You must’ve heard words of ayahuasca transforming lives. Yes, it can be a life-changing experience.
But ayahuasca can trigger some of the most terrifying hallucinations ever. We call this a “bad trip.”
But some psychonauts don’t believe a bad psychedelic trip exists. At least not in the context of ayahuasca.
See, ayahuasca (and psychedelics in general) don’t mean you any harm.
Even if the altered state of consciousness is uncomfortable, frightening, loopy, dissociating, or any variation of challenging, it’s calling attention to something true to your being.
Often, this is where most healing takes place.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here. First, what is a bad ayahuasca trip? Why does it occur, and how can you navigate, prevent, and make sense of it?
Let’s jump right in:
What Is a Bad Trip?
There’s no clear-cut description. But when ayahuasca takes you on an uncomfortable journey, that’s called a bad trip.
Fear, anxiety, confusion, and loss of control are common side effects. Many types of experiences can be tagged a “bad trip,” including:
Uncomfortable Visions or Hallucinations
Ayahuasca is such a potent hallucinogen that your visions can become uneasy, disturbing, or plain scary—especially if your current state of mind is disturbed.
You can find yourself visiting surreal landscapes or rapidly going through tunnels. And these hallucinations can be so vivid that you forget you’re on a trip.
It’s not just disturbing visuals, though. Bad trips often come with bizarre sensations.
Encounters With Scary Entities
Ayahuasca enthusiasts adore those entities such as elves, robots, aliens, deities, serpents, insectoid creatures, and other mystical beings they meet on their trips.
But you can cross paths with a strange being that isn’t so friendly. Some can be downright frightening or confrontational.
Emotionally Disturbing Experiences
The sacred brew can bring repressed memories and emotions to the surface. This could mean reliving a traumatic event or seeing a vision of yourself (or a loved one) in a life-threatening situation.
Ayahuasca can also manifest your deepest fears, unresolved emotional issues, and past mistakes and regrets.
Most bad trips have a hint of intense fear and anxiety—a sense of impending doom. But it can get so overwhelming that it leads to panic attacks or, worse, psychotic paranoia.
A state of temporary dissociation, where you feel detached and disconnected from your body.
Loss of Ego
Similar to depersonalization/derealization—but with a loss of ego, you’re still in your body, yet it feels like you don’t know who you are. It fills you with intense confusion and identity dissolution.
Ego death is a celebrated side effect of ayahuasca that promotes selflessness, and ego loss is part of the process. But when you’re in the moment of an intense ego loss, it can be terrifying and destabilizing.
Time Dilation and Loops
Time dilation will have minutes feeling like hours (or vice versa). Most psychedelics distort time perception(1)https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/sense-of-time/202305/the-sense-of-self-and-time-during-the-intake-of-ayahuasca, but a time loop takes that to a whole new level.
Time loops are a repetitive mental cycle. It feels like time is standing still or a specific period is repeating itself.
Ayahuasca can exacerbate your thinking and emotional patterns, putting you in a negative loop that feels inescapable. It’s like your most negative thoughts keep hitting replay.
Inability to Communicate
During a bad trip, you may experience difficulty forming coherent thoughts. Your words may seem to lack meaning. And this can intensify feelings of fear and confusion because you’re isolated and unable to reach out to anyone.
Existential or Cosmic Dread
Similar to the loss of ego (an identity crisis), an existential crisis can set in when you feel insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
A typical ayahuasca trip is traveling through the cosmos. While some folks find this exciting and intriguing, others may find it soul-crushing. It can create a deep sense of hopelessness, despair, and nihilism.
Loss of Control
This one marks most of bad ayahuasca trips. Losing control of yourself, your thoughts, and the overall experience.
No matter how uncomfortable an experience is, you won’t call it a bad trip if you feel you’re still in control.
But the moment you lose that control, intense fear and anxiety set in, which just worsen everything.
(To be clear, control in this context doesn’t mean you’re guiding everything you see. It means you trust ayahuasca, remember you’re having a trip, and know everything will be fine when it’s all over.
We’ll talk more about control in the section about preventing bad trips.)
Fear of Going Crazy
This is the most extreme case of a difficult ayahuasca trip. It’s a combination of intense anxiety and loss of control, resulting in a genuine fear that you’re losing your mind.
In severe cases, it can lead to temporary psychosis, with the user trying to run away from the ceremony.
Ayahuasca-induced psychotic episodes are very rare but can last for days, weeks, or months (in extreme cases).
Why Do People Have Bad Trips on Ayahuasca?
Since ayahuasca is a hallucinogenic concoction that works on a deeply personal level, it’s hard to describe or predict a bad trip.
Your first ayahuasca experience can be overwhelming and challenging. Or you can enjoy a dozen ceremonies without a hiccup. Then boom! A bad trip hits you right in the face.
Since ayahuasca’s hallucinogenic properties deal with each user differently, your state of mind plays a huge role in your trip type.
A bad trip is more likely to occur when you’re down in the dumps, having an emotional crisis, or carrying past traumas. The same is true if you have a family or personal history of mental health conditions or fail to set your intentions right.
For instance, the fear of going crazy—though extremely rare—is more likely if you’ve been diagnosed with schizophrenia, manic or depressive psychosis, and similar disorders.
Now, the craziest thing about bad ayahuasca trips is the aftereffects. Things can get awfully intense during the ceremony, leaving you even more shaken for days, weeks, or months.
But bad trips have a bright side. They offer the most life-changing lessons and revelations because you must face your fears and flaws to evolve.
They help you deal with everything wrong with your psyche, giving you a clear pathway to heal and grow.
Let’s look at some tips and tools to help you keep calm during those not-so-sweet moments, instead of freaking out.
When the going gets tough, a surefire way to calm yourself is through the power of mindfulness. And what better way to get mindful than to focus on your breaths?
Mindful breathing grounds you in the moment, and it’s pretty simple. The idea is to take deep and long breaths, shifting your focus from ayahuasca-triggered hallucinations and sensations to the present moment.
Breathing is a direct reflection of your emotional state. When you’re relaxed and at peace, your breaths are steady and slow. But fearful moments are accompanied by short, erratic, and quick breaths.
The same is true when a trip starts challenging you with terrifying visuals, loops, or sensations. Your anxiety levels peak through the roof, and your heart starts pounding.
Taking in air at a more relaxed, controlled pace can make a difference. It has a calming effect on your mind, body, and soul. Try this:
- Inhale slowly and deeply for a count of three
- Hold it for a count of seven
- Exhale slowly and deeply for a count of five
- Repeat as you count each breath cycle
Keep the rhythm consistent and the breaths even. You’ll start feeling calmer and in control.
Open Your Eyes
Most ayahuasca users trip with their eyes closed, but that can overwhelm you with disturbing visuals. The simple act of opening your eyes can chase the visions and make the experience less challenging.
Granted, you may have to close your eyes again to fully experience the plant medicine. But briefly opening your eyes can bring you back to reality and make the remaining visuals less terrifying.
Pro Tip: You can combine this with any other technique listed here. Often, those techniques are daunting to try with your eyes closed. Opening your eyes makes it easier to try them.
Touch or Move
An alternative to mindful breathing is mindful bodily sensations. But this can be less effective depending on how intense the trip is.
Some ayahuasca trips are so overwhelming that any movement becomes a chore (or even impossible).
But if you can, touching something or moving your body can channel focus and anchor you in the now. The trick here is to pay so much attention to your physical senses that any touch or movement puts your hallucinations on hold.
Breathing and opening your eyes use your sense of smell and sight. Touching employs your sense of feel, and moving activates your spatial acumen.
As for touching, you can try texture exploration. Hold an object in your hand and explore sensory details like the temperature, pattern, and weight. You can even touch the ground or furniture near you.
When it comes to moving, try gentle movements like stretching, swaying, tapping your fingers, or rubbing your skin. Big moves can have you falling down, so stick with gentle ones.
Focus on the Music
Music is powerful and emotional. So, during a bad trip, concentrating on the music, icaro, or chant is one of the surest ways to calm yourself.
This can help you break any time or thought loop, and it works wonders for other bad trip types as well.
It’s easy to get lost in the experience and pay little to no attention to the music. But this is your best bet to get out of my head and back into the world.
Especially with icaros (spiritual songs conceived to invoke the spirits of Mother Ayahuasca), following every note of the sound can plant you in the present.
Music and icaros are also a great way to guide your experience. That way, your trip has clear guidelines, and you don’t get sidetracked by unwanted visions, emotions, or sensations.
Pro Tip: Noise is detrimental to an ayahuasca trip. It’s advisable to move away from noise; that could mean staying a few feet away from the shaman singing the icaro, or going into a different room. Icaros are designed to help you navigate the ayahuasca realm with ease and assistance. But if it’s more noise than music, you may be better off staying far away.
Say ‘Thank You’
Gratitude is a virtue. It can make you appreciate even the darkest moments of an ayahuasca ceremony.
Saying ‘thank you’ to Mama Ayahuasca during a bad trip can shift your focus from something anxiety-inducing to a more pleasant element of the journey.
Sort of like the spirits heard your expression of gratitude and rewarded you by brightening those dark clouds.
But you might ask, “What I am grateful for?”
Well, the fact that you’re participating in a sacred ceremony is a good start. Many people will never have this opportunity, so it’s something to be grateful for.
The fact that you’re alive, no matter how miserable your situation might be, is another reason to be grateful.
Even if you’re seeing the most horrible or horrifying scenes, the act of saying ‘thank you’ for experiencing these harrowing visions can change the tone.
As I stated earlier, your state of mind directly influences your ayahuasca experience.
By shifting your mindset from fear or distress to gratitude, humility, and love, the psychedelic brew will pick on the vibes and put you on a more satisfying path.
Observe Thoughts Without Attachment or Judgment
This method is easier said than done because it can be difficult not to judge a trip. Plus, if your bad trip is a depersonalization or ego loss, detaching yourself can worsen the effect.
This works better if you’ve practiced it several times before the ceremony. It’s a mindful meditation practice that separates you from your thoughts.
Basically, you’re listening to your thoughts like a podcast. No judgment. No attachment.
When it comes to challenging ayahuasca trips, imagine you’re watching a movie you star in. Observe uncomfortable hallucinations like you’re sitting in the front row at the cinema.
Also, it’s important not to judge yourself afterward for having a bad trip.
The most prepared and experienced psychonauts still have terrifying trips. What separates them is how they react and manage those moments.
Besides, bad trips help us grow.
So, don’t talk negatively to yourself for having a challenging experience. Instead, be positive—even appreciative—and look for meaning in the journey.
Toxic self-talk can make things worse during and after a difficult trip. One way to navigate this is to write positive things about yourself before each trip. A letter, journal entry, or list.
Reading it during a bad trip can change the course of your experience. It can strengthen you to push through those challenging moments.
This is a great habit, even if you’re having the most positive ayahuasca trip.
Remember Your Intention
A crucial part of ayahuasca preparation is setting your intention. Why are you drinking the brew?
To heal a past trauma? To grow as a human being? To better understand yourself or the world/universe?
Or is it to explore the sacred plant because you’re curious about native spirits?
The list is endless. And it could be one or a handful of reasons. Having a clear purpose before an ayahuasca ceremony gives your trip a direction.
The human mind, as well as the universe, is a bottomless pit with endless possibilities. Restricting your mind to a clear intention makes your psychedelic experience more meaningful.
And if the trip starts going south, it’s mostly because you didn’t set your intention correctly.
Once you catch your trip going off-point, recalling why you’re here can put you back on track.
But you might find it hard to remember your intention. To prevent this, write it down before drinking the brew.
Open your eyes during a bad trip, read the note, and repeat it as you close your eyes.
Granted, recalling your intention doesn’t guarantee that the trip will suddenly become pleasant. But the recall can answer why you’re having such an experience and help you overcome the challenge.
It can strengthen you to give in to the powerful plant and let Mother Ayahuasca work her magic.
Knowing that ayahuasca is showing you disturbing scenes in response to your intention can be comforting. Just relax and try to make sense of this cryptic message.
Use Grounding Techniques
One of the best ways to ground yourself is to have mantras that make you feel safe during the most difficult times.
(This isn’t just for bad ayahuasca trips. It’s applicable throughout life.)
Having mantras can redirect attention away from looping thoughts and horrifying hallucinations, bringing you back to reality.
Try something along these lines:
- “This is temporary.”
- “This too shall pass.”
- “I’m grateful for this moment.”
- “Thank you, ayahuasca, for showing me this.”
- “I’m the best, and I’ve got this.”
The idea is to reassure yourself that you’re safe and the experience is only temporary. A bad trip feels like it’ll last forever, so reminding yourself that it’s temporary can take the wind out of its sails.
You should also engage in positive self-talk, using affirmations to counteract negative thoughts, visions, and feelings.
I’ve highlighted some grounding exercises already—like breathing, touching, and moving. Other grounding techniques include:
- 5-4-3-2-1: Name five things you can see, four things you can feel/touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. No matter how subtle, calling your attention to these sensory details can distract you from those distressing hallucinations and sensations.
- Body Scan: Reconnect with your physical presence by performing a full-body scan. Start from your toes and work your way up. Pay attention to the sensations in each body part.
- Safe Space Visualization: This one can be difficult, but it’s worth trying (especially if you’re a very visual person). First, open your eyes to break the hallucinations of a bad trip. Now, close those eyes, imagine a safe place, and visualize the little details (sights, sounds, smells, sensations, etc.). Just ensure the location is peaceful and you feel secure and comfortable. You should solidify this safe space in your mind before the trip, so it’s easy to visualize.
Involve an Experienced Guide
Having someone stay with you can bring a sense of comfort and safety, especially if they’re an experienced guide, shaman, trip sitter, therapist, friend, partner, or family member.
They can hold your hands and assure you that, no matter what you see, it’s just a hallucination. This assurance can calm your mind and give you the courage to experience the whole trip without fear, anxiety, or confusion.
Shamans are well-versed in this area. If you’re lucky to find an experienced and caring one, they can make any trip a valuable adventure. They’ll help you prepare, talk you through the whole trip, and help you make sense of it afterward.
It’s important that you go with someone you trust.
No matter how experienced, sober, and honestly well-meaning the person is, if you don’t feel safe and comfortable, their mere presence can worsen the bad trip. You can get overly paranoid or even aggressive.
It’s better to trip with a trusted sober friend than an experienced shaman you don’t trust.
Shift Attention Through Visual Stimuli
Instead of just opening your eyes, engaging with a visual image or pattern can shift your attention from your hallucinations to the real world.
But this won’t be effective in every scenario, as the visual stimuli can lead to another terrifying vision.
The idea is to have something intriguing or captivating to look at before sipping your drink. Once you notice things going south, open your eyes and divert your attention to it.
Your cognitive effort in observing the visuals can shift your thought patterns. It can overload you with sensory stimuli that disrupt the dominance of negative, repetitive, or intrusive hallucinations and sensations.
But more importantly, if the visual stimulus is positive and aesthetic, it can brighten your otherwise cloudy trip.
Visually pleasing patterns, images, and videos can impact your emotions and alter your relationship with ayahuasca. They can induce feelings of happiness and positivity.
Preventing Bad Ayahuasca Trips
Understand that ayahuasca works on a personal level and that even the worst trips have a profound meaning.
Once you fully grasp this idea, you’ll see why some enthusiasts believe there’s no such thing as a bad trip. I agree.
It can be challenging, yes. But understanding that there’s always a reason can give you the confidence to overcome any ‘negative’ experience.
It can shape your view and expectations of ayahuasca, making you eager to learn from each session.
Preparation is the best way to prevent a bad ayahuasca trip.
Aside from people not surrendering to Mother Ayahuasca, not preparing adequately for a ceremony is the major reason users have bad trips.
Setting clear intentions limits the overwhelming realm of ayahuasca, making your visions more streamlined and meaningful.
You can address questions, traumas, goals, plans, fears, flaws, thinking patterns, emotional issues, etc., to gain insights.
Your intention may be understanding yourself or the world around you, as mentioned earlier. The list is endless; just be honest and thorough.
- Why are you using ayahuasca?
- What do you hope to gain from this experience?
- What type of experience will be best for you?
Ask yourself these questions and more. But that’s not all.
You also have to prepare yourself mentally, emotionally, and physically for one of the most intense experiences of your life.
I can’t cover ayahuasca preparation here. There are foods and drugs to avoid and tons of details to touch on. You can check out our in-depth guide on the topic.
Be Open and Ready
You understand ayahuasca and have properly prepared for the ceremony. Now, it’s time to be open and ready for anything to happen on your trip.
Regardless of how intentional your preparation was, ayahuasca can still take you on a wild ride because you may be neglecting a vital facet of your life.
So, stay humble and cultivate a mindset of openness and readiness. Prime yourself for an unpredictable journey.
Embrace the Experience Without Resistance
The more you try to control ayahuasca, the worse your experience will be. That’s a fact.
Mother Ayahuasca is more powerful than you realize; you might as well surrender and let go of your ego. Let her take the wheels while you embrace the experience with gusto and zero resistance.
Trust her. Trust yourself.
Welcome the twists and turns in the story she’s telling you. Lean into them, and don’t be afraid of wherever she’s taking you.
Allow the journey to unfold naturally, no matter how uncomfortable it gets. Just keep trusting yourself and Mother Ayahuasca.
Remember: These hallucinations and sensations are temporary. You’ll come out just fine—even better than ever.
Making Sense of a Bad Trip
Ayahuasca is a personal journey. It writes a story for you.
Often, the first act is cleansing you of negative energies. The second act is endowing you with positivity.
The third act is giving you the guidance and confidence to change and make those positive energies permanent.
What does this mean? Simple: Every bad trip has a purpose.
Each uncomfortable experience sends you a meaningful message that helps you understand your past, improve your present, and forge a better future.
So, no matter how distressing or frightening it gets, be eager to savor every moment, read between the lines, and work with the medicine (not against it).
Those seemingly terrible experiences often offer the most life-changing lessons. Yes, sometimes, the brightest flowers bloom in the darkest rooms.
To make sense of any ayahuasca trip (bad or otherwise), you need to follow two steps:
Once the trip ends, step back and process everything you saw, heard, thought, and felt. Post-trip processing is how you nurture insights gained from the journey.
Some scenes and insights might be unclear, but write them down anyway. Think about them for a few days; you’ll likely find the meaning.
Storytelling is one trick that works every time. By trying to structure your bad trip into a cohesive story(2)https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0955395920303352, you’ll be able to explain and interpret it for yourself and others to learn from.
It helps you integrate those experiences into your big-picture life story.
Reflection unveils insights, lessons, and revelations, but incorporating those newfound perspectives into daily life is how you truly grow.
What have you been doing wrong? How can you forgive yourself and become a better human being?
We’re all in this for personal growth, and integration is how that happens.
I suggest taking a few days after the ceremony to introspect and plan how to integrate those insights. You’re not the same person anymore.
I see many people returning to their normal lives after an ayahuasca ceremony, which can make you neglect what you supposedly learned. That’s wrong.
Take some time off, reflect, decide how to integrate, and then go back into the world. Don’t forget to track your progress, comparing yourself with who you were before the psychedelic therapy.
We’ve tackled everything related to bad ayahuasca trips. The different types and how to navigate them. By the way, don’t be afraid to mix diverse techniques.
Personally, my go-to is opening my eyes, breathing deeply, and paying attention to the icaros until I feel calm and in control. Then I read my intention, recite some mantras, and close my eyes to travel back.
We also looked at how you can prevent a difficult ayahuasca experience. But my favorite part was making sense of a bad trip.
To reiterate, no ayahuasca experience is truly “bad” or “negative.” The medicine is honest and thorough. Plus, the darkest trips often lead to the brightest integrations.
Now, bad ayahuasca trips are not a given. Many users trip smoothly without frightening visions, confrontational creatures, or the fear of going crazy.
But when they do happen, you now have an arsenal to overcome those challenges.
Good or bad, ayahuasca trips are transformative but require some work. You can’t expect to grow without any effort.
Do thorough research. Be well-prepared and seek guidance from seasoned practitioners. And through it all, remember to stay calm and eager to learn.