Falling into the darker regions of one’s chemically disfigured imagination might not sound like much fun, but it does have its advantages. Counterintuitive though it may seem, 84 percent of participants in the Johns Hopkins bad trips survey said they actually benefited from the experience.
“The reason we try to call these challenging experiences rather than bad trips is that bad trip makes it sound like it’s all bad,” says Barrett. “But challenging experiences often have value, and can lead to change.”
Numerous studies have pointed to the potential of drugs like LSD, psilocybin, and MDMA to facilitate psychotherapy. According to Barrett, they do so by “giving you an opportunity to confront something that you’ve been trying to avoid, but in confronting it you work through it and that helps you to heal.”
What Causes A Bad Trip?
Since the 1960s, the term “set and setting” has been recognized as the golden rule for trip control. In this instance, setting refers to the actual environment in which a drug is taken, including all sensory and social stimuli, while set indicates a user’s mindset and emotional state at the time of ingesting a drug.
This includes elements such as mood and personality, and while no one can predict with any real accuracy whether a person is likely to have a good or bad trip, it is possible to make an educated guess based on certain aspects of their character.
A recent study found that people with higher levels of neuroticism - including anxiety, self-consiousness, and loneliness - tend to have more severe bad trips. According to Barrett, this may be attributable to the way in which psychedelic drugs produce a sense of “ego-dissolution”, or loss of self.
“If you’re unable to surrender yourself to that experience and let go of yourself for a couple of minutes then it’s going to be very challenging because you can’t control the experience in that way,” he explains.
“And people who are higher in neuroticism are more prone to react negatively to emotional stressors and less likely to want to yield control of things because of perceptions of possible harm that can come from that.”
On the flip side of this, research has revealed that people who score highly for a personality trait known as absorption tend to undergo more pleasant and mystical-like experiences when on psychedelics.
Absorption refers to a tendency to become completely engrossed in experiences, whether reading a book, watching a movie, or tripping on acid. “To become fully absorbed in something outside of yourself you have to let yourself fall back a little bit. You have to make space for that other thing,” says Barrett. “So maybe people who are high in absorption are a little more labile in how strongly they hold onto their concept of self.”