Sunday, June 16, 2019

Should I Take Psychedelics If I'm Depressed?

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Psychedelics like mushrooms & LSD are currently enjoying a renaissance, particularly as a proposed treatment for mental illnesses like depression & alcoholism.  But one of the core tenants of psychonauts everywhere is that of "set & setting":  to only trip when you're in a good mindset & a safe physical setting.  So where does depression fit in this scheme?  It would seem contraindicated to trip while clinically depressed according to these rules.  Is it safe to trip while in an active depressive episode? 

Answer:  It depends. 

If you've never done psychedelics, here's a quick rundown of their effects.  These substances tend to magnify how you're already feeling, for better or worse.  They don't guarantee euphoria or a good time the way MDMA or opioids do & shouldn't be taken in a loud party setting, especially by novices.  In addition to the visual hallucinations, psychedelics can bring up complex & uncomfortable emotions or thought loops.  This is more likely to happen if you go into the trip with a serious or contemplative mood or take a large dose. 

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Phenethylamines vs. tryptamines: which is right for you?
In my experience, psychedelic trips are most helpful for depression at the tail end when the effects are wearing off.  Shrooms in particular.  There is a sense of invigoration & renewal--like I just survived an uncomfortable experience & should be grateful for my health.  For the next couple days I tend to feel clearer in my mind & have an increased focus on eating right & taking care of myself (which as every depressed person knows can be a challenge).  It's somewhat akin to a mental vacation or hitting the 'reset' button.  4-AcO-DMT is virtually interchangeable with psilocybin mushrooms for myself & most people so I include it in this category.  4-HO-MET is similar but lasts quite a bit longer.  These are all tryptamines.  Other substances in the tryptamine class include:  DMT, aMT & 5-MeO-DMT. 

LSD & mescaline are a slightly different beast in terms of effects.  Most people find them to be more stimulating & cerebral, which can either be good or bad depending on your neurochemistry.  One thing is certain--these drugs last much longer than shrooms so be prepared for a longer trip if you take them.  Mescaline almost always causes intense nausea at the onset.  Apparently this is true whether you eat the cactus slime or ingest pure mescaline extract.  LSD comes with the small risk of adulteration so only buy from trusted sources.  I'd personally recommend this type of psychedelic for a more experienced psychonaut, but it's really up to you what you feel comfortable with.  This type of psychedelic is called a phenethylamine.  Other substances in this class include MDA, the DOx series & the 2C-x series. 

*Substances in bold lettering are ones I've personally tried.  

Setting & Dose

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Daytripping outdoors = the bees' knees
For me, the absolute ideal setting for a positive trip is outdoors in comfortable weather with a couple of close friends--maybe one of whom is also tripping & one who is sober.  No responsibilities to worry about, just the beauty of nature & the closeness of your friends to ground you.  Having a benzodiazepine (Xanax, Valium, Klonopin) on hand in case the trip goes South is a great way to ease your worries.  Even if you don't end up taking it, just knowing it's there will put your mind at ease.  You can plan out your trip activities in advance but I find this to be futile.  When the drug kicks in you'll be swept up by the wonderment of it all & go in the direction it takes you. 

Start with a low dose--2.5 grams of shrooms or 20mg of 4-AcO-DMT, for instance.  Maybe swallow some peppermint tea or ginger root capsules if you're worried about nausea.  Then lie down & wait for the show to begin.  Music can be great but the kind with minimal lyrics tends to work best.  Tycho, Sigur Ros & Shpongle are classic trip soundtracks.  You'll know the stuff has kicked in when you notice colors becoming more vivid & shapes melting together in a curious way.  You might feel a burst of energy & lightness propelling your body up; don't fight it!  Go & explore nature (safely).  Allow yourself to be wowed by simple things like a child.  This is one of the most beautiful things about psychedelics--returning the wonderment of childhood to everyday life. 

You may find yourself overcome with fatigue/drowsiness at certain points during the trip (I always do).  Don't fight it.  Just sit or lie down wherever you can until it passes.  There tends to be a dramatic rise & fall in energy levels with psychedelics for some people.  If your thoughts start to take a weird or dark turn, just go with it.  Remind yourself you've taken a substance & it will wear off soon.  Therapy isn't always pleasant but you'll be better for having endured it.  When else will you be able to experience these deeply WEIRD feelings & thoughts? 

The Verdict?  

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No 2 depressed people are alike. Only you know what's safe for you.
So is it safe to take psychedelics while depressed?  It depends.  If you are comfortable in your ability to withstand difficult emotions without hurting yourself, it's probably okay.  However, if you have severe anxiety, bipolar disorder or depression with psychotic features you might want to skip the hallucinogens until you're feeling more stable.  Ideally we'd all be able to ingest these substances with the supervision of a trained therapist--and that day may be coming quicker than previously thought.  But for now we'll have to make due with sober trip sitters & our own best judgment. 

If you do decide to trip while depressed, don't make any rash decisions like quitting your prescribed psych meds in favor of 'natural' alternatives.  It's generally fine to take psychedelics with anti-depressants like SSRIs & SNRIs, though you should do a quick Google search of interactions with your particular meds & psychedelic before embarking on a trip.  Don't add other drugs to the mix, as that only complicates things & increases the likelihood of a bad trip.  Even weed.  As you get more comfortable with psychedelics, you can experiment with higher doses & such. 

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