People tend to engage in drug abuse because it produces overwhelmingly good feelings – a condition called euphoria. However, sometimes, a person who is using hallucinogens or other drugs can experience a condition known as a “bad trip” or a psychedelic crisis. A psychedelic crisis is defined as a situation where the disorientation caused by using the drug creates an intensely negative psychological and neurological response in the person’s brain.
What this means is that, during a bad trip, the intensity of the high can become extremely frightening or overwhelming, resulting in the person becoming unstable, panicked, and potentially even violent, creating a risk to themselves and others. This can create a situation that requires anyone with the person to intervene to prevent the situation from getting too far out of control, protecting the individual and others from harm as a result of the bad trip.
In order to intervene in ways that are most likely to help, the following steps should be taken:
- Recognize when a bad trip is happening.
- Move the person to a safe space.
- Stay with the person at all times.
- Remind the person that the feeling will wear off.
- Stay safe and protect others.
- Get medical or other professional help if needed.
Having a Bad Trip
The following discussion goes more in-depth to outline the process of each step and why it is necessary.
Step 1: Recognize when a bad trip is happening.
The first thing to know is how to recognize when a person may be experiencing a bad trip. The individual who is on a bad high may become irrational or panicked. They may talk about being afraid, and their emotional response may quickly get out of control, sometimes leading to violent behavior and the potential for self-harm. An article from The Fix describes a bad trip as being similar to a heightened anxiety attack, which, in its late stages, can resemble paranoid psychosis.
Bad trips are most likely to occur with use of hallucinogens or psychedelics, such as PCP, LSD, Peyote, or magic mushrooms (shrooms). However, people who use marijuana can also experience bad highs, and any drug that can create a dissociative effect or hallucinations may result in similar situations. Bad trips are most likely to happen with people who are using a drug for the first time, but they can happen at any time, depending on the individual’s experience.
Step 2: Move the person to a safe space.
The panicked, paranoid behavior of a person on a bad trip can create the potential that the individual will cause self-harm or harm to others before coming down. For this reason, it is important to keep the person away from sources of potential accidental injury or death, such as high places, bodies of water, traffic, or other physical dangers, as well as to prevent the individual from getting access to weapons or other means of deliberately causing harm.
An article from the health website Verywell also explains that others may be a risk to a person who is on a bad trip. For example, people who are frightened by the individual’s behavior may respond negatively and could potentially even harm the person. For this reason, taking the individual to a quiet place with few people around can be better for everyone involved.
Step 3: Stay with the person at all times.
As described by The Fix, one of the things a person who is on a bad trip needs is the presence of a trusted person who can support, calm, and protect the individual through the process. This serves two purposes. First, it can intervene in the experiences the individual is having. Having someone trusted to talk to can provide a sense of stability and calm that may mitigate the severity of a psychedelic crisis.
The other reason to stick with the person is to minimize the potential for self-harm. Making sure the individual stays in the safe space, is unable to access dangerous materials, and doesn’t injure themselves or others are important aspects of dealing with a bad trip.
It is important to bear in mind that there is no way to accelerate the process of coming down from a trip. When providing help to someone in a psychedelic crisis, the helper should be prepared to stay for the long haul or get additional trusted help to make sure that the person will not be alone throughout the high and potentially for some time afterwards.
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Step 4: Remind the person that the feeling will wear off.
One source of comfort for someone on a bad trip can be reassurance that the experience is a result of drug use, which will eventually wear off. One reason to stay with the person is to provide this constant reminder, helping the individual to mitigate the feelings of anxiety and panic that can make the situation worse.
It can also help to make sure the person does not take more drugs in an attempt to change the experience from bad to good. Adding more drugs is not likely to make the situation better, and it can make it much worse. Continuing to reassure the person that things will get better when the drugs wear off can help to make sure no further drugs are added to complicate the problem.
Step 5: Stay safe and protect others.
Note that the violent behavior of people on a bad trip can become extreme. Sadly, there are too many stories, like one from the Seattle Times, about people who injure or kill themselves or others while on a bad trip. For this reason, anyone attempting to help a person who is experiencing a psychedelic crisis should take precautions to be safe.
In the case that the person’s behavior is too much for the helper to manage, having others around to help can be of extreme importance. However, if the individual becomes too much of a danger for those involved – for example, if the individual gets access to a weapon – the helper’s priority is to stay safe and find a way to diffuse the situation without bringing harm to self or others. This may include calling the police to subdue the person and protect others in the area.
Step 6: Get medical or other professional help if needed.
Dealing with someone on a bad trip can be too much for a person who is inexperienced with handling drug abuse to control. For this reason, a good course of action can simply be to get the person to an emergency room or call 911 to handle the situation. A hospital can provide a safe space with constant observation and protection, as well as emergency medical assistance if the person has been poisoned by the drug (such as a poisonous mushroom) or overdosed.
A source of help following a bad trip can be to get the individual to professional drug abuse treatment. Some hallucinogens or drugs that can result in bad trips are addictive. Particularly if the individual is regularly using drugs, resulting in disruption of the person’s life, work, and relationships, it may be time to get professional help
An accredited, research-based drug treatment facility is often the most likely source of help for a person who is struggling with hallucinogen abuse or addiction. With demonstrable success in applying medical and psychological treatment, this type of rehab can be the first step toward helping the person achieve recovery and a future free from drugs and the bad trips that can result from their use.