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Why Do Psychedelics Sometimes Not Work?

There are many things that can deaden the impact of acid or shroom. Here’s what might be happening so you can get on with your trip

Picture this: You’re in the middle of what should be a kaleidoscopic trip — you planned weeks in advance and meticulously coordinated your set-up — but it’s been several hours, and you still can’t feel a thing. You consider redosing; you ruminate on whether you stored the drugs badly; you’re even tempted to lodge a formal complaint with your guy. Mostly you’re wondering, WTF went wrong?

Well, lots of things, potentially. Let’s talk about acid first. “The first and most obvious question is whether or not your tab had anything on it at all,” says Rachel Clark, the education manager at harm reduction organization DanceSafe. “Although very unlikely, it’s in the realm of possibility for someone to have sold you blotter paper, gel tabs or liquid that contains a non-psychoactive substance. You can check this by using Ehrlich’s reagent on a tiny corner of the tab to make sure it turns purple.”

If you do establish that you have taken real, actual acid, Clark says there’s a whole host of other variables to consider. Firstly, other medications you’re taking could blunt the effect of psychedelics — antidepressants like trazodone, or any SSRIs, can make a trip less trippy. Second, you need to consider how you’ve stored it. “Heat and light will degrade LSD,” explains Clark. “Hence the general advice to store it in a fridge or freezer.”

Third, how frequent of a user are you? If you’ve tripped very recently, like two or three days ago, Clark says you’re likely to experience a reduction in potency with each subsequent dose. On the other hand, if you’re new to acid, you might not have yet figured out what dose you need. “Some folks have a naturally high tolerance to psychedelics in general,” she says. “You may need to play around with your dosing to figure out your sweet spot.” 

She also warns that dealers often don’t actually know how much acid is in each dose they sell — so, to get an idea of what your typical dose is, she recommends buying a set of tabs from one batch, so you’re “going off a consistent point of comparison.” Clark adds that if you’ve bought a set, and you’ve tripped from it before, it may not be working this time because “you’re in an environment that you’re desensitized to tripping in.” In fact, if your surroundings feel familiar, you may experience “mild to intense blunting effects.” Or, Clark says, “it could also just have to do with the particulars of your body chemistry in that moment, during that experience.”

When it comes to magic mushrooms, you probably don’t need to worry about being ripped off by your dealer. “Unless you bought mushrooms that are literally just not psilocybin shrooms, you’re not really at risk of buying adulterated or bunk shrooms,” says Clark. “It is true, however, that each individual flush of mushrooms varies in potency, and within each flush, each individual mushroom varies in potency.” This means that when you weigh out your dose, which Clark asserts is essential, you’re still not actually weighing the amount of active ingredient contained in each mushroom. So, similarly to LSD, with shrooms, their effectiveness depends on batch potency, your specific body chemistry on that day, dosage and other medications you’re taking.

Actually, what matters most with mushrooms is your stomach contents. “Eating too close to dose time can slow the breakdown and absorption of psilocybin in your gut, and significantly reduce the potency of the trip. It’s generally advised to eat a moderate and healthy meal two hours before you dose,” says Clark. 

So, what should you do — and, more paramount, not do — when your acid or shrooms aren’t working? Mainly: Don’t redose too quickly. “A classic mistake with LSD is to wait two hours and take more,” explains Clark. “I personally advise waiting three to four hours before redosing, otherwise you might end up having the canonical experience of tripping super hard all of a sudden when it all kicks in at once.” If you do redose, Clark recommends taking half of your original dose — but be warned, it will push back your time to sobriety by about 12 hours.

With mushrooms, you can redose after an hour and a half to two hours. But, Clark says, “usually if the mushroom people don’t let me in, I take it as a sign that I shouldn’t push it and should just try again next time.”

“If you want,” she adds, “you can actually try smoking weed to kick things up a notch. Most people find that nitrous also drastically intensifies a psychedelic experience — particularly with auditory hallucinations.” But Clark asserts that she’s not advising these as a way to trip harder — just as a common phenomenon to be aware of.

Anyway, are you feeling it yet?