The psychedelic voyage
Consuming magic mushrooms, or any psychedelic substance for that matter, puts one face to face with a perception of themselves – or with a reality which is very different to the one they’ve been living up until that moment. In this sense, the psychedelic experience is unique and cannot be compared with the effects of any non-psychedelic substance or drug. They are literally worlds apart with no point of contact.
Experience with alcohol, cannabis or cocaine isn’t an adequate benchmark from which you can imagine the meaning of a psychedelic experience. These drugs merely alter your state of consciousness and have no shared focal point – they are completely different to one another. To avoid a frivolous interior voyage which could be scary or disorienting in unimaginable ways, it’s very important to outline this difference.
As with any substance or drug, one absolutely must read up on the information regarding quantities and modes of consumption, as well as info on any eventual side-effects an individual might be prone to. Being cognisant of all this is an indispensable step for everyone. Remember that psychedelic substances require more than experience – which only comes with time – and that one must study of course but above all practice.
Rules and experience
The inevitable lack of experience that comes with your first few times can be compensated for with the presence of an experienced person to support and guide you. I must emphasise that this is especially important for the first few voyages you’ll undertake. And the reason? It’s not exactly that I think it’s a solution which will address and resolve all eventual problems one could possibly face during a psychedelic trip. These problems are almost always caused by ignoring the basic rules one needs to know and respect prior to consuming any substance.
So what is a trip sitter?
A trip sitter is someone who assists a person during the preparation for a psychedelic experience. They help in the run-up, are present – even if only nearby – during the experience, and (ideally) try to assist during the successive integration phase.
The ideal trip sitter must have a good few qualities which, in reality, are not easy to come across. It is this “perfect sitter” one refers to when saying a sitter must be continually “present”, especially during a person’s first few steps into the psychedelic world.
How can I find this perfect sitter? The first thing to look for is that this person is a good friend and has a solid groundwork of personal experience in the use of the substance in question. Moreover, they’ll be perceptive enough to understand that being a sitter is more about what not to do than what one should do. Yes, their calm and centred presence is the most desired quality in case one finds oneself in difficulty, but they need to know that there’s more to it than that.
But what are the qualities to look for in a trip sitter? There’s experience, as we’ve said, as well as patience, calm and helpfulness. Furthermore, they’ll need to have the trust of the subject they’re watching and know what they’re wanting to gain from the experience. In addition, they’ll know the substance well, be aware of psychological factors, and have reliable powers of observation while maintaining the balance necessary to employ their skills in any difficult situation that may arise. Finally, they’ll have to have ample free time to be present for each phase of the experience, from preparation, to post-trip integration.
But that’s not all. Adequate assistance also means being able to resolve a psychotic crisis or deal with a participant who has perhaps become paranoid towards their sitter – or who is maybe even hysterical to the point of being a real danger to themselves and others.
Containing someone’s psychedelic intemperance is a task which requires physical force and, at times, the help of more than one person. This is the most difficult situation that can occur during a trip – other than those which could occur due to various health problems.
The most important step one must take in avoiding problems in this area is, of course, prevention. Indeed, most of the vital work is done before the trip, not during, and in preparation one makes choices to reduce the likelihood of possible problems later. But even if everything has been impeccably prepared, problems can arise all the same. In these cases, beyond the specific measures which are always geared towards avoiding or containing damage towards those present, the sitter must also know how to distinguish between normal symptoms and those which are potentially dangerous for the health and physical wellbeing of the person in question.
In case of doubts, the perfect sitter doesn’t hesitate to call the emergency medical services, rather than allowing the situation to result in potential harm (or worse). Naturally, if the sitter themselves is a medical professional, that would make them the best kind of sitter one could ever ask for.
Do you know someone who has all of these characteristics? I, for one, don’t. You might find some of these requirements in one candidate, but many of the more useful traits are few and far between. We must be pragmatic: the ideal situation is one thing, and looking around to discover that no one you know will be able to be an adequate sitter is another. But maybe, just maybe, the solution is simpler than you might think. The perfect sitter, in reality, does exist – but more on that latter.
Does one even need a trip sitter?
Support is useful in the absence of experience, but what is absolutely not acceptable is confronting the psychedelic substance without being personally informed prior to the trip. We can hardly delegate to others that which directly concerns us – accountability is an exercise one must practice constantly in all aspects of life.
This being said, is a trip sitter absolutely necessary? In my book, I state that it’s better to have one there, and many other resources you’ll find online will concur with this. However, given that the ideal sitter is largely a chimera, what should one do in practice? As always, “work with what you’ve got”. If you have a sitter, use them; otherwise, go it alone. This might seem like an incongruous statement, and it is… but if you think about it, that’s just the way it is.
Naturally, a sitter is absolutely indispensable for substances with which the subject could have knee-jerk reactions – Salvia Divinorum, for example, DMT or 5-MeO-DMT. The effects of these substances peak very quickly, reaching the height of their intensity immediately – at times, in just a few seconds. Only in these situations does one absolutely require some form of a sitter, as the subject could react in an uncomposed manner or even get up and walk around completely unconscious of their actions, at risk of putting themselves in harm’s way. This could happen in the most “banal” of ways: falling from a window, for instance, or tripping onto a glass table. A sitter will keep you safe from these kinds of incidents; their role in this case is clear and simple enough. And with substances such as Salvia the effects normally only last for less than 10-15 minutes.
But if we’re talking about psilocybin mushrooms or LSD, the implications are very different. The quantities are dosable in a way that’s proportionate to the effects, and therefore potential risks are reduced or completely eliminated by simply consuming an adequate amount – i.e. a small quantity. Never, and I mean never, start with a high dose. I have often stated this in my book, and throughout the articles in this blog, but it bears repeating. You could enjoy a less strong effect but in doing so get to understand your personal tolerance level and have some indication of what might be the best dose for your second experience. Excessive doses can cause panic attacks, creating problems for yourself and others around you. The Dutch emergency services are well acquainted with this outcome, as are the country’s citizens, used as they are to tourists who have taken magic truffles knowing nothing of their effects.
The trip sitter for your first time
Let’s suppose you’ve been studying and you’re informed of the general characteristics of magic mushrooms (we are talking about mushrooms here, but this also holds true for any psychedelic substance), and you’ve found a friend you trust who is willing to be your sitter. What might they have to do? If you read up on the topic online, you’ll see that the trip sitter is often referred to as an “expert” who assists one of more people with little or no experience, who must intervene as little as possible, must not have an authoritative approach to the role, and is ready to reassure a struggling participant with just a few words.
Basically, the sitter will stay in the room, or in the vicinity, and manage a perfectly normal situation. It can only be so if no one has felt special and consumed an excessive quantity. If all is going as it should be, you’ll need the sitter very little and therefore they needn’t be constantly present – if only for the simple reason that I personally don’t think I’d enjoy being observed by someone in an ordinary state of consciousness while I’m tripping. However, it’s also true that it could be nice to have someone to chat with despite the difference in your modes of consciousness. Indeed, if the sitter is a close friend, there is no reason to be particularly anxious.
A real trip sitter knows the substance and dispenses it correctly to the participant, or participants. They are a known and respected reference for everyone due to their experience and, moreover, they can choose and manage the music, scanning the alternating moods of the participants and acting accordingly. In this ideal situation, if he/she and the tripper are well-prepared, the trip will always go well, devoid of particularly problematic situations.
The trip sitter for the experts
Everything I’ve written up until now is relevant to a sitter who may be accompanying “newbies”. But I must touch upon the slightly different situation of sitting for an experienced person, who’s looking for the presence of an expert friend if only to feel safe in case of unforeseen problems.
But why would someone experienced in psychedelics even want a sitter? What are they afraid of? Clarifying and understanding this is very important, because if they’ve done things as they should be done, surely assistance won’t be necessary. Personally, before arriving at my first heroic dose (5 dry grams as prescribed by Terence McKenna – a method you can learn more about in my article on the heroic dose), I had enjoyed many experiences on lower doses in various contexts and personal situations, with the aim of learning how I’d respond to different quantities and Set & Setting variables. I can remember my first ever heroic dose: I was emotional, but not afraid, and someone was with me in the house. Although they were informed that I’d be taking this voyage, they never once entered my room or even worried about me. They would have intervened if needed, but only by my request. And in fact, it never came to that, not on that occasion or on any other.
While having a sitter when you’re experienced seems counterintuitive, it does make a difference to know there’s someone there if you need them, perhaps in the other room or ready to rush over if you call them. Obviously, this role should be agreed upon before any eventual possibility of needing to ask for their help.
Psychotherapy with psychedelics
This is the frontier of psychological therapy, and a practice which has been successfully experimented with in the past (since the ‘50’s), but then forgotten about once these substances were grouped together with more dangerous drugs.
Having the support of a medical professional (or a licensed therapist), who is trained in the use of psychedelic substances is ideal of course. In that case, it could be possible to start with an elevated dose and go exploring in the depths of your psyche even without experience – but alas this is prohibited by law and therefore there isn’t much more to say on that. The doctor would prepare you with a few meetings prior to the trip, assist you during the experience and then, in the successive integration period post-trip, help you process anything that emerged during. I would love to see this legalised in order to experience these ideal conditions, but for now it is unfortunately not possible. We must make do with what we have in a situation of illegality with the trip sitter, studying everything we need to know to go forth with peace of mind. The experience can be demanding, but one thing it must always be is safe. This responsibility is above all in the hands of the person having the experience, but the sitter – being an expert – can certainly help resolve any doubts or misunderstandings.
Before the trip
Preparation is paramount: one needs to choose a place, organise it so that it’s comfy and safe, have some water on hand, music, and perhaps masks to rest over the eyes during the initial phase. These are all things the sitter must take care of, or at least oversee. As a rule, the sitter mustn’t consume anything themselves – or so says most literature on the subject – but I don’t necessarily think so. I can’t generalise on this point, but in my opinion the sitter very well can take some of the substance in question. However, this of course depends on how far the sitter will be able to support and help if intervention becomes necessary. Normally, this is perfectly possible if the sitter has consumed a moderate amount – i.e. 3 grams max of dry mushrooms, with an average physical tolerance – though the ideal would be the same quantity that’s been taken by the person they’re assisting, so normally much less than 3 grams. If the sitter has the experience necessary, this quantity will pose no problems. Moreover, it will permit them to be more in tune with the person who is tripping, and provide help (if necessary) that is as empathetic and efficacious as possible.
Naturally, the sitter who has also consumed a little of the substance will not be able to drive. This rules out the possibility of being able to transport someone somewhere, but no one should need urgent medical help anyway if the sitter and “sitee” have been following the rules. If you really and truly need help, call an ambulance, but again this is unlikely to be necessary with proper preparation.
What preparation exactly? The usual: take a low dose and respect the confines of Set & Setting religiously. Read more on this topic HERE, if you’re not sure what Set & Setting means.
Fear is an unavoidable element of the lead up to an experience, and not just your first. (Read this article, which elaborates on the topic, to learn more). Indeed, fear helps to prevent you from taking the situation lightly. That being said, it can also impede you from letting go when you need to – or, in other words, it can feed any resistance you’re feeling towards the expansion of your inner journey. So inform yourself, and in doing so render the whole thing less mysterious and overall less fearsome than it might initially seem.
During the trip
Mushrooms are potent instruments of introspection. If used in the right way, they can offer visions of yourself and of reality which are truly enthralling, revealing points of view you had never imagined. This “change in perspective” – a somewhat limiting term! – which allows one to comprehend and resolve longstanding questions of great concern. These issues can date back to a person’s infancy, or even earlier than that. What presents itself in this type of introspective trip is not dangerous on its own. Resistance and refusal are what can really hinder the experience, though this challenge will hardly leave one permanently damaged – quite the opposite is true, in fact.
But this aspect of a psychedelic trip is touched upon only with doses much stronger than those recommended to people starting out, so it’s not the kind of thing you’ll have to confront in the presence of a sitter. Certain explorations you take with a therapist – although remember this is not legal – or alone – which isn’t legal either…
Transformative trips can be undertaken with others too, but it’s a little harder as Set & Setting becomes more complicated. I explore this subject a lot further in my book, where you’ll find tens of pages dedicated to the ceremonial aspect of tripping with others. There is a special Set & Setting to tackle the greatest number of variables present in an intense group experience. The high intensity, obtained by upping the dose, requires a ceremonial Set & Setting, because it functions in a way that’s more adapted to the depths one reaches with higher doses. A sitter isn’t necessarily required here either, if not for having somebody available in case you come across real problems during the experience. However, it’s an intervention I’d advise against asking for: the difficulties one confronts during an interior trip are mental and emotional, but rarely physical. This will always hold true, given that you’ve respected the appropriate cardiovascular contraindications for heart problems and epilepsy. Therefore, resolving the difficulties you meet alone is a precious lesson which can change you profoundly.
A psychedelic experience is always an unknown. You’ll never know how it’s going to go, but trusting the fungus will allow you to stay cognisant of whatever you’re going to feel will be for your benefit, even in the most extreme of experiences.
A special problem
There is a certain problem which can present itself during a trip. It’s very important to know about because it can cause problems, not to mention some serious consequences. Apart from the question of one’s physical health, which one can experience issues with in unexpected ways, exists the possibility that you’ve taken mushrooms and at a certain point forget you’ve taken them and actually also forget that you’re in a psychedelic experience at all. To learn more on this, take a look at this article, where you’ll find information on how to avoid finding yourself in a decidedly tricky situation.
After the trip
Right at the end of the experience is the best moment to begin integration. Indeed, memories one might completely forget after one night of sleep are still fresh, a little like a dream one recalls only in the moments after waking.
At this point, the sitter can be of help because they’ve brought, for example, some paper and coloured pencils. Or they can facilitate the sharing of experiences if there are several participants present. Additionally, they can provide drinks and food to help bring the particepant/s back to the normal world.
It often happens that hearing someone recount their experience can help one understand one’s own. Together with the sitter and any other participants that may be there, taking some time for sharing and talking is well worth it. Then you can even write things down, or draw which is an excellent way to solidify what has happened. This is of great importance because information from your trip can be useful in daily life.
(don’t forget to read the WARNINGS here)