Psychedelics-guide

Psychedelics

Stay safe while exploring the psyche

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This guide is all about psychedelics. Sure, its main objective is harm reduction, but it’s not just a list of tips. You’ll find (almost) everything you need to know about psychedelics, from key terms, to the experience itself, as well as the risks and dangers you need to be aware of. All that, with harm reduction tips peppered throughout, so that you can have a safe and enjoyable experience. Read this guide if you’re thinking about taking DMT, LSD, Psilocybin (Magic Mushrooms), Mescaline (Peyote), 2C-B, Ketamine and more. It can even be useful with MDMA, as it can have some psychedelic effects, especially with high doses.

Remember, psychedelics are not toys. They can offer profound insights, but first time users must think of the trip as sacred, rather than recreational fun. At their best, psychedelics can precipitate a spiritual reawakening, and guide the user through the side-gate of their wakeful consciousness to experience the subconscious processes which underlie their waking life. At its worst, people claimed to have faced death, experienced a version of ‘madness’ and crippling or debilitating panic and anxiety. Minimising potential harm can be as simple as dosing low, ensuring a comfortable set and setting and having a trip sitter who isn't partaking.

1

Before

Learn about the drug, the dose, the effects; check your set and setting; test your drug.

2

During

Take it slow, stay comfortable, look out for your friends, and listen to your body’s needs.

3

After

Give yourself plenty of time to recover between experiences and integrate them via personal reflection and/or discussion with friends.

Understanding the language

There are certain words and phrases used by people who use psychedelics that less-seasoned trippers might not understand. We’ll get you up to speed.

Trip: this is the casual term for the experience of taking any psychedelics. You’ll often see it used as a verb: ‘tripping’. ‘Tripper’ is also sometimes used to describe the person using psychedelics.

Set: this refers to how you feel - the mental attitude you have going into the trip.

Setting: this refers to the environment in which the trip takes place, both physically and socially.

Tripsitter: this is someone, ideally sober and definitely not also on psychedelics, that will act as your guardian and protect you from doing anything silly whilst you trip.

Integration: The process after a psychedelic trip, of bringing the lessons, thoughts and experiences from that trip, into your life going forward.

Before

Taking psychedelics is an intense experience that can last a long time. By doing some preparation beforehand, you’re helping to eliminate some of the risks that come with recreational drug use and, because the simplest tasks can be difficult, your future-self will definitely thank you. Below is our list of definite-do’s before any psychedelic drug-taking experience.

Test your drugs

Always test your drugs. We recommend this kit for LSD, DMT, 2-CB and MDMA; for other psychedelics, test kits are likely to be findable with a quick google search.

Know your dose

Look at the specific drug page to find out what a safe dose is, and to know how much is too much.

Know the safest way to take the drug

Always make sure to check and know the safest method of taking a psychedelic substance. Some synthetic psychedelics can be extremely painful to administer nasally.

Label your drugs

Always label your drugs once tested, white powders all look the same, and you don’t want to mix up what you are taking.

Set aside enough time

Some psychedelics like DMT may only last 15 minutes, but LSD can last as long as 14 hours. Make sure that you have more than enough time for the experience, so you are not stressed about having to do something while still inebriated.

Research the timing of the drug

Knowing how long a dose takes to kick in, whether or not you can increase your dose later and the potential effects during and after your experience is important. For some drugs like LSD, redosing tends to only extend the trip rather than increasing the effects due to the immediate tolerance. The comedown for each psychedelic can be very different too.

Check your family history

Does Bipolar 1 or Schizophrenia run in your family? If so, you should avoid taking psychedelics as you are at an increased risk of psychosis and/or mania.

Put your phone on silent

Intrusive notifications or calls from people you don’t want to think about while tripping may derail a positive experience.

Mixing can be risky

Be very careful before deciding to mix drugs. Our individual drug guides have an ‘Interactions’ section, so you can check the risks and effects of different combinations. Mixing with alcohol should be avoided with most psychedelics.

Remember you’re tripping

Place a reminder somewhere that you are tripping, and that this experience is only temporary. Perhaps write it on some paper and stick it on your wall. Or, if you’re going to be moving about, set it up as a notification every hour on your phone. This may help prevent a challenging experience from turning into a bad trip.

Dress in layers

Psychedelics can fluctuate your body temperature; we advise wearing thin layers that you can add or remove at will.

Tripsitter

Ask someone to sit in sober during your psychedelic trip. Even if they are knowledgeable about psychedelics, ask them to read this guide and our harm reduction guide on the drug you will be taking.


Eat well before

It’s best to eat a good sized meal an hour or two before consuming the psychedelic. This ensures that you’re not hungry during the peak, and that your meal doesn’t affect absorption in the gut and interfere with the way your psychedelic works.

Have some snacks ready

Normal tasks can be quite difficult, and many foods can also be off putting, particularly if you’re still hallucinating. Fruits are generally pretty easy to get down, and gummy type lollies (especially if sour!) may be enjoyable too. Experiment and have fun!

Have clear intentions

Think for a while beforehand about why you are taking this psychedelic substance. Some examples include: the desire to have a spiritual experience, to work through emotions, connect with nature or recreation.

References: 1. Breaking Convention, 2. Psychedelic Support 3. Clark WG, 4. Haijen et al

During

During a trip, the simplest things like using your phone or cooking a meal can become very tricky. This is why preparation and having a tripsitter around is so important. By reading this guide and the guide about the drug you’re taking, you’ll know what to expect. Whether it’s visual hallucinations, changes in time perception or thought loops - preparation will always help you understand what’s happening. The above effects are discussed more at length towards the end of this guide.


Depending on what drug has been taken, a psychedelic trip may last from anywhere from 15 minutes, with DMT, to as long as 14 hours, with LSD. During the latter part of this, the hallucinogenic effects will fade as the ‘comedown’ period begins. It’s important to remember that you are still under the effects of the psychedelic during the comedown phase, even if it isn’t as intense.


Listen to your body

This is why wearing layers is important; your body temperature can fluctuate quickly, which can be a real pain if you’re only wearing a t-shirt and a big coat.

Understand the effects

Auditory and visual hallucinations, changes in time perception, ego death and synaesthesia are very common. We go into the details of these effects below, so make sure you keep reading.

Challenging does not equal bad

You’ll likely have heard some dramatised stories of “bad trips”, but not all difficult trips are the same. Following this guide will minimise the risk of experiencing a difficult trip, but there is always a chance one will happen anyway. We have some tips on how to deal with some of the most common types below.

Know the side-effects too

Stomach ache/ feeling sick is a very common side effect of LSD and psilocybin. If you start to feel ill, don’t panic, the feeling will pass (although it may occasionally come back again). Having something ginger-based will likely help.

Be patient

Some psychedelics can take a while to have an effect, leading people to re-dose or take another drug in order to “feel something”. This can lead to an unpleasant experience or an overdose.

Stay hydrated

Have a big bottle of water handy and drink regularly. Some people also like to drink smoothies or tea. Just avoid alcohol, it won’t enhance your experience and can be dangerous when mixed with some psychedelics, like 2-CB.

Stay nourished

Remember those snacks you prepared? Don’t forget about them! Keep your energy levels up and have some fun. Peeling every last bit of fluff of a mandarin for an hour can be a transcendental experience while tripping.

Go with the flow

Hopefully you thought beforehand about your intentions for the trip, but it is important not to force those intentions if that is not where the psychedelic is leading you. Be open to whatever experience might come.


One thought doesn’t define you

The thoughts that you choose to ascribe power and meaning to, and therefore act upon, are what make you you. Bad trips can occur due to you catching hold of what should be a fleeting thought, attaching great significance to it, and being unable to let it go. Going with the flow doesn’t mean following or holding onto every single fearful/anxious thought that you have. Practicing meditation well in advance of a trip may help you apply this concept come trip time.

Stay entertained

A great way to stop your mind from wandering into a bad place is to keep yourself busy and engaged. We’ve listed some great things to do below.

References: 4. Haijen et al, 5. Trip Safe, 6. Psyched Substance, 7. Patch 8. VICE

After

Careful on the comedown

Avoid driving or operating heavy machinery for at least 24 hours after the trip.This is both dangerous and potentially illegal. Getting enough sleep is also crucial to feeling normal again. Take a look at our blog about comedowns for some more tips and tricks.


Integration

After a psychedelic trip, take time to reflect on and integrate your experience into your life. Psychedelics will often provide some sort of life lessons, either through introspective insight into some sort of past emotional upheaval, or possibly through some new thoughts about the universe and society. The Zendo Project, a harm reduction service sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, recommend thinking about the following questions after your experience as part of the integration process:

  • ‘Now that you have had this experience, what would you like to remember/carry forward/complete?
  • What visions/information are you bringing home to your community?
  • How can you manifest these visions on the physical plane? In your life? Work? Relationships?
  • What was your intention before taking the substance? (There is always some intention, even if it wasn’t consciously considered at the time). Did your experience reflect your intention?
  • How does your experience affect your identity? Who is the person you want to become in your life and how can this experience contribute to your growth and expansion?
  • What are your intentions in life and how did this experience contribute to your larger goals and desires?’


Take some time off

Taking a few weeks to process and reflect on these lessons, rather than rushing to take a substance again, will allow you to learn as best as possible from the lessons psychedelics may have to offer. Also remember that some psychedelics have a cross tolerance, i.e. if you take a tab of acid, you will develop a temporary tolerance to psilocybin as well.


References: 9. Zendo Project

Set

Don’t go in upset

Psychedelics should not be taken when in a negative headspace. One of their main effects is the amplification of feelings, therefore if stress, depression, anger or any other low emotional states are brought into the trip, those feelings may become unbearably strong.


Sleep Well

Having had a good night’s sleep beforehand, is also an important element of set; sleep deprivation can combine poorly with psychedelics and induce bad trips.


Open Mind but clear intentions

Being open to what experience comes, but having clear intentions about what you want to gain from the psychedelic experience, has been shown to have the best outcome with regards to well-being two weeks after taking the psychedelic substance. This means you should think beforehand about what you want to get out of the psychedelic, whether that is a spiritual experience or an emotional one, but should still be open minded and okay with whatever experience comes. Be open to having a challenging/difficult experience too, and remember that difficult is not the same as bad.

Setting

Comfortable and Safe Location

When tripping, it is important to be in a place where you feel comfortable and safe, preferably one with which you are familiar. Make sure the room isn’t too cluttered and claustrophobic, and that it is safe, i.e. sharp or dangerous objects are out of harm's way and windows/balconies are locked.


Have a backup spot

If you are going to forgo this advice and trip somewhere out of your comfort zone, at least have some sort of safe place you can retreat to if things get too intense, i.e. your house, a car or even a tent. Heading to a music festival/concert on your first trip may seem like fun, but the large crowds, security, lack of personal space and unfamiliarity may all add unnecessary additional stress/anxiety.

Choose your company wisely

The people who you surround yourself with are also key to your setting. Being around strangers may induce anxiety, as might interacting with unexpected people, particularly those who you don’t wish to know that you’re high. People who are intoxicated by alcohol may also be unpleasant; in their inebriated state they are unlikely to be able to understand and empathise with the complicated experience you are undertaking. Have prepared ‘outs’ for conversations that you do not wish to have, rather than being put in a situation where you are anxious and improvising while tripping. Examples include: ‘Sorry, I’m running late for an appointment’, or ‘I’m busting for the restroom’.

References: 1. Breaking Convention 4. Haijen et al 10. MAPS

Trip-sitting

Help with ‘setting’

When you’re trip sitting someone, get them to preselect some familiar and calming songs that you can put on for them if things get too intense. Make sure the environment is comfortable and safe.


Choose your words carefully

Psychedelics can put the person tripping into a very suggestible state, i.e. anything you mention casually may take on an enhanced meaning and importance to the person who is tripping. You may be upset that the person you are trip-sitting isn’t interacting with you much, but expressing that may stress the tripper out, make them anxious, and potentially instigate a bad trip. Understand that you are there to support them, and for the duration of the trip, their needs are more important than your own.


Prepare for your own needs

Have easily accessible food and drink, and have plenty of things to entertain yourself with if needs be. You do not need to be watching/staring at them at all times, in fact that may make them more uncomfortable, but stay with them and be aware of what they are doing.


Sitting, not guiding

The first and foremost principle is to be present, without leading the psychedelic user. This means being with them and providing a calming and supportive presence, rather than attempting to guide them on their trip, and potentially pushing them towards things that they do not wish to, or are not capable of doing/experiencing/thinking about. Instead of bringing up your own stories in relation to something they have said, simply let them know you are listening, there for them, that you relate to what they are saying and that they aren’t alone. Rather than focusing on what you’re going to say next, listen deeply to their words.


Talk it out

Talking through a difficult experience, rather than trying to distract the tripper away from a challenging experience, may be a better approach. Experiencing negative emotions in a safe way, with a trusted person taking care of them may be a better approach than pushing them towards happy emotions, while those negative ones still niggle at the back of their head. Remember, ‘difficult doesn't necessarily mean “bad”. Remind them that they have taken a substance, and that the feelings and experience they are currently undertaking is only temporary, and that the drug's effects will wear off soon. Don’t tell them to ‘calm down’, allow them to experience what they are experiencing and ‘go through their process’.


Know what they’ve taken

NBOMe for instance, has the potential to kill a user if they overdose. This is why drug testing is important. Taking someone to a hospital because they are feeling anxious on LSD may cause more trouble than it solves, as there are no reported cases of an LSD overdose killing somebody. However, if someone is feeling like their heart is beating erratically after taking NBOMe, getting them to the hospital quickly may save their life. In this situation, do not try to hide the fact that they have taken a substance, inform EMS services of the substance and dose so that they may make the best assessment as quickly as possible.


Judgement free zone

Unconditional acceptance is important, as is openness and authenticity with the tripper. This will allow them to continue to be open and trust you. Remember they are in an emotionally vulnerable state. This means if they pick up on an emotion in you, don’t try to hide it. Acknowledge that something they’ve said has made you a little sad or anxious, and make sure that they are aware that you are still there, caring and listening.

References: 9. Zendo Project, 11. MAPS

Psychedelic effects

Hallucinations

The hallucinatory effects are one of the main reasons users take psychedelics. All 5 senses may be affected, but while olfactory and gustatory (i.e. smell and taste) enhancement is likely, outright hallucinations for those senses are rare.

Sight is the most prominent and easily recognisable sense which will experience hallucinations. This can happen both with your eyes closed and open. In open eyed visuals, generally what you see will be a distortion of reality, rather than an outright creation. This may mean seeing movement that isn’t really occurring, or your brain ‘incorrectly’ interpreting what is before your eyes, so that you see them as fractals (complex repetitive patterns) or other imagined images. Different forms of hallucinated movement include waving, swirling, breathing/pulsing, and blurring/transformation of colour.


Time Perception

Both user reports and academic research show that psychedelics can affect the way someone under the influence perceives the passing of time. Studies have shown that psilocybin can make subjects underestimate time periods, but that microdoses of LSD can make people overestimate periods. The time distortion effect is not limited to those 2 substances however, and can take place while under the influence of all psychedelics. The effect may be stronger when mixing a psychedelic with additional substances, and is a particularly notable effect during the flip part of ‘flipping’ (mixing psychs with mdma), i.e. when the 2nd substance initially kicks in.

Some users report that the linear nature of time is distorted in their minds, and it becomes like a wavy line, with time speeding up and slowing down throughout the trip. Hallucinations of audio echoes, visual trailing, and palinopsia (in which ‘a positive afterimage persists after removal of an object’) all add to, and enhance, the feeling that time is distorted.


Synaesthesia

Synaesthesia is a psychological experience in which one sense, e.g. hearing, is involuntarily and simultaneously experienced as if through another sense, e.g. sight. For example, hearing the word 'Friday' could make someone see the colour red. Psychedelic drugs have been known to trigger temporary synaesthesia-like experiences.

This means that even if you are not a synesthete, someone who has the condition permanently, you may experience a similar sensation. However, the experience is different as there is no consistency and specificity in the pairing of stimulus-sensation. This means that you might suddenly taste the sweetness of the word 'love' once, and you might also feel afterwards how another unrelated word tastes sweet too, but hearing the world ‘love’ after the trip will not continue to taste sweet.

A synaesthete constantly tastes sweet when he/she hears the word 'love' and only this word would trigger the sensation of sweetness (besides actual sweet food/drink). Don't be afraid if you see a noise or taste a shape; enjoy a potentially once in a lifetime experience!


Ego Death

‘Ego Death’, or ‘ego-dissolution’, is something that may occur, especially at higher doses of psychedelic substances. It is an experience in which one disassociates from their ‘self’, i.e. the parts of them which form their identity, including memories, formative experiences, current careers and relationships. What happens from here differs slightly.

Some people have talked about finding a higher form of consciousness within themselves, one devoid of the limitations that past experiences have inflicted. Others have described it as becoming one with nature, the universe, and the collective human consciousness. The effect is the same though, by freeing oneself of their identity, they see how small they and their problems are. This can be liberating, as the issues in one’s life are stripped away, and are allowed to be reformed and chosen, rather than being seen as intrinsic to one’s being.

People tend to describe ego death as feeling like being reborn, completely changing both their view of themselves, and their outlook on life. A study has found a positive correlation between the degree to which a psychedelic user felt ego-dissolution during a trip, and how ‘positive’ and ‘lasting’ the ‘impact [was] on their well-being’, i.e. that ego-dissolution tends to have a positive effect on well being.


References: 12. Psychonaut Wiki 13. VICE 14. Wackermann et al 15. Yanakieva et al 16. San Diego Treatment Centre 17. Dubois & VanRullen 18. Terhune et al 19. Psyched Substance 20. Nour et al

Bad trips

There are a variety of bad experiences which can occur during a psychedelic trip, from the potentially upsetting reflection on and confrontation of past trauma, to thought loops and paranoia, to seeing scary beings like demons, to psychotic experiences in which the user may 100% believe in things that are not real. These possible experiences are the reason that careful preparation including set/setting and a tripsitter is so important.

Thought Loops

This can be a scary experience and has the potential to derail a trip. But they are escapable. Accepting you are in a loop and being okay with it is one way of dealing with the loop. Another is to change your environment and headspace. Some ways you can do that include: moving rooms, going outside/inside, changing the music that’s on (try something familiar and happy), telling your tripsitter and starting a conversation, or putting on a familiar tv show. Reminding yourself that you are just tripping and that the loop isn’t going to last forever may also help you break free.


Paranoia

If outside, go back to your safe space. Put on some familiar music, and talk through your fears to a trusted friend. Remember that you are just tripping, that nobody is out to get you and this feeling will pass. Try journaling what you are thinking about, what your fears are and why you think you are having them.


Psychosis

Psychedelics can also cause temporary psychosis. This is one key reason that a trip sitter is so necessary. During an episode of psychosis, the user will feel like their distorted and false viewpoint of reality is so factual that they may do or say things with permanent consequences, forgetting that they are tripping. Do not be afraid to get outside help if someone is going through a psychotic experience, especially if they are exhibiting violent or aggressive behaviour.

Things to do while tripping on acid, shrooms or...

Create Something

Many psychonauts also believe that psychedelics make them more creative. Give it a try, psychedelics are all about exploration, inside and out. Drawing and painting can be quite calming if you begin to feel overwhelmed.

Journaling

Writing down your thoughts is a wise move (but you may find it hard in the moment!). Psychedelics often lead to revelations about one's life, and a feeling of enlightenment. Writing these epiphanies down will keep you from forgetting from them, and give you a chance to analyse your thoughts while no longer in an intoxicated state.


Music

Music has long been linked with psychedelics, and for good reason. Listening to music can dramatically enhance the psychedelic experience. Check out our blog post for the history of music and psychedelics, and for some song and album suggestions!
Emotionally evocative and unfamiliar music may be the most conducive to an emotional or spiritual type experience, but if alone, you might prefer music you are familiar with to make yourself as comfortable as possible. Maybe make a couple of different playlists so you can switch between them as desired.


Watch something trippy

The internet is littered with fantastic content which may be enhanced by the psychedelic experience. These include: fractal zooms; beautiful music videos; and movies that might already rank among your favourites, e.g. Star Wars, Fantasia and Spirited Away.

Head outside

Nature can look even more beautiful while on psychedelics, and a walk in the wilderness may enhance the spiritual experience, giving you a sense of closeness with life in all its forms. It can be dangerous though, so make sure you have a trip sitter with you to keep you safe.


Check out some visual art

The visual hallucinogenic effects of psychedelics can really add to the experience of looking at and engaging with art. Many different styles may be enhanced; including but not limited to photography, realist landscapes, marine art, impressionism and surrealism. Even things that may not have been designed to be art may become so while you’re tripping, check out the Book of the Dead.

After effects

HPPD/Flashbacks

It is possible to suffer from HPPD (Hallucinogen Persisting Perceptual Disorder) or flashbacks after use of a psychedelic substance. Both result in a re-experiencing of one or more of the psychedelic effects a long time after trying the drug (months or years). Scientists still don't agree on whether they are the same condition in varying degrees or completely separate; more research is needed.

The main difference between HPPD and flashbacks is that the former is a distressing medical condition, while the latter can be experienced as either positive or negative. HPPD is a disorder described in DSM-V, but this condition still remains poorly defined and studied. We still do not know how many people suffer from it, what makes people vulnerable to it or the optimal ways to treat it. People with HPPD experience visualisations that are frequent, and impinge upon their daily lives. Flashbacks are meant to be intermittent, infrequent experiences, whereas HPPD is described as a more persistent state. However, both terms are often used interchangeably. If you think you have HPPD or are experiencing flashbacks, do not hesitate to seek medical help.


Psychosis/Schizophrenia

It is also worth remembering that using psychedelics ‘might play some precipitating role in the onset of schizophrenia, bringing this disorder on more quickly’. Even MDMA use has reportedly led to onset psychosis. This isn’t intended to scare you off using these substances, but it is important to know the risks inherent in using psychedelics. Ongoing effects are far more likely to occur in people with preexisting psychotic disorders, bipolar disorder, or a family history of schizophrenia. Taking psychedelics with any of the above factors is dangerous, please seriously consider whether a potential permanent psychiatric disorder is a risk worth taking.


References: 21. Murray et al 22. Paparelli et al 23. Patel et al

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