Bad trips with LSD, 'shrooms, and hash

Dear Alice,

I am writing to you regarding drugs. I have always enjoyed dropping hits of LSD, liquid or tabs (never the junky stuff with plenty of strich in it that's here in New York. I always get it sent to me from northern California — Berkeley or Santa Cruz). I've never been a big 'shroomer though. A couple of months ago I did some 'shrooms with my boyfriend at our apartment and had a really bad trip — my first ever — and it was tres scary: I lost completely my sense of reality and felt at once like I was just a part of someone's dream and that when they woke up, I would die into nothingness, then I reverted back into a childlike state, and even though I was a happy child, I still had no grasp on reality. I didn't trip for a couple of months and then a few weeks ago, I was with two of my girlfriends and we made some hash brownies — I had another awful trip, and even though it was more physically sickening, I still had terrible thoughts while I was tripping.... For many months, I have been having a rough time with my boyfriend, whom I live with. Could this be affecting my trips? We also used about half an ounce of hash in three small brownies, and I had more 'shrooms than my boyfriend did. Could the quantity be affecting me adversely?? All of my friends have told me that one of the reasons I must enjoy tripping so much lies in that I am a strong person and don't lose myself when I trip like some people do. I just have fun and usually get horny... Does being a strong person have anything to do with it? I am trying to figure out why I'm having bad trips. What am I overlooking, and will I be able to have happy trails again? What do I need to be doing?? (And, please don't say I should go into rehab....) Thanx.

— Dazed and Confused

Dear Dazed and Confused,

Here's a pill that may be a little tough to swallow: scientists can't pinpoint exactly why your trips have turned sour. However, research does show that a variety of factors can influence your mood while experimenting with hallucinogens. One of the main factors that can affect your experience is who you're with — being in trusted company is associated with more positive trips, while those without close friends nearby are at an increased risk of experiencing negative trips. It's also helpful to be in a safe and peaceful environment. When tripping with others, it could be helpful to discuss a plan in advance in case anyone begins to have a bad trip, as any depressive, anxious, and paranoid symptoms a person has prior to tripping may also impact the experience. Additional factors include the reliability of the source of the drugs, whether the trip is planned in advance, the dose of the drugs, and length of time between trips (it's recommended to leave multiple months in between in order to recover from the experience). However, anyone can address all of these factors and still have a bad trip, as there's no one-size-fit model for hallucinogens, such as d-lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and psilocybin magic mushrooms (often referred to as mushrooms or 'shrooms). In the meantime, if you want to keep using these drugs, you may want to focus on your control over some of these factors, such as surrounding yourself with people you trust while you trip and only using when not dealing with anxious or depressive symptoms. 

It may be helpful for you to reflect on the circumstances of your last few trips. You noted that you've been having a rough time with your boyfriend lately. Your stress level, your relationship with your boyfriend, your school pressures, your mood going into the trip — all of these cloud the mind and may affect your state while tripping. Have you considered taking steps to reduce stress in your daily life? What has your mental state been when you were going into a trip? Were you in a location in which you felt physically safe? These questions may help you clarify the relationship you have with hallucinogens.

You also mentioned the dose of the drugs. Factors such as your size and overall health can impact the effect of the dose you take, which explains some of the variation in experiences between people who may take the same dose. Taking a larger dose also causes a more intense trip and can be more likely to lead to a bad one. While you seem to trust the source of your drugs, it's possible that the potency of the drug varies each time you purchase it. Since these drugs are illegal in the United States, their dosages aren't tested or regulated by any regulatory bodies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The drugs you're consuming may be stronger now than they've been in the past, which is causing you to have a different reaction. Additionally, you mentioned that you generally haven't used mushrooms in the past. It's possible that your response to mushrooms is different than other hallucinogens. Paying attention to how much is consumed and of what drugs may help you pinpoint where your trips are going wrong.

The effects of psychedelics can also be altered if other drugs are used at the same time. Some choose to mix drugs to potentially increase or enhance the effects, while others may try to reduce them. This is also called polydrug use, and unfortunately the results are highly unpredictable because everyone may react differently to an individual drug or their combination. The results also depend on the type of drugs mixed: adding stimulants to psychedelics might increase stress and heart rate, while adding depressant drugs might decrease coordination or cause vomiting. Due to the increased drug effects, polydrug use may be more likely to cause bad trips, so it may be helpful to stick to one drug at a time to maintain more control over the experience. 

You also mentioned having a bad time after using hash. Hash, which comes from the cannabis plant, has the same active ingredient as marijuana, but at a much higher concentration. In marijuana, the typical concentration of the active ingredient, THC, is less than 5 percent, but in blocks of hashish there may be THC concentrations as high as 15 percent, or up to 20 percent in hash oils. Because of its potency, hash may be more likely to cause side effects like anxiety, panic, or confusion, especially in high doses. 

It's key to keep in mind that LSD and mushrooms, as well as other drugs such as hash, can have different effects on different people. You've indicated that your trips are generally positive and that you've enjoyed the experience. Keep in mind that previous positive experiences don't mean that future negative experiences won't occur. A bad trip can happen to anyone who's using these drugs, whether it's the first time or the 40th time. 

If you find yourself in another bad trip, here are a few ways to potentially regain control and bring down negative feelings:

  • Play music
  • Meditate or relax
  • Take deep, regular breaths
  • "Roll with it" or surrender to the experience

Of course, these suggestions aren't guaranteed to halt a bad trip. If you continue to trip, it may be wise to consider ways that you can address the factors that have been found to influence your experience. Next time, can you find a comfortable, safe location and be in the company of familiar, trusted folks? Ensuring that you’re in a positive headspace or emotional state before tripping may also be key. It’s also possible that addressing these factors may not yield expected, positive results or that that these substances just aren’t resulting in the ‘happy trails’ you mentioned anymore. If you find that your experiences continue to be negative, it may be wise to stop for a while and see how that feels. While it may seem obvious, the best way to prevent a bad trip is to not trip at all. It may be helpful to consider why you want to trip, and what you find rewarding about a good trip. There may be ways for you to seek out Natural highs to replace them. If you find that you're having trouble taking a break from tripping, even when you have a bad time or would like to take a break, you may want to seek some professional assistance from a health care provider or mental health professional for additional support.

Hope you're a little less confused, 

Last updated May 13, 2022
Originally published Nov 01, 1993