Hallucinogen Harm Reduction, or How to Deal with a Bad Trip

Hallucinogen Harm Reduction, or How to Deal with a Bad Trip

By Brian Whitney 08/07/15

Sometimes they're innocuous, but more often a bad trip is an unimaginable waking nightmare. 

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Hallucinogens can be a wild ride. Hallucinogens are types of drugs that cause hallucinations, which are thought of as profound distortions in a person’s perception of reality. Under the influence of hallucinogens, people see images, hear sounds, and feel sensations that seem real but are not. To some people this might be fun, but to many, taking this class of drug is something that takes one on the path to one of the worst things a drug user can experience: the dreaded bad trip.

If you have experimented with hallucinogens for any length of time, you almost certainly have experienced a bad trip. At times, bad trips can be innocuous and can almost be a quaint part of the experience, but more often they are unimaginable waking nightmares. Quite often, a large part of the hallucinogenic experience is begging whatever god you believe in to “Please make this stop.”  

While many people think hallucinogens are dying out as our society moves on to new and even more dangerous classifications of drugs, they are still around. Approximately 2.7% of Americans 12 and over reported using LSD in the past month according to a study by the National Survey On Drug Use and Health.

While drugs like bath salts and MDMA can cause one to hallucinate, they are classified as stimulants because of their other properties. There are four major types of hallucinogens as classified by the National Institute of Drug Abuse: LSD, psilocybin (commonly known as mushrooms) peyote and PCP.  

LSD

The big dog on the hallucinogen street is LSD, which, of course, is known as acid. Acid was discovered in 1938 by Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann who inadvertently discovered LSD's unique properties when he accidentally absorbed some on his skin. In his autobiography, LSD, My Problem Child, Hofmann wrote that after taking a too-large dose, he felt as if “a demon had invaded me, had taken possession of my mind, body and soul.” 

For years, it was used and studied by researchers who believed it might have potential medical use, but eventually the medical community decided what most of us now know, which is that LSD can mess up your mind in a bad way. Acid reached its zenith in the counterculture movement of the '60s.

A bad trip on LSD can last for 12 hours or so and is truly a living nightmare, which can mimic psychosis. If you are having a bad trip, you are going to be terrified, delusional, paranoid and there is a good chance you are going to think you are dying and going to Hell.

Mushrooms

Mushrooms have been around forever. There is speculation that they have been used since prehistoric times and have been used in religious rites in many cultures. They affect the body in a similar way to LSD, but are much milder, albeit horrible tasting.  

Another thing they have in common with acid is that doses vary greatly in strength. It is never a good idea to ingest a whole bunch of mushrooms and see how it goes. Depending on the drug's potency, you might be in for an extremely bad time.

Peyote

Of all these drugs, peyote is the one that is least commonly used in drug culture. It is rare that you'd be hanging out at a party and some guy next to you would whip out some peyote and offer it to you. Peyote is a small cactus in which the principal ingredient is mescaline. At one point, a certain subculture believed peyote was part of a key to spiritual enlightenment because of the enormously popular books of Carlos Castaneda, who was later outed as a fraud.

A bad trip on mescaline is the same old story: Delusions, fear and paranoia are common.

PCP

PCP is commonly known as angel dust. It was originally brought to market in the 1950s as an anesthetic pharmaceutical drug, but was taken off the market in 1965 because people were freaking right the hell out when taking it. PCP can be swallowed, snorted, smoked or injected.

Using angel dust in any way is not a good idea. If you have a bad trip on PCP, it can mess up those around you as well, as some users become agitated and violent. Your bad trip can include, nausea, vomiting, amnesia, combativeness, severe anxiety, paranoia, flashbacks, seizures, coma, and death. Staying away from PCP is highly recommended by pretty much everyone.

So how do you prevent bad trips? You don’t. If there is a bad trip going on, you need to deal with it. There are ways, of course, to prepare for the inevitable, and ways to make your trip less likely to go wrong.

The term “set and setting” made popular by acid guru, Timothy Leary, is often used to describe how to avoid a negative experience while on hallucinogens. According to Leary, how well the trip goes is primarily determined by the user’s mindset and expectations of how the trip will go, or “set,” combined with the individual's social and physical environment or “setting.” In other words, if you are mentally stable, and go into your trip with no anxiety and do it in a quiet place with people that you trust, you will probably come out better than if you have anxiety disorder and decide to drop acid before going to a huge party where you don’t know anyone. 

Dr. Charles S. Grob, a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the UCLA School of Medicine examined bad trips in a 2013 paper entitled, “Hallucinogens and Related Compounds."

Grob believes that having a bad trip is akin to a psychedelic-heightened anxiety attack. But he also observes that LSD users are prone to “anxiety symptoms resembling paranoid psychosis toward the latter part of the eight-to-twelve-hour experience.”

His paper relates numerous amounts of “psychological distress,” including “varying degrees of anxiety, depression, ideas of reference, fear of losing one’s mind, paranoid ideation and impaired judgment.” 

When you are out of your mind on drugs it will be hard to figure out a way to get yourself back down, but it can be done. If you have never tripped before, it will come on fast. One minute you will be sitting there wondering if it is going to work, the next minute you will be tripping your ass off. 

When you feel like you are losing control, the most important thing to try and keep hold of is that it will stop, that you took a drug and that it won't go on forever. You might have someone around to remind you of this, if not, keeping that thread to reality is important. You feel like this because you are having a bad trip, not because you are losing your mind.

Remembering this isn’t an easy thing to do, of course, when one feels like they are on the brink of losing one's mind, but, still just ride it out. Don’t act on impulses, even if they seem like they make sense. Sometimes, you have to lay in bed by yourself and think over and over again: “Please make it stop,” and count the hours to when it will be over and you can go to sleep.

If there is someone around that you can trust, stick to them like glue. If one is having a bad experience on drugs, having a good friend nearby is priceless. This is tricky, of course. At times, one of the biggest mistakes one can make is to tell a roomful of people at a party, or a bar, that you are tripping. While a few might be nice to you and look out for your best interests, most drunks will take great joy in spending the rest of the night messing with you and playing with your mind.

Try not to go off by yourself if possible, unless you feel ready to go home and get in bed. If this is the case, do so by all means. Try and eat, try and drink water. 

One thing you should definitely not do is take other drugs or drink booze to get the bad trip to stop. The whole “I will get so drunk I won't know I am tripping” theory is not a good one.

If things are really going south, call 911, or go to your local emergency room. While this will almost certainly exacerbate your trip, at least you will be safe and it might help you remember to not trip again.

Brian Whitney is a pseudonym for an author and ghostwriter, his book Raping the Gods is available in the Spring of 2015. He last wrote about Sarah Hepola.

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Brian Whitney has been a prisoner advocate, a landscaper, and a homeless outreach worker. He has written or coauthored numerous books in addition to writing for AlterNetTheFixPacific Standard MagazinePaste Magazine, and many other publications. He has appeared or been featured in Inside Edition, Fox News, People.com, Cracked.com, True Murder, Savage Love and True Crime Garage. He is appearing at CrimeCon in 2019. You can find Brian on Facebook or at Brianwhitneyauthor.com.

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