Blogs | Should We Be Concerned About the Rise in People Tripping Alone?
Sam Woolfe asks why the phenomenon of tripping alone appears to be increasing, and whether...
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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Chemical Collective or any associated parties.
The combination of psychedelics and cannabis is a common one. The addition of cannabis to a psychedelic experience might be at any point, including before the dose is taken, before the peak, at the peak, after the peak, and during the comedown phase. Some might prefer to smoke at some point more than others (such as at the peak to achieve maximally intense effects or during the comedown in order to prolong or intensify psychedelic effects or to find it easier to wind down and sleep). Others will be used to smoking throughout the trip.
However, there are cannabis users – from infrequent to daily users – who don’t like to smoke during the trip at all, perhaps because some find the cannabis high can cloud the psychedelic headspace or simply create the sort of headspace they don’t desire. This may be because THC binds to serotonin 5-HT2A receptors in the brain, the same receptors that psychedelics bind to and which mediate their effects; so this activity may interfere with the effects of psychedelics.
But psychonauts may have a much weightier reason to avoid using cannabis when tripping: the fact that doing so in the past has ruined what was otherwise a good trip.
Indeed, combining psychedelics with cannabis entails potential dangers that users of both need to be aware of.
This awareness may help you avoid making mistakes that have led others to have highly distressing psychedelic experiences.
First, cannabis tends to intensify the effects of psychedelics. And the more you smoke, the more intense the effects will become. Both types of drugs, therefore, work synergistically. So while you may be used to a certain dose of a psychedelic or cannabis in isolation, when combined together, the overall resulting subjective effects can be magnified, leading to (possibly much) stronger visuals, auditory effects, emotional states, cognitive changes (such as to memory and thought processes), somatic changes, and changes in perception of time. To go from seeing objects shift and morph to experiencing genuine hallucinations can, understandably, be unsettling and overwhelming for some. There can also be a higher chance of experiencing ego dissolution, which if not anticipated can evoke a negative reaction of fear and panic.
The synergy between psychedelics and cannabis does not mean that both drugs tend to ‘improve’ each other’s effects; it simply means they potentiate each other’s effects – the two drugs taken together produce a combined effect greater than that predicted by their individual potencies. Of course, some users might enjoy this potentiation of effects. Indeed, because psychedelics and cannabis produce distinct effects on the body and mind, combining the two may create an experience that is not only more intense but enhanced (from the subjective point of view of the person). For someone else, though, this intensification of effects can be unexpected and unpleasant.
I’ve already touched on how using cannabis at the tail-end of a trip is appealing for many psychonauts, as it can bring back psychedelic effects that are fading, thereby extending the duration of the experience. It can also physically and mentally relax some users during the comedown, which can sometimes include states of restlessness, discomfort, anxiety, dysphoria, and a desire to sleep (but being unable to).
However, if you want cannabis just to relax you and help you sleep after a trip, this might not turn out to be the case. By potentiating the remaining psychedelic effects, you may be flung back into a stronger state of tripping and be further from relaxation than you were before. This can also depend on the kind of cannabis used, nevertheless. Strains high in THC and low in CBD will typically have stronger psychoactive effects and less of a relaxing effect, respectively, owing to the distinct effects of THC and CBD.
There are countless trip reports detailing how the addition of cannabis to a psychedelic experience completely ruined it, plunging the person into a negative state of mind, perhaps even a nightmarish or hellish one (see this trip report from Louis Belleau for Ecstatic Integration as a case in point). Through the magnification of psychedelic effects, as well as the unique effects of cannabis, this combination increases the risk of a challenging experience.
This does not mean using cannabis while tripping will always produce a more challenging experience, regardless of the user. In fact, cannabis, it’s worth re-emphasising, can greatly enhance many people’s trips. After all, cannabis can induce subjective effects similar to some of those of psychedelics, such as euphoria, changes in perception of time, intensification of sensory perception, and hyper-associative thinking (associating one concept with another, which is tied to both creativity and conditions like psychosis, dissociation, and autism). Cannabis is not generally considered a psychedelic, or at least only considered a mild psychedelic, and is only truly psychedelic – and even capable of inducing mystical experiences like oceanic boundlessness, or oneness with the world – in high doses or when eaten. Because of these potential effects, people find cannabis can pair well with psychedelics.
Indeed, as a 2022 study published in Psychopharmacology found, the combination of psychedelics and cannabis can result in more intense mystical-type, ego dissolution, and visual experiences. Regarding this last type of effect, many psychonauts desire strong visuals, so by increasing that aspect of the psychedelic experience, we can say that cannabis works as an ally, and leads to a more positive experience. Moreover, psychedelic researcher Rick Strassman has suggested that it is the intensity of a psychedelic experience, rather than any specific type of effect, that helps to activate the placebo response (the mind thinks the drug must be working effectively, based on how intense the effects are). And this placebo response will, Strassman proposes, lead to better mental health outcomes. In this way, an intensely visual experience could potentially hold therapeutic value, simply by virtue of its intensity.
But leaving this consideration aside for now, other researchers have found that mystical-type effects predict improvements to mental health; so the stronger the former are, the greater the reductions in depression and anxiety (as found by a study published this March in the Journal of Affective Disorders). Researchers have discovered that experiencing ego dissolution is likewise associated with the therapeutic effects of psychedelics.
Now that I’ve addressed the potential benefits of combining psychedelics with cannabis (to stress that I’m not trying to fearmonger about this combination), let’s return to the potential risks.
It is common for people to have largely positive experiences with both psychedelics and cannabis to then find that combining the two tends to produce a more negative experience, which might entail thought loops, more disturbing visuals, and negative emotions like fear, anxiety, panic, overwhelm, and paranoia. It might also be the case that even if people have challenging moments on both psychedelics and cannabis, they can, nonetheless, handle them well, but not when the two are combined.
Other people might handle psychedelics just fine but not, counterintuitive as it may seem, cannabis.
The 2022 study also highlighted that smoking cannabis increases the likelihood of experiencing a bad trip, otherwise known as a challenging experience. The data revealed that low doses of cannabis tend to reduce the chances of a difficult trip, while high doses increase the likelihood. The former tended to produce lower scores on both the “fear” and “insanity” subscales compared to those who used no cannabis at all during their psychedelic experiences, whereas high doses of cannabis increased both of these unpleasant aspects. However, it should be noted that the researchers involved in this study did not analyse the chemical composition of the cannabis used by each participant, and since, as we have seen, THC-CBD ratios matter in terms of subjective effects, it is difficult to draw any firm conclusions from their data.
It may be that low doses of cannabis, regardless of strain (since they will still ultimately deliver a low dose of THC), will help to relieve psychological distress, whereas higher doses, owing to the higher dose of THC, will entail a greater likelihood of the type of emotional distress associated with both negative psychedelic and cannabis experiences. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have, in fact, found that low doses of THC can relieve anxiety and stress, whereas higher doses do the opposite. Furthermore, pure THC, studies have shown, can transiently induce acute psychotic effects, most notably conceptual disorganisation, hallucinations, blunted affect, somatic concern, motor retardation, and poor attention.
Of course, users don’t use pure THC, but cannabis products that contain a mix of THC and CBD, as well as more than 100 other cannabinoids. Nonetheless, many strains that people buy have been bred to contain high amounts of THC and low amounts of CBD. This matters from a harm reduction standpoint because CBD – which has antipsychotic properties, making it a potentially effective novel antipsychotic drug – works to counteract the more negative effects of THC.
In countries where cannabis is illegal (so, most countries), people get cannabis from dealers, and this type of cannabis is known to typically be higher in THC as it offers users a stronger high, and this increased potency also raises the risk of addiction, so dealers are incentivised to sell high-potency cannabis. Thus, one reason cannabis can wreck an otherwise blissful psychedelic experience is that someone smokes too much (or even a normal amount, but the effects are intensified because of drug-combination synergy) and the type of cannabis used is a high-potency strain.
There is a trend, however, for both therapeutic and recreational purposes, towards cultivating cannabis plants that have a higher or equal CBD to THC ratio. These ratios can range from 20:1 to 1:1. In contrast, there are many cannabis strains that have around 18% THC with less than 1% CBD (with THC sometimes being pushed beyond 20%). These latter strains, particularly when combined with psychedelics, increase the chances of adverse effects. These can include psychotic symptoms like paranoia, delusions, and hallucinations. (It appears that cannabis, as with classic psychedelics like LSD, is not a direct cause of psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia, but both may trigger or worsen symptoms in those predisposed to those patterns of thought.)
Based on the above discussion, there are many steps one could take to avoid cannabis negatively affecting a psychedelic experience:
Not using cannabis when tripping. You might enjoy cannabis when not tripping, but if you’ve found it negatively interacts with psychedelics, then the combination might just not be for you.
Using only high CBD and low THC strains
Using a much lower dose of cannabis
Avoiding smoking near or during the peak, as this is when unexpectedly strong effects or overwhelm would be most likely
Only using cannabis during the comedown, perhaps when no psychedelic effects are present, so utilising cannabis just as a sleep aid
Taking a lower dose of a psychedelic if planning to use cannabis as well, and perhaps taking less cannabis than usual as well. This would take into account how the drugs potentiate each other.
Using cannabis to take a psychedelic experience to a new level of intensity, rather than taking a higher dose of that particular psychedelic for that same reason. This could potentially be a less risky option since the effects of cannabis will wear off quicker than that of most psychedelics (excluding the short-lasting ones like DMT and 5-MeO-DMT). Also, it will be easier to gradually increase the intensity of the trip using cannabis than trying to do so with re-doses of a psychedelic or by throwing another psychedelic into the mix.
Knowing how to navigate difficult psychedelics. Techniques such as diaphragmatic (or belly) breathing, non-resistance, cognitive reframing, self-compassion, altering the setting, and trip killers (as a last resort) can all effectively bring you out of a cannabis-induced bad trip, or at least lessen your emotional distress.
There is still a lot we don’t know about how cannabis impacts a psychedelic experience. But it’s vital that more research be done in this area so that we can understand the circumstances in which cannabis worsens a trip, as well as the situations in which it might work as an ally. In the meantime, people who use psychedelics – be that for recreational, therapeutic, or spiritual purposes – should be mindful of adding cannabis to what might already be an intense, profound, and unusual experience.
In the psychedelic community, at festivals or raves, or just among one’s group of friends, drug combinations – including using psychedelics and cannabis together – might be completely normal. However, the normality of this combination doesn’t mean it’s a guaranteed good time. It entails various risks. These risks can range from acute negative effects to the more long-term forms of distress that can follow an especially difficult or traumatic psychedelic experience. Consider your sensitivity to psychedelics and cannabis. Be careful with your doses. Always respect set and setting. And don’t smoke during a trip just because others around you are or are recommending you to do so.
With the right understanding, preparation, and care, combining psychedelics with cannabis can turn out to be a deeply euphoric, insightful, and mystical experience. But even if the combination doesn’t work for you, and you want to avoid it, that’s a perfectly valid decision too. Not everyone reacts to drugs, or drug combinations, in the same way, for myriad reasons. What matters most is being able to use psychedelics safely and wisely; in other words, minimising the risks and maximising the benefits.
Sam | Community Blogger at Chemical Collective | www.samwoolfe.com
Sam is one of our community bloggers here at Chemical Collective. If you’re interested in joining our blogging team and getting paid to write about subjects you’re passionate about, please reach out to Matt via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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