Bad Trip Explained: What Are The Symptoms and How To Treat Them?

Last Updated: November 19, 2021

Authored by Roger Weiss, MD

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

A bad trip is an informal term used to describe the feeling of experiencing a multitude of overwhelming emotions at once. It can be a frightening and unpleasant experience and is usually triggered by psychoactive drugs – especially the psychedelic kind such as magic mushrooms, Ayahuasca, DMT, and LSD. The condition develops when one takes excessive amounts of these types of drugs.

In some cases, the trips may occur when a person is under the influence of weed and alcohol. For this to happen, the individual can also overdose on these substances. This article takes a look at the circumstances surrounding a bad trip, the symptoms to look out for, and effective treatments.

What is a Bad Trip?

Normally, drugs are taken under a doctor’s supervision and for medical use. Even being used correctly, some drugs affect the user’s mood, consciousness, perception, memory, and response to external stimuli.  Such drugs alter the level of mood-influencing chemicals in the brain, neurotransmitters. In addition to enhancing the feelings, these drugs can also induce anxiety or fear.

middle-aged man suffering from headache.

What Are The Possible Causes?

Many circumstances can contribute to the experience, but some lead to a significantly stronger chance than others.

These Include:

  • Taking high doses of psychedelic drugs. High doses can trigger abnormal reactions in the brain, especially in people with dual diagnosis.
  • Dehydration, especially when under the influence of drugs.
  • Drinking alcohol while on a psychedelic drug. Poydrug use, due to interactions of both substances, can lead to a bad trip.
  • Being alone while using psychedelic drugs. Being alone can worsen symptoms such as hallucinations as it would be hard to snap out of it.
  • Being in a negative state of mind while using psychedelic drugs
  • Using drugs in a setting where there is a lot of emotional stimulations

How Common Are These Experiences?

More common than one may ordinarily imagine. An online survey carried out by Roland Griffiths, a psychopharmacologist and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and neurosciences at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Medicine certainly supports this assertion.

Another study was conducted with 1993 people (78% men) who had used psilocybin at least once in their lifetime (93% of them had ingested the substance at least two times). The aim of the study was to see if these people had experience with bad trips and how bad the experience was for each person.

Additionally, data from the Global Drug Survey showed that up to 27% of LSD users in the United States had experienced a bad trip as a result of using the substance. For context, that is approximately one in every three or four people. On another note, 32% of magic mushroom users in the United States reportedly experienced this at least once as a result of using the drug.

What Are The Symptoms?

The symptoms of acute intoxication can be very disturbing and may also lead to psychosis. One may lose touch with the surroundings and have visual or auditory hallucinations which are, seeing or listening to things that do not exist.

Other Symptoms May Include:

  • Disorientation: a person can become unaware of time, place, and even the person nearby.
  • Rapidly changing thought patterns: This is different from normal overthinking, and one has flooding thoughts that do not have relevance to the surrounding, present situation, or reality. In fact, the thoughts go out of control.
  • Inappropriate vocal manifestation: One may slur a speech or start producing strange sounds.
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts: If one has repressed thoughts of suicide (being not on drugs), overdosing on drugs can turn it into a full-blown conviction. Drugs exaggerate emotions and thoughts, thus making one more vulnerable to suicidal attempts.
  • Catatonia or catatonic state. In extreme cases, a person may not be able to respond to external stimuli like sound, light, or touch and become unresponsive.
  • Mood Swings: When one is tripping from the misuse or abuse of a psychedelic drug, there can be abrupt, unexplainable changes in mood. It can be especially tough for people that are already dealing with underlying mental health issues such as anxiety as the symptoms of these mental issues may become aggravated.
  • Hallucinations: one of the most common symptoms. These bad-trip-borne hallucinations will usually come in the form of visual distortions such as moving walls, breathing objects, and other illusions. It can be particularly tough for people that are claustrophobic as it may seem that the surroundings are closing in.
  • Paranoia: in the form of negative thoughts and actions that are uncharacteristic of the individual. The experience may lead to unnatural suspicion about everything.

The intensity and incidence of the symptoms seem to have a very high degree of individual differences. Thus, it means the condition may result due to a combination of factors, rather than the drug alone. Some contributing factors may be the mood and mental state of the person before bingeing on drugs and during the development of the symptoms.

How Long Does It Last For?

The duration can vary according to the type of substance that led to the trip. For instance, for salvia, the most intense effects will typically happen within the first two minutes, and a single experience should not last longer than twenty minutes.

However, a bad acid trip from LSD can be a lot more trouble, Intense effects can last as long as twelve hours, and it may take up to a day for the individual to completely be rid of any symptoms of the trip.

woman lying on sofa suffers from bad trip.

Common Drugs That Can Cause The Experience?

Psychedelics are notorious for their potential to cause a bad trip. These drugs are also called hallucinogens and are usually taken for the hallucinations they create.

Examples Include:

  • Molly: commonly used in parties, molly (slang for MDMA) usually leads to a bad molly trip in situations where the user gets dehydrated.
  • Salvia: one of the shortest-acting but it is also among the most potent psychedelic drugs. The bad salvia trips are some of the worst that one can experience.
  • DMT: short form for “Dimethyltryptamine”, this is also an extremely potent psychedelic drug that can cause a DMT bad trip when abused
  • LSD: possibly the most common psychedelic drug. Its effects are also one of the longest-lasting, and the same applies to LSD bad trips.
  • Marijuana: it is harder to get marijuana bad trips compared to the other substances in this list, but it is possible nonetheless.
  • Mushrooms: also referred to as “magic mushrooms”, bad shroom trips are also fairly common among mushroom users.

How To Stop A Bad Trip?

Here are a few tips for providing immediate help to someone suffering from the experience:

  • Move the person to a safe space. This will reduce the chances of self-harm or hurting other people within the vicinity
  • Remind the person that they took drugs, and that is why the situation is happening. People often forget these details when symptoms begin to show.
  • Constantly tell the person that the feeling is temporary and will wear off
  • Stay with the person throughout the episode. Being alone can trigger stronger reactions and symptoms in the person.
  • Get medical or professional help if required. This may be necessary, especially if the individual is hard to control.
  • Suggest a therapist for the individual for post-recovery and addiction help.

Seeking Professional Help

In the event of dealing with someone that is suffering from the symptoms of a bad acid trip, it is often the case that the person that can offer immediate help is also intoxicated. On that note, it is best to call emergency services to handle the situation. However, in a case where the person offering help is sober, having prior knowledge about a professional treatment approach can be vital.

man talks with a psychologist in his office.

The treatment is mostly focused on keeping the person under control. Therefore, cutting the risk of harm, both to the self or others. For this purpose, one may administer a sedative. Sedatives agents such as diazepam and lorazepam can help to reduce fear and anxious feelings. For hallucinations, one will need antipsychotic agents such as haloperidol. Studies have shown Haloperidol is effective in treating psychosis associated with drug-overuse.

Many other antipsychotic agents are useful in professional settings to treat the condition. However, it is important to stress that one must not administer these drugs without the approval or recommendation of qualified medical personnel.

To prevent another event of occurrence after having been through one, one must seek professional help from a reliable rehabilitation center. These centers have a team of specialists who will help to identify the addiction leading to bad trips and decide on the best form of treatment on a patient-by-patient basis.

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Page Sources

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Published on: March 29th, 2017

Updated on: November 19th, 2021

About Author

Roger Weiss, MD

Dr. Roger Weiss is a practicing mental health specialist at the hospital. Dr. Weiss combines his clinical practice and medical writing career since 2009. Apart from these activities, Dr. Weiss also delivers lectures for youth, former addicts, and everyone interested in topics such as substance abuse and treatment.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.