What is generally considered to be the safest psychedelic drug?
September 26, 2016 1:05 AM   Subscribe

This is ofcourse a completely theoretical question. Suppose a friend of mine would like to experiment with psychedelic drugs, what would be the safest substance(s) to use?
posted by Captain Fetid to Science & Nature (40 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know that psychedelics are dangerous in the way that, say, heroin, meth, and cocaine are. I've had friends who've tried different psychedelics, and I've never heard of anyone overdosing or having to be rushed to the hospital or anything like that, where I could verify that it was a real thing and not something someone once saw in a movie.

The one hallucinogen I'd never try is definitely PCP, but that very well might be due to afterschool special related reputation and not strict medical dangerousness. Either way, who takes PCP?

Molly/ecstacy/MDMA is probably the psychedelic that is most known for having a negative after-effect, in that it tends to cause hangovers that feature temporary depression. Which doesn't sound any fun at all. I've also heard scare stories about how it can immediately cause terrible side effects, ruin your brain or spinal cord forever, etc on first use and you would never be able to predict whether these life-ruining side effects would happen to you. But that, again, might be more scare tactic than true fact.

I have a friend who has taken mushrooms plenty of times and never noticed any ill effect. Said friend is also not particularly worried about trying either LSD or Ayahuasca. Peyote is pretty far outside this friend's experience.
posted by Sara C. at 1:27 AM on September 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks! Just to be clear, with "safe" my friend also means the psychological side of it. So yes, drugs that would lead to bad thoughts (for lack of a better term) or addiction are considered unsafe as well.

If you see or hear your friend, could you ask her what she means with peyote being far outside her experience? Is it that it's hard to get, or are its effects too strong to consider trying it?
posted by Captain Fetid at 1:34 AM on September 26, 2016

Mushrooms. They could try micro-dosing, even.
posted by stevedawg at 1:41 AM on September 26, 2016 [10 favorites]

All psychedelics can cause "bad thoughts". Your brain causes bad thoughts.
posted by Sara C. at 1:53 AM on September 26, 2016 [26 favorites]

My knee-jerk was 'mushrooms' but then I read the part about 'bad thoughts.' So in theory, your protagonist would want to carefully consider set and setting.

If it is not possible to engineer an ideal one just now, I'd consider Alan Watts' "If you get the message, hang up the phone. For psychedelic drugs are simply instruments, like microscopes, telescopes, and telephones. The biologist does not sit with eye permanently glued to the microscope, he goes away and works on what he has seen." If there is significant concern about ye olde bad trip, I wouldn't pick up the phone in the first place. Our hypothetical subject might be instructed to read some literature from early psychedelics pioneers so that the mindset is well-prepared.
posted by kmennie at 2:08 AM on September 26, 2016 [7 favorites]

drugs that would lead to bad thoughts (for lack of a better term) or addiction are considered unsafe as well.

If you're considering potentially bad thoughts as unsafe criteria, then no psychedelics will be safe. Very bad experiences can happen with any psychedelic. Every single one.

Sorry to burst your friend's psychedelic bubble.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 2:12 AM on September 26, 2016 [28 favorites]

If having "bad thoughts" while using a psychedelic is a no-go in this scenario, then psychedelics are probably best avoided - there's no way to guarantee that there won't be at least one or two genuinely disturbing moments. But entering in a positive frame of mind and a safe comfortable environment, at a low dose, those moments can be just a part of a broader positive experience (or even just a fun experience, if this is just about having some fun rather than looking for enlightenment).
posted by russm at 2:16 AM on September 26, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'd suggest erowid.org as the best resource for drug information (though bear in mind that many of the articles there are written by seriously expert users). But I'd also agree that if you're coming into this worried about bad thoughts, you should probably avoid psychedelics.

I've also heard scare stories about how it can immediately cause terrible side effects, ruin your brain or spinal cord forever, etc on first use and you would never be able to predict whether these life-ruining side effects would happen to you. But that, again, might be more scare tactic than true fact.

There appears to be one case of spinal cord damage associated with MDMA use, and even then the causal relationship is only theorized. Given that the patient fully recovered, I'd suggest the risks are incredibly low. (There used to be rumours that MDMA drained spinal fluid; this was a (possibly deliberate?) misunderstanding of early MDMA research).
posted by Pink Frost at 2:26 AM on September 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

My main advice would be about knowing the dosage. LSD generally has a more consistent strength within a batch than mushrooms. So if said friend had it on good authority that a batch of acid was a certain strength that should be reliable. And moderate acid will be fun and generate interesting thoughts and visuals without blowing one away, giving confidence that a stronger dosage could be taken.

But yeah, psychedelics always run the risk of opening up bits of the mind that ought not be opened.
posted by wilful at 3:16 AM on September 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Salvia causes extremely intense hallucination and dissociation, and it isn't always pleasant. On the upside, it doesn't last long.
posted by Faint of Butt at 3:48 AM on September 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

Just last week I attended a lecture on psilocybin ("shrooms") being used to help patients with advanced illness with their anxiety and/or depression. (At a legit conference, not some crackpot convention.) The researchers said they chose psilocybin over other psychedelics because it is relatively safer, has a shorter half-life, and is less likely to cause the proverbial "bad trip."

I have a friend who has used shrooms and hallucogenic cactus (similar to, but not, peyote). This friend also used LSD in college. They prefer shrooms for the same reasons the researchers do.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 4:44 AM on September 26, 2016 [4 favorites]

There's plenty of videos on youtube of people tripping on salvia is youre curious. Or at least used to be, they seem to be knuckling down on everything. But. I actually did have a buddy who was heavily into the stickier kinds of drugs (fuck, the kid even drank ethanol, and lived to tell the story, '..wouldn't really recommend it'). in one of his particularly darker moods he told me about a girl he was seeing who went into psychosis after dropping acid with him and his friends. iirc he said it was the only time anyone in his circles had seen that happen, but i suppose it does on occasion.

Tell your bud to do his homework and do it with someone he/she trusts.
posted by speakeasy at 4:46 AM on September 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Your friend should also be aware of, and take into consideration, whether there is a history of mental illness in their family. This is advice I profoundly wish my friends and I had been given when we were teenagers.
posted by ITheCosmos at 5:03 AM on September 26, 2016 [7 favorites]

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked". Ginsberg's line, although written about a slightly older generation than mine, describe what happened to some of my friends who took psychedelics back in the 1960s. In retrospect, I know now that some, perhaps most, of those people had a predisposition to mental illness. The drugs exacerbated and/or precipitated their descent into madness.

Most of us who did take these substances survived, but someone who is already concerned about negative thoughts before he or she takes psychedelics may lack the emotional resilience to deal effectively with whatever the psychedelic they take might bring up in their psyche.

Does your friend use marijuana? Has your friend ever been intoxicated from use of any substance?

I would urge your friend to proceed with extreme caution.
posted by mareli at 5:10 AM on September 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

I've tried salvia. It's not generally illegal and can be safely ordered online, so it has that going for it. Just slowly masticating the leaves was a very gentle, drifty sort of experience, and there are a couple of well-documented routes to amping that up if your friend decides they'd like something more intense.
posted by teremala at 5:43 AM on September 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

This is the wrong question to ask. Or more accurately, variables other than the choice of drug are more relevant to safety and we don't have them.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:44 AM on September 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

There's always an element of risk when you want to have fun with drugs. Part of that is the risk brought on by black markets and trust networks.

Part is inherent to the fact that you're intentionally seeking to alter how your brain works for a while.

Both of these can be minimized and mitigated, but that is best done IMO by working in to it with a trusted friend group.

Do use erowid for research, and definitely start with a small or even negligible dose of any new substance. That's what they do with the more potent legal therapeutic psychoactives, and it's a good idea for LSD or morning glory seeds or Peyote too.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:23 AM on September 26, 2016

DMT is the answer here. Lasts less than ten minutes, lovely visuals and honestly not a lot of room for thought, maybe you'll meet a machine elf. Do some research on smoking it, you have to use a special lighter and hold it in for a little while for max effect.

LSD is also much more euphoric than mushrooms imo. The 2C family are also pretty euphoric but last forever and the comedown is fairly uncomfortable. Probably because you don't eat or drink all day (on LSD too, stay hydrated).
posted by sibboleth at 7:09 AM on September 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Mushrooms can be pretty mild—I've enjoyed using them, and would like to try them again—but it's pretty hit-and-miss. A friend of mine got right out of it and did not have a good time. I think it may have something to do with dose, as she was smaller than I was and would have had a relatively higher dose, simply because I have more body mass.
posted by My Dad at 7:57 AM on September 26, 2016

For what it's worth, I've had a couple of bad trips (one from marijuana of all things), and it was much more "oh no this isn't a fun ride, it's a scary ride!" and less "permanently insane forever".

I'm fairly sure that the "permanently insane forever" stuff is afterschool special territory.
posted by Sara C. at 9:25 AM on September 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

i second sibboleth's DMT suggestion. you'll get a taste, and it won't last too long. for lsd, set and setting are important, as you'll be on a much longer ride. also, start with a small dose, and work the way up with repeated (and safely spaced) sessions.
posted by osi at 10:13 AM on September 26, 2016

LSD can be a rocket ride to a total disconnect from reality. It's typically about dose. The after effects can also be pretty uncomfortable (worn out, inability to sleep even though you're exhausted, muscles sore from being tense for the past several hours, weird digestive issues). It's not always like that, but it can be.

Mushrooms are typically much more gentle. The amount of time you're actually hallucinating is shorter, and when it's over it's just........over. Done.

Salvia can be really intense but for a really short time. Like, 1-3 minutes. You can have a nasty headache for the next 2-3 hours, or you can be totally fine. Some people get pretty light headed and might experience motion sickness.

I'll condense the speech my parents gave me after they found my stream of consciouness opus left on the typewriter one night while tripping (oh god, I'm so glad that's been burned):

Know your source.
Know and trust the people you're with. You want someone who knows the difference between "Hey man, you ever really look at the back of your hand, wow, check it out" and "Whoa buddy, looks like you're not having a great time right now, let's get you back to earth and calm things down."
Be in a safe environment.
Don't plan on driving. At all. Until well after you feel normal.
Be hydrated.
Have something easy on your stomach (you might not feel like eating for the next several hours).
Have access to nature (you might desperately need to see the sky, put your feet on the grass, see a tree). This can be a very "centering/grounding" activity that can turn a scary time into a peaceful/introspective time.
This is your mantra: "I feel this way because I have taken a drug. The effects are temporary, and everything will return to normal soon. I'm with people I trust and they will take care of me. Everything is going to be ok."
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 10:40 AM on September 26, 2016 [11 favorites]

Mushroom a heroic dose taken alone.
posted by hortense at 11:04 AM on September 26, 2016

Mushrooms are a fairly mild introduction to psychedelics but can cause some pretty nasty gastrointestinal side-effects that can occur during the trip and last days afterward. There is also a bit of a hangover period that can cause a bit of emotional disconnect/flatness for days or weeks (the whole "mellowing out" effect, which can become frustrating after a while), but the positive effects (assuming you have a "good" trip) can also last just as long or longer.
If you think you have some dissociation going on in your life from traumatic memories that you haven't really acknowledged or confronted in therapy or otherwise, you might have a "bad trip" if these surface when you aren't prepared to face them. That can maybe leave you a bit fucked up, but it really just depends on you as a person.
posted by Young Kullervo at 12:25 PM on September 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Mescaline (the active ingredient in peyote). It can be difficult to consume and sometimes induces nausea, but it is also noted for generally producing positive trips. It's also relatively easy to obtain and lasts a while but not nearly as long as, say, LSD.
posted by phoenixy at 12:36 PM on September 26, 2016

Also, I've heard so many horror stories about salvia, I'm not sure I could recommend it.

LSD probably isn't a horrible choice in terms of the actual effects, but it lasts like 12-18 hours. 18 hours on a drug that makes time seem to pass slowly and also prevents you from sleeping is a very long time.
posted by phoenixy at 12:49 PM on September 26, 2016

I can only speak to mushroom use. A lot of the physical side effects can be mitigated by proper preparation. As for the mental ones, all of my trips were with other people around. 2-3 other trippers and someone to babysit who didn't mind a day out in nature with some odd behavior. Again, from personal experience, I think it is very important to be with other people while trying(mushrooms). I once spent the last 3-4 hours of a trip alone in my bedroom in the middle of the night and it was hands-down the most lonely I have ever felt and was the last time I ever took mushrooms despite having quite a bit of experience at that point.

tldr; mushrooms can be fun, don't skimp on preparing for your trip and make sure to trip with others.
posted by deadwater at 2:08 PM on September 26, 2016

What spikeleemajor-etc. said, plus, be with people you are comfortable with on the daily and make sure all your needs are met before you trip. If you bring "bad thoughts" to your trip, you may end up with worse thoughts. So if you're not comfortable right now, wait until you are. If you do go and get in a bad space, it wouldn't hurt to have his/her mantra out somewhere that you can see it and remind yourself it's not reality and it's not forever.
posted by Lynsey at 2:13 PM on September 26, 2016

Micro-dosing shrooms is pretty awesome, I'm told by a friend. You don't take enough to cause a hallucinogenic response, but you get a nice blast of serotonin. It is relatively well-documented in the form of unscientific, anecdotal, self-experimentalists in various corners of the Internet.
posted by paco758 at 2:15 PM on September 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Mushrooms are typically much more gentle. The amount of time you're actually hallucinating is shorter, and when it's over it's just........over. Done.

Or else when it's over you get a couple hours' comedown of the closest thing to psychotic depression you can get without a psychiatrist handy to verify for you that that's what you're experiencing. It probably won't happen, is the best you can know. take a Drug Friend with you and have them make you eat and drink water and remind you it'll all be over soon, if it ends badly. this will not help at the time but you will be safe-ish.

n.b. when I say a couple hours, that's what the clocks said but subjectively time had stopped forever. all my empathy for people who aren't suicidal because they're too depressed for that kind of ambition that doesn't come out of books comes out of my memory of this one afternoon. the several hours before that were completely fantastic though. almost worth it.

also, the second time, I just saw some drab colors creeping around, no pleasure and no particular crash after, total waste of time. whether this was because of different mushroom quality or whether expectations can determine the whole experience to that degree, or something something neurotransmitter depletion, I have no idea.

(why did I do it again the next day after the first trip went to ten-out-of-ten genuine psychic hell? cause I was 20 and in Amsterdam and also the alternative was spending the afternoon listening to my companion's boyfriend problems. there are hells and hells.)
posted by queenofbithynia at 2:28 PM on September 26, 2016

You want a safe trip? Stay organic. I'd recommend 4 people get a cabin in the woods, have a great day tubing or hiking and then make a big pasta dinner and add the shrooms to the pasta sauce and eat together. That kind of sets up the ritual aspect and you won't want to go rock climbing or canoeing in the dark because you've already obtained that kind of fodder for the day.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 4:18 PM on September 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Theoretically, mushrooms would be my answer if, hypothetically, I had similar misgiving about psychadelics. On a purely speculative level, I'd suggest taking them with friends in a pleasent setting and starting with a small dose. A bonfire would also be nice.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 4:29 PM on September 26, 2016

Mushrooms. Not too much. Outside, someplace beautiful, with people you like.
posted by ottereroticist at 5:30 PM on September 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

It may seem just laudable commonsense to inquire about safety before undertaking a totally new experience like these drugs would be for you -- as one would before travelling abroad or trying extreme sports -- but:

If you are not sure, by whatever knowledge of yourself you've acquired thus far in life, that your psyche can handle a rapid and extreme mutation of consciousness, I would skip the hallucinogens at this time. They can really throw one off course. Elevation or alteration of consciousness can be pursued by other, more gentle, integral and thus less potentially mind-dislocating means, like meditation or some yogas, chanting, or music- and dance-based ecstatic trance techniques. If you are really interested in consciousness expansion, it'll be worth it to put the time and energy into such a practice. Your mind is a precious thing; there being so many ways to purposefully cultivate your modes of consciousness in ways that strengthen the mind and psyche, using these drugs out of mere curiosity or to relieve boredom, say, can be a comparatively just very reckless thing to do. (If you are not enough interested in consciousness to want to invest significant time in working on raising and expanding yours, you can skip the hallucinogens anyway, 'cause what they offer is simply irrelevant to you.)

My personal experience is with LSD, mushrooms, and MDMA. I can vouch that, taken by a person unprepared and unequal to the rapid alterations they bring, repeated use of these can cause persistent life-damaging mental injury, contra Sara C.'s remarks -- though to be fair, it wasn't here a matter of a single bad trip but of a succession of bad trips that were, amazingly, not recognized as such. A sort of vicious spiral of bad judgement. The question whether the drugs were the decisive causes of the harm became unhappily moot when the harm was done, and their part in it obvious. So, what marell writes on this point seems to me more on the mark, with the Ginsberg quote. Again, as suggested by others above, if you are concerned about psychological safety, this may be a clue -- a message from your mind -- that you aren't sure enough that you'll be okay for it to be worth the risk.

That said, if you do do the drugs, I agree that it is truly very important to be with people who are real friends who you know with a sure knowledge that you like and trust, as speakeasy and others recommend. And, yeah, mushrooms in a cabin in the woods is a saner scenario than, say, LSD in the city.
posted by bertran at 5:35 PM on September 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oops; reviewing your question, please read for 'you' in my comment 'your friend'.
posted by bertran at 5:57 PM on September 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Mescaline can feel like it lasts forever. Omg, the second time I had it, I was out for nearly twelve hours,literally, and it has a sort of amphetamine effect, so sleeping wasn't an option. Yuck.

My advice would be don't take too much of whatever you choose. Mescaline first time around seemed very weak but was great for watching the sunset and listening to music.
posted by smoke at 8:23 PM on September 26, 2016

The thing is, everyone reacts differently to psychedelics. My friends and I did some shrooms once, I went straight to sleep and zonked out for ten hours, another friend of mine was convinced an earthquake was happening, and a third was caught up in this total spiral of bliss. So. Y(friend's)MMV.
posted by Tamanna at 10:31 PM on September 26, 2016

It's been 20 years since I last did psychedelics, but I did them enthusiastically for a few years and got a lot from the experience. I gained a few insights into myself, had some awesome and very funny experiences, and also a few scary ones, and eventually decided I got what I wanted from them and haven't felt the need to do any since. That being said, here are my psychedelic takeaways:

Set and setting.
Set and setting.
Set and setting!

You can still have a bad trip even with a good mindset and setting, but you are much more likely to have a bad trip if one or the other of those is off.

Also, psychedelics take time, both for the trip itself and for the recovery the next day. There is an argument to be made for being a psychedelic warrior and dosing in strange places, but those are big boy steps for the experienced tripper. Your friend should definitely start slowly and make sure they are in a group with like-minded people, including a babysitter (a straight, un-dosed friend) if possible.

If your friend is doing shrooms, remember that gram-for-gram, mushroom caps are more powerful than stems.

If your friend is doing acid, know the source of your acid, if possible! Buying acid from someone you trust is one less thing to worry about when the walls start to breathe and your mind is moving low. Also, if at all possible, it is best to have someone in the group who is experienced take a test drive from the same batch the rest of you will be taking, to gauge potency and verify that the drug is actually LSD. You cannot tell anything from looking at a square of blotter paper or a microdot tablet, and a single tab can hold any amount, from nothing to hundreds of micro grams. Inexperienced users looking for a good time but not necessarily wanting full-on visual hallucinations should start with a very small dose - half a tab is fine for dipping your toe in the water. You can always take more, but once you've taken a dose you can't take less - "you buy the ticket, you take the ride."

Lastly: think good thoughts!

Have fun!
posted by plowhand at 11:13 PM on September 26, 2016

Mushrooms are a great first trip. Or so says a friend of mine, who has the following advice:

First, be of age. If you're not eighteen, you may want to give your brain some time to become gelled.

Set and setting is indeed very important. Be in a lovely place, with people you love. The cabin idea is a great one, but be sure you'll have privacy from strangers. Speaking of which, it's dangerous to go alone! By which I mean, don't try to trip by yourself. That way lies madness.

What everyone is saying about your own mind being the factor between a great trip and a bad one is completely true. I'd recommend cultivating the ability to change your mind's channel. Know what will distract you from the thought spiral and how to interrupt it. Have several pleasant things to do and interact with available (that don't involve a screen---too much reality!). Listen to beautiful music that makes you happy. Take a walk in nature. Watch the clouds from under a tree. Look at beautiful art. Leave yourself out some art supplies and make your own art. Enjoy the delicious flavors of non-alcoholic beverages. Have deep conversations with your fellow travelers about the nature of the universe. And if whatever you're doing gets too weird, stop and do something else.

Mushrooms can indeed cause weird gastrointestinal issues. They'll pass, but be aware of the possibility and be prepared to poop and/or be pretty nauseated. Also, don't try to eat them straight. Mix them with peanut butter or brew them in a tea or something.

Have fun! Wait at least a month between trips for the best experience. And then after a few more trips, when you feel a more comfortable and experienced psychonaut, try a tab of LSD.
posted by woodvine at 11:31 AM on September 27, 2016

Your friend does not want salvia. I was a craaaazy young'un and that remains the worst trip I ever had. Just thinking about it sends a horrible chill down my spine, to this day.
posted by scrubjay at 7:47 PM on September 28, 2016

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