This article originally appeared on VICE UK
What if you could get a high from being on your period? What if someone told you that if you lean into your period by skipping the painkillers and channeling the pain, you could access an otherworldly, dream-like state – like tripping on LSD?
“Menstrual tripping” is a nugget of wisdom shared in women’s health expert Maisie Hill's new book Period Power, an Amazon bestseller on how to harness your menstrual cycle for optimal benefit, motivation and focus. Hill writes that – during the first day or two of menstruation when the production of oxytocin and endorphins are at a high – you can naturally enter a dreamlike and hallucinatory high if you seclude yourself in a dark room, place your hands over your abdomen, and focus on meditative breathing.
It’s something she claims to be able to do herself. “If I was able to seclude myself and rest,” Hill writes, “the gentle high would progress into a dream-like state where I would experience visions.” Period pain, she claims, actually helped her to access this liminal state.
Hill says that a number of women she has coached on “menstrual tripping” have reported having hallucinations and feeling a sense of euphoria. According to Hill, the phenomenon may not be common – but that could potentially be linked to the fact that most of us will immediately take painkillers that mask our ability to access this trippy experience.
Kim Wong-Shing, a 28-year-old from New Orleans, says she experiences an “out-of-body” feeling in a way that matches Hill’s description of menstrual tripping. “Every month, for a day or so before my period starts, I enter this sort of elevated, dreamy state where I have a hard time grounding myself in reality,” she says. “My creative and spiritual energy feels super heightened.”
Twenty-nine-year-old journalist Lola Méndez says that the phrase “menstrual tripping” chimes with her experience of her own periods. “It seems as it could explain some of the phenomena I've experienced during my flow,” she adds, “which have become such a normal occurrence I don't even question it any longer.” Méndez says when she is on her period, she experiences a heightened sense of spirituality, and that she finds great clarity in nature – far beyond what she’d normally experience when not on her period. “I've had moments of great understanding and healing,” she says.
However, the medical literature is a little less forthcoming on menstrual tripping. I spoke to three OB/GYNs who said they were unable to comment because they were unfamiliar with the phrase. It is not accepted scientific terminology, and Hill’s theory is not backed up by any medical literature. Johns Hopkins Medicine Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Matthew Johnson, Ph.D, says that although he has no specific knowledge of the phenomenon, naturally occurring states of altered consciousness are not uncommon. “They can be associated with any number of physiological processes. So it wouldn't surprise me that some women experience altered states during menstruation," he told VICE.
When we spoke to Hill, she told us that science simply hasn’t connected the dots when it came to menstrual tripping. “There are pieces of information out there [that validate the theory], but they haven’t been linked together,” she says, “and that’s often the case with experiences exclusive to women.”
It is common, she points out, to come across experiences of hallucinations and euphoria in the literature about giving birth. “They produce really high amounts of the hormone oxytocin and endorphins – the body’s natural painkillers – and the combination of those for women in labour can result in feeling otherworldly, and having this liminal experience where your hormones are just working at such optimal levels, and being secreted in such high amounts that it can create this trippy experience.” Why would periods be any different?
There is a recognised medical condition known as menstrual psychosis, a medical condition that debilitates the mental and emotional strength of the menstruating person and impacts, by some counts, up to a million women in the United Kingdom alone. Could this be the same thing as menstrual tripping?
Hill says no: "Psychosis is an altered mental state that is a negative experience, whereas what I’m describing is more gentle and positive. When we’re talking about the negative impact on mood that can be associated with the menstrual cycle, that is often something that happens in the second half of the cycle between ovulation and the start of the next period.”
Menstrual tripping, she says, tends to be something that happens during the period itself, and not something that precedes it the onset of menstruation. For anyone looking to get high off their own periods, Hill has some words of advice. She says that having a quiet space to focus is key to menstrual tripping, pointing to the number of indigenous communities around the world which have “menstrual huts” that house menstruating people and new mothers.
“It is seen as a sacred and important time to connect with yourself and what we could loosely call spirits, in vague terms,” Hill says. “In some communities… women can take the time out to bleed and connect with that part of themselves and receive insights, and sometimes have visions, or get a sense of their calling or something that they could do with their lives.”
After all, the concept that menstruating people have the ability to “trip” on their periods doesn’t come from nowhere. Indigenous communities throughout history have formed social orders and customs around menstruation to encourage spiritual and otherworldly enlightenment, and within more of the population than is commonly understood.
Some women’s rights activists point out that menstrual huts can be dangerously oppressive places. In Nepal, women and girls have died from the practice of chhaupadi, which condemns them to unsafe and unsanitary huts for the duration of their period. In other cultures, such as Indonesia’s indigenous Huaulu people, the menstrual hut is a sacred space where women are perceived as carrying a dangerous and powerful weapon when on their periods.
“The menstrual hut may have gotten a bad rap as a tool of oppression,” says Janet Hoskins, an anthropology professor at the University of Southern California, “but that’s not necessarily the way that it is for [Huaulu people].”
Hoskins adds that the Huaulu women she spoke to “emphasised [the menstrual hut as having a] creative and empowering aspect” and constituted a “time when women have a certain kind of power.”
From being perceived as having mythical powers to being shamed and ostracised for bleeding, the way in which periods influence our social experience can say much about the culture in which women live. That communities embrace, fear, ignore or reject those natural functions is emblematic of how we are treated, with women often treated with a conflicting combination of these responses.
The tendency to pop some painkillers and carry on with our busy lives adds to a culture of mistrust of our body’s natural tendencies – and potentially stifles its natural abilities. What if all we needed was some peace and quiet to figure that out? As Hill puts it: “It’s possible for all of us to enter that state. It’s a great opportunity for us to connect with ourselves in the way that other [people] do.”