While the dangers of psychedelics have often been overstated by the media, they do pose certain risks that people should be aware of if considering using them. There are many myths about psychedelics that are just not true, such as that LSD stays in your spine or that psychedelics will make you go insane. For those new to psychedelics, it can be difficult to discern fact from fiction. Here are some of the more commonly discussed risks to be aware of:
- Challenging experiences and difficult emotions: With all of the recent media hype, psychedelics can quickly become idealized as magic bullets that cure anything and everything. While they do show great therapeutic potential, they also can produce trigger difficult emotions or difficult memories and bring to the fore problems that we have been avoiding. If not prepared for this possibility, you may react to this emerging psychological material with resistance and additional distress which can result in even greater challenges.
- Risk of psychosis or mania: Psychedelic use may be riskier in individuals with a personal or family history of bipolar disorder or psychosis such as schizophrenia. While there is no evidence that psychedelics cause mania or psychosis, they may activate these underlying conditions if they are present. More research is needed to learn more about this risk.
- Physical safety: When psychedelics are consumed in clinical trials, the environment is carefully prepared and the participant is monitored by no less than two trained professionals throughout their experience. When taken in real-world settings or uncontrolled environments, there may be greater risk especially in unfamiliar settings such as concerts or out in nature. Depending on the substance and the dose, a person might do something impulsive or it is possible that one might lose coordination or balance and be more susceptible to slips or falls.
- Interactions with current medications: Certain psychedelic substances might have interactions with prescribed medications. For example, it is known that using ayahuasca while on certain antidepressants can produce a potentially dangerous condition known as serotonin syndrome. It is recommended speaking with your medication provider if you are taking any prescribed drugs before you use psychedelics.
- Drug Purity: When drugs are not purchased through well-regulated systems, there is less certainty about their purity. Some substances such as MDMA have been known to be adulterated with other substances such as methamphetamine. Drug checking kits which are available to the public can be purchased to test a variety of substances and are a way to minimize risk.
- Changes in perspective and relationships: Psychedelics can produce marked shifts in perspective, worldview, attitudes, or beliefs. Even when new perspectives are positive and welcomed, this can result in difficulty with integrating new outlooks with one’s older set of beliefs. Similarly, while one may have undergone a radical transition or growth period, others in their life haven’t. Therefore, some difficulties may arise as one returns from a psychedelic journey back into their jobs, relationships, etc.
- Lingering Distress Some psychedelic experiences can bring up painful emotions, realizations, or memories from the past. Sometimes, these experiences unfold over several days or weeks and take time to address. Often, these types of psychedelic experiences can lead to healing and growth when navigated with the right support. It is therefore good to be aware of this possibility so that one is less likely to become upset if this happens.
You can learn more about psychedelics and whether you might want to use them here. You can also read more about how to protect yourself from harm here.