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Wondering How to Kill a Trip? Some People Use Trip Killer Drugs

A neurologist walks you through the ins and outs of trip killers—pharmaceuticals and over-the-counter drugs people use to halt a trip.

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Updated February 14, 2024

DoubleBlind Mag is devoted to fair, rigorous reporting by leading experts and journalists in the field of psychedelics. Read more about our editorial process and fact-checking here.

Trip day. You’ve prepped all week, tied up loose ends the morning of, and have the following day off to reflect on today’s anticipated breakthrough psychedelic experience. Dose measured: Check. Music playlist ready: Check. Stove is off: Check. The last thing you’d want during your deep subconscious dive is anything that would kill a trip. Here we go.

Everything’s going well so far… until it isn’t. It starts with a tinge of unease. Exactly why or what of you don’t know. Then the paranoia starts—and escalates: “Did I take too much?  Did I check on the stove? What’s that pain in my chest? A heart attack! Wait, what did I just see? Is the STOVE OFF?” One irrational thought loops into another until your mind spirals into a maddening dark abyss. That trip killer you didn’t want? Man, could you use one to pull you back from the unfolding hellish psychedelic nightmare.

Experienced psychonauts, guides, and sitters are well-versed in techniques to help steer themselves and others during a “bad trip.” Most welcome the unwanted subconscious contents to rise into awareness because it is in those repressed memories and feelings where true healing takes place in the long run. However, there can be a point where the sheer terror and panic triggered for some becomes counter-productive at best and downright dangerous at worst. Such situations beckon for a drug intervention—a trip killer. But is using another drug to quell your trip safe?

READ: 5 Biggest Reasons People Have a “Bad Trip”

Image of box of antipsychotic medication Olanzapin
A review of popular online forums suggests that anti-psychotics, such as Olanzapine, are popular drugs used as a trip-killer | Image via Wikimedia Commons

So, What is a “Trip Killer?”

A “trip killer” is usually an anti-anxiety or anti-psychotic pharmaceutical drug that people take in an attempt to halt a psychedelic experience in its tracks. People use trip killers for mushrooms, acid, and other classical psychedelics. And some drugs are more ubiquitous than others: A review of popular online forums suggests that anti-psychotics, such as olanzapine and quetiapine, are popular drugs used as trip killers. Both drugs are second-generation anti-psychotics—second-generation antipsychotics have fewer side effects compared to their first-generation predecessors. Benzodiazepines or “benozos” (eg. Xanax, Valium, Ativan, Klonopin), are also touted as trip killers. All benzos have a similar mechanism of action, but they differ in how fast, how intensely, and for how long they act on the brain. If you visit an emergency room for a bad trip, you are given these same prescription drugs (in addition to a calm, supportive environment).

The Basics

Second-generation anti-psychotics and benzodiazapines (anti-anxiety drugs) are the two most commonly used trip killer medications. They’re used in the emergency room, and more commonly, in the psychedelic underground.

Are there over-the-counter trip killers?

At home, many people turn to more accessible over-the-counter drugs to try to quell a trip—like Benadryl or other medications that seem calming. Some may try alcohol or cannabis products to quell the intensity. But, while these products may be more accessible, it doesn’t mean that they’re inherently safe to mix with psychedelics. There is not a lot of real-world hard data; no scientists in white coats at the bench looking at the blood of hundreds of people mixing psychedelics and “trip-killers” and measuring the effects. All we have to go on is the online posts of users and their experiences mixing.

Even an easily accessible over-the-counter product, any drug used in excess, is an absolute no-no. Remember the Benadryl challenge? The TikTok challenge where people recorded themselves taking a pack of twelve tabs at once (way above the recommended dose) to induce hallucinations. It resulted in the death of a teen and hospitalizations for many until the manufacturer had to step in.

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When it comes to mixing alcohol, cannabis, and other over-the-counter drugs (yes, even Tylenol) with psychedelics, just remember that mixing any drug with a psychedelic may: 

  • a) alter how your body metabolizes the psychedelic itself, 
  • b) how the psychedelic interacts with the attempted trip-killer, 
  • c) compound the side effects if you have taken a combination of trip-killers. 

All in all, the general advice for any trip-taker using trip-killers is to start low (as in low dose), go slow (take another dose spaced apart), and have a trip-sitter along with your trip-killer. Oh, and if you ever end up in the emergency room, please tell the doctor everything you took (psychedelics, trip-killers, and any other medications you are on), so they don’t give you something that worsens your specific situation.

READ: Set and Setting: Here’s How to Prepare Your Mind & Space Before Using Psychedelics

How Do “Trip Killer” Drugs Work?

There are scientific reasons why drugs like olanzapine and benzodiazepines can stop a bad trip. To make sense of it, it’s important to understand how our brains work and how psychedelics change how we see things. We’ll start with a simple question: Why do we have a brain? 

The answer is relatively straightforward. The chief function of our brain is to perceive the environment (our setting), so that we can engage with it. The billions of nerve cells (neurons) and their trillions of connections in our brain are constantly being bombarded by information from our external and internal senses. The old understanding of the brain’s modus operandi—its particular way of doing something—suggested that our brain is a receiver to all of the informational bombardment. Let’s use sight as an example. Think of a camera taking a picture of the world. Our eyes receive the reflected light from whatever is in our field of vision; that light is transmitted into electrical signals within our brain, and our mind “sees” the world in front of us. Our “internal camera” is constantly taking a picture every milli-second and updating the movie of the world. This old paradigm of our brain as a passive receiver is not what the new neuroscience teaches us.

A New Way of Thinking

The new paradigm: our brains are active prediction machines. What does this mean? Let’s try an exercise. Read to the end of this paragraph, then try this: Close your eyes and imagine you are gazing at a grand colorful forest on an early Autumn morning. Shades of golden brown leaves are all around you. Dead tree stumps covered in mushroom fruiting bodies crowd your feet. Go ahead.

Welcome back. If each reader drew their imaginings above, I wager they’d look similar. But where did the information your mind’s eye conceived of a few moments ago come from? There was no external informational bombardment. You predicted a model of a forest in your mind, from your past experience of what such a forest would look like. Believe it or not, you are making this exact kind of prediction in real time with countless bits of information coming into your brain from all your senses. Your brain is continuously predicting a model of the world as you look around your environment. As new information enters your brain through the senses, that model is updated to minimize prediction errors.

Let’s use another example to show what we mean by minimizing prediction errors. Say you are now actually in a forest and lean against a tree for a breather. Something catches your attention: There’s a faint dark greenish object against the backdrop of the forest floor—but you can’t make out exactly what it is. Your brain subconsciously—and involuntarily—predicts what this greenish object could be. Is it an apple, leaf, frog, or a green plastic toy soldier (the ones you’d get by the bagful for a dollar in the 80s)? It can’t be all of those things. What do you do next? You move in for a closer look; you take action to minimize prediction error. And as you approach the mystery green object, it moves a few inches away from you. In that moment, your brain subconsciously processes the probabilities. Apples don’t jump, and neither do toy soldiers (you know this from past experience). The wind may have blown a leaf? The object moves again, and this time, you’re confident there is no accompanying breeze. You look closer and see a pair of eyes on the green object. The subconscious prediction machinery sends a message to your awareness of the most likely possibility: You are “seeing” a green frog.

The above example is a microcosm of what your brain is doing with continuous input from all of your senses. It is predicting a model of the world, and you act in a manner to reduce prediction errors. The exact mechanisms involved and the neurochemistry of it all require a detailed review of Predictive Processing and Neuronal Networks—let’s leave that for the textbooks. 

Psychedelics and the Brain

Now, how do psychedelics—specifically the classical psychedelic such as LSD, “magic” mushrooms, mescaline, ayahuasca—fit into this new, prediction paradigm? For starters, psychedelics widen the sensory gates for more information to arrive to your brain. Second—and importantly—they loosen or relax the networks involved in the brain’s predictive machinery. As a result, our perceptions (the generative models of the external and internal world discussed above) are altered. 

Under the influence of classical psychedelics, green apples are seen as frogs; the paintings in your home feel alive. Third—and why they are used in a clinical setting—is that they also loosen your sense of self.  In clinical depression, for example, the leading theory is that psychedelics loosen those hard-wired patterns of belief about your negative sense of self, so that you are more open to therapeutic change. It’s important to note here that the majority of the healing potential of psychedelics is not solely due to the trippiness for those few hours under the influence, but how well the user has prepared before the trip and how well they integrate the experience days, weeks or months after the trip.  

Unfortunately for some who are susceptible, the loosening of external reality and of the self leads to panic and paranoia, which, if not tempered, may lead to self-harm and harm to others around the trip taker. In such situations, some self-manage by using drugs to kill the trip before they go off the edge, or for a few days after to dampen the anxiety and insomnia. 

Your Brain on Trip Killers 

So, what exactly is going on in the neurons of your brain during a trip? And how do trip killers such as olanzapine and benzos work? For starters, your brain uses chemicals called neurotransmitters to communicate electrical activity between neurons. Neurotransmitters are released from one nerve cell (pre-synaptic nerve cell) and traverse the space between nerve cells called a synapse to dock on the receptors of the receiving nerve cell (post-synaptic nerve cell). Think of a neurotransmitter acting like a key with the receptor as its lock. See the figure below.

Figure adopted and modified from Simple Psychology

Psychedelics such as LSD and magic mushrooms mimic the action of the key on specific receptors on nerve cells. Others, like MDMA, flood the synapse with the brain’s native neurotransmitter to exert its effects. The end result is a change in the brain’s networks to a non-ordinary state of perception and consciousness—the trip.  

Olanzapine acts like a bouncer at the door; it directly stops the action of classical psychedelics from binding at the receptor. Less receptor binding means less altered brain networks, which means less trippiness. Less trippiness means less possibility of paranoia, anxiety, and hallucinations. Most users take between five and 10 mg of Olanzapine to kill a trip, which is a typical dose prescribed by doctors (up to 20 mg per day). However, there are reports of some taking 50 mg! Like any other drug, the more you take, the more likely of unwanted side effects. Olanzapine is no different. The higher you go, the more chances of delirium (what you are trying to avoid in the first place), irregular heartbeat, uncontrollable movements, and exceptionally high fever. In extreme ingestions, you could wind up damaging your heart, liver, and kidneys—or worse, end up in a coma. 

Another note of caution with Olanzapine or other anti-psychotic drugs: Emergency room doctors may administer such drugs to quell a psychedelic trip, but the anti-psychotic may be less safe to mix with other substances. A recent FDA drug safety surveillance database cited the combined use of Olanzapine with MDMA with an associated increased risk of death. However, the data on mixing the two is scant, so proceed with caution. Yet, even with classical psychedelics, it’s best to take olanzapine with the help of a provider’s care. Taking prescription medications that are not your own can be risky.  

Safety Note

Limited research suggests that mixing olanzapine with MDMA might have hazardous effects. Similarly, there’s little information available about mixing “trip killers” with novel psychedelics, like 2C-B. Yet, even with classical psychedelics like mushrooms and LSD, it’s best to take olanzapine with the help of a provider’s care. Taking prescription medications that are not your own can be risky.  

Does Xanax Kill A Trip? All About Benzodiazepines

What about benzodiazepines (benzos)? While olanzapine is the most popular drug of choice, according to online reviews, its effects are not felt immediately when taken by mouth. On the other hand, benzos can reduce anxiety within minutes; in fact, they are used as stand-by emergency medications in the myriad of clinical studies on psychedelics in world-class institutions being done around the world.

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Benozs work differently on neurons compared to anti-psychotics. They are not bouncers at the door. Rather, they act more like a trigger to a sprinkler system on the dance floor. By binding to a receptor called GABA-A on nerve cells, benzos increase the ability of the brain’s major inhibitory neurotransmitter, GABA (Gamma-AminoButyric Acid), to bind at the GABA-A receptor. As an inhibitory neurotransmitter, GABA has a calming effect on the nervous system. When more GABA binds, more “water” in the sprinkler system is released to kill or calm down the excited party in the neurons. The end result is less neuron firing, which, like olanzapine, leads to less altered brain networks and less anxiety. Like olanzapine, too much of a benzo, and you’re asking for trouble.

Photo of boxes of Xanax alprazolam
Another popular class choice are a class of drugs are called benzodiazepines or “benozos” (eg. Xanax, Valium, Ativan, Klonopin), all of which have a similar mechanism of action but differ in how fast, how intensely, and for how long they act on the brain | Image via Wikimedia Commons

Potential Risks of Benzodiazepines as Trip Killers  

I cannot stress enough how careful you have to be when considering the use of benzodiazepines as trip killers, especially if you intend to use benzos continuously for days after. First and foremost, take too much at one time, and you may not be able to breathe. Benzodiazepines can cause respiratory depression; they affect the part of your brain that controls automatic breathing. If you can’t breathe, you kill the ultimate trip: life. 

Second, long-term use of benzos leads to tolerance and dependence. If you have had issues with previous substance abuse or dependence, please re-consider. Abruptly stopping long-term use of benzos can be deadly, and the withdrawal side effects (eg. insomnia, headaches, anxiety, panic attacks, palpitations) would make you wish you’d never gone down the road of using them in the first place. There are several types of benzodiazepines, with Alpralazam (Xanax) the most popular as it exerts its effect potently within a few minutes. Others, such as diazepam (Valium), take a bit longer to kick in but are also effective in quelling anxiety and paranoia.

While antipsychotics and benzodiazepines have to be taken with care, mixing them with other substances—not including psychedelics—is definitely not recommended. Alcohol, cocaine, cannabis, and opiates can magnify side effects when mixed with Olanzapine and/or benzos (and whatever psychedelic you took). Cocaine and opiates can also increase your risk of deadly overdose due to stress on the heart and respiratory depression. If you or someone you are sitting for takes a trip-killer, loses consciousness, and is not rousable, has difficulty breathing, having chest discomfort, it may be the time to alert paramedics.

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Freaking out? Tips for a Safe(r) Psychedelic Journey 

Trip killers aside, the pillars of a safe psychedelic experience remain the same: set and setting. This is true whether your journey is a gentle nudge or a deep plunge. A healthy mindset and safe setting (including a trusted sitter or guide) may prevent the need for a pharmacological trip-killer.  The following few suggestions are the basis for anyone looking for a positive experience.

Set (mindset):

  • If you are already in an anxious or negative state of mind (we’ve all had those days), consider postponing your trip for another day.
  • Relax a few days before leading up to and including trip day. Whether it be meditation, journaling, nature walks, art, music—whatever gets you in a relaxed state of mind.
  • If you are using it for a therapeutic purpose, discuss the intention of your trip with your guide, along with planned strategies to navigate difficult aspects of the trip. 
  • Eat healthy, exercise, and sleep well before trip day. The state of your physical body affects the state of your mind.
  • Avoid any other psychotropic drugs before and during your trip, including caffeine.
  • Keep the day after your trip relatively free from any obligations. Self-reflection is a foundational piece of your integration. You may also want that day to recover physically. 

Setting: 

  • Ensure that the physical space is ideal for a psychedelic trip. If indoors, a private area with a comfortable soft spot to lie down with blankets and access to a bathroom is a minimum. If outdoors, natural calm scenery (forest, beach, park) is best. Do not traverse heights, as your sense of balance and visual perception may not be 100%.  
  • Music can turn your positive trip into a transformative experience. Avoid tracks that are heavy on lyrics, and time your playlist such that there are calm tracks during the come-up, alternating intense and calm tracks at the peak, then calm tracks once more when you come down.
  • If you’re with a group, make sure a trusted friend or family member is nearby to help you navigate a difficult part of the trip.  Ensure you have a safe method to go home (DO NOT DRIVE if you are under the influence of a psychedelic).
  • Have access to water during your trip and light snacks after your trip.  
  • Turn off your electronic devices and try to minimize the possibility of any interruptions (take care of any obligations for the day).

References

Valeriani G., Corazza O., Bersani F.S., Melcore C., Metastasi A., Bersani G., Schifano F.  Olanzapine as the ideal “trip terminator”? Analysis of online reports relating to antipsychotics’ use and misuse following occurrence of novel psychoactive substance-related psychotic symptoms.  Human Psychopharmacology.  2015.  Jul;30(4):249-54.

Griffin III C.E.G., Kaye A.M., Bueno F.R., Kaye A.D.  Benzodiazepine Pharmacology and Central Nervous System—Mediated Effects.  The Ochsner Journal.  2013.  13(2): 214-23. 

Cohen I.V., Makunts T., Abagyan R., Thomas K. Concomitant drugs associated with increased mortality for MDMA users reported in a drug safety surveillance database.  Nature: Scientific Reports.  2021(11):5997.

Yates G, Melon E.  Trip-Killers: a concerning practice associated with Psychedelic use.  Emergency Medicine Journal.  2024;41:112-113

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Disclaimer

The information above does not substitute for professional medical advice.  If you are considering the use of any substances mentioned, it is best to consult your medical professional to avoid unnecessary harm.  Individuals react to psychotropic drugs differently depending on many factors, including the presence of pre-existing disease (eg. kidney disease, liver disease), and prescribed drugs you may be taking.  Consult your doctor if you are considering using any of the above, especially if you are using it for the first time.  

In the event of an emergency, please dial local emergency services. For mental health services related to substance abuse in the U.S., please dial the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline at +1 (800) 662-4357.

DoubleBlind Magazine does not encourage or condone any illegal activities, including but not limited to the use of illegal substances. We do not provide mental health, clinical, or medical services. We are not a substitute for medical, psychological, or psychiatric diagnosis, treatment, or advice. If you are in a crisis or if you or any other person may be in danger or experiencing a mental health emergency, immediately call 911 or your local emergency resources. If you are considering suicide, please call 988 to connect with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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