Psychedelics set you on a journey, one that many take in search of profound bliss, heightened awareness, and a restored spirit. But like with any journey, sometimes it’s a good idea to bring a buddy along in case you stumble and need a hand. At times you may feel on top of the world, seeing for miles, while other times you may feel stuck in deep mud or stranded at dizzying heights without warning.
Trip sitters typically remain sober to keep an eye on trippers and to make sure they stay safe. They act as trip guardians, taking care of things like safe dosage, reminders to hydrate, preventing accidents, and handling emergencies.
While physical safety is essential during a psychedelic experience, sitters can also take a more active role as a kind of mental tour-guide: steering a person’s trip toward certain, intentional states of being and away from negative, distressing ones.
This is where working with herbs can really help. Herbs can be powerful, yet gentle, allies in helping to frame a tripping mindset. Unlike pharmaceuticals, herbs won’t necessarily extinguish challenging and uncomfortable thoughts completely. But what they can do is present those thoughts in a different light to make them more digestible and keep you moving forward.
Whether you’re the journeyer or the sitter helping to guide the psychedelic experience, the following herbs can be valuable allies to have on-hand during a trip.
Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum)
Also known as holy basil, tulsi is regarded as a guardian and protector in the folklore of India, and is a truly gladdening herb. It’s an exhilarant, a type of herb known to strongly uplift the spirit and improve mood. So if you want to sway a trip away from desperation and toward euphoria (and who wouldn’t?) tulsi is the herb for you.
Tulsi is one of the more gentle adaptogens (herbs that help the body deal with and adapt to stress more effectively), as well as a nervine (an herb that calms nervous tension). Tripping can sometimes herald an onslaught of stimuli, but tulsi can prevent you from feeling overburdened and instead calm, collected, and better equipped to handle what’s being presented to you. Things that normally bother you or make you feel anxious may not seem as big of a deal anymore, which is helpful since emotions can run high while tripping.
Tulsi can be helpful both while preparing for a trip, as well as during a trip. As an adaptogen, its benefits will feel the most pronounced after a couple weeks of daily use, but even just consuming tulsi the morning of or in the middle of a trip can help set you up for an easygoing time. Something especially nice about tulsi is that it makes for a delicious tea (steep 1 tablespoon in 1 cup of boiling water for at least 10 minutes), but tincture works too.
Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) & Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)
Affectionately nicknamed “S & P” by herbalists, it’s hard not to naturally pair skullcap and passionflower together like salt and pepper. These two nervine herbs are the perfect couple in combating the dreaded negative thought-loop, when negativity and anxiety spiral out of control during a trip.
Skullcap can ease a hamster-wheel mind of racing thoughts, and passionflower can ease a merry-go-round mind of circular thoughts. Oftentimes, these feelings come together in the form of generalized worry or anxiety, but can become exacerbated under the influence of a psychedelic.
If you’re tripping this state of mind will be pretty undeniable, but if you’re a sitter it may not be as obvious to you that your tripper needs help. Checking in verbally is always a good idea, but this state of mind also presents as stress-induced muscle tension in the upper body. So if you notice your tripper hunching their shoulders or grinding their teeth, it may be time for skullcap and passionflower to come to the rescue.
These herbs are also especially helpful toward the end of a trip when you’re lying in bed and can’t seem to stop ruminating, or simply to help quiet down the excitement of the day. Skullcap and passionflower are best consumed via preparation that will lead to rapid onset of effects: either in tincture taken sublingually or blended into an herbal smoke.
Elderflower (Sambucus nigra)
If you’re someone who tends to feel very warm while tripping, elderflower is going to be your friend. It’s a relaxing diaphoretic, meaning it helps the body to release both muscle tension and excess heat. And this release of heat isn’t limited to just the body. Elderflower acts as an emotional diaphoretic as well, helping to release hot emotions like anger or anxiety that tripping may trigger.
Like tulsi, elderflower is another truly uplifting herb. Sometimes negative emotions can make you feel weighed-down during a trip. But the light, sweet scent of elderflower alone can instill feelings of hope and help you rise up and out of a heavy, burdensome emotional state, what some people may call a “bad” trip.
What’s nice about elderflower is that it’s a fairly common ingredient in sparkling cordial beverages you can buy at the store. Drinking an elderflower cordial straight from the fridge can be both a delicious distraction from negativity and an effective way to cool down if you’re feeling a little overheated.
Cayenne (Capsicum annuum)
Yes, the pepper! A fast-acting circulatory stimulant, cayenne delivers a swift kick in the butt which, sometimes, is what you really need to get moving out of a stuck, stagnant trip. Cayenne will certainly bring a lot of heat, but it’s also going to bring a lot of movement very quickly. So if a change of scenery is what you need but you just can’t muster up the courage to get up and make it happen, a couple drops of cayenne tincture will get you moving on in no time.
Cayenne really gets the blood moving, and so is suited to stagnation in the body as well as the mind. This makes cayenne particularly helpful for those that become “frozen” during a trip. So if you’re in a fixated state you’re unable to break out of, cayenne will very quickly induce presence and get you moving onto the next segment of your journey.
Lavender (Lavendula spp.)
If you’d like herbal support while tripping but are worried you either won’t be able to reach out for your preparations or that you might forget about them entirely, then aromatherapy is a solution; in aromatherapy, lavender essential oil reigns supreme.
Lavender is a hypotensive herb, helping to lower blood pressure and ease tension. Its terpene profile targets the nervous system to ease constriction in both muscle and mind, making lavender a fantastic ally in softening rigid attitudes and beliefs that may no longer be serving you. Tripping can often shine a spotlight on how embodied your cognition is, and a relaxed body will allow for a more flexible and welcoming experience.
If you’re going to be tripping indoors, an essential oil diffuser is great because you can just set it and forget it while it gently fills your space with fragrance. A diffuser necklace, where you add a few drops of essential oil to a special pendant, will allow you to carry the lavender scent with you wherever your journey may take you.
This story is for educational purposes only. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please consult a healthcare practitioner prior to using herbs, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, or taking any medications. Please note that passionflower is contraindicated for people taking beta-blockers medications.
Lian Bruno is a clinical herbalist and the founder of Puff Herbal Smokes, a business that advocates herbalism for smokers of all plants. Lian’s new guidebook, “Puff Into The Present Moment: Crafting Herbal Smoking Blends To Ease Anxiety,” will be published with Flower Press this fall.