Research is showing that psychedelics can be very therapeutic for mental health and spiritual healing. There is a lot of excitement around this, but what should you know before you use psychedelics? Let’s explore that now.

Who Should NOT use psychedelics?

While the research into Ketamine, MDMA, psilocybin, and other psychedelics is promising, it’s not a magic bullet. Nor is it a good idea for all people at all times. Here is a partial list of who should not use psychedelics.

  • Children – the teenage brain is still developing, and the use of psychedelics is not recommended because this can lead to learning disabilities, depression, worsen hormonal mood issues, and lead to Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD), which is like enduring a permanent, unending hallucination.
  • People who are in a negative, transitional state like divorce or a mental health decline.
  • Those who are not physically healthy enough for the process.
  • People who aren’t grounded or don’t have a way to regain ground if unbalanced.

Not in those categories? Want to know more? Great. Let’s look at what you should know before you use psychedelics.

Don’t Journey Alone

The point of taking psychedelics is to enter into an altered state. Once there, you have no control over what comes up within yourself or what goes on outside. Having a “sitter” who is not under the influence gives you support and keep things as safe as possible. You don’t want to think you can fly, jump off a roof, and end up in the hospital. If difficult emotions arise, your sitter can help to keep you grounded and assist so you don’t do something impulsive or break down.

Your sitter should be nonjudgmental, be knowledgeable about the process and the substance, and have skills to deal with crises.

Do You Know What You’re Taking?

Since psychedelics are still illegal in most places, there is no guarantee that you are getting what you think you are getting or that there is any consistency in dosage. There is a lot of potential that your substance is not viable, diluted, or adulterated. There are test strips that can detect whether some substances have been added (like Fentanyl). People die from adulterated drugs, are poisoned from mushrooms that aren’t what they think they are, or get watered down drugs that don’t do what you hope they will do. No surprise, right?

What To Expect From What You’re Taking

What is the effect of what you are taking? When will it begin? How long will it last? Are there herbs, foods, or medications that will interfere with what you’re taking? What are the side effects? What are the risks? What is the therapeutic dose? How long will any positive or negative effects last? What strategies do you have to capture the experience or deal with unpleasant memories, feeling like you’re dying, or any other difficult issues? How will you hang on until it passes?

If you are self-medicating, there is no clinic, doctor, or professional to advise you. Your choice has a lot of implications, so it’s up to you to make an informed choice.

Who Is Your Guide/Sitter?

Your guide and sitter may be the same person or different people. Do you know who they are? What is their background? Do they know what they are doing? Do they have the skills to keep you emotionally and physically safe for the duration of your journey? Are they mature? Do they have healthy boundaries? Will they assure you that all participants have access to assistance and safety? Will they also be under the influence? Group size and ratio of assistants to participants is very important.

If you are going to a retreat center, check reviews! People die. Women are sexually assaulted. Participants are vulnerable while under the influence. So ask yourself if this someone you feel safe with. Can you trust that they are looking out for you?

If You Are in a Group, Who Are the Other Participants?

In traditional societies, the leader of a plant medicine ceremony knows all the participants. She has a rough idea of what the participants may be bringing and whether or not it’s appropriate for each person to participate. Safety is always the number one concern. Everyone will be vulnerable and open. This can be liberating or damaging under the right or wrong circumstances. So there should be some sort of pre-screening to determine suitability for psychedelics and for group work.

What is the Setting Like?

Knowing the logistics helps you to prepare. Will it be well lit or dim? Is it out in nature or indoors? Is it climate and insect controlled or variable? Where is the bathroom? What is the protocol for leaving the space? How do you ask for help? What should you wear? What happens if you are thirsty or hungry? Is this a solo experience or can you socialize with others? Knowing what’s expecting can increase your comfort, and comfort and intention are key to having a good experience.

What’s Your Intention?

We don’t always get what we want, but if we have a firm idea, we can have a good guess of whether or not what is on offer is likely to help us reach our goals. If you want a social experience and the expectation is that you stay to yourself, this is probably not the right event for you. If there is a spiritual vibe and you’re not into that, again, this may not be the right space for you. Ask lots of questions. Questions are good!

Know Your Dose!

Dosage is highly individual. Everyone has a different tolerance and body chemistry. What works for one person may not work for you. It’s up to you to do your research. More is not necessarily more.

My advice is to go low and slow. You can always add more, but you can’t back off once you’ve gone too far. There are “abort” products that don’t work so well. Throwing up may not help either. It’s much better to go low and slow and know your body.

What’s Your Emergency Plan?

Who is going to be called in the event of an emergency? How far away is the closest hospital? Can an ambulance get to you? Does your sitter have first aid training?

What’s Your Aftercare Plan?

What’s your plan for support after the journey? Do you have someone nonjudgmental and trustworthy to help you integrate the experience into your day to day life so that you can benefit from it? The real work begins after the session. If you don’t have an aftercare program, maybe your substance use isn’t therapeutic after all.

Psychedelics are not a “get out of jail free” card. They can break up rigid patterns of thoughts and behaviors so you can let new information and emotions in, but you still have to clean up your messes, create new habits, and live your life. If you would like assistance with that, don’t hesitate to reach out.