What causes bad trips?

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Hedge90
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What causes bad trips?

Post by Hedge90 »

I have a quite limited experience with psychedelics, but I had one ego-death level trip, which, while left me pretty shaken afterwards (after my ego returned), was a beautiful experience through and through while I was having it. So in short, I haven't had a bad trip yet.
My theory, though, is mostly that you have a bad trip if you are unable to let go of your ego and surrender control, and then your ego self has to go through a traumatic experience where there are no certainties and reference points. I know that when I had my ego death it was a critical point in the trip, because I literally felt that I was leaving my identity behind, together with every personal emotion and thought - I still "saw" them, but from the outside, as a dispassionate observer. This was a necessary point, because the rest of it would have probably ruined me for a while, had I not shed my ego.
But from friends and browsing trip reports on erowid, I can see several bad trip reports, even from people who had already had "heroic" level trips before, and who thus must have been aware of how you have to surrender to ego death.
What do you think causes these cases? My only guess is that once you feel "comfortable" with a psychedelic, you ego may become complacent and think "oh I can go in there no problem", and then when they have the experience with their ego intact, it's scared shitless.
But I'm interested in your thoughts on the matter, whether it's theoretical or based on personal experience.
ParadoxZone
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Re: What causes bad trips?

Post by ParadoxZone »

Hi Hedge,

"But from friends and browsing trip reports on erowid, I can see several bad trip reports, even from people who had already had "heroic" level trips before, and who thus must have been aware of how you have to surrender to ego death.
What do you think causes these cases? My only guess is that once you feel "comfortable" with a psychedelic, you ego may become complacent and think "oh I can go in there no problem", and then when they have the experience with their ego intact, it's scared shitless.
But I'm interested in your thoughts on the matter, whether it's theoretical or based on personal experience."

I would suggest there's more going on than complacency. The experience of the heroic trip might itself become part of the ego, making "letting go" even more of a task than previously.

This is just a suggestion, I've never done psychedelics. Although the phenomenon happens, I believe, without drugs and often over a longer timeframe, with its attendant difficulties.
Hedge90
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Re: What causes bad trips?

Post by Hedge90 »

Hm, that's actually not a bad point. After my experience I was anxious about sleeping or just "phasing off" and stuff like that for days, because any time the focus of my attention started to leave the egoic sense behind, it instantly shouted ALARM! ALARM! Though I'm not sure this applies to Xth timers too.
I wonder how this affects the experience of actual death though. There's a study according to which most people who had "transcandent" psychedelic experiences are less afraid of death. And obviously it's their ego that's less afraid.
Jim Cross
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Re: What causes bad trips?

Post by Jim Cross »

Hedge90 wrote: Mon Aug 30, 2021 4:51 pm I have a quite limited experience with psychedelics, but I had one ego-death level trip, which, while left me pretty shaken afterwards (after my ego returned), was a beautiful experience through and through while I was having it. So in short, I haven't had a bad trip yet.
My theory, though, is mostly that you have a bad trip if you are unable to let go of your ego and surrender control, and then your ego self has to go through a traumatic experience where there are no certainties and reference points. I know that when I had my ego death it was a critical point in the trip, because I literally felt that I was leaving my identity behind, together with every personal emotion and thought - I still "saw" them, but from the outside, as a dispassionate observer. This was a necessary point, because the rest of it would have probably ruined me for a while, had I not shed my ego.
But from friends and browsing trip reports on erowid, I can see several bad trip reports, even from people who had already had "heroic" level trips before, and who thus must have been aware of how you have to surrender to ego death.
What do you think causes these cases? My only guess is that once you feel "comfortable" with a psychedelic, you ego may become complacent and think "oh I can go in there no problem", and then when they have the experience with their ego intact, it's scared shitless.
But I'm interested in your thoughts on the matter, whether it's theoretical or based on personal experience.
I think anyone who does enough psychedelics will eventually have a bad trip. Pinpointing the cause isn't always easy. Timothy Leary identified set and setting as the primary determinants of variability in the experience. Set is yourself, your background, and your beliefs. Setting is the environment. I think that very subtle changes in either yourself or the environment can send a trip in a different direction. Something not even in the forefront of your mind - perhaps a worry about a relationship or your job - might cascade into existential dread or fear under the influence of a psychedelic. The problem is that once you get sucked into a bad trip it is like riptide. You can't fight your way back out. You need to ride it out.
Hedge90
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Re: What causes bad trips?

Post by Hedge90 »

It's interesting and I've heard before that you should be in a good mental state when you trip, but, as much as anecdotal evidence is worth, for me it was pretty much the opposite. I had been depressed for about 3 years when I tripped, I had many, many unresolved issues, and I went in alone, without a sitter, really really afraid. Yet, there was nothing bad in it for me. Though I suppose things are not always so clear cut and I might just have been lucky.
Jim Cross
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Re: What causes bad trips?

Post by Jim Cross »

Hedge90 wrote: Mon Aug 30, 2021 6:38 pm It's interesting and I've heard before that you should be in a good mental state when you trip, but, as much as anecdotal evidence is worth, for me it was pretty much the opposite. I had been depressed for about 3 years when I tripped, I had many, many unresolved issues, and I went in alone, without a sitter, really really afraid. Yet, there was nothing bad in it for me. Though I suppose things are not always so clear cut and I might just have been lucky.
You probably were lucky. Also possible your expectations for relief from your depression led to a positive experience. Like I said it's hard to pinpoint exactly why a trip goes in a certain direction, either positive or negative.

Of course, dose can make a big difference too. That's especially the case if you have some experience with lower doses then get a maybe unexpected larger dose. Certainly the ego death sorts of experiences come with the higher doses.

The psychedelic itself can also make a big difference. There can be impurities in manufactured drugs. Ayahuasca also sometimes has Brugmansia added to it which is said to generate scarier trips.
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Adur Alkain
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Re: What causes bad trips?

Post by Adur Alkain »

Hedge90 wrote: Mon Aug 30, 2021 4:51 pm I have a quite limited experience with psychedelics, but I had one ego-death level trip, which, while left me pretty shaken afterwards (after my ego returned), was a beautiful experience through and through while I was having it. So in short, I haven't had a bad trip yet.
My theory, though, is mostly that you have a bad trip if you are unable to let go of your ego and surrender control, and then your ego self has to go through a traumatic experience where there are no certainties and reference points. I know that when I had my ego death it was a critical point in the trip, because I literally felt that I was leaving my identity behind, together with every personal emotion and thought - I still "saw" them, but from the outside, as a dispassionate observer. This was a necessary point, because the rest of it would have probably ruined me for a while, had I not shed my ego.
But from friends and browsing trip reports on erowid, I can see several bad trip reports, even from people who had already had "heroic" level trips before, and who thus must have been aware of how you have to surrender to ego death.
What do you think causes these cases? My only guess is that once you feel "comfortable" with a psychedelic, you ego may become complacent and think "oh I can go in there no problem", and then when they have the experience with their ego intact, it's scared shitless.
But I'm interested in your thoughts on the matter, whether it's theoretical or based on personal experience.
Hi Hedge,

I didn't see this thread until today.

I've had many psychedelic experiences, spanning three decades of my life, involving mainly psilocybin mushrooms, and I have some ideas about what bad trips actually mean. These are original ideas, based on my own experiences and the experiences of people I know, not on anything I've read (but I've read a lot about psychedelics).

I've come up with a sort of "model of the psychedelic path", which I can summarize like this:

- It's very different to try psychedelics once or twice, or to try them many times but in a casual, playful way, than to engage in a serious exploration of the psychedelic experience. This serious exploration is what I call "the psychedelic path".

- In the psychedelic path, one encounters a series of doors or gates. These gates appear to every individual in the same necessary order. Each door represents the threshold into a new realm of experience. Each door feels, in increasingly deep ways, like Death.

- I've personally encountered three doors. There may be more, at even deeper levels. But these are, as far as I know, the Three Doors in the Psychedelic Path:

- The First Door is the dissolution of ego (what you call "ego death"). This happens to most people at their first or second trip. For those who try to cling to their habitual way of thinking, to their familiar identity (ego identity), the experience turns into a "bad trip". It is just the ego terrified at its own demise. Many people stop there, after their first "bad trip", and never try psychedelics again. But for those who are brave enough to go through the gate of ego-dissolution, a wonderful new realm of experience opens up. You can witness the world in a completely new and amazing way, free of the constraints of the habitual mind. It's actually a wholly new world, a parallel universe.

This is the incredibly rich and vast realm that most psychonauts love to explore. But if you continue your exploration on this ego-free level, you eventually reach the Second Door.

- The Second Door is the dissolution of the body. We could also call it the dissolution of the world, or the dissolution of perception. This usually happens to experienced psychonauts, not to beginners. When you reach this door, you witness your own body dissolving. Some people experience this in a very terrifying way: they see bugs crawling all over their skin, or they see their veins opening up and the blood running free. But if you are able to calm down and observe what is happening, you can witness how your body, like all physical reality, is made up of these infinite multicoloured filaments of light (I described this in some detail in my essay "Intuive Idealism vs. Analytic Idealism"). What happens at this stage is that all those filaments become disconnected and begin to flow freely throughout your visual field. As your body dissolves in this way, the whole world around you dissolves. You end up floating in this boundless sea of pure awareness, pure consciousness. That's what those luminous filaments are made of: pure consciousness. So there's no ego, there's no body, there's no individual identity anymore, but you are still there, experiencing yourself as pure universal consciousness, boundless and eternal. It is a blissful, deeply liberating experience.

Most experienced psychonauts know this realm of pure consciousness. It is a beautiful, peaceful, wonderful experience that for some represent the end of the psychedelic path. After that encounter with pure formless bliss, there seems to be nothing else to explore. Many abondon the use of psychedelics at that stage, and start practicing meditation, yoga, etc., looking for other ways of accessing that blissful state, without the unpleasant side effects of psychedelics (those unpleasant side effects are inevitable: the "way back" from that blissful body-less state after a psychedelic trip is always difficult). But some psychonauts keep coming back again and again to the psychedelic experience, sensing that there may be more to discover. I'm one of those, and after many experiences of blissful dissolution into pure consciousness, I began to encounter something else: a growing feeling of pure dread. This was a fear, a terror, infinitely more powerful than the fear of ego-death or body-death. It didn't belong to my ego. I was pure consciousness, experiencing this deep terror. It was as if the whole universe was made of fear. I called it the Horror.

Most psychonauts stop there. They simply feel that they're done with psychedelics. It's not fun anymore. But I persevered. I went back again and again, for many years, ecountering this Horror again and again. I just wanted to know what it all meant. And finally, with the help of some deep insights I received from my spiritual teacher (I was doing some spiritual work on myself, other than taking psychedelics), I finally understood what it was: I had reached the Third Door.

- The Third Door is the dissolution of consciousness. Once I realized this, I understood my terror. It was the terror of consciousness witnessing its own dissolution. I was clinging to my consciousness, which at that stage was my true identity. I was the universal consciousness. I wasn't ready to let it go. But when I understood this, I saw that I had to let go. So in my next psychedelic trip, that's what I did. I surrendered my consciousness. I witnessed my consciousness dissolving, gradually dissipating, until it was gone. And there was nothing. Absolute blackness. No time, no space, no experience. It was pure Nothing. It truly felt like dying.

There was a gap in my experience. And then, eventually, I came back. It was like being reborn. Everything felt renewed, fresh, wonderful. It was the most amazing spiritual experience in my life. I realized that this Absolute Nothing is the source, the ground of everything. I realized I had finally found my Home.

I don't know anyone else who has gone through that Third Door. Each door feels like dying, but in an increasingly deep and powerful way. Passing each door brings a liberation from the fear of death, but also in an increasingly deep way. I can say that after going through that Third Door I have absolutely no fear of Death.

So this is my model. Of course, it's only a model, an approximation, a simplification. But it can explain three different types of "bad trips", related to those three gates. And it can explain why experienced psychonauts can also have bad trips.

There are other types of bad trips that I haven't included in my model, because they don't correspond to gates or doors into deeper levels of experience: they happen at the first level of exploration, when one is free of the habitual mind (or ego) but still retains an individual identity. At that stage one can encounter quite scary creatures, sometimes interpreted as aliens, or elves, or demons. I prefer to call them Faeries (or Ireluak, in my mother tongue, Basque). This is especially likely to happen with magic mushrooms, which traditionally have been linked with these sort of creatures. This is a whole vast topic in itself. It's very difficult to distinguish, when it comes to this sort of experience, if we are dealing with real entities or mental projections, inspired by tales, myths, movies, etc. But these encounters can be as terrifying as the best horror stories.

Anyway. I don't know if all this will make sense to you, but at least I hope it may be interesting, or even intriguing. :)
Physicalists hold two fundamental beliefs:

1. The essence of Nature is Mathematics.
2. Consciousness is a product of the human brain.

But the two contraries are true:

1. The essence of Nature is Consciousness.
2. Mathematics is a product of the human brain.
Hedge90
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Re: What causes bad trips?

Post by Hedge90 »

Wow Adur, thanks for this response. It was very insightful, especially the part about the Third Door, because I indeed heard people speaking about some dreadful final stage they always shy away from, and I assume that's what they are talking about. Now I feel tempted to share my entire experience though, because I'm interested in what "stages" you think I experienced.
This was a trip on 20g of Magic Truffles, which is I think an equivalent of about 4g of shrooms.
As you said the first station was ego dissolution. It was the scariest experience of my entire life, but after the jump it was very liberating. I don't know what dissolution of the body should entail, but I very firmly experienced a total dissolution of all normal perceptions and emotion. Sensory perceptions like the pillow under my head or the urge to pee, as well as emotions like the previous fear, remained existing experiences, but they sort of floated away within the ocean of the infinity of experiences in the cosmos. I could point out which ones are "mine", but I lent them no greater significance than a breath of wind in Mexico or a dog's bark in England. I was 100% certain that if someone put a burning iron through my palm then and there, I would not react, because even though I'd feel it, I would be entirely detached from the pain.
However, from there I did not go straight into that blissful state. For a while I was nothing but awareness. I saw myself from the outside, as a concept (i.e. I wasn't seeing my body, I saw a "concept" that I otherwise think of as "I". In that state I did nothing just contemplated the fact that I now feel like I'm nothing, and what I'm looking at is me - yet, I must not be nothing, since "something" is "doing" the "looking". After I had this realisation the state shifted.
Then came the bliss. I was listening to music, and at that point I became the music - for a more detailed description of this stage, please read my post on Nature and Music.
But that was not the end stage. It hit after that. At the end of that part, I felt without a niggling of doubt that existence is perfect, I now experienced this perfection, and there is nothing left for me anymore - nothing needs to be changed or done, and I can rest, forever. I saw the Earth as an interconnected tapestry of life, feeding on itself yet existing in perfect harmony, and I was that harmony, all of it, from the lion to the antelope to the grass. And I dissolved into it. I wouldn't exactly say there was no consciousness at all, I'd rather say there were no state shifts so I felt like I merged back into infinity. I didn't think anything. I didn't experience anything, just a motionless feeling of utter calm and peace beyond description. I could have come back to the world of the living, but there was no motivation to change anything, so if I were the entire universe, nothing would have happened any more. Like what the Buddha said about whether he'd reincarnate in some form: "Which way does the wind blow a flame that has been blown out?"
After that, the universe spit me out again, and I was back with my oh-so-terribly burdensome material body, yet fully rejuvenated.
These all felt like vastly different states, but there was no accompanying feeling of terror other than at the first ego dissolution stage. What is your take on these?
Ben Iscatus
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Re: What causes bad trips?

Post by Ben Iscatus »

Thanks Adur and Hedge for sharing your experiences and describing them so well (people so often give up and say, "it's beyond words"). Brilliant!
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Martin_
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Re: What causes bad trips?

Post by Martin_ »

Here's another one: The self-sustaining-fear-loop.

1. I notice that my thoughts are causing my emotional response
2. I think "I hope I won't think any scary thoughts"
3. That, in itself is a scary thought.
4. I become fearful
5. I realize that I just trapped myself in a fear-loop
6. That, is an even more scary thought.
7. ...

With some experience, there are ways out of it:
* Take a deep breath
* remind yourself that it's only temporary
* observe the fear instead of trying to control it,
* etc

The above are quite rudimentary psychonautic techniques I believe, but for a novice the experience can be quite traumatizing.

I once had a friend who told me he was in the process of having exactly this experience. I told him "That's ok. It'll pass". That was all he needed.
"I don't understand." /Unknown
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