When you think of a trip, usually the peak of the experience is what first comes to mind: the height of your visuals or sensations, the beat dropping at exactly the right second on the dance floor, that moment when you are one with nature, God, and consciousness. Trips evoke the pinnacle of the mountaintop—but as every experienced mountaineer knows, the journey down the mountain is far more complex than scaling it. Whether your goal is preserving physical and emotional calm, gaining spiritual insight, simply enjoying your descent, or some combination of all three, thinking about how to come down from a high can reduce the risks of negative experiences as you traverse the downward slope—and add to your enjoyment of the experience.
The Psychedelic Afterglow
Once dismissed as hippie nonsense, the psychedelic afterglow has actually been affirmed by science. Numerous studies show that many people find immense meaning in their experiences, as well as see changes in their outlook on life, many months and years afterward. Some of the plant- and fungi-based journeys we undertake today have been part of religious rites for millennia, and when people in prehistoric societies consumed, they often did so with specific intention: communicating with their ancestors, navigating a rite of passage, or asking for guidance. That intentionality likely led them to prepare for and track their entire experience, from the moment of consumption to the journey’s end.
Of course, many people take more of a “f*ck around and find out” approach to psychedelics—which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. (My first trip as a teen at a Rush concert had zero intention beyond wanting to have fun with my friends, and I wouldn’t change a thing about it). Reverence is not a psychedelic requirement: It’s completely valid to pursue pure adventure, or just experiment with a different kind of consciousness. That said, if you’re leaping into the unknown, you may find yourself less prepared for the comedown of the experience. While every psychedelic experience doesn’t need to be a quest for universal wisdom, you also don’t have to be a shaman to consider your trip in advance, or think about what you’d like to get out of it. Even just preparing for potential bumps in the road may make you feel calmer and less anxious during the actual trip.
After my aforementioned Rush concert, I can remember walking the deck at the community pool where I taught swimming lessons, just smiling. Everything looked… Sparklier. I felt as though I had visited a whole other world, but brought a tiny bit of it back with me. Robin Carhart-Harris, a psychologist and neuroscientist at Imperial College London, expresses this idea in more academic terms: “The receptive state that the drug confers opens the door to fresh ideas about how to think about the past and future.” In many clinical studies on psilocybin, subjects work with a trained therapist and incorporate some kind of integration session after the trip is concluded. Invariably, individual results will vary—but some kind of post-journey integration where you reflect on your experience afterward can be immensely beneficial.
Top Tips For A Good Comedown
No one can ensure that all trips will be pleasant. Neither can we ensure that the comedown experience will be pleasant. Many psychoactive substances can be both physically and psychologically taxing: changes in mood, headache, and fatigue are commonly reported experiences after partaking in psychedelics and other psychoactives. A few general tips and tricks, however, may help you recover your energy—with the caveat that every person is different. If you have concerns about your health and wellbeing after partaking in these substances, it’s always recommended to reach out to a medical or mental health professional. Without further ado:
Make Yourself Comfortable
Whatever type of trip you’ve experienced, we can often lose track of our physical selves during the peak. The comedown is a great time to attend to your body: Do you need to sit down, grab a pillow, walk, find a bathroom, stretch, get some fresh air? A body check is simple, but can also be very grounding.
Drink water. Yes, “drink more water” has become the new remedy for everything that ails us—but when it comes to a psychedelic journey, dehydration can be a real concern. Even mild dehydration can result in headaches, dizziness, or fatigue, so keeping yourself well-watered increases the odds that your ride to the finish will be smooth.
Eat something. Many people find that they have zero appetites while tripping (or that the nausea that some people contend with early in a psilocybin experience makes food a no-go). Listen to your body and don’t force anything—but a little bit of food can be grounding, and if you eat fruit, you get the double bonus of all the water content.
Sleep. This one may sound super obvious, but a good night’s sleep is a key part of a smooth comedown—or a great remedy if re-entry has been rough. If your trip featured bumps in the road, analyzing them immediately without resting first (especially if your body and mind are fatigued from your experience) will likely be less beneficial than doing so after you’ve had some time and space to recharge.
Integrate. Integration can take many forms: thinking, journaling, drawing, talking to a therapist or friend, or just tuning in to the “felt sense” of your experience the day after. Some kind of next-day integration process is part of almost every clinical study of psilocybin, and researchers think that may be key to why many of the subjects in the studies have had such overwhelmingly positive results. Making sense of your journey can be very edifying, but some of these experiences just don’t fit into words—it’s also okay to just observe and feel your post-trip body and mind, and enjoy the afterglow if it’s there.
How To Come Down From A High
The suggestions listed above are across-the-board, general actions to take when navigating the downslope of a trip—but often different substances are characterized by different comedown experiences. While individual experiences can and do vary, here are some ideas for facilitating a smooth comedown from some specific substances.
How to Come Down From Shrooms
Coming down from a psilocybin trip can be blissful—but even scientists recognize that while mushrooms offer some a fantastic voyage, others may experience anxiety and fear on the downslope. There are both philosophical and practical ways to work with a rough landing: “During a challenging psychedelic experience, it’s helpful to move out of judgment,” says Ido Cohen, a San Francisco-based psychotherapist and co-founder of the Integration Circle, who helps individuals and groups to understand and integrate experiences of altered states of consciousness. “We tend to adopt binaries about these journeys: that they’re good if you felt good, or bad if you struggled, when in fact the whole range of experiences can be valuable.”
Cohen advises the people he works with to release judgment around their trip (another reason why some pre-flight planning is well-advised: it’s easier to hold on to a non-judgmental mindset you decided upon while sober than it is to adopt a new one while tripping). Cohen advises a basic body check: notice if your pulse is racing, whether you’re sweating, or shivering, needing space or wanting support—and then tend to your physical needs. Deep breathing is always a good tool for grounding yourself. “Keep it simple,” Cohen says. “Gauge your boundaries, and adjust your set and setting as needed.” If taking care of yourself feels overwhelming, phone a friend—again, setting up a lifeline in advance in case you need support during a trip is a really wise idea. Consider working with a tripsitter if you’re new to psilocybin.
How To Come Down From Acid
For some, coming down from acid is the best part of the entire journey. But others experience repetitive negative thinking, paranoia and dread. If you or a companion is having a rough re-entry on acid, all the basics listed above apply here (do a body check, attend to basic comforts, check set and setting, food and drink, deep breathing). Most importantly, know that this experience is only temporary and will shift.
Stay in familiar spaces where the risks of you hurting yourself are low—away from heights, traffic, and moving vehicles. Planning a quiet, safe place to retreat to and a person to trip-sit in case of scary comedown experience is never a bad idea, and is especially recommended for psychedelic novices or people working with trauma. For some people, turning to nature—even if it’s just focusing your awareness through a window on a tree or the sky, or tuning in to a pet—can be super steadying.
According to the harm reduction group Zendo Project, which trains volunteers on how to care for people having overwhelming drug experiences, “A little water, a quiet space, and a good listener is often all someone needs to help come back down to earth.” Zendo is firm in their warning to never mix psychedelics and alcohol and cautions their volunteers that psychedelics can bring up past trauma—all good intel for the consumer as well.
How To Come Down From MDMA
Not technically a psychedelic, MDMA warrants some different troubleshooting protocols than the substances described above. “MDMA is notorious for a hard comedown,” says Cohen. MDMA affects serotonin and dopamine levels, and some struggle with low mood and dark thoughts after a trip. How you go into the experience will greatly affect the quality of your comedown: A lot of sleep before and after are super key, as sleep deprivation can exacerbate the unpleasant aftereffects. Give yourself plenty of space—ideally, several weeks—between trips, and exercise particular caution if you’re someone who experiences depression or other mood disorders related to brain chemistry.
MDMA also differs from the psychedelics listed above in that the “trip” is relatively shorter, and the “peak” is, for many consumers, far too brief. Few people in the midst of a mushroom or acid trip are looking for more mushrooms or acid—but it’s fairly common for people who have taken a dose of MDMA to immediately seek out more when they feel the drop. Your mindset going in is key: “Rather than chasing that perfect high, remind yourself there can be other trips,” says Cohen. As contradictory as it may sound, moderation really is key to having a smoother comedown. Water with electrolytes is highly recommended. “People need to keep in mind that MDMA is depleting, and you will need at least a day after an experience to let yourself re-balance,” Cohen says.
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How To Come Down From Cannabis
If your cannabis experience has been positive, the comedown is usually pretty gentle, and may not require more than some eye drops and water. Even experienced psychonauts, however, can attest to the fact that a frightening trip on cannabis is one of the more disturbing non-lethal drug-related experiences out there. If you find yourself way higher than you want to be, perhaps the most important comedown tool is your breathing, plus the knowledge that you’re safe and that this too will pass—you just need to ride it out. Slow, deep breaths can help you relax any unconsciously tensed muscles that may be contributing to your discomfort. Reassure yourself that the experience you’re having is a temporary one—but don’t hesitate to reach out to a friend if you feel overwhelmed, and allow them to reassure you that you are in no physical danger (no one has ever died of a cannabis overdose).
Other tools for modulating excessive highness: A dose of a quality CBD may also ease anxiety and lower heart rate. Chewing black peppercorns and drinking or smelling lemon juice may help as well. Black pepper contains the terpenes pinene and caryophyllene, and lemons contain limonene, all three of which studies indicate can blunt the intensity of THC’s effects. (If the black pepper remedy is good enough for Neil Young, it’s good enough for us.)
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