‘Bad’ psychedelic trips don’t have to be bad
“AFTER THE ECSTASY, THE LAUNDRY.” PHOTO: BRET KAVANAUGH, UNSPLASH
Yes, some trips are challenging and even scary, but every trip can teach important lessons.
The “bad trip” is one of the most common caveats against psychedelics. Sometimes it’s mentioned as a well-intentioned warning for first-timers and a reminder for seasoned users, while others use it as a fear-mongering tool meant to discourage any and all psychedelic experiences.
Some experts are now reframing the idea of bad psychedelic trips, choosing to see these challenging experiences as integral parts of the psychedelic experience, which can open doors to supposed therapeutic benefits. This way of thinking could allow people to welcome and learn from these “bad” experiences, rather than fear and reject them.
But what is a bad trip anyway?
The definition of a bad trip is highly subjective. Some people say their bad trips consist of familiar objects taking on grotesque forms, others feelings of panic and paranoia.
“It’s a little bit of a tricky question to answer because it’s very individual,” David Quintern, an activist for the safe use of psychedelics, told VICE.
Quintern works with Kiyumi, a legal psychedelic-assisted retreats company in the Netherlands, and SONAR Berlin, a harm reduction service for Berlin’s nightlife scene. He also does psychological first-aid work at festivals around Germany.
Quintern said people can get stuck on certain thought loops while they’re on psychedelics. These thought loops can come in any form depending on the person and their specific contexts, but he said a “classic festival [psychological first-aid] example” is people who have just gotten out of a relationship repeatedly thinking: Why didn’t I do this, I shouldn’t have done that, etc.
Many bad trips are characterized by the inability to break away from similar thought loops. Other bad trips are defined by a frightening loss of self, or ego death.
To reframe the idea of bad trips, it’s useful to understand how psychedelics are used in different cultures.
According to Amit Elan, the director and founder of Kiyumi, some Indigenous people see their plant medicine ceremonies as a form of “energetic surgery” or “spiritual surgery.”
Elan has worked with psychedelics for over a decade and is trained in Compassionate Inquiry, a psychotherapeutic approach developed by the renowned addiction and trauma expert Gabor Maté. He has also worked with ayahuasqueros from the Shipibo, Huni Kuin, and Yawanawa Indigenous communities in the Peruvian and Brazilian Amazons.
Published: October 23, 2022
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