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Why are People Afraid of Psychedelic Trips?

psychedelic trips
Written by Joseph Mcqueen
What is it about tripping that can make even the most experienced recreational users slightly nervous? Psychedelics are now more than ever being used for therapy and mental health conditions, but why are people still frightened of them? If you’re a drug connoisseur, then you’ll know very well the varying effects that different substances can trigger in you.

You’ll know the euphoria of MDMA, you’ll know the slowness and anti-anxiety feelings of ketamine, you’ll know the chill of cannabis and you’ll know the stimulation of cocaine. But, reputation suggests there’s something slightly unpredictable about psychedelic drugs. Hallucinations, emotions, hidden secrets – these can all come to the surface after taking acid or magic mushrooms. There are, of course, psychonauts out there who find the entire trip therapeutic and who love these realizations. But deep down, what is the real reason for this fear that surrounds psychedelic trips?

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The History of the Trip

The war on psychedelic drugs has existed for a long time. But when there’s a strong belief about anything, it’s always worth looking back at the history of it to understand where it came from and whether the view is justified. For centuries, governments and those in power have successfully spread fear and hatred around people and substances that they deem to be against what they believe in. You only need to look at the civil rights movement, the suffragettes or basically any example of minority oppression to see it. Nonetheless, tripping had a beginning, and it wasn’t viewed then as it is now. 

Natural Psychedelics 

There are two types of psychedelic drugs – the ones that are synthesized in a lab, and the ones that naturally grow outside. Within the natural psychedelic drugs you have: magic mushrooms, toad venom, DMT, ayahuasca and mescaline. These drugs are as old as the earth and have had a long history of being used in religious and spiritual ceremonies. Terrence Mckenna – a psychedelic advocate – theorizes in the Stoned Ape theory that shrooms may have existed before humans. Nonetheless, there is evidence that these natural occurring drugs were being used in very early periods. Psychedelic Spotlight writes:

“In the Nahuatl language, which was spoken by Mayan and Aztec people, psilocybin was called Teonanácatl, which translates to “flesh of the gods.”… they were given to their ancestors by the serpent god Quetzalcoatl who was honored as the creator of all life. These ancient societies continued to keep records of Psilocybe mushrooms and their spiritual powers in both art and myth. However, in the 1500s, Spanish missionaries attempted to destroy all evidence of their use.”

It might sound strange that people centuries ago would’ve understood what psychedelics even were. But, when you consider it, we have never been less at one with nature and the planet than we are now. We may claim to know everything and be technologically advanced but, in reality, the instinctual unity between human and the natural world was far greater back then. We are a generation stuck behind screens these days. Therefore, it is no surprise that past civilizations were experimenting with their plant surroundings and discovering what worked and what didn’t. Magic mushrooms were a way for those communities to open their minds and be at one. The intensity of the trip and the intensity of the effects was the whole point. 

Synthetic Psychedelics

Next you have the other kind of psychedelic drugs. The kind that were accidentally made in a lab. The most common type of these is LSD or acid. LSD was not around before humanity, in fact, it’s barely been around for a century. Albert Hoffman, an innocent Swiss scientist, was the creator of this intense substance in 1938. He was studying a chemical found in ergot, a specific fungus that grows naturally on grains. It wasn’t until 1943 that Hoffman really understood what he had unintentionally discovered. History writes:

“He accidentally ingested a small amount and perceived “extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors”. On April 19, 1943, he took a larger dose of the drug. As Hofmann rode home from work on his bicycle—World War II restrictions made automobile travel off-limits—he experienced the world’s first intentional acid trip.”

It wasn’t long before the news of LSD was known by government officials, and quickly they decided to turn it into a weapon. In a project known as Project MK-Ultra in the 50s, the CIA tried to experiment the drug on people to see if they could use it as ‘mind control’ in warware. The experiment was deemed a failure but one of the volunteers was Ken Kesey – the author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – who decided to make it his mission to spread the message of LSD to the world. Kesey and his friends would drive around offering free ‘acid tests’, giving people the chance to experience a life-changing trip. This began the psychedelic, free-thinking 60s. 

The Fear

The power of fear-mongering is often underestimated. I ask you to find an example where an establishment has used all its media, power and status to make the majority of people think something and it hasn’t worked. That’s not to say that everyone believes it, but simply enough. LSD was outlawed in 1968 – with Nixon, Reagan and most of America declaring a war on drugs. Slate writes:

“By the end of the decade, LSD and other psychedelic drugs, along with marijuana, were linked in the public imagination with the 1960s counterculture, the antiwar movement, the crusade for sexual liberation, and the rising popularity of Eastern mysticism, yoga, and meditation. It was the decade of sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll.”

As you can see, it was political. Psychedelic drugs were part of the free-thinking counterculture, which essentially stood against everything the government believed in. Naturally, in retaliation, the media decided to begin a furiously successful anti-drug campaign. It was successful and for decades not the ‘trip’ has been considered a scary concept. However, 50 years on, the war on drugs has not done what it set out to do. People still take drugs, people still love drugs, people are still addicted to drugs – but the information they all need and deserve is harder to get ahold of due to an outdated conservative approach. 

Now, it’s important to point out that psychedelic trips aren’t always beautiful and therapeutic. Whilst there has evidently been a war against the substances, it would be also irresponsible to ignore the issues. Magic mushrooms and acid are extremely potent drugs, causing intense experiences, and therefore must be handled with care. It’s often a good idea to consider your “set” and “setting”. Set is your mindset before taking it, and setting is your environment during the trip. These two factors will often affect how successful the trip is. So if you can get a guide or trip sitter, make sure to speak through these things with them. 

The New & Old Research

Before LSD was being tested for ‘mind control’ properties by the CIA, it was actually considered a miracle drug. Supposedly it had a 70% success rate of curing alcoholic addiction. In the 50s, Bill Wilson, the creator of Alcohol Anonymous, reportedly stopped his alcoholism due to an acid trip. LSD helped his life turn around in a positive way. Inverse writes:

“Wilson believed other recovering alcoholics could benefit from taking LSD as a way to facilitate the “spiritual experience” he believed was necessary to successful recovery. We know this from Wilson, whose intractable depression was alleviated after taking LSD; his beliefs in the power of the drug are documented in his many writings.”

However, the drugs soon became available to the world and the research was ended due to the war on drugs. However, the year is now 2022, and Michael Pollan and other leading advocates are beginning to change the world’s perception on psychedelics once more. Psychedelic therapy is becoming more respected for its positive effects on mental health conditions, such as depression, PTSD and addictions. It is believed that the mystical and intense experiences created by these substances can cause a complete mind shift in a person. In addition, the increased susceptibility and neurotransmitter changes in the mind also make the drugs useful. In 2016, 29 people suffering with cancer – who subsequently had depression and anxiety – were given psilocybin and 60-80% of them reported improvements in their mindset. It is studies like this that cannot be ignored.

Thoughts

The psychedelic trip has been demonized for decades and this is the main reason why people look at it with fear. Whilst all hallucinogenic drugs should be taken with care, it is definitely time we – as a world – severely shift our views on these substances. Drugs like LSD and magic mushrooms have the potential to help people, and the ‘war on drugs’ has been blocking that for too long. Overall, the reason why people are afraid of tripping is because they have been told to be. Handle with care, proceed responsibility, but don’t fear.

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About the author

Joseph Mcqueen

Joseph is a cannabis journalist in the UK. His search and love for the truth in the cannabis industry is what drives him to write.