The most common questions that we get here at Altered States Integration are about the practical use of psychedelics. Many people are already excited about the potential therapeutic benefits and understand enough about entheogens to want to conduct their own DIY healing session. They may have even researched the type of substance they’d like to utilize to reach an altered state. However, they may not feel comfortable managing the nitty-gritty physical details that an experienced psychonaut may take for granted.
Here is our short guide to practical considerations for planning a DIY altered state.
From preparation to aftercare, there are many decisions to make regarding the timing of a psychedelic session. It’s important to understand how long a substance lasts so that adequate time is allowed for the “come down” and integration periods. This is important for safety; if you are at an event and plan on driving home afterwards, you want to be safe to drive. However, the minimum time to sober up may not be sufficient for proper processing and integration. Giving yourself one full sleep period after a session allows the brain to turn short term memories into long term storage.
If this is a one time or first time experience, planning for more time before and after your session can help to manage set and setting, as well as leaving adequate reentry time. Leaving a day of rest and preparation before the session can calm jitters and prevent a hurried feeling around the experience. Maybe more importantly, make sure to include time for processing after the journey to integrate the feelings, messages, and themes surrounding the trip. If you are already mentally rushing back to your busy routine after a shamanic experience, then you may have already missed the point. Psychedelics increase neuroplasticity so setting aside time to contemplate the altered state, implement new habits, and discover new ways of being is essential for growth and benefit maximization.
Using some science to prepare for your psychedelic journey will help to avoid some novice mistakes. Because many substances for DIY journeying are obtained off the black market the identity can’t be guaranteed. While purity is impossible to know without a professional lab, using a set of reagent testing kit like this one, can tell if a substance is at least in the ballpark of the compound you are trying to ingest. Similarly, measuring substances using a digital scale can prevent dosing mistakes. Most entheogens are taken in very small doses and eyeballing the dose can make a big difference in results from creating too big of an
experience to not ingesting enough when a breakthrough effect is desired. Look for a scale that has three zeros after the decimal point. As a rule, “measure twice, trip once.”
For more information about substance testing check out our class here.
Picking out clothing will vary based on your intended setting, however, some general rules apply. Most people prefer loose comfortable clothing because psychedelics are amplifiers and can aggravate any uncomfortable waistlines, straps or closures. Dressing in layers is helpful for regulating temperature that may fluctuate in unexpected ways. Even if you are warm-natured, don’t underestimate a substance’s ability to make you feel cold. It’s always a nice idea to have extra layers or a blanket handy. When experimenting outside, remember that there are potential temperature changes after the sun goes down or comes up and plan accordingly.
Shoes are an important consideration for the outdoor environment. Closed toed shoes can prevent foot injuries when you are stomping around in the darkness, woods, or jungle. Nothing ruins a festival or camping trip as quickly as stubbed toes or a twisted ankle.
Clarifying the intent, goal, or desired benefit will help to shape the psychedelic container. Generally, this work is done a week to several weeks before the psychedelic journey is taken. This predetermined statement can be read or meditated on the day of an altered state experience to facilitate a focused mind-set and establish the mood for the session. Intention statements are especially powerful for DIY trips where there will be no guide or shaman to set the tone of the psychedelic space.Taking a class can offer support in writing an intention statement while some may find talking with a coach (learn more) is the easiest way to solidify an intention.
When you are planning on journeying at home, there may be plenty of supplies nearby but it is worth checking. If you are planning on an outdoor setting or away from home rental, it can be rather uncomfortable if you skimp on supplies. A bare minimum is having an adequate way of being warm, plenty of drinking water, a bathroom (or accessible outhouse), and 1st aid supplies including a way to contact emergency services. However, there are plenty of things that can make your journey go more smoothly or enhance your experience.
On the top of the list is first aid supplies. They can be as general as the little kits sold at most drug stores. Complete the kit with electrolyte powders(rehydration powder) to give in case of vomiting or profuse sweating. (**please note that ‘EmergenC’ powders are NOT electrolyte replacement powders and do not contain adequate minerals to correct an imbalance**). You can make your own by adding ½ teaspoon table salt with 6 teaspoons sugar mixed in 1 liter of water (WHO recipe here) Don’t forget the ‘art bucket’ (AKA puck bucket) to facilitate cleaning; it is also handy for carrying supplies.
For a healing, inner-work session consider bringing supplies to help you dive deeper into the altered state of consciousness. An eye mask helps to ensure an inward focus by eliminating the ability to focus on the visual world. Ear plugs similarly work to deprive the body of outside stimulation; additionally they can help reduce noises that may distract such as a busy street. Art supplies such as crayons, markers, or clay are great for tapping into your inner child, ensuring a way of communicating ideas even when writing has not yet come back on board.
Guide vs Sitter:
Deciding if you want to have a guide or sitter could take up a whole blog post on its own. In short, a Guide is someone who curates your experience and has a high level of influence over the session. A Trip Sitter on the other hand simply holds space by maintaining safety, comfort, and may give a sober reflection at times. Sitters may also do any tasks pre-decided by the journeyer.
First timers should have a support-person of some kind to reduce the nervousness. that can upset a balanced “mind-set”. Learning more about other types of psychedelic support persons may help with this decision. Check out this blog to learn more.
When working with a support person, discussions about expectations, safety, and boundaries should take place prior to the day of the session to avoid setting an uncomfortable tone produced by difficult conversations. Topics that should be agreed upon with the guide or sitter include: intentions for the experiences, kinds of acceptable touch and unacceptable touch, if and what kind of recording will be done, and if the guide will be sober. While it is unlikely an emergency will happen, information such as emergency contact info, allergies, and medical conditions should be given to the sitter or guide in writing.
It never hurts to have a written agreement signed by the journeyer that they promise not to leave the space either physically or spiritually during the trip. While it sounds flimsy, our psyche has a way of holding on to our past-self’s judgement, keeping us in the container we have agreed upon.
Getting Home - Re-Entry;
If you are going to a retreat center that is out of the way or out of the country, you may need to make some decisions about how to get back to the airport or train station. After your psychedelics journey, choosing the easiest option such as a shuttle or concierge service may come with a price tag but will save you mental energy you may not have or use up precious energy you want to use on further integrating the experience. Lugging bags on busses and in streets can strip away the afterglow that therapeutic psychedelic use is known for rather quickly. There is something to be said for facing struggles with a new perspective post ceremony, but it can also disrupt the imprinting of new neurological pathways by triggering old ones.
Psychedelics are not for everyone and it’s important to assess your limitations especially when pursuing a DIY experience. Altered states of any kind can exasperate emotional and psychological instability. If you are in crisis consider delaying psychedelic use until such time that you feel grounded again. Altered state experiences are not going to improve problems when basic emotional stability can’t be achieved.
It is important to note that psychedelics can cause psychotic breaks or trigger the onset of mental illnesses like schizophrenia. Historically professionals do not recommend using psychedelics if you have a family history of severe mental health problems. While that is changing, a DIY experience is not the best way to explore healing. There is a growing body of mental health professionals who can address extreem mental health cases with tools and support.
Enthogens also interact with medications and supplements. For example, MDMA, in combination with SSRI antidepressant, can lead to a rapid, synergistic rise of serotonin (5-HT) concentration, leading to the acute medical emergency known as serotonin syndrome. It's important to research drug interactions and speak to a psychedelic informed physician about possible side effects.
As always, context and substance choice matter when making decisions around exploring altered states of consciousness. The longer and more intense the experience, the more preparation and integration needed. There is no such thing as planning the perfect experience, so try to balance the practical considerations with the understanding you may forget a detail and it won’t affect the outcome.
Did we miss an essential item? What would you add to this list? Write us a comment below or message us at AlteredStatesIntegration.com or leave us a comment below.