But again, there is no guarantee that this will keep a trip good—one of the characteristics of hallucinogenic drugs is that they can cause you to see and think about the world in a very different way from how you usually do, so the previously trusted friend can quickly change and appear to be deceitful, mean-spirited, even evil.
None of these beliefs are correct—although sometimes they can provide a false sense of security and a carefree attitude that can help keep the mood positive. However, the more times you take psychedelic drugs, the more likely you are to eventually have a bad trip, which could even include thinking the very same “safe” people can no longer be trusted. If this happens, it can be upsetting both for the person experiencing it, and for their companions, who can feel powerless to help.
Tip: Usually, people who are tripping are aware that these hallucinations are the effects of a drug, and can be reassured that what they are seeing is part of the trip.
The most intense period of the trip typically occurs from one hour to three hours after the drug is consumed, so time will usually ease the most intense aspects of the trip, but the effects will often continue for an additional six to twelve hours after that, during which time the person will not be able to sleep.
Tip: Generally, it is unwise to allow someone who is having a bad trip to go off on their own, but be aware that acting confrontational or following them may increase their feelings of antagonism or paranoia. Try to have a trusted friend accompany them, saying they want to help them stay safe. However, a stranger who comes across as caring, genuine and calm may be more acceptable. Although involving police or medical personnel may be highly upsetting for someone having a bad trip, it is preferable to having them hurt themselves.
Most of the hallucinations that people have while tripping take the form of visual distortions—such as walls “breathing,” colored or geometric formations, or illusions. Sometimes these distortions are extremely vivid, such as a familiar person’s face morphing into that of a demon. Occasionally, hallucinations take the form of seeing beings or objects that don’t even exist.
One of the earliest documented bad trips was reported by Albert Hofmann, the chemist who discovered LSD. He had started experiencing a bad trip, and in an attempt to soothe himself, requested some milk from his next-door neighbor, who appeared to have become “a malevolent, insidious witch.”
Your mood can change dramatically when you are tripping, and feelings of sadness and despair can reach new depths, while anxiety can quickly develop into panic.
Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.
A bad trip is an unpleasant experience that can happen after taking psychedelic drugs such as lysergic acid (LSD) or magic mushrooms.