Have a Good Trip: A Handbook

66 min readJul 25, 2021

or ‘How to Have a Good Time on Acid’

Please circulate this as much as you like but not in commercial form without the permission of the authors. For information on contacting or supporting the authors, please see the end of the document.

[The Inevitable Legal Disclaimer…

This handbook is made available for use in contexts in which the use of psychedelic substances is legal, including clinical settings in which licenses for the use of LSD have been granted by appropriate authorities, and jurisdictions wherein substances such as psilocybin mushrooms are not prohibited.

All information presented here is for educational pruposes only. We do not advocate any use of any substance, psychoactive or otherwise, prohibited or otherwise, and we take no responsibility for any misuse of such substances that may occur on the basis of individuals reading these observations. We do offer advice here for the benefit of individuals who have already taken an informed decision to experiment with psychedelic drugs, in order to minimize all possible harm that may come to them, and to maximize possible benefits. But we do not advise any individual to undertake such experimentation, and nothing we write here should be interpreted as advocating such a course of action. What we have to say here is purely for the benefit of the folks who’ve already decided they’re going to do it.]

Section One: Introduction (What, Who, And Why?)

What is ‘tripping’?

Tripping is deliberately altering your state of consciousness for a sustained period using psychedelic drugs. But if you didn’t know that, you honestly probably shouldn’t be reading this.

What’s tripping for?

Achieving mystical ecstasy? Self-Discovery? Sensual Pleasure? Aesthetic enjoyment? Problem-solving? Psychic exploration? Discovering God Within? Discovering the Universe Without? Creative inspiration? Personal growth? Adventures close to home? Dissolving the Ego? Laughing it up? Changing yourself? Changing the world?

Yes. All of the above. And none, if none is your thing.

It’s not for everyone

And the first thing to say is that tripping isn’t for everyone, and if it isn’t for you, then that’s nothing to be ashamed of or upset about. There are plenty of other things to do.

If you are someone who has suffered from serious mental health issues, then it it may well not be for you. It may be just the thing for you, but you should probably only try it with help from a trained psychedelic therapist. At some point we will try to make resources available to help people who may find themselves in that situation. For now all we can safely say is that it’s probably best avoided, and you might want to see what information is available from fully-legal sources such as the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies

How do I know it’s for me?

If you’re reading this already then you probably have an idea. If you don’t then we’d recommend some classic reading on the subject of psychedelics. Perhaps read Jay Stevens’ book Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream and Jim Fadiman’s The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide and see if you think that’s a world that you might want to be part of.

Some People Just Don’t Like It

Most of the advice we will offer here we think applies to most people who might want to trip. But none of it can apply to everybody. And one phenomenon we should mention straight away is that there are certain people who just don’t enjoy tripping. We have never really been able to figure out a pattern to this or seen any very convincing one in medical studies. In our experience about one person in 5 just does not get along with psychedelics and will probably only find that out by trying, and those people will normally have an experience which doesn’t scar them for life, but just doesn’t feel good to them.

Based on wholly anecdotal experience — we would say that of people whose first trip experience is negative, slightly more than half are people who are just never going to have a good experience tripping, while slightly under half are people whose first trip wasn’t well planned, or got derailed, or were unlucky in some way. But those people will generally have a pretty good sense that it could have gone better if circumstances had been different. If you have a bad time and don’t feel like you’re in the second group, then we recommend leaving it alone, unless something changes.

Which Drugs?

Most of what we say here will apply to experiences using LSD or any of its ergoloid analogues, psilocybin, mescaline, and possibly also DMT at low doses. What we are talking about here is really ‘classical’ psychedelic experiences using the so-called ‘classical psychedelics’, of which LSD is usually considered the most typical example. What we are not discussing so much here is shamanic type experiences such as those typical of higher doses of psilocybin or substances incorporating DMT such as ayahuasca.

It is certainly true that there is not a clear distinction between them all. One way to think of this is to imagine a kind of continuum running from the classic ‘cosmic bliss’ trip, with a decidedly Hindu or Buddhist character to it, associated with the golden age of LSD in the 50s, 60s and 70s, and the more ‘spirit journey’ type of trip associated with indigenous Amazonian DMT practices. Half way along this continuum, one finds the traditional practices of central American peoples, using peyote and psilocybin.

To explain a little more what we mean here:

At the ‘cosmic bliss’ end of the spectrum, the tripper experiences a sense of oneness with the universe, feel both calm and ecstatic at the same time. They probably only get this feeling for occasional moments, in between other feelings and perceptions, unless they are very practiced at sustaining it.

On the spirit journey, they have more profound hallucinations and more of a sense that they are communicating with other beings and entities — deities, ‘machine elves’ the great mushroom spirit, or whatever.

There is no clear-cut rule about the use or effects of certain drugs here. But we will say that this handbook is mainly for users of classical psychedelics (psilocybin, LSD, mescaline), because in fact there is still relatively little in the way of good information available about how to use those drugs, and what is available is real old, — whereas there is now a wealth of up to date information available on shamanic practice, online and offline.

We will say that we would always recommend users to seek out high-purity substances. For example, low-purity LSD can produce rather unpleasant physical side effects, in particular, which are not dangerous, but can detract from a trip.

How Much?

Dosage is always tricky. Let’s use LSD as an example, but you can apply the same principles to any substance, although the amounts will be different.

The classic psychedelic dose has been considered to be around 250 micrograms of LSD or equivalent ever since the 1950s. This was partly because that’s how much Hofmann took on his first trip. But Hofmann himself came to consider this an overdose, and later recommended 175ug as the ideal dose.

Body weight makes a difference as it does with any drug. Some people feel that 100ug of LSD is more than enough. Others don’t feel they’e really ‘got there’ on less than 400.

Some people think it’s better for your first trip to be on a lower dose, because if it all goes wrong then it will be less extreme. Others think that lowering the dose doesn’t do anything to prevent bad experiences and is more likely to lead to a frustrating experience as the subject finds themselves not quite ‘getting it’ because the dose is too low.

Honestly there in no right or wrong answer, but all other things being equal, most experienced trippers would probably recommend just going for it with a dose of around 250 for a person of average adult male weight, adjusted somewhat for body size. Be careful — different people seem to be more sensitive than others irrespective of body size. But all other things being equal, across a population, body size will affect sensitivity as it does to any drug. Based on our experience we’d probably say that a very small framed woman will only need about 150 ug to get the same effect as a an average sized man with 250ug, and a very large framed man will need maybe 300ug to get the same effect. But really you just have to start somewhere and play around with it until you find your perfect dose.

As we say, these actual amounts would only apply to LSD. To figure out the equivalent amounts for other drugs, look up dosage information on a website such as Erowid. But as a very rough rule of thumb, let 250ug LSD = 2.5g of dried psilocybin cubensis mushrooms.

Tripping Should be Fun

Tripping isn’t for just one thing, but whatever it’s for, it should be fun, or there isn’t much point.

The first thing anybody figured out that tripping could be for, was experiencing a kind of mystical rapture. When the Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann discovered LSD in the 1940s, and accidentally dosed himself with 250 micrograms, most of the experience was pretty scary to him. But the good part, that made him want to explore this substance’s possibilities further, was the sense of cosmic bliss that he enjoyed, once he calmed down a bit.

We will be talking a lot here — A LOT — about mystical raptures of different kinds and what they might all mean. But not quite yet.

Now, if what you want is to experience is mystical rapture, blissful union with the cosmos, then tripping can surely deliver that. But yoga and meditation will deliver it more reliably, efficiently and permanently. But to get there that way, you need to train pretty much every day for a couple of years at least. Acid will get you there now, if you use it right, and it will get all your friends there too without them all having had to spend two years training as well. Like the Beatles sang: ‘Show me that I’m everywhere, and get me home for tea.’ Which overall just makes it more fun — at least in the short term.

Another use for tripping, dating back to the 50s, is as a kind of therapeutic or diagnostic practice. We will talk a lot more about that too. Tripping can be profoundly useful and very powerfully used in these ways. But for now we would simply like to point out again that there are other kinds of therapy and other ways of diagnosing problems. They are generally less fun than a good trip and less unpleasant than a bad one. So if you’re going to use tripping for one or more of those purposes, then it should be fun too — or else there really isn’t much point (and it probably won’t be effective). There are people who endure gruelling, difficult trips which are not fun at all because they think it’s somehow good for them. We are sceptical that this has much value. If you don’t enjoy it, it’s probably not a good idea to do it.

And with or without the pursuit of mystical rapture, tripping can make a walk in the park, a camping trip, a day at the beach or a day lounging around listening to music all just much more fun than they otherwise would have been. In fact it can be all of the above at the same time. It can also make them exciting, and scary, and profound and instructive and enlightening and joyous and unnerving all by turns. And that is all part of the fun.

We don’t say all this about how it should be fun in order to trivialize the experience. Not at all. Fun is good. Yoga is fun. Climbing mountains is fun. Theoretical physics is fun. Coding is fun. Construction work can be fun. Lots of things can be both difficult and rewarding and life-changing and life-affirming and still be a lot of fun.

Fun doesn’t have to mean silly, although it probably has to mean that silliness can’t be forbidden. Every experienced tripper knows what it’s like to be sitting under the bodhi tree one moment, then cracking up at some funny thing your friend said the next. And that’s all part of the fun.

That’s why the overriding purpose of this handbook will simply be to help folks enjoy their tripping. We’ll be delving into the deeper mysteries of higher consciousness — don’t you worry about that. But the one thing we can say for sure about tripping that we think always applies is — if it’s working, then it makes delving into the mysteries of higher consciousness hella fun. And that’s why we love it.

Get Woke

All that being said -there are also other ways to have fun that don’t involve the deliberate dissolution of your whole sense of self for a day. So why do it?

In the 60s and 70s it was often said that psychedelics promoted ‘higher consciousness’. We think this is true. They don’t necessarily produce ‘higher consciousness’. But they do promote it. That much we will say we truly believe. But what does anyone even mean by ‘higher consciousness’.

This phrase can be used in a few different contexts. But actually, it pretty much always ends up meaning the same thing.

In a classic mystical sense, it can mean waking up to the ‘higher reality’ of existence, which generally means becoming aware of the fact that you are part of the great continuum of existence, made of the same stuff as the stars and breathing the same oxygen as the water of the deep blue oceans.

In term of relations with other people, this means becoming aware that it is your relationships which others that always make you who you are, and that you are related in some way to everyone at every moment, even if the ways in which you might be connected keep changing.

In terms of politics, it means becoming aware, in a sense that you might have known before, but never quite felt (or possibly the other way around), that the systems of oppression that keep us all down, through poverty, racism, misogyny, prejudice, militarism and general alienation, all work to try to keep us constantly fixating on ourselves as individual selves or as part of tribal groups, ignoring the ways we are all dependent on each other, and are all always changing. It means realising on some level that the fact that we are all dependent on each other is a great thing. It’s the only source of any real power to make the world the way we want it that any of us will ever have.

And that this isn’t a drag — it’s a fact to celebrate and to be ecstatically happy about. We’re not alone.

To actually do anything in the world we always need other people. So needing other people isn’t something to be afraid of. We live in a world today that often tries to make us afraid of that. Overcoming that feeling that your need for other people is a kind of weakness and a source of fear can be one of the most liberating and empowering results of good psychedelic experiences.

Enlightenment means waking up. Perhaps the greatest power of psychedelics is the way they allow us to experience directly the fact that waking up is actually hella fun, that getting woke is both the biggest thrill and the only path to inner peace, that raising our consciousness is not a chore but the greatest joy there is.

The Spiritual Path and the Psychedelic Helicopter

Another important use that many many people have found for psychedelics, is to help them along a spiritual path which will not be limited to just playing around with psychedelics. As the earliest modern experimenters with the substances quickly found, nothing is more guaranteed to help you have a good trip than developing some prior expertise in meditation, yoga or similar energetic exercise (such as chi-kung). Right from the start, it was obvious to psychedelic pioneers that what the drugs did was to induce a psychological state somehow similar to the states described by mystics in many different traditions, but that it also produced profound psychological effects very quickly, which could be much easier to handle if the subject already had acquired some training in techniques drawn from those traditions. That’s all still true.

One very common experience for trippers is to feel that a good trip has given them an intense, temporary experience of a state of consciousness which years of meditation, yoga or other spiritual practice might also give them in a longer-lashing and more profound way. Many find this to be a great help in inspiring them to pursue such a path, when it might otherwise seem gruelling and potentially pointless. As someone once put it — psychedelics can show you the prizes that wait for you along your spiritual path.

Alan Watts famously said about this relationship between psychedelics and spiritual practice — ‘when you get the message, hang up the phone.’ By this he meant that there was no point dwelling for long in the zone of psychedelic play — once you’ve let the drugs show you the prizes — get on your way on that path to true enlightenment.

The Black Panthers reputedly had their own version of this advice: ‘keep taking LSD until you achieve revolutionary consciousness — then stop.’

That’s certainly good advice for many seekers. But others have found that psychedelics remain a useful tool for a very long way along their path, inspiring them regularly to keep going, and helping to diagnose problems as they arise.

As someone else once put it, a good acid trip can put you high up on the mountain, but it’s up to you to decide if you want to walk down into the valley below.

What this means is — psychedelics can help you see what an enlightened state of consciousness feels like, temporarily, but it’s up to you to decide if you want to take up some spiritual practice that will help you experience those states in more controlled and permanent ways.

Perhaps a more strictly accurate metaphor would be to say that a good trip will fly you up to the top of the mountain in a helicopter, let you spend the day picnicking there, and fly you back down again — but if you want to build a little home up there, you have to make the hike yourself on foot. But you can keep taking the psychedelic helicopter up and down the mountain as often as you need to, if it helps you figure out the best route to hike, get a sense of the territory, and avoid coming obstacles. You can even keep using the helicopter once you’re on your hike- it will drop you back at the point from which it collected you, and as long as you find it useful to be able to scout out the next bit of the path, you can use it as many times as you like. And you may get to the point where you really don’t need at all — but taking a little flight now and again might still be fun.

The Body and the Mind

Most discussions of psychedelic experience refer to it more or less entirely as a psychological experience. But every tripper knows that the experience is physical as well as mental. Psychedelics produce ‘body high’ (good) and ‘body loads’ (not so good) — they never affect the mental state only.

In fact we can go much further than this. The fact that psychedelics work at all shows that the body and mind are not separate entities, but part of the same complex bundle of experiences. The brain is consciousness. The nervous system is suffering and bliss and everything in between.

How exactly to understand the relationships between physiology and consciousness? This remains one of the great scientific mysteries of our age. Neuroscience is only in its infancy when it comes to really addressing this question. Indian, Tibetan and Chinese traditions have a complex set of models of internal energy current flowing through the body which tries to explain it. These models may or may not have any real scientifi validity, but they can provide very very useful maps of this territory for trippers. In future additions to this handbook we will examine all of these approaches and others in much more detail.

Psychedelics can make you acutely aware of your body, in good and bad ways. This can be useful when diagnosing when something about your physiology is causing you discomfort in way which you may not have been conscious of. It can by joyful as you realise that just this lump of flesh that is you, is capable of experiencing transcendent bliss, simply by dropping its guard against the rest of the cosmic flow. It can also be kind of distracting if it gets out of hand. In practical terms the main thing to remember is that you will have a better trip the more physically relaxed and comfortable you are — and this is an absolutely cardinal rule of tripping to which there are no exceptions.

Experienced trippers can learn to deal with physically uncomfortable situations — tuning out the tight uncomfortable sensations as your cold wet jeans stick to your legs and constrict your waist, as your empty stomach rumbles while the wind and rain lash your face, by tuning into just how beautiful that tree is, even in the storm. But in general, physical discomfort is always best avoided while tripping.

In fact just keeping that golden rule in mind can be very useful in guiding a successful trip.

Section Two: Guides and Manuals (the never-ending literature review)

Spiritual Friends: How this Handbook is Different From Most Tripping Manuals

There’s a long history of tripping manuals, dating back to the first big flurry of public interest in the subject, in the early 60s. We’re not going to claim that ours is the best, but it is different from most of them in that it has a rather less narrow set of assumptions about what the point and nature of your trip is likely to be. Still, we think that reading a couple of these classic and recent manuals as well as our suggestions here is likely to be a good idea for anyone.

One of the assumptions of the most prominent published manuals, including the classic The Psychedelic Experience and the: more recent The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide by Jim Fadiman, is that trip experiences are likely to involve a guide or sitter accompanying the neophyte tripper and leading them in the experience.

This is a model of tripping with its roots in the psychedelic therapy experiments of the 1950s and subsequently, to which the Harvard group around Timothy Leary were still pretty well committed in the early 60s, even as they became more radical in their thinking. Fadiman was himself a young member of that cohort. We have no doubt that this kind of guided tripping can be and is immensely rewarding and successful for many purposes, especially therapeutic ones.

Unfortunately it is also a model of tripping which bears absolutely no relation to the real-world experience of us or of anyone that that any of us have ever met. Most trippers take their first trip with a friend who has done it before, but we have literally never encountered a real-world situation in which anyone takes on the formal role of guide, rather than that of trusted companion and fellow-adventurer.

In every situation that we have ever actually encountered, people tripping together take on the role of what the buddhists call ‘spiritual friends’ rather than the role of guide, babysitter or guru. No question it’s a good idea to go on the journey with a more experienced friend — but usually it will be more like going mountain-climbing with your buddy who has been a few more times than you have, than like following some expert sherpa up the mountain.

You may well find yourself in a completely different kind of situation and there is obviously no problem with that. If you want to guide or be guided then by all means go ahead, but in our experience this is not actually how most people want to trip.

We should also suggest that one reason for the prevalence of the myth of the guided trip (and it is a myth in that it simply does not correspond to most actual tripping that happens in the world) is that many of the people who have acquired prominence as public advocates for psychedelic use have been committed, for various reasons, to a kind of ‘doctor-patient’ model of the relationships between people in the tripping situation. This is easy enough to understand. Many of them have in fact been doctors and / or therapists. It is also much easier to try to claim respectability for tripping if you can make it look as much as possible like a conventional medical practice of some kind.

But that just isn’t how most people trip.

Going even further, we are a little suspicious of how popular the ‘shaman’ model for tripping has become in many circles, because we suspect that the shaman is a popular figure partly because the shaman is basically a cooler-sounding version of the doctor-priest authority figure that lots of people would like to imagine themselves being, or imagine themselves being told what to do by (and a key point here is that in most traditional shamanic cultures, lay people either do not go on vision quests at all, or do so only very rarely — that’s the job of the shaman. The shaman doesn’t usually take you with them).

Don’t get us wrong — we have nothing against doctors, or shamans. We all need them — they deserve our respect. But one of the really interesting things about tripping in this day and age is that you can have group experiences with your spiritual friends that take on a rather more egalitarian and mutually-supportive character, compared to those found in these more traditional forms of psychic adventuring.

And this isn’t just our theory — this is in fact how the vast majority of actual tripping takes place in the world today. For this reason we will be pretty much committed to offering advice for people engaged in that kind of trip, either ripping with a group of friends, or tripping alone. Of course nobody ever really trips alone — the wind, the stars and the molecules making up the bricks in the walls of your house, are always your constant companions ;).

But that’s enough explanation. The rest of this section (which will probably never be complete) will consist of discussions of other guides and manuals.

‘Your Guide to a Safe Acid Trip’

This isn’t even a manual — it’s just a short article from a popular online magazine. But as a very short compact set of guidelines written for a contemporary readership, we think it’s excellent. So we highly recommend perusing it at:

http://www.dazeddigital.com/artsandculture/article/28785/1/your-guide-to-a-safe-acid-trip .

The Psychedelic Experience

Okay. Now we’re going to talk about this book for a few pages. Why? Because it is THE classic tripping manual, and it is easy to find it online for free. Some of its ideas have now become so much part of psychedelic culture that people don’t even know that this is where they came from. It’s pretty short and easy to read, so we recommend reading it. If you really don’t want to then you can just skip this entire section. But if you do intend to, then reading this will give you all the context that you need to really make sense of it, and make use of it.

So, this is the original, classic manual, written by Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner and Richard Alpert (who would later adopt the name Ram Das). Because it was the first tripping manual, and is still the most widely-available, and we are going offer some substantial commentary on it. You can find pdfs online easily.

The Psychedelic Experience was written when the three authors, and a wider group of researchers from Harvard, were still kind of in the early throes of their great love affair with psychedelic drugs. Experiencing psilocybin and LSD had a an extraordinary, life-transforming effect on these professional psychologists, making the academic clinical psychology of their time seem woefully inadequate to the task of understanding the complexities of the human mind, and the creative and mystical opportunities revealed by the drugs.

One thing to say here is that American clinical psychology at this moment was particularly poorly equipped to deal with the issues that the psychedelic experience was raising for these researchers. It basically took for granted the naturalness and superiority of a particular way of being in the world which was typical of the American upper middle class- individualistic, but conformist, obsessed with their own private interior life but also hungry for social status and acceptance.

Even potentially radical forms of psychology such as psychoanalysis had developed into very conservative forms in the US at this time (for example, telling ‘homosexuals’ that they had a pathology and ought to adapt to conventional norms, for example — which even Freud had not believed). Leary and his colleagues seem to have had very little contact with any of the more radical psychological thinking that was coming out of Europe. There were a whole bunch of therapists and theorists coming out of Germany, Britain and France who were trying to understand the connections between society and our inner lives (people like Erich Fromm, Karen Horney, Jacques Lacan, Félix Guattari). But Leary and his Harvard buddies

don’t seem to have known about any of this stuff.

If they had then it’s possible that that is where they would have turned in looking for ways to make sense of their experiences. But they didn’t. Instead they turned to some sources that they did know a bit about — Asian meditative traditions, already made fashionable in the US at that time by the Beat generation and others.

Now, it would be possible to say that, in turning to these sources that they did not understand very well in order to try to make use of them for their purposes, Leary and his colleagues were guilty of ‘cultural appropriation’ or even ‘orientalism’ (which is a word for what happens when Westerners project their own fantasies, good or bad, onto some imaginary version of Asian and Arabic cultures). But we think this would be unfair. It would be unfair because after all they were perfectly respectful towards these sources. More importantly it would be unfair because at the end of the day, those guys looked East not just because of some fantasies they may have had about receiving ancient Asian wisdom, but because there were desperately looking around for ideas which could help them make sense of the psychedelic experiences that were changing their lives.

So, one of the sets of resources that they happened to come across was a set of studies and interpretations of Tibetan Buddhism by Western scholars, most notably by Lama Anagarika Govinda (born Ernst Lothar Hoffmann). It’s not at all surprising that Tibetan Buddhism should have become an early source for psychedelic thinking. Situated at the border between India and China, Tibet has been thought of as a centre of Asian spiritual practice for millennia. Its theocratic system of government enabled possibly the largest and best-resourced class of monastics in buddhist history to thrive for centuries (not that we approve of theocratic systems of government. Just sayin’.)

The Tibetan Buddhist tradition that they have developed is incredibly complex and technically advanced, drawing on the philosophical and intellectual richness of buddhism, the rich repertoire of spiritual practices and techniques associated with the tantric and yogic traditions of India, and various shamanic, polytheistic and animist traditions of the region, as well, very probably, on some of the native sources for Chinese Taoist practices of chi kung and internal alchemy. If you want to pursue a very complicated, but very carefully worked-out system of meditative exercises (with or without some physical exercises incorporated) which are all designed to inculcate a sense of blissful non-duality, then the Tibetan system of Dzogchen is about as complete a system as you can find.

The specific text of the Tibetan tradition which most intrigued Leary and his friends was the Bardo Thodol or Liberation Through Hearing in the Intermediate State, commonly known in the West as The Tibetan Book of the Dead. This text comes out of a tradition within Tibetan Buddhism which believes that the human consciousness undergoes certain stages of transformation in between the moments of death and rebirth. The text is specifically intended to help guide the dying consciousness as close as it is possible for it to get to the shining void of Nirvana, and at least towards rebirth in higher realms rather than lower ones.

At the time the Bardo Thodol was widely believed in the West to contain scriptures which designed to be actually read allowed to dying person, but subsequent scholarship suggests that this was a mistake, and that in fact the Barod Thodol has always been simply studied in order to prepare the student for the moment of death, whenever it should come. Leary et al were very much influenced by Govinda’s claim that the text was intended not only to guide the consciousness of the dying, but also to guide living subjects towards higher states of consciousness while alive.

So Leary and his friends hit up on the idea of using the Bardo Thodol as a set of guidelines for trippers, designed to encourage them to experience positive states of consciousness, and ideally to experience a state of blissful clarity and non-duality which they called (drawing on the Bardo Thodol) the ‘clear light’. Most of the book contains texts which are actually intended to be read aloud to the tripper by a guide, depending on what type of experience the tripper is having at a given moment, in order to lead them out of any negative states, into positive ones, towards the experience of the clear light.

This experience of the clear light, the authors of The Psychedelic Experience also call ‘ego-death’. This is arguably quite an unfortunate phrase, because to many readers it implies a kind of total cessation of conscious experience, such as no living creature is actually going to undergo while still alive. Partly they chose this phrase just because it fit with their idea that the ‘book of the dead’ was really about transformative psychological states (‘it’s not really the book of the dead, it’s really the book of the ego-dead’, was their theory). Having said that, ‘ego-death’ is honestly not that bad a translation of the original buddhist term for the end goal of meditative practice: nirvana. Nirvana doesn’t just mean some kind of heaven state. It means literally ‘snuffed out’ — the flickering flame of selfhood terminated.

What is maybe problematic is that this doesn’t describe all that well the kind of mystical rapture that most people seem to experience most easily on psychedelics. It’s not the complete loss of a sense of self that people tend to report as often as a blissful sense of union with the cosmos. Of course, maybe they are exactly the same experience, and in the Tibetan tradition, they definitely are. And that is a statement which will make a lot more sense if you’ve had a good trip before now than if you haven’t ;).

For now — let’s just accept that these guys and their book are working with the idea that your snuffed-out egoless nirvana state and your blissed-out, I-am-the-universe cosmic bliss state are actually one and the same. If you think they’re not then fine — we can explore all those issues late down the road…

(There is a great deal to say here and later about the important differences between the various meditative and yogic traditions, their different metaphysical beliefs, their different ethical orientations, their different sets of techniques. Bear with us — we will comment on all this eventually, and provide guides to further reading)

One key feature of the book and its approach, which has often confused later readers, is that it draws on a bunch of ideas coming out of Leary’s academic work as a psychologist and his theories of the human mind and behavior, all of which themselves owed some debt to sources such as the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Leary’s ‘transactional psychology’ used Wittgenstein’s idea that all speech situations or social situations involve people playing ‘games’ with arbitrary sets of rules, and that a positive form of personal growth involved becoming aware of one’s game-playing, conscious of it and therefore more in control of it.

It’s important to be clear her, because neither in his pre-psychedelic psychology, nor in The Psychedelic Experience, did Leary actually say that we should, or even could, ever actually stop playing ‘games’, except during the temporary bliss of mystical non-selfhood achieved in the psychedelic experience.

From this perspective, even an enlightened being would still have to play ‘games’ to some extent, while participating in any kind of social situation (the monk game, for example). Their enlightenment would be registered by the fact that they were always fully aware that they were game-playing — not in their refusal to play. Unfortunately many readers (John Lennon, for one) seem to have interpreted Leary as advocating that they simply refuse to participate in any social situations whatsoever, which would just imply a kind of quietist nihilism. That really wasn’t what was meant.

The Psychedelic Experience has often been criticised for being apparently too prescriptive and directive, too narrow in its assumptions about what the trip is for, assuming that the point of it just the achievement of the ‘clear light’ and nothing else. This is really not a fair criticism. If you read the whole book, which really isn’t all that long, then you can see that the authors are very explicit that they don’t think this is THE way to trip; they just think this is A way to trip which might be kinda cool.

They explicitly state that they think that theirs is just one of many possible manuals that could be written, drawing on different spiritual traditions or none. They describe their manual as simply one provisional contribution to the development of ‘experimental mysticism.’

We think that if these provisos are taken on board, then The Psychedelic Experience remains a very useful and interesting text for almost any tripper, and we very much hope that our handbook will be read as another contribution to the great project of experimental mysticism.

We strongly suggest studying The Psychedelic Experience and perhaps even committing to memory some of the key passages intended to be read to the tripper. Well, not actually memorising them, which would be a drag, but just kind of learning and remembering the gist of them, and maybe even having a copy of the book lying around during a trip. If you really want to have someone read passages to you then you can do it. You can even have Dr Leary himself read them to you — the 1966 audio book is available on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JhgJsg2mMeQ. [we think it’s Leary doing the reading — we’re not 100% sure].

But we take on board the fact that the authors of the book were actually mistaken in their belief that the original Bardo Thodol was read allowed to the dying, and suggest that trippers actually use The Psychedelic Experience in the way that the Barod Thodol is actually used in the Tibetan tradition — as a text to be read and reflected on and called to mind during the trip, only if useful.

Also, the general advice in the The Psychedelic Experience about how to manage your headspace during a trip, about how to plan a psychedelic session, about how to deal with physical symptoms, etc, is all still highly relevant and useful, and it is worth reading for that advice alone.

There’s only one qualification which we would add here. The Psychedelic Experience states that nervous trippers often find it more relaxing to trip at night than in the daytime. We would have to say that this doesn’t really match with our experience. In our experience, many people do have their first psychedelic experiences at night, because in our culture we tend to think of drugs as something that you do in the evening. But one thing that inexperienced trippers have to learn to manage is the fact that you will not be able to sleep for at least 12 hours after taking a decent dose of acid (some exceptions — some experienced trippers on relatively low doses of certain types of very high-purity acid can sleep much more easily, if their bodies need it).

If you are staying up all night, past your normal bedtime, then you are putting all kinds of strain on your brain and your body, which will produce stress hormones, so you are just not likely to be as relaxed as you would be if it was a normal time for you to be awake. In our experience people who have had their first few trips at night tend to find tripping in the daytime to be something of a revelation, not just because daylight is beautiful and uplifting, but also because they’re just not so damned tired.

We suspect that the reason why trippers in the Leary circle may have found it more relaxing to trip at night is cultural — this was the early 60s, the high moment of the 9–5 job and the pressed suit and tie for the office, when the everyday straight culture of work and commerce was incredibly conformist and a million miles away from the emerging world of the psychedelic scene and the counterculture. In that society there was a very strict division between the time of the day when you were supposed to be at work and the times when you were supposed to be at leisure. Even daytime weekends were supposed to be for wholesome pursuits with your family. Only evenings were free for adult recreation. So maybe tripping in the daytime just seemed too weird, too much like intruding into the straight zone of life, for some trippers then.

For better or worse, none of this is likely to apply to contemporary trippers. And this advice really doesn’t seem to fit with the normal practices of LSD therapy in the 50s or many other groups of trippers since. In all of those contexts that we know of, people have tripped in the daytime.

Now if you are someone who finds it more relaxing to trip in at night well then by all means go for it, and don’t worry about what we said about stress hormones ;). The acid will carry you through. We’ve all tripped through the night many times, and had a great time. But all other things being equal, we would generally recommend tripping during your normal waking hours.

Section Three: Planning a Session

Most psychedelic manuals include some kind of advice on how to plan and organize a psychedelic session, and the advice is pretty similar and consistent. The relevant sections in The Psychedelic Experience are great. But this wouldn’t be any kind of handbook if we didn’t provide our own set of guidelines. So — here we go…

Set and Setting

Does anyone not know this phrase by now? It is used by Leary et al in The Psychedelic Experience, and in fact had already been popularized in some of their published papers before that book came out. ‘Set’ means your mental state, emotional mood, frame of mind, at the start of the trip. ‘Setting’ means the actual physical and social location where the trip will take place (basically — where you will do it, who you will do it with and when). Set and setting will always have a huge impact on the quality and nature of the trip, and so mush always be paid attention to. So how do we do that?

Get Your Space Ready

We can’t stress this enough people — clean up your place before you trip. At least the main room where you will be tripping, and probably the entire dwelling, should be as clean, tidy and well-aired as possible. A fascinating experiment would be to see how re-arranging trip spaces according to feng shui practices affected the tone of the trip. But for now — just get it nice. Preferably do this the day before the trip, really.

If you want to decorate specially, well there is a long tradition of draping fabrics with pleasant colorful designs around — mandala patterns, paisley, or whatever. There is also a long tradition of having paintings or books of paintings available to view. A book of Tibetan mandalas is always nice to have to look at, but so is, say, a book of Matisse paintings.

It’s a very good idea to have some plants around, and fresh cut flowers are always a nice touch.

Burning incense is optional, but traditional. Just make sure you’re using an incense holder which can prevent your house being burned down if you forget about it. Because you probably will.

Lighting really varies according to taste. We don’t recommend using candles for safety reasons (see above). Natural light is ideal — the second best option is probably dimmable daylight-replicating lighting. Most people will just have to make do with ordinary lamps and light bulbs. One thing to note — most people find fluorescent lighting to be unpleasantly harsh while tripping. However, these days most of us are using those energy-saving fluorescent bulbs in all our light fittings. In such a case, it’s a good idea to seek out some bulbs with a relatively soft light for the trip.

An important consideration is simply what you are going to do with yourself physically during the trip. Most people find that they don’t want to sit upright on chairs or sofas, or slouch around in bean bags, because any posture that curves the spine tends to become rather uncomfortable. This might be because psychedelics cause your internal energy to flow in certain ways. Whether this is the correct explanation or not — it’s gonna happen — on a trip your body will usually want to adopt some kind of posture which would be typical of yoga practitioner or mediator. The key features here are: spine straight, muscles and shoulders relaxed.

The easiest way to achieve such a posture is actually to lie down flat with enough room to stretch out your arms and legs, whereas experienced yogis and meditators often like to sit on the floor in a cross-legged posture, with or without cushions. So what’s ideal is to have actual mattresses in the room to lie on, unless you’re sure you will be fine just sitting upright in you lotus or half-lotus position for hours.

Get Yourself Ready

Before the trip, try to get a good night’s sleep (don’t freak out if you don’t — if you were too excited to sleep well because of you’re coming trip day, don’t worry, you’ll be fine), and if you are someone who exercises regularly, then we suggest you do whatever your regular exercise routine is, and then have a healthy breakfast on the morning of the trip, a couple of hours before you plan to start. Ideally try to eat some slow-release carbohydrates such as oatmeal as part of your breakfast, because you probably won’t want to eat much for a few hours after you do, and you don’t want your blood sugar to get too low. Getting too much caffeine into your system is not generally a good idea, but if you’re a real coffee addict, don’t try to go cold-turkey today. Don’t mess around with your normal routine too much.

Some people actually fast on the day of a trip. This is great if you are an experienced faster. If you’re not, don’t do it- your blood sugar will crash and you probably won’t have a good time.

It is advisable if possible to avoid eating meat or even fish for a few days before the trip. If this isn’t possible then don’t worry about it. If it is then many trippers report that they feel more physically comfortable during the trip if they have abstained from eating meat or fish.

Wear loose comfortable clothes. Basically if your clothes would be too uncomfortable for you to go to sleep in, then they are too uncomfortable for you to trip in. Probably everyone should just wear silk pyjamas for tripping, but very few of us go that far. Organic cotton will do ;)

Food and Drink

Always have plenty of fresh drinking water available. Other drinks can be chosen to taste — we recommend avoiding alcohol, although a little beer or wine to help you sleep right at the end of the trip can be nice. We really recommend not drinking highly caffeinated beverages during the trip, but green or white teas can generally be taken with no ill effects (a high quality jasmine tea can be particularly refreshing). Fruit juices can be a useful way to maintain your blood sugar levels if you’re not eating much. There is NO truth to the urban myth that orange juice or anything else containing Vitamin C somehow weakens the potency of a trip.

Managing your intake of food during a trip really takes a bit of practice. Going right back to the 50s, it was noted that tripping on a full stomach or eating while the experiences was at peak intensity could produce produce uncomfortable stomach sensations — cramps and feelings of constipation. Some very useful thoughts on these experiences and how to handle them can be found in The Psychedelic Experience.

There seems to be good anecdotal evidence for the long-held belief in the chemical underground that stomach discomfort could be minimized by super-purifying LSD, to a level of purity that would exceed that of industrially-produced pharmaceutical LSD in the 1960s. From the late 60s onwards there has been a tradition of underground chemists producing highly purified LSD, and today their products are actually more widely available than ever before, largely because the darknet has greatly improved the levels of information available to consumers and the level of international competition between producers, wholesalers and retailers.

The experience of the present authors is highly contingent on our own situations, but we would say tentatively that, in our experience, if yoga is practiced, before the trip, meat avoided for the pervious few days, and a very pure LSD crystal selected for the experience, then it is possible to pretty much avoid any of these negative physical experiences and to pretty much eat whatever you want whenever you want during the trip, without any stomach discomfort to speak of.

However despite these comments, it remains true that most people just don’t feel like eating, and tend to feel that their body doesn’t want to have to be engaged in the business of digesting food, during the first few hours of a psychedelic experience. It is very interesting to remember that some meditative traditions also advise against mediating on a full stomach.

Something else to remember — if you have a full stomach, like you had a large meal less than a couple of hours ago, it will delay how long it takes a psychedelic drug to work on you after ingesting it.

Alongside the fact that you might not feel like eating, it’s important to be aware that as your blood sugar falls, this can have a negative effect on your mood, to the detriment of your trip experience. There was one famous groups of trippers in London in the late 60s who really thought that maintaining blood sugar levels was the key to a good trip, and so promoted the practice of regularly eating candy during the trip. As health-conscious yogis, we are are sceptical that producing blood-sugar spikes in this way is likely to lead to a desirable result overall. But if it works for you — all to the good.

A more conventional response is simply to have some healthy, tasty food and snacks available. As The Psychedelic Experience suggests — simple, ancient foods tend to go down well. Fruit, bread, cheese, milk, nuts, nut butter, honey, yogurt, rice, noodles, pulses (Japanese natto is excellent if you like it), and vegetables that can be eaten easily raw (carrots, for example) are all great. When you feel hungry, eat some, but not too much. So far as possible, it’s good to have this stuff ready to eat before the trip.

Identify your Itinerary

Before the trip it’s probably a good idea to figure out where, if anywhere other than the dwelling in which you start the trip, you are likely to want to go. If there is outdoor space available — a garden, nearby parkland, etc, then reflect on whether you might want to visit it during the trip and if so think about how you will get there and back. If you’re an inexperienced tripper then it’s not recommended to plan to go anywhere further than the other side of your block, really.

Here we come to a situation that is normally quite different for experienced and inexperienced trippers. Often inexperienced trippers, once they have settled into the experience after a few hours, find venturing out of the house to be a great adventure in itself. Certainly the present authors, when younger, enjoyed simply taking to the city streets with their trip buddies for an hour or so, despite the noise and smell, or walking around a suburb looking at all the lawns and gardens. A simple trip to the grocery store became a surreal adventure, the effort of trying to appear ‘normal’ to the other shoppers and not cracking up laughing at the clerk, made the whole thing feeling like a roller-coaster challenge.

More experienced trippers tend to feel that they’ve done that, and it isn’t that exciting really, and usually prefer to plan either to spend the day at home with all of its comforts, or else right out in the countryside, far away from the town or city.

On the whole we’re going to say that our advice if you are in an urban setting is to stay at home. But if you plan to venture forth — be careful, do not stare at other people, don’t get paranoid (nobody know you are tripping and nobody cares), don’t get lost, don’t forget your keys and your phone and some money and some water, and for God’s sake be careful when crossing the roads (if in doubt, simply do not cross the road and go home).

Turn off Your Screens

Don’t try to use smartphones, tablets and computers while tripping. Ideally make sure nobody can phone you. Basically apply the same rules that would be applied during a meditation retreat. If you are a very experienced tripper then you can basically figure out for yourself how much of these kind of rules you want to apply to yourself and how strictly. But for the inexperienced we would recommend assuming that you won’t find it easy to hold a phone conversation with anyone and that you won’t find engaging with any kind of screen every enjoyable during the trip.

Some people do like to watch TVs and movies while tripping. We may discuss this in more detail at some point. Generally we don’t recommend it. Those media are just not produced with trippers in mind and tripping is not the best mindstate in which to consume narrative media.

There is one exception in our experience, which is that we often like to watch some funny, not too demanding movies or tv shows right at the end of the trip. We’ll discuss this in a moment.

Prepare for the End of the Trip

Before you start the trip, it’s good to get some things ready for the end of it.

Now, concluding a trip successfully is a whole art in itself. This is discussed in very serious terms in The Psychedelic Experience. It is certainly true that the question of what they call in that book ‘re-entry’, the process of coming out of the psychedelic realm and back into ordinary consciousness, needs to be given some attention if it is to be managed successfully.

This is a bigger issue with LSD than with psilocybin. The latter doesn’t last as long, and the experience tends to have less of a long ‘tail’ than an acid trip. With acid, especially if you took a reasonably powerful dose, then there is normally a period of several hours at least in between the peak intensity of the second or third hour after ingestion and the moment when you finally fall asleep.

Everyone has different ways of negotiating this, but we are going to tell you what works for us. One of the issues to keep in mind is that after about the tenth hour out from ingestion, you enter a period during which it seems to be rather up to you to what extent the trip carries on, and to what extent you start to return to ‘normality’. If you carry on doing what you were doing during the peak of the trip — meditating, listening to trip music, gazing at mandalas, etc. — then you will continue to trip for quite a while. If you make a conscious decision to bring the trip to a close, and start to get yourself into a different headspace, then your mental processes will normalize a little more quickly and you will probably ultimately get to sleep faster.

Conscious re-entry traditionally involves meditating intentionally on whatever may have been learned during the trip, and on the question of what kind of person one wants to be after it. We have had very beautiful trips during which this final phase simply passed directly into one of calm sleep.

However, we have also had plenty of experiences in which we had had a good long, epic psychedelic trip, we had done our re-entry meditation and were feeling calm and grounded, but the LSD was still buzzing around our brains somewhat, and when we tried to lie down to sleep, those closed-eye visuals started swirling around, getting brighter and more intense the longer we lay there. Sometimes at this point, just forcing ourselves to think about everyday things in a calm way was enough to get our brain shifted into enough of a normal gear to sleep.

But if the effects of the drug are still too strong at just that moment, then this won’t quite work. This is the point at which we like to watch some good comedy. Everyone is going to like something different. We like watching old episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm or classic vintage movies like Laurel and Hardy. We watch them on the laptop because it somehow feels less intrusive than the TV — but whatever works is good.

Doing this seems to help the consciousness ease itself out of the intensive, non-linguistic space of the trip, and into a more everyday language-oriented space, in a way which is not at all jarring. It may seem like a silly way to end a great day of mystical rapture — but it is worth remembering how important humour is in certain meditate traditions (Zen and Taoism, for example). And it works. But if it doesn’t work for you — don’t worry.

During this final phase, we also like to drink some chamomile tea, some warm milk, or maybe even a little beer, to help us relax and feel grounded and solid.

So — you might want to get some material ready for all that prepared before your trip starts.

Get Your Music Ready

Every experienced tripper has been there. You’re tripping with your buddies. You put some music on. One person is not totally sure they’re into it. Or is that right? Maybe they’re just hungry. Or need the bathroom. Or to change their posture. Or is this music wrong? Should we change it? What would we change it to? Wait a minute — what was going on again?

There is no way around this much of the time, except practice and experience. And if a piece of music really isn’t working for everyone — then you should change it. But as a general rule of thumb, we’d recommend avoiding this as much as possible by lining up a playlist for the whole trip before you start. You can always play around with it if it really isn’t working. But if it does then it will make your life a lot easier. We also recommend having a bunch of different kinds of music ready to enable to you to change direction easily if you find that you want to. If you’re playing vinyl, we recommend cleaning all your records carefully and cleaning your stylus before you start.


If you have any kind of regular mediation practice or breathing exercises that you know, we recommend practicing them for a few minutes each both immediately before and immediately after ingestion.

If you don’t know any, then we recommend the following very simple meditation practice.

Sit cross legged on the floor with your spine straight and body relaxed, as far as possible. Your posture will be imperfect. Don’t worry about it. Above all don’t tense up or become uncomfortable. Rest your hands on you knees or in your lap as you prefer. Only take up a lotus or half-lotus position if you are very used to doing so.

Close your eyes and breathe deeply, but not artificially. Allow your abdomen to expand as you inhale and contract as you exhale. Breathe through your nose with your mouth closed. If it isn’t uncomfortable, keep your tongue touching the roof of your mouth. If you do find that bit uncomfortable, don’t worry.

As you breathe, bring your attention to the area called in the Taoist tradition the ‘lower tan tien’ (or ‘dan tien’). This is said to be located below the navel inside the body, about three finger-widths below the navel, about two finger-widths behind it. Imagine your breath leaving and entering the body at this point. If it makes more sense to you, imagine it entering the body by your nostrils and leaving by the tan tien. Whichever works best.

Try to let the breath be the only object of your attention — anything else that comes to mind, let it go. Obviously this is much easier said than done. Don’t worry about failing at it. Just keep failing. It’s fine. Every microsecond of success is beneficial. Just sitting there breathing is good.

Sit like this for a couple of minutes. Any more you want to do is fine. If you can do it for a long time you will experience some very pleasant sensations. If you want to do it for a long time you can get up and walk around to stretch your legs and then go back to it.

During the trip itself, if you want to carry on and develop this practise, then you can try doing more of that, and you can also try doing exactly the same thing, but with a different point of attention — the point in between your eyebrows. Imagine yourself breathing in and out through this point, as the breath takes the form of a golden light. If this creates any feeling of pressure in our head, then specifically try to visualise the breath-light spreading out, across the horizon as it leaves your body through that point, rather than simply concentrating at the point between the eyebrows.

If all or any of that does nothing for you then don’t worry — it’s all good.

Bad Trips and How to Avoid Them

It behoves us to say something about bad trips — what they are and how to avoid them. The term ‘bad trip’ is usually used to mean not simply a trip which ends up being kind of unsatisfying, but one during which the subject finds themselves experiencing very dark, fearful or negative thoughts and feelings which they cannot control, or seems to loses touch with objective reality to the point where it becomes impossible for others to communicate with them effectively.

There is good advice in both of the other manuals to which we have referred about avoiding bad trips, and we don’t honestly have much to add to it.

When Not to Trip

What we will say is that the main way to avoid a bad trip is not to go into a trip at all if you know that you are feeling very anxious, stressed or depressed.

Having said that, a relatively experienced tripper can often find tripping to be a way of getting out of that kind of mental space, and many trippers find that their psychological reflexes, their sheer bodily-neurological survival mechanisms — will steer them towards a better psychological state while tripping, even if they start off in not such a great place.

In our experience this is only true of people who already have enough experience of tripping to have developed a positive relationship with psychedelics, and should not be attempted by anyone else. In the end this is not a complicated issue — you know if a good trip will cheer you up. If you don’t know that it will — don’t do it.

BUT another note of caution is required here. Don’t wait until your life feels totally perfect and you think you have nothing to worry about at all before you feel you can trip. As a friend of ours once said — if you wait for your life to live up to a good trip, you’re gonna be waiting forever. The question is whether you can put down your worries for a day and have fun on the trip or not. If you feel you can, then you should be okay. If you really feel you can’t, then don’t risk it.

But if this helps as a guideline — if you make sure your setting for the trip is appropriate, and you are not somebody who has a general propensity for bad trips, then putting down your worries for the day to enjoy the trip is not usually any more difficult than putting down your worries for the day to enjoy a day out with your family or friends. As a general rule, that’s the level of stress you have to be at for a trip to be definitely a bad idea — if you’re in a state where you couldn’t really enjoy a day off with friends or family, then you shouldn’t be tripping. Otherwise, if your previous experiences have been positive, you will be as likely to find a nice trip to be refreshing and relaxing as you would a day at the beach or fishing or gaming with your buddies, or whatever you like to do.

Dealing With Real Bad Trips

There is a bunch of advice you can find online about how to ‘talk people down’ from bad trips. To be honest, we think that most of this advice is not really much use for people whose companion might be having a full-on bad trip. It’s mostly advice for looking after people who have got scared, overstimulated and possibly dehydrated at a festival, or whatever.

It’s all good advice. It all basically amounts to — get the person into a different, preferably calmer environment than the one they are in (even just a different room); talk to them soothingly; let them know that they are not going crazy or dying; try to distract them from negative thoughts by drawing their attention to pleasant ideas or stimuli. It’s all good advice, although for subjects who are having true bad trips, we’re afraid it doesn’t always work.

The sad thing to say about bad trips in our experience, is that if we are talking about real, classic, bad trips where the tripper has really lost any sense of being able to steer their consciousness away from fear, negativity, or the panic induced by ego-dissolution, then there is usually a limit to what you can do. You can do all of the above, and you must, but normally the bad trip won’t really end until the drug has worn off. In our experience certain people are very prone to this kind of experience and not much can be done to prevent it, and those people basically should not trip again.

Whether the fact of being prone to this type of experience is an indicator of other psychological, physiological or neurological problems, which should warrant intervention by professionals, we don’t know; and it is really beyond the scope of this handbook to comment on that.

Okay! Well, that’s basically it for our initial advice for planning a domestic psychedelic session. The next section will discuss one of the most important issues for having a good time on acid — sound and music. At the end that that section, we’ll actually recommend a sample playlist.

Section Four: Sound and Music

There’s a long history of music being used to guide and shape trips. Drumming and chanting have been part of shamanic practice for millennia. From early on in the history of modern tripping, recorded music was used in psychedelic sessions. But before we start talking about music here, let’s think about something more basic — the stuff that all music is made from: sound.

Sound surrounds us and penetrates our bodies all the time even if we’re not aware of it. We can’t shut our ears the way we can our eyes, and we can’t shut out the way vibrations affect our bodies. Psychedelics can profoundly enhance our sensitivity to sound, and an awareness of the sonic environment and its effects on us can be one of the most useful tools in ensuring that we have good trips.

Now, this sensitivity can be a two-edged thing. It can guide us into seeking out or creating sonic environments which we will find peaceful and joyful, or exciting and uplifting, and which will therefore bring those qualities to a trip. But it can also lead us to obsess over details of our sonic environment which we can’t control. So before we are done with this discussion of sounds, we’ll look at some techniques for dealing with that potential danger.

Background sound

A lot of people, although not everyone by any means, would say that the ideal sonic environment for tripping is one in which there is no artificial, industrial or urban noise at all, but only calming natural sounds, or artificially-produced silence.

It is certainly true that noise produced by machinery and engines exhibits qualities which will tend to produce stress-responses in humans. Our bodies and brains evolved in environments where they would never have been exposed to any noise remotely similar to that of a car engine passing in the street, in terms of how loud and naturally unpleasant it is, unless they were being attacked by a group of several large predatory animals.

Modern humans have learned to put up with this kind of noise, but that’s not to say that our bodies and brains like it, and it is generally best avoided while tripping, as far as possible. If you are one of those unusual people who just likes hearing cars whizz past even while high on psychedelics, well then that’s great news and we encourage you carry on :).

If you’re not, then it’s a good idea to try to put yourself into situations where you’re as far from that kind of noise as possible, or at least protected from it by the walls of your house, or some parkland or woods. But if you do find yourself surrounded by that kind of negative sound, then there are techniques you can use to cope with it and ride it out. One is just to remind yourself that you put up with that kind of noise every day and just to try to tune into the wavelength of our everyday consciousness, indifferent to the urban sounds around you.

Another is simply to find something else to think about or tune into — the leaves on trees as you walk by, the sound of the wind or birdsong, the beautiful color that the pavement has acquired. Another is actually to let your consciousness absorb the full range of background noise, from traffic to cranes to crowds to children shouting in the street, and to hear it all as a great expression of the teeming, beautiful, energetic life of the world. All of it is just component frequencies of the one great sound of the universe: Aum, the sound of the sea, the sound of the big bang, the universal white noises roar of creation, the sound of everything and the sound of peace.

Okay, for the present authors, this actually works for all of about 3 minutes, if they find themselves tripping in a busy urban context — but sometimes 3 minutes is all you need. After that, it’s probably better to get somewhere quieter, or at least somewhere were you can play some music.

Another type of background noise you want to be able to avoid is other people’s conversations. You really do not want to be somewhere where you are going to have listen to a lot of other people talking to each other. There is no exception to this rule. Some very disciplined and experienced trippers may be able to tune it out — but generally such sensory input must be avoided, if you don’t want to feel like you are starting to hear voices (in a bad way).

To be clear about this point about background noise and people talking — that doesn’t mean that all places where there will be crowds of other people have to be avoided. One interesting exception in our experience is the beach. Very crowded beaches should be avoided, but our experience is that a beach is one of the few places in modern societies where you will find most people behaving in a way which people who are tripping there might want to behave anyway — running around, splashing, playing, swimming. So the tripper need not feel out of place there.

The sound of the sea itself provides such an overwhelming sonic backdrop that it is normally easy enough to tune into that rather than into the sounds of people gossiping or playing — and the general background noise of children’s laughter and playful screams is actually pretty uplifting. Of course, we hardly need say — do not go swimming, especially not on your own, while affected by psychedelics in any way. Very experienced trippers do swim while tripping sometimes, but if in any doubt, or if unaccompanied, don’t.

This may well not be the case for everyone, but for us the beach is an interesting exception to the normal rule that background noise, and indeed other non-tripping people in general, should be avoided. But it is perhaps the exception that proves the rule. We guess that for many people, festivals would fall into the same category. You can tune into the music — the crowd are mostly doing the same stuff you are — so they don’t feel too stressful to most trippers . But be warned — this doesn’t apply to everyone. We have friends who hate tripping at Burning Man and Glastonbury precisely because there is just too much chaotic background noise.

And generally — background noise of all kinds, other than gentle natural sounds, is to be avoided.

Now, most people in modern societies live in places where are actually very high levels of background noise, even if they are not routinely conscious of them. In a modern urban environment, it is generally impossible to get away completely from the background noise produced by traffic, even it is generally quite easy either to mask it with artificial sounds of our own, or to find locations where it doesn’t feel too intrusive. Some trippers actually enjoy complete sensory deprivation in floatation tanks, but very few of us can afford to have those installed in our homes!

We most definitely can recommend, at some point in you tripping life, trying to find a place to trip — even if it is hundreds of miles from home — were you can be outdoors and yet hear NO traffic noise at all, even in the far distance. It is quite an incredible experience, if you’re not used to it.

But be careful. In many countries it it difficult for most city dwellers to access that kind of environment without planning a camping trip — and psychedelic camping trips require careful preparation in a destination with which you are already familiar. We will discuss this in more detail in another section of the handbook, but for now — please don’t just take off into the wilderness unprepared with a load of psychedelics.

What you can do, what trippers have been doing for decades, what for many is really the whole beauty and joy of the psychedelic experience itself, is settle down at home with a half-decent sound system, and spend your day controlling your sonic environment, with music.

Tripping to Music

For many trippers, maybe for most trippers, tripping and music are inseparable from each other. A lot of the time this music will be experienced in large group settings — a festival, a jam band show, a trance rave, a New York loft party. We will talk about all these kinds of settings at some point. But for now we’re talking about surely the most popular trip site in the world — the tripper’s living room.

Sound Systems

We could write a whole guidebook on hi-fi for heads, and perhaps one day we will. For now let’s get to some basics.

There are a vast range of ways for people to listen to music today. Some are much more accessible than others. One blessing of psychedelics is that they tend to encourage our ears and bodies to adjust to whatever sound source is available, so long as the music coming out of it is suitable. There’s no question that a very expensive hi-fi will sound better than a cheap pair of portable speakers playing music from your phone. But for most trippers, even the phone speakers will sound great if the music is right and that’s the only sound source available.

Now, if you are lucky enough to have the resources, we would strongly advise investing in a decent home hi-fi system for tripping with. The connection between high-end audio and trip culture goes back to the 60s at least. Owsley wasn’t just the Grateful Dead’s acid chemist — he was also their sound guy. Pink Floyd were as famous for their speakers and amps than for their music, at that early stage in their career when they were the house band of London’s psychedelic underground. David Mancuso’s psychedelic loft parties were organized around a world-class hi-fi system. When they busted William Pickard, they found a $100,000 dollar hi fi system in his acid-lab lair.

You don’t need to spend 100,00 dollars — if you spend a bit of time reading around, you can pick up old but good pieces of kit on eBay or specialist used hi-fi sites, and can build a nice enough system relatively cheaply. We recommend reading a good book such as Robert Harley’s Complete Guide to High-End Audio and spending some time on online audiophile forums online. There will be many different ideas about what kind of system will work best. We would tend to say that the absolute ideal would be a system based around some large speakers, a tube amp, a good quality record player, playing as much as possible high-quality heavy vinyl records, cleaned with a professional record-cleaning machine. But for most people that won’t be possible, which is fine, as we’ve already explained.

If you are on a tight budget then we strongly recommend investigating the world of 24-bit digital streaming. This is the only way to get a sonic experience from a streaming service that comes close to the you can experience using traditional analogue hi-fi equipment. We suggest getting hold of a dedicated high fidelity streaming speaker such as the Naim Muso or Muso-Qb and using a streaming service such as Qobuz.


A quick note on headphones. Some people love to use them while tripping — they block out all that extraneous noise and transport you into a perfect soundscape of music. Some people can’t stand them — they make them feel like their head is about to overheat and explode. Some people can take ’em or leave ’em. Whichever you are is fine — give it a try but don’t worry if it doesn’t work for you.

Because what’s really important is

The Music Itself

What kind of music to trip to? That question has been asked since the 50s and there are many different answers that have been given. Whole genres of music have arisen in response to it. When the academic investigators of LSD started experimenting in the 50s, the repertoire of music they were most familiar with was generally the canon of European ‘classical’ music. They found that “Bach, for instance — came across under LSD as so holy it was almost as though God was humming the tune; while others — Berlioz, say — made you sick to your stomach with its sugary pretensions” (Jay Stevens in Storming Heaven).

The music of JS Bach is a pretty good starting point here — an awful lot of the music which has subsequently been found by many people to be good for tripping with, shares some kind of qualities with that music. It tends to be beautiful and light, but also complex enough to engross the listener, it tends to be cyclical rather than having a very strong narrative drive.

Another kind of music that was adopted by trippers very early on is the classical music of North India, as played by musicians such as Ali Akbar Khan, Ravi Shankar, and others who frankly deserve to be just as well known around the world as those superstars were.

This music really deserves a special mention. It comes from a tradition in which musicians undergo perhaps the most rigorous training of any musicians in history, training for 16 hour days literally for years on end. It is devotional music, intended to express vast range of emotions, and yet always to induce in both listeners and performers a sense of blissful union with the divine, in all of its ecstatic reality. It isn’t attached to any one religious tradition, involving equal numbers of Moslem (usually Sufi) and Hindu musicians. The instruments and musical techniques have been developed over hundreds of years to enable a very particular kind of improvised music-making, with a range of sounds, textures and tones which just sounds incredibly ‘correct’ to many trippers. Not all, but many.

This is for any number of reasons. The drone effects and liquid improvisation, the complex rhythms, the fact that Indian musical instruments are all tuned according to more natural tunings than are Western instruments in the modern European tradition (if you don’t know about this, google ‘just tuning’ and see what comes up) — they all just sound incredibly ‘right’ to many trippers, especially during the peak of the experience.

Ravi Shankar was dismayed that people in the 60s took to tripping while listening to his music — but not because he particularly disapproved of psychedelic drugs. He was dismayed because the whole point of this music is to induce a state of higher consciousness in the listener anyway — he felt that if people needed psychedelics to achieve that effect while listening, then he wasn’t doing his job. Nonetheless, many people have found this music to be the perfect guide and vehicle for awesome psychedelic experiences.

A good introduction to this whole field of music can be found here: https://www.thewire.co.uk/shop/back-issues/issue_192.

Another genre worth mentioning now is jazz. In our electronic age, the vast majority of younger trippers seem to assume that programmed digital music is the natural accompaniment to a psychedelic experience. But the perennial popularity of Indian classical music in psychedelic circles shows how improvised music played by virtuoso performers can also be part of the perfect soundtrack to a good trip. And the jazz tradition is America’s own great contribution to the history of virtuoso improvised music.

By the end of the 60s, jazz musicians such as Miles Davis had become influenced by the psychedelic milieu of the times, by the popularity of bands like the Grateful Dead playing their own kind of improvised jazz-rock. Both the ‘fusion’ of Davis, Weather Report, Herbie Hancock and others, and the ‘spiritual jazz’ of musicians like Alice Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders have been popular with generations of trippers ever since. Be warned — the latter is not always easy listening, and is too much to take for a lot of people. But we’ll make some recommendations, to ease you into some of these sonic scenes for a little test run or two, shortly.

From the early 70s onwards, varies styles of music evolved which seem to have been intended explicitly for an audience of homebound tripheads. We’re not talking about genres like acid rock and progressive rock here, which are often quite difficult to listen to on acid, and often seem to be designed to disorient the listener in a way which mimics the effects of drugs, rather than to be really good for listening to on drugs.

We’re talking about the evolution of ambient music, ‘new age’ and ‘space music’, genres of which seem to help listeners to enjoy calm, pleasant, blissful trips. No doubt these music were not just for trippers, but also for people practicing yoga, mediation, etc. We’ll offer some good examples shortly, anyway.

A lot of this music can sounds quite banal to contemporary listeners — and no doubt to listeners when it was first being made. The dividing line between deep ambient music and cheesy ‘New Age’ shlock isn’t always a clear one, and when exploring this field of music, it can take some practice to get a sense of what will sound deep and beautiful while tripping, and what will just sound like 1980s elevator music. A couple of interesting places to start exploring are with the compilation album ‘You Are the Center’, released in 2013 by Lights in the Attic records, and with the legendary Hearts of Space radio show: https://www.hos.com.

There are also many styles of music drawn from non-Western cultures which trippers often find profound and uplifting. Classic examples include the trance musics of Morocco and Indonesian gamelan (be careful — most gamelan recordings contain vocals sung in a highly nasal style which most Westerners find hard to listen to — the hypnotic instrumental tracks are probably the ones you want to try, at least at first). There will more to say about this as we make further additions to this handbook.

Dance Dance Dance

This is all true of music for people sitting around tripping in living rooms. From the end of the 60s of course we also saw the birth of types of music which people would use for dancing on acid to. The most obvious example is the specialized improvised acid rock of bands like the Grateful Dead. (There’s a long history of Deadheads listening to live recordings of shows at home, although to be honest the recording quality isn’t always that conducive to a deep listening experience.). This was developed into new, mind-expanding forms by musicians around the world — very notably German bands such as Can and Ash Ra Tempel.

The underground dance party scene which emerged in New York in the early 1970s, which gave rise to disco and house music, was fuelled by LSD as much as anything else. This gave rise to later dance genres such as Chicago acid house and the Deep House tradition of New York, which to this day often draw on sounds and atmospheres from the spiritual jazz, fusion and acid rock. If you find a good deep house night in New York or New Jersey then to this day you’ll find people dancing on acid.

From the mid 1980s perhaps one of the most unexpected developments in this history took place. Hippies who had visited European gay clubs started bringing the fast-paced electronic dance music that they heard there — variants of disco given names like ‘Hi-NRG’ or ‘Italo’- out to dance parties in Goa, where traditionally DJs had played reggae and acid rock. Thus was born the Goa trance scene with its explicitly psychedelic aesthetic, eventually developing into the world-wide phenomenon of psytrance.

It seems important to say a few words say a few words about psytrance. It is electronic music which is designed for people to dance to on acid. For many trippers around the world today, it is probably the only kind of music that they have ever been told is specifically intended for tripping to. The global psytrance scene is almost certainly the largest and best-organized manifestation of explicitly psychedelic culture there has ever been. On the other hand, it is often criticized for being apolitical, socially exclusive (for rich white people, and a few rich Japanese people, only), and musically conservative.

No other genre of music has so consistently and explicitly advertised its commitment to psychedelic experience. But psytrance is in a strange way an anomaly in the history of psychedelic musics. The musical experience it offers is rather linear, and seemingly deliberately lacking in most of the sonic qualities which attracted earlier generations of trippers to Bach, Ravi Shankar or the Grateful Dead. Aficionados of psystrance find that it is perfectly programmed to take them on a deep, ritual mystic journey. Others tend to find it very hard to understand why anybody would want to trip to that music in particular, when there are so many other kinds of music around. Some people who like it find that it’s intensity reminds of them of Indian musicians playing incredibly fast at the climax of an improvisation, they find that it’s sometime dark tonalities and textures, somewhat borrowed from Chicago Acid House, offer a greater depth of experience than the cheesy melodies of New Age electronic music, and that is relentless quality reminds them of ritual drumming or the sound of the Australian didgeridoo. Others find it simply soulless, lacking in melody or virtuosity, and unbearably repetitive. We stress this point not to try to persuade people to like it or not to like it, but because we do have some direct experience of younger trippers believing that they somehow HAD to like psytrance if they liked tripping. Our point is simply that whether you love tripping to psytrance or hate it, you will be in good company either way.

We leave it to you to decide if it’s you’re thing or not. It’s very easy to get information about it on the internet (start at http://psytranceportal.com and ,http://psytranceportal.com) and there is even a fairly extensive academic literature (Graham St John’s book, Global Tribe, is sympathetic — Arun Saldanha’s book, Psychedelic White, is not).

If you want very good advice on psychedelic dancing, check THIS ARTICLE.

Back to the Living Room

There is a great deal more to say on this topic, but we suspect that many readers of this handbook may be getting impatient, if they have read this far, to learn what our concrete suggestions might be for musically programming an actual trip at home. So we are going to take the plunge and suggest an actual playlist taking in examples of several of the genres already mentioned.

There are hundreds of thousands of such playlists that could be suggested. We plan to suggest quite a few in future. But for now, here we go.

These albums have been selected partly because we know them all to be available in multiple formats and on multiple platforms. The playing order suggested here presumes that you’ll start playing music straight after ingestion or up to 30 minutes later.

G.S Sachdev Bansuri- The Bamboo Flute of India

Pandit Shivkumar Sharma — Hypnotic Santoor

David Casper — Crystal Waves

Alice Coltrane — Journey in Satchidananda

Laraaji — Day of Radiance

Nikhil Banerjee- The Immortal Sitar of Nikhil Banerjee

Daniel Kobialka — Timeless Motion

Miles Davis — In a Silent Way

Ali Akbar Khan — Classical Instrumental: sarod (or any other recording by Ali Akbar Khan)

Alex de Grassi — Slow Circle

Matthew Halsall & the Gondwana Orchestra — When the World Was One

Ali Farka Touré & Toumani Diabaté — In the Heart of the Moon

Musica Antiqua Köln — Bach Chamber Music

Mary Lattimore — At the Dam

Keur Moussa — Lumière Radieuse

We could provide a lot of information about each of these albums and artists, but we also know that you can find out for yourselves easily enough on the internet. We will say that we don’t think it will spoil your enjoyment in any way if you listen to them all beforehand so you have a sense of what to expect.

We will also say that we would be advise caution about pre-judging any of this music until you have tried listening to it while tripping. Several of the recordings suggested above will very likely sound like rather insipid muzak to most listeners who have not tried listening to them tripping, but in our experience they all take on a certain depth and beauty in that state, which is quite remarkable — even if you may well find yourself laughing at yourself for listening to them. Some of the others, conversely, might sound too complex and challenging. Again — we would really recommend at least trying all of them with open ears, open heart and open mind. But if they really don’t work then that’s just fine — move on to something that does!

Happy Listening :)

Some Further Reading and Resources on Sound and Music in Meditation, Psychedelic Therapy and Consciousness-Expansion






Section Five: Out in Nature

Some folks will be surprised that we’ve put this section after the one about tripping in your living room. After all, for many trippers, no amount of home comforts or musical delights will compare the beauty, the freedom, the peacefulness or the grandeur that they can experience in the great outdoors. Or even just in their local forest.

Well, the main reason we’ve done it this way is simply because there’s always kind of less control over your environment when tripping ‘in nature’ than at home, so we tend to advise getting some experience of the latter before trying out the former. But….this really doesn’t apply to everybody. In fact to be honest, in our experience, if we think about the people we’ve known and whether their first trips have gone super well or not…probably the ones that have happened outdoors in optimal conditions are the ones that have most often been trouble-free. There can be a sense of emotional and mental freedom and calm to being outdoors that is difficult or impossible to replicate inside. And the feeling of being one with nature is simply what the whole experience is about for many people.

If you’re relatively inexperienced and tripping outside then our strong advice would be to trip somewhere familiar from which it is easy to get home or back to wherever you’re staying. We’d also suggest that you go for somewhere calm rather than somewhere spectacular, if that’s a choice put before you. Everyone is different, but our experience is that it’s the shady glade by the babbling brook rather than the majestic mountain pass that makes for the most pleasant tripping environment. Apart from anything else, some natural locations are so astonishing that even a high dose of psychedelics can just kind of feel like ‘gilding the lily’. The authors of this handbook are all big fans of mountain hikes and some people love to do that psychedelics. Our experience is that psychedelic experience really opens you up permanently to the beauty of nature in such a way that once you’ve had a few good trips, you don’t need anything extra when you’re really out in the wild, whereas the nicest settings are often the ones that feel the safest.

Obviously weather is a big consideration. Some people love tripping in the rain. Just make sure you have breathable waterproofs to wear! There’s a whole tradition in the American West of people tripping out in the baking burning heat of the desert. Our preference tends to be (ideally) for warm sunny weather that’s not oppressively hot, in places with plenty of shade, trees, grass and flowers, and some water, and ideally some nice views that are not too difficult to reach or climb down from. Probably the views aren’t that important really, but a little bit of height tends to take you into spaces that will have much less background traffic noise than sea-level locations.

When choosing an outdoor location then it’s always worth thinking to yourself in advance about what you are planning to DO there when you get there. One difference between a tripping day out in nature and a normal hiking day is that you’ll probably want to spend a lot more time sitting around. If what you’re going to be doing is sitting around calmly following your breath and tuning into the sounds and smells of nature, then the most important thing about the location is that it should be quiet, clean, and comfortable.

Also — watch out for bugs and if necessary take some natural insect repellent (one of the clove or citronella based repellants, for example). If you’re hot, sweaty and tripping hard, then you can become a magnet for flies and mosquitoes, which is kind of annoying. And of course, if you’re going to be out in the sun, take all the usual precautions.


Some people love to go camping with psychedelics. If this is what you want to try then we strongly recommend only tripping once you’ve settled in a site, got to know the area around the campsite well (like, over a period of days, not hours), and have all necessary provisions and comfort easily to hand. For many people wild camping is just the apogee of the tripping experience, but we would strongly advise that you only do this if you can do it in a way that is definitely safe, that you feel very calm, safe and free from risk while actually tripping, and minimize any risk to yourself or your friends.

That’s about it!

That’s the core advice. If we ever get time, we’ll add some more to this handbook.

What should you get from all this?

There is no ‘should’.

The vast majority of users, if they follow the steps that we’ve outlined so far, will have a blissful experience that may or may not have further benefits beyond just being blissful.

They may experience profound insights into spiritual, philosophical, scientific, psychological, interpersonal, emotional or political matters.

They may experience, as Aldous Huxley did, love as the supreme cosmic fact.

They may experience themselves as a bubble of being, emerging just briefly from the ocean of love which is the cosmos, before merging once again with that infinite sea of light.

They may just get really into watching cartoons.

Maybe it’ll be a bit of all of these.

Maybe they’ll just have a really nice time with some really nice tunes.

Maybe none of the above.

No promises can be made. But it works for us.

But if you choose to make this journey, we wish you a very pleasant time, and all the love that the universe can manifest: which is a lot.


We make this freely available for use by anyone, but please don’t reproduce in any physical form without consulting us.

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