Tip: Although acts of violence or self-harm are unusual while tripping, tell someone as soon as possible if you are having any thoughts about harming yourself or someone else — you are not thinking clearly and indulging in these thoughts may have regrettable consequences. If someone else who is tripping seems at risk of harming themselves or someone else, get help immediately. Call 911 if necessary.
If the person is open to receiving medical help, which they may be if they think the intensely unpleasant aspects of the trip could be alleviated, you could accompany them to a walk-in clinic or the emergency room. There may be medical interventions that could help. However, never attempt to self-medicate by taking other drugs—this is risky and could worsen the effects of the trip or cause drug interactions. It can also lead to developing problems with other drugs taken in an attempt to calm down, such as heroin.
Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.
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.”
Incidentally, accidents that occur under the influence of hallucinogens can also happen as the result of delusions that are not part of a bad trip — people occasionally develop delusional beliefs that can lead them into danger, such as believing that they can fly or that they can safely climb to dangerous heights, or that running into traffic is not dangerous. These kinds of delusions are unusual, but serious injuries and deaths have happened in these situations, and it is impossible to predict how a hallucinogen will affect you.
Previously positive or neutral interpretations of life or relationships can suddenly become negative. Someone having a bad trip might feel that their life is worthless, that they or someone else they normally feel fine about is bad or acting against them, or that the whole world is bad or corrupt. These feelings can be all-consuming and can cause the person having a bad trip to panic and try and get away from the people around them.
Tip: If someone is having a bad trip, it can be reassuring to tell them it won’t go on forever, even if they feel as if it will.
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.
A bad trip is an unpleasant experience that can happen after taking psychedelic drugs such as lysergic acid (LSD) or magic mushrooms.