How to Cope With a Bad Acid Trip

Anyone who has had a bad trip, or has felt unable to cope with the effects of hallucinogenic drugs like LSD (also known as acid), will wonder how to stop it. A bad trip can happen to anyone under the influence.

Even if your mood was good when you took the drug, you can easily find yourself feeling overwhelmed, frightened, or upset when you have taken hallucinogens such as acid or magic mushrooms.

Although it is not possible to actually stop an acid trip, this article provides tips that will help you identify symptoms and cope with the feelings and sensations you may experience during a bad trip. It also suggests ways to stay safe.

staying safe on a bad acid trip

Verywell / Cindy Chung

What Is a Bad Acid Trip?

The phrase "bad acid trip" is used to describe a negative experience someone has while under the influence of acid, including symptoms such as extreme anxiety, fear, frightening hallucinations, panic, paranoia, or terror.

People in the medical community are at odds as to whether the potential benefits of acid use for mental health outweigh the negative experiences and possible harm. Proponents of using LSD in medically supervised settings to treat mental health disorders—such as substance use disorder, anxiety, and depression—have claimed that even a bad trip can be a beneficial way for someone to confront their underlying trauma and anxiety.

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Remember It Isn't Real

Hallucinogenic drugs can make you see, feel, and even hear things that are distorted or have no basis in reality. They can cause you to have thoughts that seem profound and real, but are extreme, out of proportion, or delusional.

If nothing else, hold on to remembering that everything you are perceiving is influenced by the drug you have taken, and is probably not real.

Some of the hallucinations you see, hear, or feel on drugs can seem very real, but they may not be. Some of the thoughts you have may be profound; others just may not be in perspective right now.

Don't act on anything that seems out of the ordinary. After the effects of the drug have worn off, you will be in a much better state to deal with whatever came up.

Time is often distorted while you are tripping, so it's good to also remember that. Whatever you are experiencing will last as little as a few minutes to several hours.

Stay Safe

Try to stay in places where the risk of hurting yourself is low. Stay in familiar territory, away from heights, traffic, water, and other hazards.

You may have unusual impulses and want to try doing something that has seemed risky in the past but doesn't seem risky now. Don't follow such impulses.

If you choose to go outside, make sure someone goes with you—ideally someone you can trust who has not taken any drugs. Stick to quiet places without too many people around, but make sure help is nearby if you need it.

People who have been drinking alcohol are not the best companions for you right now as their judgment is also impaired and they might have difficulty understanding your complicated feelings. So, it's best to avoid places such as bars and pubs.

Connect With Someone

Although talking might be difficult and you could find it hard to put what you are feeling into words, try to let someone understanding know you are having a bad trip.

Choose someone who is not going to overreact to your drug use and, ideally, someone who is not under the influence of alcohol or drugs themselves. Even if you aren't able to talk, just having someone sit with you can be very calming.

Going off on your own is not a good idea when you are having a bad trip, but large groups of people can be overwhelming, too. If you are at an event such as a concert, festival, nightclub, or rave, try to find a quieter area with another person or small group. Look for a chill-out room, a DanceSafe booth, or other supportive group.

If connecting with someone by phone is your best option, contacting a drug helpline could help, but they may not give you the support you need. They are geared towards dealing with drug addiction rather than intoxication.

A better choice would be to call DanceSafe at 888-MDMA-411. They are a harm reduction organization and are very skilled at supporting people who are having negative drug experiences.

If you are feeling really out of control, you can always call 911 or go to the emergency room of your local hospital.

Emergency rooms are not great places to be spending time when you are having a bad trip. They are full of sick and injured people who are upset and frustrated, so calling 911 might be a better choice. Be sure to tell the paramedic what you have taken.

Take Care of Your Physical Needs

If you haven't eaten for hours, and particularly if you have been overactive, your low blood sugar may be lowering your mood. Make sure you have had enough fluids—although don't overdo it—and try to eat something.

The process of eating can be difficult while under the influence of hallucinogens, so if you can't handle chewing, choose something soft and easy to eat and digest, such as pudding or ice cream.

It is unlikely that you will be able to get restful sleep, particularly if you are within the first few hours of the trip. But sitting or lying down and resting can help. Listening to soothing music is often very calming.

Don't Attempt to Self Medicate

There are many myths involving self-medication when you are having a bad trip. But generally, taking more drugs will make you feel worse, not better.

Adding any psychoactive substance, including alcohol, to a bad trip is likely to increase your feelings of anxiety and being out of control (followed by the comedown while you are still feeling wide awake under the influence of the hallucinogen).

When to Seek Immediate Treatment

  • You're physically ill
  • You think the drug may have been contaminated
  • You feel out of control and need help with your mental state

If you need to call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room, try to do it with an understanding companion who is not intoxicated. And let the professionals decide what the best treatment is for your current state.

Be sure to tell the paramedic what you think you have taken and bring a sample if possible. Do not handle drugs such as LSD with your bare hands as they can be absorbed through the skin and intensify the experience.

Causes of a Bad Acid Trip

Unfortunately, there is no way to know for sure whether you'll have a bad trip on acid until you experience it. However, researchers have identified a number of factors that contribute to a person's experience.

Lack of Knowledge

Those who are less familiar or experienced with acid may be more likely to have a bad trip. You may not be familiar with the purity of the drug you're using or the optimal dosage. It's best to start with a low dosage until you know how your body reacts to the drug.

It's important to note, however, that anyone can experience a bad trip, no matter their experience level with LSD.

Environment

Your environment has a lot to do with having a bad trip. One study found that participants who had more positive acid trips tended to be in indoor settings with warm light (not too bright and not too dark). They also avoided large crowds and any "potentially adverse stimuli."

For instance, music will likely have a more intense effect on you when you are under the influence of acid. You may want to avoid any styles of music that you normally don't like. Try not to blast the music too loud, either.

Taking Other Drugs

Participants in the study who mixed acid with other drugs (such as cocaine or benzodiazepines) were more likely to have bad trips. Remember, it's not safe to mix drugs. If you are already taking medication, you may want to avoid psychedelic drugs altogether.

Mental Health

Your mindset can also contribute to a bad trip. For instance, if you are coping with a traumatic experience or dealing with anxiety, a bad acid trip might put your worst fears and anxieties front and center. While some people see this as an opportunity to cope with their fears, others find that they don't like the loss of control.

If you have a preexisting mental health condition, you may be more likely to experience a bad acid trip. Some people find that even bad acid trips benefited them in the long term, in that they had a positive spiritual or life-changing realization afterward—but this is certainly not the case for everyone.

Remember that there are other ways to have profound realizations that don't involve drugs, such as using meditation practices.

Symptoms of a Bad Acid Trip

Though everyone's bad trips look different, there are some common symptoms that many people experience. These include:

  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Fear
  • Frightening hallucinations
  • Panic
  • Paranoia

Participants in one study reported having side effects for months after they used acid including anxiety, depression, and dissociative symptoms, which are out-of-body feelings often experienced by people who've been through trauma.

Some people in the study also experienced acid flashbacks, where they vividly remembered and felt what their acid trip was like after the fact.

Summary

"Bad trip" is a term used to describe intense and often overwhelming feelings of fear, anxiety, and paranoia after taking a hallucinogenic drug like acid. There are many factors that contribute to a bad trip, including taking a high dosage, being in an overstimulating environment, and the state of your mental health.

There is no way to know for sure whether you will have a bad acid trip, even if you've taken acid before and had a pleasant experience.

A Word From Verywell

A bad acid trip can be a frightening experience. If you are considering using acid to treat a mental health condition or to have a spiritual experience, remember that there are other safer options for you. Talk to your doctor about alternative treatment types. Even if you're unable to find a doctor who uses LSD to treat mental health disorders, there are likely other treatment types that may work.

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  3. Johnson M, Richards W, Griffiths R. Human hallucinogen research: Guidelines for safety. J Psychopharmacol (Oxford). 2008;22(6):603-620. doi:10.1177/0269881108093587

  4. Kraehenmann R. Dreams and psychedelics: Neurophenomenological comparison and therapeutic implicationsCurr Neuropharmacol. 2017;15(7):1032-1042. doi:10.2174/1573413713666170619092629

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Additional Reading
  • Araújo A, Carvalho F, Bastos M, Guedes de Pinho P, Carvalho M. The hallucinogenic world of tryptamines: An updated review. Archives of Toxicology. 2015;89(8):1151-1173. doi:10.1007/s00204-015-1513-x

  • Fadiman J. The Psychedelic Explorer's Guide: Safe, Therapeutic, and Sacred Journeys. Rochester, Vermont: Park Street Press. 2011.

  • Hayes C, editor. Tripping: An Anthology of True-Life Psychedelic Adventures. New York: Penguin; 2000.

By Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD
Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD is a psychologist, professor, and Director of the Centre for Health Leadership and Research at Royal Roads University, Canada.