Bad trips on magic mushrooms tend to result in improved well-being.

Psilocybin, the active component in magic mushrooms, presents very low toxicity and is not associated with dependence [1] [2]. Nevertheless, a valid concern regarding the compound relates to the potential risk of having a bad trip. Interestingly, large scale survey studies suggest that these bad trips might not always be that bad in the long run, as the vast majority of participants claims to have benefitted from these challenging experiences [3] [4]

There is no clear consensus of what constitutes a bad trip, yet evidence suggests that potential adverse reactions following psilocybin intake can include anxiety, panic, ego dissolution, paranoia, as well as dizziness and heart palpitations [4] [5]. The duration of a bad trip can vary but it generally does not last for the whole duration of the psychedelic session [4].

A study at John Hopkins University [4] surveyed 1993 individuals regarding their worst bad trip after consuming magic mushrooms. The average dose that caused the adverse experience was 4g of dried mushrooms. Over 90 percent of participants had used psilocybin at least twice in their lifetime. Sixty-two percent of the participants rated the bad trip among the 10 most psychologically difficult episodes of their lives, with 11 percent rating it as the single most challenging experience.

Interestingly, and perhaps surprisingly, 84 percent of participants said they benefitted from the experience, and three-quarters claimed that it had resulted in an increased sense of life satisfaction or personal well-being. Moreover, for a third of the participants the bad trip was among the five most meaningful experience in their lifetime. Remarkably, the degree of psychological difficulty was positively correlated with positive outcomes: more challenging episodes were generally considered more beneficial and meaningful.

The study also highlighted potential negative consequences of bad trips, with 11 percent of participants reporting that they put themselves or others at risk of physical harm and 2.6 percent claiming that they behaved in a physically violent manner. It is worth noting that these negative outcomes were less likely in participants who found themselves in a comfortable physical setting and/or with adequate social support, highlighting the importance of set and setting. Three percent of participants sought immediate medical help, and 7.6 percent eventually sought professional help for adverse psychological symptoms that lasted for more than a year.

In conclusion, bad trips following psilocybin intake tend to be associated with enduring positive consequences. However, evidence on acute and enduring negative outcomes does warrant caution regarding psilocybin intake in uncontrolled environments. These observations stand in stark contrast with the extremely rare cases of dangerous behaviors and lasting psychological problems associated with laboratory studies. In such studies, participants are well-prepared and supported during and after psilocybin intake, which emphasizes the relevance of qualified guidance and support when it comes to the psychedelic experience.

[1] Johnson MW, Richards WA and Griffiths RR (2008) Human hallucinogen research: Guidelines for safety. J Psychopharmacol 22: 603–620.

[2] Tylš F, Páleníček T and Horáček J (2014) Psilocybin – summary of knowledge and new perspectives. Eur Neuropsychopharmacol 24: 342–356.

[3] Gashi, L., Sandberg, S., & Pedersen, W. (2021). Making “bad trips” good: How users of psychedelics narratively transform challenging trips into valuable experiences. The International Journal of Drug Policy, 87, 102997–102997.

[4] Carbonaro, T. M., Bradstreet, M. P., Barrett, F. S., MacLean, K. A., Jesse, R., Johnson, M. W., & Griffiths, R. R. (2016). Survey study of challenging experiences after ingesting psilocybin mushrooms: Acute and enduring positive and negative consequences. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 30(12), 1268–1278.

[5] Barrett, F. S., Bradstreet, M. P., Leoutsakos, J. S., Johnson, M. W., & Griffiths, R. R. (2016). The challenging experience questionnaire: Characterization of challenging experiences with psilocybin mushrooms. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 30 (12), 1279–1295. 10.1177/0269881116678781

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