Taking psychedelics like magic mushrooms or LSD can be a wonderful, transformative experience, and yet many psychologically challenging things can come up during each trip. It doesn’t matter if you’re a seasoned psychedelics user or you’re simply curious about the wide world of ancient plant medicine: every trip requires preparation and intention, or it can quickly become a bad one.
In this article, I’ll share my 4 must-haves for every psychedelic trip, which I have sometimes forgotten and had to relearn the hard way. The underlying theme of these tips is to curate an experience that focuses on the tripper’s physical and psychological safety. If I feel safe and comforted when I am tripping and I’m in the presence of people I love, I am better prepared to face difficult things that come up, and I will be more open to the joy, creativity, and wonder of these mystical experiences.
Of course, the opinions expressed here are purely my own. If you’re a beginner, I recommend Your Psilocybin Mushroom Companion by Michelle Janikian for further reading. I am not endorsing the use of psychedelics or illegal drug use, but I will be sharing my experiences with them. Psychedelics are still completely illegal in most places.
What is a psychedelic drug? What’s the difference between psychedelic and psychoactive drugs?
According to the National Cancer Institute, psychoactive substances are anything that affects how the brain works and can adjust your mood, thoughts, and feelings. Psychoactive things can include things like weed (cannabis), MDMA, ketamine, or caffeine. What makes something psychedelic is if it is a hallucinogen, i.e., it can produce abnormal psychic effects or side effects like hallucinations, distorted visuals, and sounds and lead to harmful mental illnesses like psychosis in the worst-case scenario. Drugs like ayahuasca (DMT, or Dimethyltryptamine), PCP, peyote (mescaline), LSD (Lysergic Acid Diethylamide), and magic mushrooms fall into this camp.
So, let’s get started with trip preparation!
1. Prepare for your trip as an act of self-love
It’s normal to get nervous before a psychedelic trip, especially if it’s your first time taking these substances. Under the influence of these drugs, you won’t be able to control your thoughts and predict what will happen for a good few hours, and the prospect of this can be very daunting.
Embarking on these inner journeys, I encourage you to see planning for the trip as a reassuring form of self-care. Deciding what you bring on the trip, where it’s going to be, and who it’s going to be with are things that you can control and which can affect your well-being during the trip. Choosing these is a way of showing love to yourself and will help you feel less nervous. Then, when you are on your trip and have everything you remembered to bring, you can wholeheartedly thank yourself for being so caring and awesome.
In addition to the more boring, practical things you’ll need if you’re tripping outside (see checklist at the end of the article), remember that a trip can be a fully immersive creative experience. I always bring a journal, and I get excited about the ideas that come up. I feel like I am catching falling stars and secrets to the universe through my pen. My sister’s boyfriend curated an incredible trip we did in Wales during the summer and brought paints and wooden blocks as canvases for us. Here’s the one I did, and it is still one of my favorite paintings:
Is it a woman in a fancy dress and scarf? Is it a woman’s face? Is it a question mark? Is it Ireland?
I bought pots of inks to a trip I curated for friends in Prospect Park. I thought I’d use the ink pens, but I ended up doing finger painting. I love the texture of these paintings:
I bought pots of inks to a trip I curated for friends in Prospect Park. I thought I’d use the ink pens, but I ended up doing finger painting. I love the texture of these paintings:
Tripping can be a great time to bring a guitar to sing along with or curate a playlist on Spotify. The texture of everything feels incredibly vibrant when you are tripping, from chords to paint to color to ideas. It can work wonders for your creativity. Don’t worry if you bring something and don’t use it. It is all a form of self-care.
Our following two tips, “set and setting,” were popularized by Tim Leary in the 1960s and have been studied in psychedelic research.
2. You’ll need to have the right mindset
There are times of the year or phases of my life when I avoid doing psychedelic drugs because I know that I’m not psychologically stable enough. And while I love to do mushrooms, I wouldn’t say I like to do an intense trip more than once every few months. Sometimes you don’t need to dig that shit up again, you know?
I learned this the hard way in March 2019. I was going through an excessive amount of change in my life, and I ended up having a bad trip on LSD. This was because I took too much before starting a new job in a new city. I also did it in a hotel with a friend I didn’t know well, which was not wise. Our hotel was also by a ski resort in the middle of winter. Acid also lasts a lot longer than shrooms, and after about 12 hours, all I wanted to do was go to sleep. I was only able to recover from this bad trip with specialized therapy months afterward, which I address below.
Luckily, I learned my lesson two years later. I had very severe PTSD in March 2021 and knew that this would have been a terrible time to do psychedelics. Once I had gone to therapy and my most severe PTSD symptoms subsided by July 2021, I was able to do a wonderful mushroom trip that summer, which was very healing. Even right now, I am in a phase of transition between jobs and getting settled in Mexico, a completely new country. My life is super unstable, and I’m constantly moving house, so I know that this is the wrong time for me to do psychedelics. You know yourself. There are times of the year and phases of your life when you are mentally more stable, stronger, and not in chaos.
On the other hand, I have found that the best time to do classic psychedelics is when I feel stuck or too stable but misaligned in my life, especially if I need some direction as to how to break out of it. Even microdosing (taking low doses of psilocybin) has allowed me to move into an alternative state of consciousness to have meaningful, much-needed conversations with myself. Doing psychedelics has helped me immensely to get in touch again with who I am. It’s much better to do it when I’m mentally strong enough to receive and act on the answers.
Taking magic mushrooms has also helped me enormously with my anxiety and my fear about my career; I consider this personal form of psilocybin treatment as one of the best decisions I have ever made, and I try to trip every 3-6 months or so. Johns Hopkins has led some incredible research that suggests that cancer patients who struggle with significant existential anxiety and depression found significant relief after a single psilocybin sitting for up to six months. This research on psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy is conducted by a trip sitter or mental health professional, and the success of these initial findings is renewing calls for the legalization of these substances. However, because these drugs have been illegal and societally banned for such a long time, the research fields of psychiatry, pharmacology, and psychopharmacology still have a long way to catch up to understand the full potential of psychedelics to treat mental health and even other substance use disorders, like alcohol abuse.
Early neuroscience clinical trials on psychedelic substances are being conducted by Professor Robin Carhart-Harris, Professor Davit Nutt, and a team at the Center for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London. Among other things, they are researching to see whether psilocybin can have the same beneficial mental health effects as medications like antidepressants for treating conditions like depression. Based on my anecdotal experience, I wouldn’t be surprised if they find the benefits of psilocybin treatment for anxiety as well. Also, if I got diagnosed with a terminal illness or knew I was going to lose someone close to me soon, tripping on shrooms is one of the first things I would do. Psychedelic therapy offers a profound way to process grief and understand the cycle of life and offers people an opportunity for transcendence.
3. You’ll need a beautiful, safe setting
Like many people, I enjoy the psychedelic experience most in nature, ideally in a place with beautiful views, mountains, or lakes. The point is also to go somewhere where you are physically safe and can be left to your own devices for 5-7 hours (to make sure there’s as much harm reduction as possible).
Last summer, I curated a mushroom trip for a group at a remote lake in the Tahoe National Forest in California. This lake was about a one-mile hike from a resort where my family has stayed for many years, so I was very familiar with the trails and knew the area well. I picked the spot with the best views to catch the sunset. Because of the place’s importance to my family, tripping there also had a more profound spiritual significance to me.
I highly recommend tripping somewhere you’ve been to before, not some random friend’s hotel room (eek). If you haven’t been there before, ideally, the person curating the trip should be familiar with the place. This was the case with the trip my sister’s boyfriend curated for us in Wales at his family’s home. The house was ancient, set over rolling, wooded hills and meadows covered with sheep. It was beautiful but also very significant to him, so it was a real treat and a generous gift that he wanted to share the experience of the place with us. Curating a trip and holding the space for another person or a group of friends is an act of love.
Tripping indoors can also be cozy and deeply nourishing. My friend Daniella held a 1:1 mushroom ceremony for me at her house, with intentions and tinctures, where I lay on her bed and listened to enchanting spiritual music for a couple of hours. This was my most introspective trip, but what made it so special was the love and intention that Daniella put into it and the generosity she gave me in opening up her cozy, clean, and well-decorated home to me. She even made me a bowl of salad and sweet potatoes afterward.
As I mentioned with my bad trip in winter, the time of year matters a lot. That’s not to say that a psychedelic experience in winter can’t be beautiful; it’ll just be dark and cold, so tripping indoors is better. I generally prefer to trip in the summer when it’s safe to be outside for long periods, and if worse came to worst, you could fall asleep outside on the ground (ideally in the grass) and be fine. This is precisely what I did during a trip I curated in Prospect Park, a large, leafy park in New York City. It was the end of the summer; I was with close friends on the magical picnic blanket I had brought. After we did the ink paintings, this is what happened:
You also want to be pretty cautious about your physical safety. When I’m taking psychedelics, I don’t go swimming, go on steep hiking routes or near cliff faces, or operate any vehicle like a car or a boat. I would only make a fire or cook if necessary, and there was no chance of me burning my surroundings to the ground. Having a lot of other people around can also be disconcerting. I have never wanted to take psychedelics at a concert. It’s best to trip in a place with a lot of space, such as a meadow or a nestled corner of a large park, and set up camp there. You can always move around during the trip, but finding a place to put a picnic blanket and chill for a couple of hours is what this is all about.
4. You’ll need a couple of people that you love
I always trip with at least one person I care about and trust, like a sibling or a close friend. Find someone special to you with whom you want to share this journey. In addition to people you love, it is okay to have someone in the group that you hardly know, such as a friend of a friend, as long as you’ve judged this person to be sane and safe from your interactions with them. The ideal group size for a recreational psychedelic trip is 2-6 people in total (so maximum you and five other people). I am not a massive fan of large group ceremonies because there are too many characters with too many conflicting energies, and this can alter the effects of psychedelics.
Though having a guide is not necessary for psychedelic experiences, if you do choose to have one for a more intensive ceremony, be sure to find the right guide for you. Especially if you are in a foreign country like Mexico or Guatemala, it can be easy to come across these shamanic-hippie-gypsy-style people who have experienced ego death in Tulum and reached nirvana. My advice is not to get swayed by these people, and if their energy is chaotic at all and makes you feel unnerved, do not take psychedelics with them. Just avoid them altogether. Many of these people are more lost, unhinged, unstable, and crazy than you are. You want to be able to trust this person because, to some extent, you’re putting your psychology in their hands. The right guide for you is someone with whom you would feel comfortable processing some of your most challenging thoughts.
As I mentioned, the person that I trusted to lead a mushroom ceremony for me was my friend Daniella. She lives in upstate New York, far out of the city, where my soul and insides were slowly rotting. Daniella was in her late 30s, and I like to describe her as the Jewish mother I never had. As I’ve previously mentioned, getting in contact with my Jewish heritage is important to me, especially as I feel a powerful connection to my Jewish great-grandmother. The fact that Daniella can connect me to that part of my ancestry is an additional plus.
Daniella has worked as a guidance counselor in mental health clinics and studied with shamans in Oaxaca. She has a deep, rich, and profound knowledge of plant medicines and organic substances. The point is that she is someone whom I love to spend time with and whom I trust and admire. In the ceremony, many deeply personal, painful, and challenging things came up for me, but Daniella helped me feel loved, supported and comforted enough to talk them through with her. If you’d like to meet Daniella, she is building her professional practice, and you can learn more about her work here.
I’ve never considered it before, but perhaps the fact that Daniella and I are both straight, cis women with Jewish ancestry matters significantly, as ancient plant medicines can help you access your intergenerational lineage and traumas. So, if you are not going to do a ceremony with a traditional indigenous healer whose direct family lineage has been practicing these medicines for thousands of years, I encourage you to find a guide who shares your identity.
As a woman who has experienced trauma, I have also learned the hard way that I prefer intensive ceremonies that women lead. I recently sat through a Temescal ceremony led by a man that didn’t involve psychedelics, but I ate a bit of mushroom chocolate beforehand. In the ceremony, we sat in a circle in a giant, dark, enclosed, overheated sauna and had buckets of cold water thrown over us. It was boiling and loud with the chanting and screams of other people’s pain, and very uncomfortable. As I continue to recover from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), so much that comes up for me when I take psychedelics is often about bodily safety and protection. So, I feel safer when I’m stewarded by feminine energy. That being said, I do enjoy tripping with men who are close friends. I haven’t tripped with many queer men, but I’m sure that would be fine.
At the end of the day, if you decide to do a ceremony, your guide will be human so that they will be flawed. Just make sure you don’t find yourself drawn into the energy of a crazy person who throws you off, especially for intensive sittings.
Bonus tip: What do you do if you have a bad trip?
In every psychedelic trip, overall good or overall bad, you may experience different modalities, dips in your mood, and unsettling thoughts or flashbacks from other experiences. My simple advice is to take less of the substance next time (or take a lower dose to avoid this happening in the first place) and then pursue other ways to amend it.
As I mentioned, after my acid trip in my friend’s hotel room in winter, things were less than great. During the trip, I had spent time listening to Beirut’s sad but beautiful folk music while looking at myself in the bathroom mirror, where I had watched myself age into a shriveled old lady and then become young again. It left my floodgates open to the most painful, debilitating nostalgia I have ever felt. The inevitable loss of life and loss of my family was just so profoundly sad to me. I didn’t seek help for these feelings for ages, which is another downside of our society having no open dialogue about these substances. Plenty of us who have had bad trips after taking these drugs recreationally have nowhere to turn to for help.
Oddly, my opportunity came one day when I went to a talk about psychedelics on Clubhouse (lol) that was hosted by Tim Ferriss (bigger lol) with a panel of psychiatrists. At the end of the talk, I asked the question,
“What do you do if you’ve had a bad trip?”
Tim gave me an inconsequential answer and listed a bunch of chemical substances. Still, a psychiatrist on the panel, Dr. David Rabin, offered me a free therapy session to discuss my post-psychedelic symptoms. Dr. Rabin has founded a non-profit called “The Board of Medicine,” which specializes in providing clinical guidelines for the safe use of unregulated medicines, including initiatives in psychedelic psychotherapy.
A couple of weeks later, I had a quick session with Dr. Rabin over the phone. I talked about the debilitating nostalgia I was feeling, and we decided that both the set and the setting had contributed to the outcome of my trip. The most reassuring takeaway was to think about the seasons as a cycle. After winter must come spring (Thank you, Lauryn Hill). So after the cold, the distance from loved ones, the isolation, and the snow come opportunities for summer connections again, as well as warmth, beauty, and loving times spent together.
Bonus tip: Mushroom vs. Acid?
In my experience, the visuals and whole experience of taking mushrooms are more natural and less manufactured than taking acid. This makes sense. LSD is a chemical developed in a lab, whereas magic mushrooms contain psilocybin, which is a naturally occurring substance and has been used in indigenous medicine for thousands of years. I’ve found my mushroom trips, in general, to be more grounding, enabling me to connect with myself more. On the other hand, I find acid better for imagining and questioning things outside of myself, turning my world upside down, in a way.
Bonus tip: What the hell will my psychedelic experience be like? What’s going to happen to me?
I can’t answer that for you! I will say that if you’re overly nervous about what will happen, take less at the beginning. Go into the experience with an open heart and with curiosity. You can always take more if you want a stronger experience in an hour or two.
If you are nervous at the moment, take deep breaths, and remember that you are on drugs (lol), and they will only last a few hours. When I feel nervous while I’m tripping, I repeat reassuring things to myself like:
“I am here for you. Don’t worry; I’m not going anywhere. You are safe.”
Often during the trip, this manifests as me laughing and saying to myself,
“You’re on drugs, Tash. This is what you’re like when you’re on drugs. Crazy gal. I love you.”
If things become unmanageable, I take deep breaths and give myself more compassion. If you can hold your own hand or hug yourself, even better. And then take stock and comfort in the incredible people around you. You are not alone! You brought them along for a reason.
The first time I ever did psychedelics, I took half a tab of acid while I was hiking with a group in a forest in Pennsylvania. Even with only half a tab, I got incredibly vibrant visuals of the bright yellow fall trees and the reservoir. Visuals on acid can be very peculiar, but that’s all they are: harmless visual distortions. It’s fun to watch them! On that trip, I realized a powerful sense of compassion for my body, which I had hated for much of my life after growing up in London and believing I was too fat. It does feel like you’re stepping into the unknown the first time you try psychedelics. But hopefully, someone in your group will have more experience than you, so they can also help you with safe dosages, and you can get something meaningful but mild out of it.
If you are tripping and come across something very scary, it is best to walk away calmly. For example, I was absolutely freaked out about entering my sister’s boyfriend’s old cottage in Wales. Outside, in the grass, it was fine, looking out over the lush, green fields, but the house’s energy was absolutely stone cold and terrified me. Luckily, we were all tripping outside, so I didn’t need to go into the house (and I peed outside in the grass instead). So, as you prepare to trip, remember that if anything exceedingly difficult or scary comes up, you will be there to protect yourself. As part of your efforts to care for yourself, you will avoid anything too scary and dangerous.
Bonus tip: What will the next day be like?
In my experience, I’ve often found I’m a bit down the next day, with a decrease in my overall energy level. That’s probably because I experience such high doses of serotonin during my trip that I go into a deficit the next day. If this happens to me, I try not to worry about it. I hang in there and try to let the bad feelings pass, which they usually do within 24 hours post-trip.
Checklist for Tripping Outside
Bring enough for your whole group to last for 5-7 hours:
2. Warm clothes (weather appropriate)
3. Maps/devices so you don’t get lost
4. Toilet paper
6. Picnic blanket/pillows/hammock or something comfortable to sit on
7. Optional: art supplies, musical instruments, journal, and writing utensils
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