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’ve used psychedelics many times, or you’re simply curious about the wide world of ancient plant medicine: every trip requires preparation and intention, or it can easily become a bad one.
In this article, I’ll share my 4 must-haves for every psychedelic trip, which I have forgotten at times 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 joy, creativity, and wonder.
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, but I will be sharing my experiences with them. Psychedelics are still completely illegal in most places. So, let’s get started!
- 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 which you can control. Choosing these is a way of showing love to yourself, and it will help you to feel less nervous. Then, when you are on your trip and you have all the things 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 my 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:
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 end up using it. It is all a form of self-care.
Our next two tips, “set and setting”, were popularized by Tim Leary in the 1960s and have been studied in psychedelic research.
- You’ll need to have the right mindset
There are times of the year or phases of my life where I completely avoid doing mushrooms because I know that I’m not psychologically stable enough. And while I love to do mushrooms, I don’t like to do an intense trip more than once every few months. Sometimes you just don’t need to dig that shit up again, you know?
I learnt 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, and it was right before I was starting a new job in a new city. I also did it in a hotel with a friend who I didn’t know that well, which was not smart. Our hotel was also by a ski resort, and it was 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 special therapy months afterwards, which I address below.
Luckily, I learnt 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 a bad 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 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. Doing psychedelics has helped me immensely to get in touch again with who I really am. It’s just much better to do it at a time when I’m mentally strong enough to receive the answers and am able to act on them.
Doing psychedelics, especially mushrooms, has also helped immensely with my fear and anxiety about my career when I needed to make change in my life. Johns Hopkins has led some incredible research which 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. If I got diagnosed with a terminal illness, or I knew I was going to lose someone close to me soon, tripping on shrooms is one of the first things I would do. It offers a really profound way to process grief and understand the cycle of life.
- You’ll need a beautiful, safe setting
Like a lot of people, I enjoy doing psychedelics 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.
Last summer, I curated a mushroom trip for a group of us 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 deeper spiritual significance to me.
I highly recommend tripping somewhere which you've been to before, and not some random friend’s hotel room. If you haven’t been there before, ideally the person who is curating the trip should be very 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 very old, 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 really 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 and all, where I lay on her bed and listened to enchanting spiritual music for a couple hours. This was by far 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 afterwards.
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 of time, and if worse came to worst you could fall asleep outside on the ground (ideally in the grass) and be fine. This is exactly 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 brought. After we did the ink paintings, this is basically 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 any 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 it is really 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 it’s nice at first to find a place where you can put a picnic blanket and chill for a couple hours.
- You’ll need a couple people that you love
I always trip with at least one person that I care about and trust, like a sibling or a close friend. Find someone who is special to you, who you would want to share this journey with. 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 personally am not a huge fan of large group ceremonies, because there are too many characters with too many conflicting energies.
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 to not 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 completely. Many of these people are simply 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 that you would feel comfortable processing some of your most challenging thoughts in front of.
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 particularly strong 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 counsellor, in mental health clinics and has also studied with shamans in Oaxaca. She has a deep, rich, and profound knowledge of plant medicines and organic substances. The point is, she is someone who I love to spend time with, and who I trust and admire. In the ceremony, a lot of deeply personal, painful, challenging things came up for me, with Daniella I felt loved and 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, especially 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 year, I encourage you to find a guide who shares your identities.
As a woman who has experienced trauma, I have also learned the hard way that I prefer intensive ceremonies that are led by women. I recently sat through a Temescal ceremony led by a man which 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 freezing cold water thrown over us. It was very hot and loud with the chanting and screams of other people’s pain, and very uncomfortable. As I continue to recover from PTSD, so much that comes up for me when I take psychedelics is often about bodily safety and protection, and 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 is going to be a human so they are not going to be perfect. Just make sure you don’t find yourself being 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 will face some dips in your mood and some unsettling thoughts. My simple advice is to take less of the substance next time (or take less to avoid this happening in the first place), and then also, pursue these 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 wide open to the most painful, debilitating nostalgia I have ever felt in my life. 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, but 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 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 it was both the set and the setting that had contributed to the outcome of my trip. The most reassuring takeaway for me 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, and warmth and beauty and loving times spent together.
Bonus tip: Mushroom vs. Acid?
In my experience, the visuals and whole experience of taking mushrooms is 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 have 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! What I will say is that, if you’re overly nervous about what will happen, just 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 an hour or two in.
If you are nervous in 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.”
Oftentimes 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 get more unmanageable, I take more deep breaths and give myself more compassion. If you can hold your own hand or give yourself a hug, even better. And then take stock and comfort in the awesome 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 a bit 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 you come across something that’s very scary to you, it is best to just calmly walk away. For example, I was absolutely freaked out about going into my sister’s boyfriend’s very old cottage in Wales. Outside in the grass was fine, looking out over the lush, green fields, but the energy of the house was absolutely stone cold and it 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, just remember that if anything exceedingly difficult or scary comes up, you will be there to protect yourself, and as part of your efforts to care for yourself, you will avoid anything that is too scary and dangerous.
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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