Psychedelics researcher explains why a bad trip is a good one after all

Petter Grahl Johnstad of the University of Bergen says a bad psychedelics trip can be a way to confront personal demons.

A psychedelics study shows that an unpleasant trip produces therapeutic benefits. seamartini/Getty Images


A researcher says a bad trip on psychedelics isn’t necessarily bad overall.

Petter Grahl Johnstad suggested that an unpleasant experience with psychoactive substances may actually be good.

The researcher with the University of Bergen in Norway explained to CannCentral that a bad trip could allow a psychedelics user to adopt positive life changes.

“Psychedelics use can lead to intensely challenging experiences, and users often claim that such difficult experiences are the most beneficial ones,” Johnstad wrote in correspondence.

Johnstad continued that the “drug experience itself can be distinctly unpleasant and involve uncomfortable confrontations with one’s fears and other issues”.

However, “this process of being forced to confront one’s demons is regarded as helpful and therapeutic”.

“As far as I know, this is unique for the psychedelic group of drugs,” Johnstad wrote to CannCentral.

The researcher was responding to a query regarding a recent paper he authored and titled “Day trip to hell: A mixed methods study of challenging psychedelic experiences”.

The study was published online by the Journal of Psychedelic Studies on May 26, 2021.

In his work, Johnstad wrote that a majority of the participants in the two studies he conducted “found that their challenging experience resulted in positive long-term consequences”.

“One common form of challenging experience involved unpleasant insights about one’s life,” the researcher stated in the paper.

Johnstad continued that these insights “sometimes led to important changes”.

As an example, he mentioned that case of one psychedelics user whose bad trip focused on his habit of using amphetamines, which are highly addictive substances.

The user’s bad trip on psychedelics and the insights he gained “made him quit amphetamines from that day”.

There are also experiences of “troubling visions”.

“Psychedelics often affect how users perceive their surroundings, and in challenging experiences, these distortions may take on a menacing quality,” Johnstad related.

There’s oneperson who reported that “stains on the walls would turn into moving insects and faces in pictures would display anger”.

Another person “looked out of a window and saw that the trees had eyes and were staring back at him”.

One user had this experience to relate: “I was shown a frightening entity and within its tentacles was my human self. Not only me but many others as well. It was unreal.”

“It was as if it were feeding on our souls,” the same person said. “I was enveloped within its tentacles as if it were absorbing me and the others in its grip.”

Referring to this particular experience, Johnstad wrote in his paper that the person “understood that the malicious entity represented his frustration, anxiety, and anger, and that he could free himself from the entity’s grip by releasing his anger”.

The paper indicated that more than 67 percent of participants believe that the long-term consequences of their bad trip are “either positive or mostly positive”.

Only four percent saw the results “negative or mostly negative”.

The balance of 29 percent described the long-term impact as either irrelevant or mixed.

Also in his study, Johnstad noted that the use of “meditation skills – although not necessarily recognized as such – in order to overcome challenging psychedelic experiences was quite widespread among interviewees”.

He mentioned the case of one participant who “found himself trapped in a reenactment of his high school years and was unable to open his eyes”.

The said person “managed to calm himself and to focus on what the experience had to offer”.

In correspondence with CannCentral, Johnstad wrote that there is a lot to be explored regarding the relationship of psychedelics use and meditation.

“Since psychedelics have such a powerful effect on one’s consciousness, the meditation-like ability to direct your mind and emotions seems very useful,” Johnstad stated.

Follow Carlito Pablo on Twitter: @carlitopablo

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