and heaters, lights, misting devices, sanitised work stations...
When I didn’t have my hands in a sterilised box working with mushroom spores, or collecting horse manure from the paddock to mix into a suitable substrate, or placing jars into pressure cookers to eliminate unwanted pathogens, I’d spend hours upon hours reading forums and articles, committed to understanding how to grow the magic mushroom, Psilocybe Cubensis.
Although I’d dabbled with ingesting magic mushrooms, I wouldn't call myself a regular user.
In fact, I spent more time on the process of cultivation more than I spent time on eating them.
The entire lifecycle of a mushroom spore germinating and turning into an actual mushroom was fascinating to me. I was hooked. Completely obsessed with growing and observing the different stages of development and fine-tuning the process as much as possible.
Although I held an intense interest, I lacked respect and proper understanding of the psychedelic experience. Sure, I’d come across documentaries and information, but I just wasn’t in a state of being for these things to register on my radar.
I was a recreational drug user at the time.
Cannabis. Ketamine. Amphetamines. Alcohol. Magic Mushrooms. LSD. I had an unhealthy relationship to mind-altering substances (which had somewhat carried over from my previous behaviour and attitude towards drugs in my early 20’s, which were much more delinquent).
There were many aspects of my youth that were immature and irresponsible. (Who can relate? Almost everyone? Yep, thought so!)
I lingering in this sustained cycle for a long time, with no mentors, elders, or people I really respected to help guide me onto a better path. The perpetual state of a reckless rebel; thoughtless in mind, careless in behaviour.
Rather than a grand explosion of realization, my awakening took quite a while to blossom. Little did I know, that after my one night in absolute torture - the most terrifying night I’d encountered up to that point - I had stumbled across the slow-blooming catalyst of change.
The Terrifying Experience That Changed Everything.
I was home alone for the night, accompanied by my best buddy Tea, a well behaved, friendly, lovable golden labrador. I’d decided that I would eat a dose of magic mushrooms and ‘meditate’ in my room.
In actuality, I wanted to experience visual distortions and observe the same kaleidoscopic morphing patterns that I’d seen a couple of months earlier, while on a weekend away white water rafting.
I plucked the mushrooms straight from a grow box, weighed them up, and swallowed them down. In my ill preparation, I'd forgotten that common lore suggests that the content of the psychedelic compound psilocybin was found to be much higher in premature fruiting bodies, or 'pins', which is what I had eaten. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I had calculated my dose inaccurately.
Twenty minutes passed and I sprang up from my bed in a panic.
Holographic gnome-like creatures were appearing from my ceiling fan, and it looked like they were holding small daggers. Their sinister appearance and malevolent nature had me feeling very uncomfortable.
“Something is definitely wrong.”
I was having strong sensations in my body that I hadn’t experienced before, and they were rapidly ramping up in intensity. I became fixated on an unpleasant sensation in my chest, which kept me coughing and spitting up tiny globules of mucus.
The next point is when things really went down hill, and the thought processes that proceeded, is where many of you may giggle or shake your head.
“The magic mushrooms are deteriorating my body from the inside out…”
Yes, that is actually what I thought. I started trying to analyse my steps in getting here.
- How many mushrooms did I take?
- What time did I take them?
- What was the dosage?
- Did I read the number wrong when I was weighing them on the scales?!
- Did I accidentally put a toxic substance in the substrate?!
- What was the substrate made out of?
- I can’t remember if you can overdose on mushrooms.
- I think I’m deteriorating from the inside out.
- I think I’m dying.
- Maybe having my dog here will help.
I called out to my usually obedient and happy furry friend, but he was sitting in the lounge room whacking his tail on the couch giving me strange sideways glances, clearly not interested in coming over.
My anxious state was magnified by the thought that even my dog knew that I was dying, which I insinuated from his unexpected behaviour and unwillingness to provide me with loving company!
*It’s really quite interesting to look back at his unusual behaviour though.
Perhaps dogs and other animals are much more sensitive to energetics than I realised, and he could actually tell that something about me was inherently different - freaking out and projecting an energy field he could pick up.
Perhaps it was just coincidence? Perhaps I was making strange sounds that were freaking him out! (Unlikely, although he never did like the vacuum cleaner. Did my coughing sound like that red machine that terrified him?? I’ll never know...)
It was an eventful night in between the time that I called my dad on the phone and said my goodbyes, informing both him and my sister that I was dying...
- I made it about ten metres along the path for a walk in the dark (before turning around thinking this was a bad idea).
- I couldn’t figure out how to use my keys to open the front door (they didn’t look like keys anymore in the palm of my hand).
- Went around to the back and melted onto the deck in a visionary world of colourful floating oozing blobs (very similar to those in a lava lamp).
- Tried getting back inside by thinking I might be able to squeeze myself through that cat flap in the backdoor (part of me knew that it was physically impossible, part of me tried anyway).
- Thought about whether I could actually go to work being stuck in between the state of limbo and death (I decided that it would be way too difficult).
In retrospect it all seems quite laughable. But at the time, it was a horrific experience of the terror of dying and fearing for my own sanity, not knowing I’d ever make it through. Irresponsible drug use should never be condoned.
The Embarrassing Come Down Back to Earth.
My dad somehow knew that it was almost physically impossible to overdose on mushrooms (I knew this too, yet conveniently forgot) but was concerned about me passing out and choking on vomit. Being 40 minutes away from me, he made the embarrassing decision (for me) to call an ambulance.
The visuals had stopped by the time the paramedics came, who were non-judgemental in their approach towards me.
I did find it quite concerning that they told me that there was nothing they could do for me.
This was preceded by, “your vital signs are all normal,” but I took it to mean that I was still dying and beyond emergency help.
My dad and sister finally made it out, as did another friend, and of course, this state eventually subsided and I was back to baseline.
Without having gone through the pending process of psychospiritual maturation, I’d always labelled this as a bad trip. I never really processed the meaning of it (or rather, assigned particular meaning to it to process it in a beneficial perspective) until I began my path of utilising psychedelics for self-development, some years later.
Ever since then, I began to develop a newfound respect for psychotropic substances and the powerful effects they can have on the human psyche.
With a couple of small doses some months after, to test my response after that experience (which was still steeped in a lack of understanding and irresponsibility, and yes - it was still extremely unpleasant), I stayed well away from ingesting psychedelics until three years later.
This was to be the beginning of my self-discovery and healing journey into the realms of plant medicine and consciousness, now approaching these modalities from a place of deep respect and understanding.
The Secrets to Avoiding a ‘Bad Trip’.
Unless freaking out and melting into a puddle of ooze on the ground while you think you’re dying is right up your alley, you probably don’t want to experience what I, and many others, have had the pleasure of going through.
Anyone knowledgeable or experienced enough will know the key points to keep in mind when undertaking a psychedelic journey.
There’s the classic ‘set (mindset), setting (environment), substance & dosage,’ but also what we covered in the beginning: respect, understanding and maturity.
While we can try to ensure that our emotional and mental well-being are sound, and we're in the right environment suitable to enter an altered state of consciousness, without proper respect, intention, and knowledge of how a psychedelic experience can play out, there lies potential to unknowingly end up in hazardous territory.
When we can really respect the inherent power of these substances and understand that the psychedelic experience can flow from one spectrum to the other; from beautiful states of universal love and peaceful bliss, to the harrowing depths of discomfort and torture, we can release the label of ‘bad trip’ and begin to assess these challenging journeys with a depth of maturity, potentially shining light on the darkness within, that we may have once overlooked.
Let me know your thoughts, experiences, ideas or feedback in the comment section below. I hope this offered some insight, or at least a reminder, to continue seeking out mature perspectives and level-headed discussions, so we can perpetuate the psychedelic renaissance and bring light to all the healing capabilities that lay within these sacred medicines.
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