If there’s one thing we can glean from the recent popularity of ayahuasca retreats, psilocybin ceremonies and MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, it’s that psychedelics are useful for more than just ogling at shrubs. They can teach us about ourselves. They can show us we need new jobs. They can tell us to spend more time with family. They can encourage us to sell all of our material possessions and move into mud huts, where we’ll take even more psychedelics until we’ve reached enlightenment and departed Earth as metaphysical orbs.
I know, psychedelics are pretty awesome! That said, they’re not an excuse to be brash. Yes, they can supply useful insights, but they can also drive you to make bad decisions if you’re not careful.
So, how do you separate the good from the presumptuous after taking a psychedelic? I asked Josh White, cofounder of Fireside Project, a nonprofit that offers psychedelic support; Jimmy Nguyen, cofounder of Psychedelic Passage, a network of psychedelic guides; and the psychonauts of r/psychedelics and r/shrooms for their best tips.
If you’ve already tripped, you can go ahead and skip this step. But if you’re still considering taking psychedelics, White says what you do beforehand is equally as important as what you do afterward. That means going into the experience fully aware that you’ll likely need a few weeks to make sense of it. It also means knowing that a psychedelic may very well trigger an impulse to make life changes — simply expecting that can help you stay cool, rather than acting impulsively, when those feelings come up.
It should go without saying, but White says, “Don’t make major life decisions while you’re on psychedelics.” That doesn’t mean pushing those thoughts out of your mind — again, you should expect anything you’ve been thinking hard about lately to arise during your trip. Likewise, a good rule of thumb while on psychedelics is to allow thoughts to come and go, rather than pushing them down. Allow your mind to be your guide. The key while tripping is simply to not act on any of those decisions.
Before moving into a mud hut, give yourself a few weeks to figure out your psychedelic experience and think through your future plans. While the after-effects of smaller doses are generally more manageable, a major psychedelic trip is commonly followed by lingering effects known as the “afterglow,” characterized by feelings of detachment and increased psychological clarity. You might feel more confident, at peace or “cleansed.” However, some describe the afterglow in opposite terms, claiming their brains feel “mushy” and their senses of self seem uncertain. “A large-dose psychedelic experience can often leave one emotionally raw and vulnerable,” Nguyen says.
Either way, the afterglow can last for up to eight weeks, and during that time, your decision-making will undoubtedly be impacted — for better or worse. To play it safe, you may as well wait that amount of time before making any major changes (at the very least, Nguyen says you should stand by for 30 days). That way, your choices aren’t impacted by cockiness, ambiguity or any other afterglow effects.
As an example of what you probably shouldn’t do, in a recent Reddit post, someone explains that they gave their mom LSD, then she immediately decided to file for divorce. I can’t say this is the right or wrong choice for this person, but I can say that such a monumental decision should probably require more steps than simply taking acid.
While you’re wading through the afterglow, take some time to intentionally think through your trip and the insights it gave you. As White emphasizes, this process looks different for everyone. It could involve speaking to a therapist or confidant. It may include taking long walks through nature to ponder. It might require journaling or making art. Or as one of my Reddit sources says, it may call for Wim Hof breathing. But it should reflect how you typically go about making big decisions — remember, psychedelics are just one piece of that puzzle.
“Introspection and self-discovery are vital for any major life decision, regardless of whether psychedelics are involved or not,” says Nguyen. “Whenever a large decision is on the horizon, I encourage my clients to check in with themselves to discover the root motivations for the potential choice. Is it rooted in the desire for change? The desire for stability? Is it rooted in fear? Is it rooted in limiting beliefs? Asking oneself these questions and deeply contemplating them, whether with journaling or not, will help an individual navigate this process.”
To that end, if your decision will impact others, Nguyen says it’s crucial to involve them in the process. For example, White tells me that he had a psychedelic experience while contemplating a career change. “I definitely received some insight about whether that change felt right,” he says. “I was mindful that this was one piece of the puzzle, but for me, other parts of my decision-making process involve a lot of communication with people who I love and trust and who know me well.”
Go for It
If you’ve made it through the afterglow, thoughtfully considered your decision and still feel like it’s the right choice, give it a go. As my psychedelic-loving friends on Reddit remind me, life is full of risks, and sometimes you need to take them — especially after taking some hallucinogens and thinking them through. “You’re the master of your own journey,” one says.
If that means living a mud life in a mud hut, well, YOLO.