For references to the studies discussed in this info sheet, see the reference list.
What is tripping?
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When a person says they are “tripping,” it means they are experiencing the effects of hallucinogens. Hallucinogens are psychoactive (mind-altering) drugs that significantly alter our senses and perceptions. Some common ones are magic mushrooms, LSD and ecstasy. Cannabis can also cause hallucinogenic effects at high doses.
Hallucinogens cause people to have experiences that are different from their ordinary reality. The conscious mind becomes aware of things that it normally is not aware of. Hallucinations can range from mild distortions of our senses to an intense experience where we believe a vision or other altered perception is real and we are unaware it is the effect of the drug.
Why do we do it?
For thousands of years, people all around the world have been tripping for a variety of reasons. For some people, the experience is spiritual or mystical. They say hallucinogens give them insights into themselves and life. Others say they experience feelings of empathy toward others, helping them connect more deeply with friends. But like other drugs, there are risks to using hallucinogens.
Many people choose not to use hallucinogens or to use them in moderation, because being less in control of our body and behaviour increases our risk of harms. (Approximately 17% of BC residents have tried hallucinogens, but in certain populations such as urban club-goers, use is more common.) While most people discover that using hallucinogens may help us feel more open in social situations, repeatedly using the drug to address social anxiety may affect how we engage with others and build relationships.
What happens when we are tripping?
Tripping can be a joyful and insightful or scary and stressful experience. It is important to remember that the effects of hallucinogens can be different for different people. Instead of feeling relaxed and affectionate, some of us may feel anxious or distrustful. The experience depends on many things, including our
level of preparation,
past experiences with hallucinogens,
present mood and surroundings, and
mental and physical health condition.
Impact on well-being
For a brief time in the mid-20th century, some hallucinogens such as LSD were used medicinally as part of psychotherapy. Today there is renewed interest in such therapeutic uses that draw on the long association of these drugs with the pursuit of insight.
Using a hallucinogen may give us a euphoric experience or lead to effects such as confusion and seeing scary things that aren’t there. Sometimes we may experience these different effects within the same trip.
Some people say, when they are tripping, they experience a feeling of detaching from their body and surroundings. While this may allow for a greater level of reflection, being unaware of what’s going on around us may also put us at risk of injuries from falls and other accidents. And purchasing any substance in an unregulated market is always risky because we can never know for sure what we are buying or using.
What to do to lower the risks
When you’re having a bad trip...
Whenever we choose to use hallucinogens, it is helpful to know some steps we can take to ensure our use is as safe as possible. The following are ways to help reduce risks of negative consequences.
Initiate use in the presence of an experienced and trusted guide to help you understand your trip.
Purchase the drugs from a trusted source if possible.
Choose a safe, peaceful place to hang out.
Start with only a small amount.
Stay in the company of trusted friends.
Stick to one substance at a time. Using other substances such as cannabis or alcohol while tripping can change your experience in unpredictable ways.
What to do if you or someone you know wants to explore change
To better understand how substances play a role in your life, visit the You and Substance Use Workbook. This website also features a resource on Safer Tripping and other information on substance use and mental health.
You can also find information about a wide variety of substance use issues on the Centre for Addictions Research of BC website: www.carbc.ca.
For information on treatment options and resources throughout BC, call the Alcohol and Drug Information and Referral Service at 1-800-663-1441. In Greater Vancouver, call 604-660-9382.
About the author
The Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research, formerly CARBC, is a member of the BC Partners for Mental Health and Substance Use Information. The institute is dedicated to the study of substance use in support of community-wide efforts aimed at providing all people with access to healthier lives, whether using substances or not. For more, visit www.cisur.ca.