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What Is a Bad Trip?

A bad trip refers to a distressing experience one has following the consumption of a drug or other substance. The exact cause is not fully understood, but there are many factors that may contribute to such an experience.

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What Drugs Are Linked With Bad Trips?

Drugs that are most common in causing a bad trip are those that are either psychoactive or hallucinogenic. Examples include the following:

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  • Psilocybin mushrooms: These naturally occurring mushrooms commonly grow in moist climates and contain the drug psilocybin, which can create hallucinations that may be scary or traumatic to some people. 
  • LSD: This hallucinogenic is perhaps most commonly linked with the concept of a bad trip, as the drug can produce intensive sensory experiences that may be overwhelming to some individuals. 
  • PCP: PCP is a hallucinogenic that also functions as a stimulant. It can produce hallucinations and delusions. 

What Specifically Constitutes a Bad Shroom Trip?

We typically use the word bad to describe something that’s unpleasant or unwanted. When people talk about a bad shroom trip, they’re often talking about something much more serious.

In 2020, researchers examined 346 reports of users who took mushrooms. To evaluate the data, they needed to define what a bad trip looks like. They mentioned a bad trip often involved these symptoms:

  • Mental confusion
  • Agitation
  • Extreme anxiety
  • Fear
  • Psychotic episodes
  • Severe paranoia
  • Loss of sense of reality

Case studies also suggest that some people have health problems during a bad shroom trip. For example, in 2023, researchers published a case study of a 48-year-old man who came to the hospital with a heart condition triggered by psilocybin. In the case study, people say that other case studies have linked mushrooms to issues like seizures, coma, and acute kidney injuries.

What Causes a Bad Trip?

The precise cause of a bad trip is not widely understood, but there are numerous factors that may contribute to one, such as these:

  • Environment: Some settings may produce unpleasant emotions or induce traumatic memories. Certain environments may be more likely to trigger a bad trip, and a person is unlikely to effectively calm down in these settings as well.
  • The amount of the drug taken: A larger dose will increase the risk of having a bad trip. 
  • Any pre-existing mental health condition: A pre-existing mental health condition, particularly psychosis, can increase the risk of having a bad trip. 
  • Lack of experience: A lack of experience with drug use may cause confusion regarding symptoms, and you may think you are ill or even dying. 
  • Substance composition and purity: The composition of the drug can also influence your experience and may contribute to symptoms that lead to a bad trip, such as gastrointestinal discomfort. 
  • Emotional state: Some people think that bad trips originate from taking drugs while you’re experiencing anger, sadness, or another strong (but negative) emotion.
  • Mixing substances: Using multiple drugs at once can produce unpredictable results. You could have a bad trip during one of these episodes.
  • Lack of supervision: In studies, about half of people who used psychedelics and had a bad experience describe feelings of isolation and floating outside of their bodies. Taking drugs around a grounding presence, like a sober person, might help to reduce the risk of a bad trip.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of a Bad Trip?

Some common signs and symptoms of a bad trip include the following:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • High blood pressure
  • Flashbacks
  • Paranoia
  • Panic attacks
  • Fear of death

Consumption of hallucinogenic drugs carries a high risk based on these factors and can threaten the safety of both the user and anyone around them. 

If you are having a bad trip, it is important to ensure you are in a safe place and protected from any type of physical or psychological threats. It’s a good idea to notify a friend or anyone you are with as soon as you notice you might be having a bad trip. It’s best to not be alone.

How Long Does a Bad Trip Last?

The length of time a bad trip lasts depends on a wide range of factors. Some drugs have longer-half-lives, remaining in your system longer and having a longer period of time of activity in your brain. This would conceivably extend the period of time the bad trip lasts as well. 

These are some general time frames related to various drugs:

  • LSD: An LSD trip can last up to 12 hours, so a bad trip could last this long. The peak effect time of LSD is about 2 to 4 hours following consumption. 
  • Mushrooms: A trip on magic mushrooms typically lasts about 4 to 6 hours, and the peak effect occurs about one to two hours following use. 
  • DMT: DMT trips last about 15 minutes to an hour, with the peak effect occurring about 5 to 20 minutes following use. 
  • Ayahuasca: This brew containing DMT has an effect that lasts about 4 to 8 hours. The peak effect occurs about 1 to 2 hours following consumption.

It is worth mentioning that these are approximations, and the duration of a bad trip will vary based on a wide range of factors. When you are having a bad trip, the duration can feel much longer than it actually is.

For example, researchers with Nemours say the effects of mushrooms typically last for as long as six hours. However, in a 2023 study, researchers asked 608 people about their experience with a bad shroom trip. About a third of participants said symptoms like anxiety, fear, and social disconnection lasted for more than one year. These people might say their bad shroom trip just kept going rather than ending after a few hours.

How to Help Someone Having a Bad Trip

If someone you know is going through a bad trip, here’s what you can do to help:

  1. Reduce triggers. It is critical to provide a positive and supportive environment. Any subtle thing that may cause psychological discomfort, particularly fear, paranoia, and anxiety, can cause and exacerbate a bad trip.
  2. Be positive and encouraging. Remind the person that they are in a safe place. It can be helpful to talk about positive experiences or things about their past to help bring them to a place of safety and comfort. For example, you could talk about a special memory you have with them or even discuss a television program you know they enjoyed.
  3. Provide encouragement. Remind the individual that the experience is temporary and will go away soon. Help them to focus on activities that calm them and reduce their excitability and agitation.
  4. Assess health. Look for serious symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, stiff muscles, or fainting. If you spot any of these signs, call 911 and follow the operator’s instructions. Stay with the person until help arrives.

When to Get Help

In severe cases, such as if the individual is threatening self-harm or to harm others, it may be necessary to call emergency services. Depending on the substance taken, medical personnel may administer certain medications to counteract the effects. They will at least get the person to a calm, quiet environment to lower stimulation until the substance wears off. 

A bad trip is sometimes what motivates someone to acknowledge their substance abuse problem. With addiction treatment, you can leave all substance abuse in your past, no matter what your substance of choice is. In recovery, you don’t have to worry about experiencing any more bad trips

Updated April 18, 2024
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