Psychedelics have been getting a ton of press about their ability to change people's lives. Curing depression, defeating long-standing addictions, managing PTSD, or calming end-of-life existential anxiety. After years underground, the attention is well-deserved.
While psychedelics are powerful and profound, they are not a magic bullet. Many impressive headlines being shared online don't tell the whole story. But by now, can we really expect a headline to detail the proper story? Psychedelics research is combined with intensive therapy regimes, run by teams and trained to integrate psychedelic experiences.
Integration can take many forms. It is preparation before a trip. It is the designated time afterward. It is taking responsibility for the set and setting during a journey. Some even claim integration is more important than the trip itself. Taking a drug for a few hours is often easier than making sense of whatever happened afterwards.
Sometimes rational explanations are good. Visions or ideas are not always as literal as they seem. It can take time to understand how to reconcile the new version of yourself with the old. While taking psychedelic teachings seriously is important, it can be tempting to take action immediately. But please don't quit your job on acid. It is best to wait. Most professionals will advise at least several weeks before making significant life changes.
When you set aside time for proper preparation for a psychedelic journey, the decisions afterward can have more clarity. Setting an intention, like asking yourself, "Why am I doing this?" can establish a reference point during or after the trip. Intentions don't have to be serious, like kicking addictions or healing trauma. Maybe you set an intention for fun. What matters is checking back in later. Did you have fun? If yes, why? If not, what did the medicine show you? Psychedelics have a nature for showing us what we need to see, rather than only what we want to see.
Intentions can help ground us to experience. They can be an anchor to remind us why we chose to undergo our trip or what we need a different perspective on. Get curious with yourself and be compassionate as you probe into the nature of your being. Remember, we are sensitive beings dancing through the contact sport that is living. And psychedelics enhance that sensitivity while providing dashes of connection, wonder, beauty, and gratitude for the person you are and the things you’ve gone through to find yourself in their nurturing arms.
Just write it down. Journaling is a fantastic way to organize thoughts, understand what you think and how you feel about something. Once you write something down, you can deconstruct and rearrange it. This different perspective allows more space for reflection.
When journaling, the focus isn't all the specific details of the visions but how it all made you feel. The story helps, but the meaning behind it all is what psychedelics do best. Understanding the purpose of a psychedelic experience can reveal concrete actions.
If you find it difficult to find the words, try writing with your heart, rather than only your head. Don’t worry about how it will sound or what it looks like. The words are for your eyes; the feelings for your heart; the lessons for your Self. Do your best not to attach to what it needs to look like and try and focus on how it feels.
Write a question down and answer it as soon as you’ve posed it. Don’t let your mind think about an answer off the page. Write the things that come to you. It can help you get out of your own way, mentally, as you uncover your truths, your beauty, and your new agreements.
Moleskin has great journals. So does Wakeful Travel. And they’re coming out with a psychedelic companion. Maybe Odin is more your style. Of course, the Notes app, texting your trusted friend, or your laptop are wonderful tools to write.
We’re sure you’ve heard this before. Meditating is not everyone's jam and will be especially difficult if your trip brings up something unexpected or overwhelming. But, meditation isn’t about clearing your mind of thinking. It’s more a practice around creating a wedge between what we’re thinking and if we attach to it. And this translates into living, as a meditation practice creates the tiniest gap between an action and our reaction. And within that space, growth occurs. Meditation creates a wedge for a different response, a different action, a different feeling.
It is common for people to begin meditating after a psychedelic experience. This practice invites a sense of grounding, presence, and empathy. It helps us see the stories we tell ourselves from new angles. Michael Pollan wrote about the similarities between the brains of meditators and those undergoing a psychedelic experience. They both quiet the ego and create space for new neuronal connections.
Spend Time In Nature
Immersing yourself in nature has limitless benefits. Anywhere with some greenery, trees, animals, flowing water, or is secluded from the busyness born in an urban jungle will do. Psychedelics have been studied for their ability to make us feel more connected to nature. Deanna, a somatic practitioner and integrative facilitator, shared that people come to psychedelics when they want to reconnect with nature. After a psychedelic trip feeling a pull to the wilderness can help reestablish a sense of slowing down, connecting to life outside of our heads, and the perfect rhythm nature always seems to be expressing.
Spending time in nature is so powerful that Japanese culture uses the practice of forest bathing as a proven way to treat depression and anxiety as well as increasing connection, presence, and spirituality. Spending time in nature invites us to slow down, connect to life, and realize we are a part of this ecosystem as much as it is a part of us.
Similar to picking up a meditation practice after journeying, spending more time wrapped in the gentle serenity nature has to offer becomes a common practice after a moving psychedelic experience.
AllTrails might be the best place to find your next trail.
When some people try breathwork for the first time, they say they wished they had tried it before meditation. Meditation is difficult for people with thoughts running at hyperspeed. And this is a common symptom to have after psychedelics transformed your worldview. It’s as if we’re seeing the frantic nature of our mind for the first time ever. But it’s always been there. A psychedelic offers a different angle to a natural problem of our modern times. The beauty of breathwork is its ability to cut through mental chatter like a hot knife through butter.
There are different types of breathwork – some activate separate branches of the nervous system, such as the parasympathetic (rest and digest) or sympathetic (fight or flight). Learning techniques like box breathing or 4-7-8 can be powerful tools for stimulating your parasympathetic nervous system to mellow out a busy mind.
Some people find clarity from activating the sympathetic branch by putting themselves once again in an altered state. Techniques for more immersive breathwork journeys like conscious connected breathing or circular breathing can be done online for free by many influencers or organizations like Biodynamic breathwork. Much like psychedelics, the altered state brought on by breathwork can help reframe and assign new meaning to experiences. But these practices are also intense, and you might need additional support.
Finding your tribe is essential. Feeling isolated after compelling and life-altering experiences is not necessary. We all need people to talk to about critical moments in our lives, and bouncing ideas off another person can be easier than journaling.
Many larger cities have integration groups that are either free, donation-based, or very cheap. Joining a circle can be a transformative experience in itself. If you feel alone, connect to a judgment-free space. Even if you only listen the first time, hearing other people's experiences can help with perspective. Becoming part of regular meetups can also contribute to accountability for making fundamental changes in your life.
Another place to look is Reddit, who has numerous groups dedicated to psychedelic experiences. Not only are they dedicated, but they’re usually incredibly kind people. Psychedelics do enhance empathy, so it’s no wonder that these groups are supportive, advising, curious and gentle as they communicate with each other. A few noteworthy groups are r/Psychonaut, r/Psychedelics, or r/RationalPsychonaut.
A favorite over at Gwella is Empathic Health. While there’s a waitlist, it is worth the wait to be apart of this special, psychedelically inclined community.
Coaching & Therapy
While there is a lot you can do on your own or with a peer group; sometimes extra support is needed. Working with psychedelics can be serious stuff. It is essential to be honest with where you are at – things like suicidal thoughts or depression require professional support. If you are in a difficult spot in life and choose to use psychedelics, it is crucial to have the resources to do it safely.
Trauma can resurface, emotions can be overwhelming or spiritual crises might emerge. Psychedelics will likely amplify whatever you are going through, not magically make it go away. Be aware of your mindset going into a trip. Contact a trained psychedelic guide if you are in a bad space but want to work with psychedelics.
Choosing the right therapist can be a challenge. You want to feel safe being utterly transparent about psychedelic use, and many professionals aren't yet trained in psychedelics. Research around and use resources like MAPS directory to find a therapist or coach. Therapy is also expensive, so take your time, sign up for free consultations, and choose a person with whom you resonate.
Somatics & Movement
There is always good old-fashioned exercise if meditation, breathwork, and sharing circles aren't your thing. Running, swimming, dancing, or whatever gets you in the zone is a great activity to make extra time for after a trip. Clear out the mind with whatever tools you have. Getting bodywork is also a great way to give your head a break while processing an experience somatically.
Sometimes after a psychedelic experience, your body can feel different. New awareness or equanimity can feel odd. But a new tightness, twitching, or tingling are actually valuable tools for somatic or body-oriented therapists to work with. Deanna Rogers, an individual we mentioned earlier, offers Somatic Inquiry and might be a great place to start.
Psychedelics affect the entire body, as anyone who has ever experienced a purge can tell you. Also, working with life experiences and traumas stored in the body's nervous system is a powerful tool. Psychedelics can bring awareness to things we may not have words for. Working from the body and not the mind can change how you process emotions and life events.
Music As Therapy
Music is a powerful therapeutic tool. Wavepaths believes music is psychedelic, in and of itself. Since the dawn of time, it has been used to amplify and connect humans to our emotions. We can use music to regulate our feelings before, during, or after a trip. Listening to familiar, comforting tunes can calm us down or pump us up to take inspired action.
Like meditation, music also overlaps with areas of the brains affected by psychedelics, and a powerful synergy to evoke emotion or have powerful peak experiences is being studied. Using music also stacks with many of these other integration ideas to shift your mood into an optimal state.
Healing Is A Personal Process
Psychedelics can be highly symbolic, and using alternatives to conventional language can offer a fresh perspective. Poetry, dance, sculpture, making weird noises, or whatever. Just get it out and see how it makes you feel.
Everyone is unique, and finding integration tools that support your process might take experimentation. But be sure to take the time to find yours. Psychedelics are ideally treated like a multi-day event – time for prep, time to trip, and time afterward to make sense of it all. These hours and days immediately afterward are a delicate window. Jumping back into the stress of fast-paced life might see valuable tidbits slip away.
Remember, it will take work. Psychedelics are not magic bullets. But stay the course because the integration of psychedelic’s wisdom changes people's lives all the time. The truth is nothing will happen at all if we don't accept responsibility for what these medicines show us and commit to action.
Ultimately these actions are choices. We can choose to persist through the grind of coming up short around a daily practice or new goal. The time, energy, and attention which comes after a psychedelic experience is a place and space to be gentle, compassionate, and curious. Don't beat yourself up. Find ways to celebrate the small steps and changes. Creating new habits is a vast topic, but for integration, simply finding something that connects you to yourself, even for a few minutes, will add up. Psychedelics can enhance that whisper of your best self. And integration helps an individual build a better relationship with that version and voice living within each one of us.
The integration practices listed here can improve your life without the aid of any substance. Practicing any of these will improve your quality of life. Psychedelics just drop little hints to learn. Or blast us with a firehose of lessons, but ultimately we are the ones who do something about it. It's simple in the end. Psychedelics don't heal you. You heal you.