We don’t actually know how long humans have been using psychedelic substances because their use predates written text.
There’s even a theory that one of the primary catalysts for the evolution of the modern human from apes came from consuming psychedelic mushrooms (the stoned ape theory).
Historically, psychedelics were used as a form of sacrament. Rituals involving psychedelic compounds demanded a great deal of respect and there were strict protocols put in place to ensure they were used properly.
Today, psychedelics are used in a completely different context.
Many people use them simply to “trip out” or have a good time, without any concern over the potential dangers these substances have on the fragile psyche.
In this guide, you’ll learn about the potential dangers of psychedelics and how to use these substances responsibly.
We’ll cover adulteration with dangerous chemicals, the concepts behind “set and setting”, why having a trip sitter is so important, and which psychedelics to be most cautious about.
The Responsible Trip Checklist
- I understand why psychedelics should be treated with respect
- I’m familiar with the laws in my area involving the substance I’m using
- I’m familiar and confident in the dose I’m taking
- I’ve tested a sample of the substance I’m using with a testing kit
- I’m not mixing any medications or other substances with my psychedelics
- I’m in a safe & comfortable environment with people I trust
- One of the members of my group is responsible and sober
- I have nothing important scheduled for after the trip
- I’m in a sound & healthy state of mind
The Four Pillars of Safe Tripping: Set, Setting, Sitter, & Substance
First and foremost, let’s cover the four pillars of safe psychedelic use. These principles are universally accepted as being the basis of any responsible psychedelic use.
1. Set (Mindset)
Set refers to the mindset of the psychedelic explorer prior to engaging on the trip. It involves the preparation for the experience and the expectations they set out before they begin.
Psychedelics won’t (usually) induce a state of euphoria or elevated mood. They exaggerate feelings you’re already experiencing. If you go in with a negative, paranoid, or frightened mindset, the drugs will make these feelings much worse.
If you can enter the trip with a positive and care-free attitude you’re much more likely to have an overwhelmingly positive experience.
Of course, challenging periods are always possible, but establishing a positive and growth-oriented attitude before you begin ensures these challenging periods end with a positive outcome.
Take some time before you begin to think about what you want to gain from the experience and consider whether you’re ready for the experience or not.
Never take psychedelics because of peer-pressure. Only go into these experiences when you’re truly ready for it.
The setting refers to the environment you’re going to be spending your time in during the trip. It includes both the location (a house, park, therapist office, etc.), and the people you’re sharing it with.
You should spend some time planning this out to avoid ending up in an uncomfortable, stressful or dangerous environment.
Try and find a setting that has the following qualities:
- Somewhere you’re familiar with
- Somewhere segregated to minimize contact with people outside your group
- Somewhere that isn’t cluttered or uncomfortable
- Outdoor settings are often a good choice for psychedelics
- Somewhere with access to a toilet
- Somewhere with a quiet space to lie down
Adding other elements to the setting to make it more comfortable is always recommended. Having some speakers and a chill playlist setup is always a good idea. Even traditional entheogenic ceremonies usually involved some sort of music — usually chanting or instrumental music.
The people you’re with are part of the setting too. You should never engage on a psychedelic journey with people you don’t trust or people you don’t like.
A trip sitter is someone who remains sober throughout the journey to facilitate the psychedelic explorers on their journey. They’re in charge of maintaining the setting you’re in (answering knocks at the door, guiding the explorers on a hike, taking care of any cooking or driving, and doing the technical stuff like setting up a movie or game).
The trip sitter is also responsible for the safety of the group. They should remain vigilant to spot any signs of danger — whether it’s in the environment or with the explorers themselves.
It’s rare for psychedelics to result in any serious health issues — especially when used in the right dose and tested beforehand.
For some people, a bad trip can make people feel like they’re dying.
The sitter should be able to recognize when there’s an emergency and take action. They should also be there as a rock for those going through a challenging experience to help bring them back to a more comfortable space.
Before you take any substance, make sure to do your research:
- Understand the correct dose
- Review the potential risks & contraindications (when not to use the substance)
- Check how long the trip is likely to last
- Test a sample of the substance for adulterants before you begin
Getting the dose right and knowing what you’re getting yourself into is a core aspect of using these substances responsibly. Even if you or other members of your group haven’t used the substance themselves, you should have some idea of what to expect.
Going into a salvia trip without any prior knowledge of how intense this drug is going to be can be terrifying. I’ve known people who used this drug and had a terrible experience because they thought they were “going insane.”
Testing a sample of your substance is also very important — especially for substances that don’t come as a raw plant. There are too many unethical manufacturers these days selling fake drugs — such as acid that contains dangerous NBOMe’s or MDMA capsules laced with fentanyl.
Always test a sample before you begin — it’s cheap, very simple to do, and can end up saving your life by avoiding these toxic adulterants.
When Does Psychedelic Use Become Unhealthy or Irresponsible?
Not all substances are inherently good or bad. Even marijuana or magic mushrooms walk the line.
The question you should ask yourself is — “what are you using the substance for?”
“Are you using it to escape a particular emotion or situation?”
“Are you taking substances compulsively or repeatedly despite negative impacts on your health, finances, or relationships?”
If you answered yes to either of these questions, you may want to consider seeking psychological support through means other than psychedelics. Even though we can’t become physically addicted to most psychedelics, we can become addicted to the escape they can create for us.
Psychedelics should be used as a tool for self-growth, discovery, and healing — not an escape or crutch from reality.
Modern society has separated itself from the spiritual connection psychoactive substances offer us. Instead of using them to better ourselves, we rely on them as a crutch to escape the painful reality of life. This almost always leads to abuse and regression.
Let me give you an example of what I mean.
Before the Americas were “conquered” there was no addiction in the west. This is despite the presence, and abundance, of addictive substances like tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana.
The difference here is that these cultures used these substances spiritually and sacramentally — with a great deal of respect.
It all comes down to intention, guidance, and context.
Using psychedelic or psychoactive substances can provide profoundly positive experiences. They can reframe our problems and help us resolve them — bringing us more successful in life, and a higher state of health. Psychedelic experiences clarify what’s truly important in life so we can truly enjoy our experience and help us become a better person to our friends, family, and strangers we encounter.
But on the flip-side, psychoactive substances can also give us a temporary means to escape our current reality — leading us into a regressive cycle of chasing perceived happiness. We’re not truly happy when we do this. Over time we become more lost and experience more suffering — which ultimately leads to an even higher reliance on the substance to “be happy.”
How to Work Through Difficult Psychedelic Experiences
To be clear — difficult is not the same as bad.
Many people who have used psychedelics will agree, the most challenging experiences (sometimes considered a “bad trip”) end up producing the greatest level of growth and improvement.
Psychedelics don’t always give us the trip they want — they give us the trip we need.
Working through a difficult experience can be challenging, but it’s important to remember that no matter what you’re going through, it will soon pass.
Having a trusted trip sitter nearby when you’re going through a challenging experience is one of the best ways to get through an experience like this. Often, just having someone nearby whom you trust acts like an anchor, keeping you from the negative spiral a “bad trip” can result in.
The best way to get through a difficult psychedelic experience is to “let it happen”.
I understand that in the moment this is much easier said than done — but if you can stop resisting the experience and allow it to take you wherever it’s headed, the journey will be much less uncomfortable, and short-lived.
As you resist negative emotions or hallucinations, you quickly start to realize you have no control over the situation — which only leads to more panic, more fear, and a worsening situation. If you can learn to let go and ride the wave, you’ll get through to the other side in a much better condition.
You can also get the help of psychedelic facilitators or psychotherapists trained in the use of psychedelics.