A psychedelic experience can be like running a marathon. Both expend a lot of physical and mental energy. Preparation requires time, dedication, thoughtful intention and goal setting, and a conscientious effort to recover afterward. Despite how daunting the experience can be, an ambitious few still feel pulled to meet the challenge.
After the trip, what does one do with new knowledge of the mysteries of the universe, or confounding revelations of one’s deepest fears and subconscious desires? How do you integrate this existential marathon into your psyche and your life so it can benefit you in the short and long term?
Tips for coming down from the psychedelic trip
In the hours following a psychedelic journey, check in with your physical needs. The body may be in need of water or food. Journeying, or “tripping” can deplete the body of electrolytes, so consider having something mineral-rich like coconut water or drink with electrolytes waiting for you to quench your thirst.
You may also want or need a change of clothes, a quiet, cozy place to lie down, darkness or low lighting, tissues (there may be some crying), some self-massage (or massage from a thoughtful “sitter”) to loosen up tight areas, and a hand to hold, if you have a consenting friend or partner there with you.
After the psychedelic wears off, also known as the “come down,” you may continue to feel stimulated for some time. Be prepared with a range of activities, as sleep may be elusive. Remember to be gentle with yourself, and be gentle as you engage in any activity. This is the beginning of aftercare, or taking care of yourself after a trip.
Activities to consider in the hours following a trip:
- draw, paint, make art
- go for a walk
- make tea
- lay down and cuddle a pillow
Don’t be afraid to move your body; sometimes dancing, singing, or other forms of physical expression can help to move any lingering stuck energy. Taking a bath, perhaps with epsom salt and/or scented oils, can be a relaxing way to come back to earth.
What to consume before, during, and after a psychedelic trip?
It’s useful to have easy-to-prepare, nourishing food on hand before, during, and after your trip. Psychedelics can suppress appetite, so if you’re feeling weak or have a headache after your journey, check-in with your body and see if you might need to eat something. Start with light fare like fresh fruit or some plain crackers or broth. Root vegetables and sea salt can both assist in grounding for some people.
Herbal tea, especially nervine teas like skullcap, lemon balm, and California poppy could be soothing for the nervous system. Chamomile is great because in addition to its relaxing effect, it also calms irritability in the digestive system. It’s a good idea to first try any unfamiliar herbal teas on a normal day when you aren’t tripping to see how they affect you.
What does it feel like to come down from a psychedelic trip?
Different psychedelic substances can produce different come-downs. Try to research the particular substance in advance so you know what to expect. While no two brains are the same, and no two trips are the same, there are some experiences you’ll want to be prepared for, should they happen for you.
For example, the end of an MDMA trip can bring feelings of disappointment, sadness, depression, or exhaustion. The change from the euphoria of the trip back to consensus reality can feel intense. This may prompt some people to take more MDMA. However, because it’s the end of the trip it’s unlikely to do much, except intensity the more undesired side effects of MDMA—such as jaw clenching, muscle tension, headache, feelings of overstimulation, etc.
During the come-down of a trip with classic, serotonergic psychedelics such as magic mushrooms, LSD or ayahuasca, some people report experiencing an “afterglow.” This may be anything from enhanced psychological clarity and introspection to feelings of warmth, acceptance and openness.
Of course, this is not always the case. Some people may experience heightened sensitivity, anxiety, or a “tired but wired” feeling after a psychedelic trip. Try to stay present with whatever is happening for you, no matter how easy or challenging it is to feel.
Set up some space for yourself to rest and sit with your feelings when the journey is over. A lot can come up in a trip, and it may take time before one can make sense of it. Be patient with yourself. Having the room to process and feel all of the feelings that arise is part of psychedelic integration.
What is psychedelic integration?
Dr. Katherine MacLean explains that a psychedelic experience on its own can be much like a single thread–on its own, is not very useful. That same single thread, when woven through the tapestry of our lives however, can be integrated to complete a beautiful piece of artwork.
Integration of the psychedelic journey can also be seen as a process of becoming more whole with ourselves. Psychedelics may bring up parts of ourselves we have disowned or repressed because of trauma, or painful experiences shrouded in difficult emotions. In the process of integration, we intentionally work to make enough space for all of those experiences, painful or not, to coexist within us. This newly found wisdom, when integrated thoughtfully, then informs the way we choose to spend and live our lives.
In the Psychedelics Integration Handbook, Ryan Westrum, Ph.D. and Jay Dufrechou, Ph.D. highlight how integration can take dedication, even serious work, and therefore is different than aftercare: “..integration is not just about being gentle with yourself or avoiding some experiences after a session, though these things are very important. Integration is about bringing conscious attention to the process catalyzed by your experience and bringing the experience into your life. Aftercare helps you do this but integration eventually requires more active effort.”
Once you feel solid with your aftercare strategies, how should you start to integrate the experience?
Integrating a Psychedelic Experience
Here are five different ways to approach processing psychedelic material after the journey:
- Get physical – Moving the body can be an effective way to process a psychedelic experience. Sitting still and noticing the sensations of the body is another powerful practice, especially following an experience in an altered state of consciousness. How does the body feel? What does it want to do? Is there something about the experience that the body wants to or could express through movement, sound, self touch, or any other physical action? Is your body asking for something? This awareness practice may help you to better integrate your journey into your body.
- Explore emotions mindfully – Some research suggests mindfulness, coupled with psychedelic integration has been effective at increasing feelings of mental health and well-being. This practice can be done anytime, either as a deep dive or a momentary dipping of the toe. Ask yourself, what am I feeling right now? It could be useful to look at a list of different emotions if you aren’t sure how to describe what you’re feeling. Sometimes it’s easier to paint, draw, or write out an emotion than to label it with a certain word. You can integrate through contacting and feeling into your emotions following an experience, and you can look at the emotions you had during the experience as well. Remember not to judge emotions as good or bad, or assign blame. Emotions are just what they are – feelings. They are not something we can control. Each person is responsible for their own emotions; sit with yours and see what arises.
- Connect with others – Try talking about your experience with a trusted friend, partner, knowledgeable professional, or even a group of peers such as an integration circle. An integration circle is a gathering of people with the intention of sharing about experiences in altered states of consciousness in a nonjudgmental environment. Sometimes it can be integrative just to hear other peoples’ experiences and processes. Sharing your own may open you up to new perspectives and may allow for greater self-understanding from the experience.
- Connect with yourself – How about some alone time? Sometimes, the best way to spend the days following a psychedelic experience is in your own space. Ask yourself what would be most supportive to you as you seek to bring the wisdom of this experience into your everyday life. Journaling, participating in mindful physical practices like yoga or meditation, going for a walk, or any other activity that connects you with yourself may feel really good and may bring about potent insights following your journey.
- Connect with nature – Psychedelics have been shown to increase nature-relatedness in some people. Going outside and experiencing the earth after a psychedelic experience can be profound. Take your time and do what comes naturally. See if you can connect with the earth, even feel the way it is supporting you. Allow the experience of being outside to fill your senses. Notice the wisdom inherent in nature, and any messages that may be useful to bring home and embody more in your own life.
Be Mindful of Making Big Life Changes After Using Psychedelics
Sometimes people feel a strong urge to do something profound after a psychedelic journey, such as getting a tattoo, quitting their job, moving to another city, getting married or divorced, or engaging in other big, life-altering decisions. However, you should hold off – for a time.
Experts recommend waiting at least two weeks after a psychedelic journey before making such life-altering choices. It might seem like the right thing to do immediately after the journey. If it really is the right thing to do, then you will still want to do it two weeks after completing your journey. After those two weeks, you can start making steps towards meeting your new goals. This advice does not apply if you have realized that you are in an abusive relationship, or other dangerous situation; seek help immediately and take space from the situation if possible.
Finding people to help with Integration
An integration circle can be a great place to process insights from altered consciousness space with peers. There are many integration circles one can find online to attend, or consider starting your own integration circle with this guide from the Understory. You can also use Psychable as a resource for connecting with people who can support you before, during and after your journey.
Taking time to recover and process a psychedelic experience after the fact is well worth the time and energy. The effects of the drug may be wearing off, but the journey is by no means complete. What you do after an experience can be the difference between just another memory or a turning point in one’s life.