Taking drugs is generally perceived as a social activity. Whether you’re passing joints at home or raving bug-eyed in a forest, the presence of other people can elevate those bliss-inducing chemicals. But millions use illegal substances alone – perhaps self-medicating emotional pain with heroin, or using ketamine to dissociate from COVID boredom.
Recent Global Drug Survey results found that increasing numbers of people are now using psychedelics to self-treat mental health issues, piggy-backing scientific research highlighting their potential efficacy in tackling addiction, depression and end-of-life anxiety (it’s important to note that that’s potential efficacy; please don’t go rushing into self-medicating your anxiety with powerful psychoactive drugs).
With this – and my own unpleasant experiences of microdosing alone in mind – I spoke to some psychedelic experts to discover the risks and rewards of solo-tripping on LSD and magic mushrooms.
RAISING THE RED FLAGS
A 2010 report in The Lancet found magic mushrooms to be the least harmful drug and LSD the third least – results that were replicated by 2017 Global Drug Survey data. So does that mean it’s safe for anyone to dive solo down the rabbit hole?
“We’d advise anyone with a personal history of psychotic symptomatology – or anyone with immediate family who has a psychotic disorder – that they shouldn’t,” says Robin Carhart-Harris, head of the Centre of Psychedelic Research at the Imperial College London, and founder of the forthcoming MyDelica app, which aims to safeguard users’ psychedelic “journeys”.
Global Drug Survey’s 2021 psychedelics report found that 12.5 percent of LSD users imbibed to treat a psychiatric condition, and 32 percent a “worry”, with mushroom-trippers broadly the same, at 13.65 percent and 31.8 percent respectively. Is it a good idea for someone in a potentially anxious state of mind to be using perception-altering substances while alone?
“Anxiety in itself is not necessarily a reason not to do it – it’s a human thing to be be anxious,” says Dylan Burns, counsellor and founder of Brighton Psychedelics and Inscape. “But you should ask yourself: are there loads of stressful things happening in your life? Are you in a steady place at this moment? If not, wait until things have settled down.”
PICK YOUR SET AND SETTING WISELY
According to this 2020 paper, the concept of set and setting was devised at the 19th century Parisian Club des Hashischins (“Club of the Hash Eaters”), though it was LSD evangelist Timothy Leary who popularised the notion that your mindset and physical setting are crucial to a trip’s outcome.
“The importance of set and setting cannot be overstated,” says Dominic Trott, author of The Drug Users Bible. “These matters are not only relevant to your physical safety and wellbeing, but to the nature of the trip itself and whether you will have a positive or negative ride.”
Those seeking to clarify their intentions before a solo-trip may find it useful to speak with a therapist (if they have one) or join an Integration Circle, where like-minded consciousness seekers gather to share psychedelic experiences and support. “Part of preparing yourself for a trip is to build some kind of connection,” says Dylan Burns, who also runs the Brighton Integration Circle. “It helps to reduce the anxiety around the experience and give it some context.”
But what of the space itself? Is it enough to tack up some culturally appropriating throws and pop “The Great Gig in the Sky” on repeat? Dylan stresses the importance of being warm and comfortable, as people often feel cold on the way up. “Make it ceremonial and a safe space,” adds Talin, who curates therapeutic psilocybin-based journeys, generally for people seeking to address particular long-standing traumas or issues.
Her process includes stretching, breathing and keeping a suite of calming natural oils on standby. She administers her dose of three grams of ground mushrooms in tea – adding lime juice to aid absorption – and advises fasting beforehand. “Mushrooms are notoriously hard to digest, and if you have loads of food in your stomach you can get caught up in the discomfort of the digestive process,” she says.
TURN ON, TUNE IN, DON’T FREAK OUT
You’ve drunk the tea (or chewed the tab) and it’s just you, yourself and You among four alarmingly mobile walls. What now? “To start off, perhaps you could use a blindfolded or eye-covering, so you’re not engaged with what’s around,” says Talin.
Whilst Dylan and Talin both recommend intention setting, they also stress the importance of keeping an open mind. “Intention setting can be really good, but psychedelics can also give you something you didn’t expect or imagine – try not to be too fixated on what your expectations are,” says Dylan, who also recommends using image-laden animal or tarot cards to help pave new avenues for the journey.
Both also suggest a back-up plan if everything gets too overwhelming – a sober buddy onboard who’s either contactable, actively trip-sitting or just generally around to reassure you that, actually, you’re not dying. “If people are naive to journeying, I suggest they have someone there to hold earth space if they need it,” says Talin.
BACK IN THE ROOM
You’ve finished the trip and you’re (hopefully) full of afterglow. But how to integrate those learnings from the experience – if any – into everyday life?
Robin Carhart-Harris preaches caution for those liable to have their heads turned by a new sense of cosmic connectivity. “I worry that there’s a lot of pseudo-science and magical ideas in the psychedelic space,” he says. “So perhaps a shaman, or someone similar, says you can now access a spirit world or use your third eye. I think that’s dangerous for people.”
In the future, Robin’s app MyDelica will allow users to notarise all aspects of a trip and access science-based harm reduction information that will guide them all the way to their next journey.
The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) has a list of global practitioners who could help integrate your psychedelic experience into your life, though you’d need to able to afford their hourly rates. An Integration Circle would be a cheaper alternative, or you could reach out to PlantEd Collective for advice, while Facebook groups like Psychedelics in Mental Health and Sesh Safety have communities that will provide compassionate and generally evidence-based support.
One last piece of advice for getting the most out your solo trip? “It is important to allow your mind and body time to assimilate and recover between psychedelic sessions,” says Dominic Trott. “This will help to ensure that you benefit and learn from the experiences.”
In other words: wait a couple of months before booking your next getaway.