The Psychological Benefits Of A Bad Trip On ’Shrooms

Most drug users who have experienced a "bad trip" from magic mushrooms say they benefited from the experience, study finds

Boxes containing magic mushrooms sold at a coffee shop in Rotterdam — (REUTERS)
Sep 02, 2016 at 10:00 AM ET

A “bad trip” is the bane of magic mushroom lovers—it’s a hallucinogenic, hellish experience that can haunt even first-timers. In fact, fear of bad trips in the lab are among the main reasons why, despite promising early results, scientists have more or less given up on studying ‘shrooms.

But now, a new paper in the Journal of Psychopharmacology finds that 84 percent of drug users who weathered a bad trip believe they benefited psychologically in the long-term. The results suggest that the consequences of bad trips—at least in controlled, laboratory conditions—may be less dire than once thought, and that it may be time to reconsider the costs and benefits of studying psilocybin mushrooms.

More Psychedelic Science Is Making A Comeback

To be clear, magic mushrooms are not to be trifled—or truffled—with. Although the psychedelics enjoyed their scientific (and not-so-scientific) heyday in the late 60s, President Richard Nixon eventually designated them as Schedule 1 substances, meaning they’re so dangerous that even researchers and physicians shouldn’t mess with them. The enduring legislation explains why psychedelic research is no longer exactly in vogue.

One of the dangers that gave Nixon’s legislation its teeth was the fear of bad trips causing otherwise peaceful hippies to harm themselves or others in a ‘shroom-addled stupor. Those fears are certainly justified, but until recently there was little in the literature to illustrate the specifics of the so-called bad trip. And that’s where this new study comes in. Researchers at John Hopkins University, scoured online forums and managed to survey nearly 2,000 adults about their worst bad trip on magic mushrooms. More than 90 percent had tried ‘shrooms more than twice and most reported their worst trips were after about four grams.

As for the bad trip itself, the findings suggest that they’re just as horrible as we might have expected. Sixty-two percent of magic mushroom users said that their bad trip was one of the most difficult situations in their lives, while more than 10 percent said it was their single most difficult experience. But at the same time, 34 percent considered the bad trip one of the most meaningful experiences of their lives, while a similar number of participants considered it one of their most spiritual experiences. A full 84 percent said that their bad trip had improved their quality of life—46 percent said they’d do it again.

But please, for the love of God (and Vocativ’s lawyers) don’t use this as an excuse to dose up on ‘shrooms to try to somehow induce a life-altering bad trip. Magic mushrooms are risky drugs to fool around with, even without bad trips. And it’s important to remember that at least 16 percent of the participants did not think they were better off after all that suffering—in fact, the study notes that 11 percent of participants reported endangering themselves or others during the bad trip, while about 8 percent required ongoing psychiatric care after partaking and tumbling down the rabbit hole.

The findings do confirm, however, a lot of what we already suspected concerning bad trips. They’re terrible and, in many cases, incredibly dangerous. But the results also shed new light on the psychological aftermath of a bad trip and perhaps, by extension, other traumatizing situations. Humans are incredibly resilient and, according to this study—not even a bad trip can keep us down.