Many people enjoy the effects of substances like psychedelics and cannabis. They may even provide benefits for patients with certain medical conditions.
However, in some cases, these drugs can trigger a challenging experience known as a bad trip. These incidents can be both unpredictable and extremely unpleasant. So, what causes them to happen, and what steps can individuals take to prevent them?
This article aims to answer the question, “What is a bad trip?” and offer practical advice on coping with one.
What Causes a Bad Trip?
A bad trip occurs when specific substances induce an upsetting, frightening, or otherwise difficult experience.
Most people associate the term with hallucinogens like lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD/acid), magic mushrooms, peyote, ayahuasca, and so on. However, some people also experience similar effects with high doses of cannabis.
The exact causes of a bad trip vary depending upon the substance and dosage. However, several common factors also play a crucial role, including:
- The mood and mindset of the person ingesting the substance
- The environment in which the substance is used
- Whether the user is alone or with others
- How experienced the user is with the substance
- The user’s preconceptions and expectations of the experience
Even so, it is essential to understand that hallucinogenic drugs can be unpredictable. Although experienced psychonauts may be less likely to endure a very bad trip than novices, it is not impossible.
For example, a 2016 survey looked at challenging experiences after ingesting psilocybin, the active chemical in magic mushrooms. The participants answered questions about their worst ever trip. On average, the respondents had used psilocybin 6–10 times before the experience they selected as most challenging.
Let’s look at the potential adverse effects of three common substances, magic mushrooms, LSD, and cannabis.
Bad Mushroom Trip
The above study uncovered some interesting statistics regarding the negative effects of magic mushrooms, including:
- 7% of respondents placed themselves or others at risk of physical harm
- 6% of respondents became violent toward themselves or others
- 7% of respondents sought medical attention
- 3 respondents had suicide attempts associated with their challenging trip
- 3 respondents experienced enduring psychotic symptoms associated with their challenging trip
However, the respondents’ reports were not wholly negative. Although 39% rated their bad shroom trip as one of the most challenging events of their life, 84% stated they still received some benefit. Most reported that the challenging experience lasted over two hours, but not the entire trip duration.
Bad Acid Trip
There are fewer statistics available on challenging LSD journeys. One 2017 study suggests that those who ingest LSD are more likely to have a positive than a negative experience. However, these results pertain to well-controlled research conditions and do not necessarily reflect real-world scenarios. The evidence also suggests that approximately half of people will endure at least transient negative effects with LSD doses of 200 mcg.
One of the most significant factors that could contribute to an LSD bad trip is not knowing the dosage beforehand. People often take the drug as a square of paper infused with liquid LSD, known as a tab. If these tabs are purchased illegally, there is often no way of knowing how strong they will be. This makes it difficult to predict how individuals will react to a specific batch, even with prior experience.
Bad Trip on Cannabis
It is also possible to experience a bad weed trip in some circumstances. Cannabis contains hundreds of active compounds, the best-known of which is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). This chemical is responsible for most of the plant’s psychoactive effects as well as some of its medicinal benefits.
THC’s primary issue is that it is biphasic, meaning that its effects differ depending on the dosage. For example, research has found that low doses of the compound can reduce anxiety, while high doses increase it.
THC’s primary issue is that it is biphasic, meaning that its effects differ depending on the dosage.
Therefore, as cannabis breeders attempt to create stronger and stronger strains, the risk of having a bad experience increases. The risk may be the highest of all when consuming edibles. The reason for this is that they can take up to two hours to act while they pass through the digestive system.
Many inexperienced consumers have made the mistake of thinking nothing was happening and taking a second dose, with undesirable consequences. THC overdose can cause several distressing side effects, including hallucinations, paranoia, and psychosis.
In 2014, a young man jumped from a fourth-floor balcony after consuming ten times the recommended dose of a THC-infused cookie. It was reportedly the first death attributed solely to marijuana. This tragic incident highlights the perils of irresponsible cannabis use, despite it being a relatively safe drug.
Symptoms of a Bad Trip
What a user experiences as a challenging trip can vary widely depending on the substance ingested, dosage, setting, and the person’s individual body chemistry. Here are some common examples:
Bad Mushroom Trip Symptoms
A recent 2020 survey collected information on the negative outcomes of psilocybin use. According to its results, the most common symptoms of a bad mushroom trip include:
- Mental confusion
- Extreme anxiety
- Psychosis (with strange or frightening images)
- Lost sense of reality
It found a relationship between the users’ experience and their existing mental state, the setting in which they took the mushrooms, and the dosage.
Bad Acid Trip Symptoms
LSD and mushrooms affect the brain in a very similar way. Therefore, having a bad trip on acid can produce similar effects to those listed above. However, LSD is much more potent than psilocybin, meaning that it may be easier to overconsume. Furthermore, its effects last approximately twice as long.
Symptoms of a Bad Trip on Cannabis
Some of the most common bad weed trip symptoms include the following:
- Racing thoughts
Some cannabis strains can also produce unusual effects, such as a distorted sense of time. While some users enjoy these sensations, they can also be frightening, especially if they occur unexpectedly.
How to Stop a Bad Trip
Our advice on how to stop a bad trip on acid and how to stop a bad shroom trip is the same – reduce the likelihood of it being challenging by taking steps to ensure proper preparation. Preventative measures include fostering a positive mindset before consumption, finding a safe and comfortable place, and enlisting a support person’s help.
The best choice of companion is a professional ‘trip sitter’ or therapist who has experience working with psychedelics users. If this is not possible, ask a friend who inspires a sense of trust and confidence. Their role will be to provide emotional support and monitor the physical surroundings. Therefore, they should stay sober for the duration of the trip.
Psychedelics tend to amplify whatever mood a person is in. Therefore, taking them while feeling depressed or anxious can increase the risk of a bad trip. Likewise, using them in unfamiliar surroundings or with a large group of people can be unsettling.
Pay attention to factors such as music, too, as this can significantly impact the experience. If things become overwhelming, experiment by changing the music or moving to another room. It may be helpful to discuss any difficult emotions that arise with the sitter. It can also be useful to talk about the experience afterward to help with integration.
One more note regarding a ‘bad’ trip on psychedelics is that it may be helpful to reframe it as a challenging journey, which may be unpleasant at the time, but may not necessarily be bad. Often these challenging journeys involve events or realizations coming from our subconscious into our conscious minds, which can be of significant help from a therapeutic lens. So like therapy, which isn’t always pleasant, these journeys can likely lead to improved mental health outcomes even if they are challenging at the time.
Regarding how to stop a bad weed trip, the best way is to avoid overconsumption; for those who are new to cannabis or have low tolerance, in particular. Use extra caution with edibles or potent concentrates like shatter that can contain up to 90% THC.
We have more tips on dealing with a negative cannabis experience in our article Things to Do if You Get Too High.
Regardless of the substance involved, individuals should remind themselves that any challenging feelings will pass and relax as much as possible.