When Psychedelics Make Things Worse
anonymous Asks ...
So abt a month ago I took a shroombar with my friends and had a really bad trip. During the trip I was having what felt like a panic attack while my mind was thinking about the worse things possible. I was thinking about why people kill themselves, felt like I was going crazy and thought that all my friends thought I was crazy. Also felt to the public eye that I was going crazy so during all of this I tried to act normal. I couldn’t not sit still so I did my best to avoid all the negative thoughts by walking with a friend on the beach. It also made me think about my girlfriend and as well challenged my sexuality. That really scared me because I know I’m straight. Another thing was that during the trip I felt like I couldn’t tell what was real. Like I was doubting and second guessing everything, also felt like time wasn’t real. I had to have a friend near me at all times because they were pretty much my anchor. So after the trip ended I was able to calm down and felt relieved. Fast forward a couple days and I’m fine but I realize that my anxiety is a lot higher. And a week later I’m driving with my girl and she makes a joke about one of my friends liking me and that triggered like a anxiety attack. So I realized that when she said that I thought abt the horrible trip which then sent my body to panic. It doesn’t end there, I recently broke up with my girl and now I feel like my anxiety is higher than ever and I feel like im always in my head and never in the present. I feel like i am numb to life and like I am there but i am not there. At times I feel like I’m back but then I’m back to feeling weird. I really want to feel like I’m back to normal because this state scares the hell outa of me.
Dr. Richard Schultz Says ...
Hello Friend, and thank you for addressing this question to me. I am sorry for the distress you have been experiencing.
It is not at all uncommon for symptoms of anxiety to be triggered, or exacerbated, by the use of psychedelic compounds, in this case a non-specific variant of mushrooms.
What most likely occurred for you is that a pre-existing vulnerability to anxiety (with particular focus on feared negative or critical judgments of others, otherwise known as "social anxiety," as well as a fear of uncertainty about yourself) became activated during your trip, inducing some derealization (not in itself uncommon with psychedelics, or necessarily unpleasant) and panic symptoms (less common but unpleasant). Due to the unboundaried perceptions and mental activity which become available with the use of mushrooms, your anxious cognitions, feelings, and sensations assumed an even more distressing and traumatic form, and which are now impossible to forget. In effect, these are post-traumatic memories.
Subsequently, via classical conditioning, your brain has associated even mild symptoms of anxiety with the traumatic mushroom experience, thereby worsening them. Other painful concerns that arose during the trip (regarding your sexuality and others' view of you as crazy) are now also associated with mild anxiety.
The good news is that, if you seek appropriate psychological treatment, you will not only "come back," but will likely do so with even more confidence, self-acceptance, and peace, than you ever before enjoyed. I suggest beginning with an initial consultation, and adding additional sessions as needed.
If, on the other hand, you continue to focus closely and vigilantly on the content of your anxious thoughts and feelings, and attempt to eliminate, avoid, analyze, rationalize, control, or eliminate them, or work to avoid situations or people that trigger them, they WILL grow stronger. When relating to our selves, that which we resist will persist (and this brief video provides an excellent illustration of that process )
Regarding a treatment provider, I strongly suggest that you work with a clinical psychologist grounded in cognitive-behavioral methodology, and who can further inform this with acceptance-based "third wave" interventions.
Although you may have by now experienced a reduction in the anxiety, I suggest seeking consultation anyway, at least for check-up purposes, to ensure that you are not coping in maladaptive ways.
Finally, please know that, in order to receive therapeutic benefit from psychedelic compounds, they must be utilized within a specific context, and in accordance with a variety of conditions and procedures. If these procedures are not observed, significant and sustained negative mental health consequences may result. This is particularly true if one has a pre-existing vulnerability to psychological distress of any kind.