Should We Be Concerned About the Rise in People Tripping Alone?

tripping alone

The psychologist Rachel Harris, who is the author of Swimming in the Sacred: Wisdom from the Psychedelic Underground, has saidI’ve never heard of so many people tripping at home alone. People always did it but now a lot of people are doing it. There’s a generational difference.” A Twitter poll by The Archaic Revival reveals this is users’ preferred way to trip, and Jules Evans observes, “I can’t think of any solo trip reports from the 1950s and 1960s, can you?” Indeed, tripping alone was rare during the 60s, with most people at the time taking psychedelics with friends or at intimate gatherings and parties.

Why is Tripping Alone on the Rise?

Tripping alone would have no doubt been more common during the COVID pandemic and associated lockdowns, as people were mixing less but still wishing to trip (and often for therapeutic purposes). But perhaps the more general trend that Harris highlights here is due to us being more disconnected compared to previous generations: we spend more time at home alone, we are busier (and so have less time for each other), and we live further away from those close to us. 

This may be one of many reasons, however. Rising mental health issues, not just during the pandemic but over preceding decades, may account for increased solo tripping as a form of self-medication (and the fact that this is a solo endeavour may speak both to concerns about widespread isolation and lack of community and the fact that finding adequate psychological support is out of reach for many, due to financial constraints or poor public policy).

In the Twitter post linked above, where I found the quote from Harris, Evans includes the following image:

It’s taken from the cover of Robert D. Putnam’s 2000 non-fiction book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, developed from his 1995 essay ‘Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital’. In both, Putnam describes the decline of social capital (valuable social relationships) in the United States since 1950. He notes a reduction in all forms of in-personal social interaction that Americans used to enrich their social lives. And this trend seems to exist with psychedelic use as well. Traditional, indigenous use of psychedelics has often taken place in group contexts (such as peyote ceremonies), and when LSD use exploded in the 1960s, people would typically trip with each other, not alone at home. Evans states: “It’s interesting – people say psychedelics will connect us together and heal us from our atomization, yet most people are tripping alone!”

It’s easier than ever now to trip alone since you can source psychedelics from the dark web or dealers on social media (although scammers exist, and there are safety concerns such as adulteration or drugs being missold, which is why testing is always recommended). There are also plenty of guides online about tripping safely and comfortably, as well as playlists designed for psychedelic therapy that you can use. Furthermore, many people may be trying to emulate the setup of psychedelic clinical trials, the results of which receive an abundance of positive reporting in mainstream media outlets. Glowing personal accounts and talk of epic transformations through music on headphones, eye shades, and a deeply introspective journey can make individuals want to try it for themselves (although without psychological support from trained therapists).  

Group trips are still common, no doubt, and the preferred option for many (especially first-time users). Others would ideally like to have a sober sitter or guide nearby if they wish to have a deep, internal experience or if taking a high dose. Tripping with others can have unique benefits in terms of safety, bonding, and recreation; plus, research shows it has therapeutic effects in the context of a retreat/ceremony.

Moreover, having a sober sitter or guide can understandably be better in terms of harm reduction since they won’t be tripping themselves, so will be in a better position to provide care and comfort if needed, although facilitators at a psychedelic retreat could likewise offer support. And for those who like the idea of having this kind of support, but not so much the prospect of being around a group of strangers who are also tripping, there are retreat providers like Odyssey who offer 1:1 psilocybin sessions. Still, many psychedelic users prefer to trip alone or like to on occasion (as the experience tends to be different compared to tripping with others, even a single fellow tripper or a sober sitter). 

While an increase in the number of people tripping at home alone may be viewed, dispiritedly, as a sign of increased atomisation, loneliness, and lack of close connections and community, this trend may also be made up of people who are seeking inner exploration, change, well-being, and spirituality through deeply internal psychedelic experiences. And solo trips can best serve this purpose because they are free from concerns and distractions related to others. Tripping with others can lead to a lot of hilarious and meaningful conversations and positive interactions, but the conversational and social aspects can also, at times, take you away from more introspective states. This is not to say that group experiences don’t involve personal insights and novel perspectives, of course. Also, many people plan and adjust their experiences so that they involve a mix of group interaction and solo time. 

When tripping alone, on the other hand, the lack of social interaction and focus on others means you can have uninterrupted, internal experiences. It is no coincidence that many psychonauts consider their solo experiences to be some of their most meaningful, profound, and therapeutic trips. In addition, during solo trips, you have complete control over your environment, including where you trip, the music you listen to, and any activities you want to do. You may also feel much more comfortable ‘letting loose’ or ‘letting go’, which could range from dancing to crying.

However, with these greater benefits come greater risks as well, due to decreased social support during challenging experiences. Tripping alone, particularly when higher doses are involved, may seem overly risky to some, especially when there is an option to trip with others (although not everyone, sadly, is connected to friends who are either interested in psychedelics or who they trust enough to trip with). And not everyone can find someone willing, or suitable, to act as a sober sitter or guide. Moreover, if someone preferred to have a professional therapist present during the journey as opposed to an untrained sitter, this may not be an option (if the psychedelic substance in question is illegal, or the therapy unaffordable) or someone may not feel comfortable seeking out an underground psychedelic therapist.

Whether out of personal preference or circumstance, someone may want to try tripping alone or may have already done so, found it challenging, and want to try it again. Whatever the reason, it’s important to follow harm reduction practices when tripping alone. The rest of this post aims to describe tried-and-tested strategies for having a safe solo experience. These sorts of strategies will become ever more important as laws continue to be relaxed regarding the cultivation, possession, and use of psychedelics, many of which are highly potent. (See this post from bioethicist Joseph Halcomb Adams for Ecstatic Integration on why decriminalisation policies require public education on risks.)

Set and Setting Matters Even More When Tripping Alone

The way to support yourself during a solo psychedelic journey is through your set and setting. This means feeling prepared and ready before committing, such as being willing to confront whatever arises and keeping in mind (or writing down as reminders) techniques that encourage smoother experiences if facing rough waters, such as non-resistance, acceptance, deep breathing, self-soothing touch, and cognitive reframing. (See my previous post on how to navigate difficult psychedelic experiences.) By taking care of your set and preparedness, you will give yourself the best chance possible of finding the inner resources to handle any difficult emotions or reactions that arise, which in itself can offer meaningful insights into one’s inherent resiliency and strength.

In order to keep yourself in a positive mood, you should also make sure you’re well-rested before the experience, hydrated and well-nourished throughout, and as calm as possible. At the same time, you want to pay close attention to your setting, in ways that encourage positive experiences or help to combat difficult experiences. This might include:

  • Having a prepared playlist (either tailored for psychedelic journeys or designed yourself). If creating your own playlist, it makes sense you’d want to include your favourite music, but it’s also important to consider that psychedelic experiences come in stages (ingestion, onset, plateau, comedown, and end of session), so experiences can be enhanced if music choices match the stages. Also, some of your favourite music may not mesh well with the highly sensitive state you’ll be in while tripping. You may love death metal or punk sober, but this doesn’t mean it will match your emotional state under the influence of a psychedelic (others may enjoy it though!).
  • Making sure your home is clean, uncluttered, and smelling pleasant. Dirt, dust, mess, and unwelcome smells can affect your mental state sober, and under the influence of a psychedelic, this effect can be magnified, negatively affecting your trip (even if you don’t realise it’s a factor).
  • If venturing outside, making sure to go to places that feel familiar, safe, enjoyable, and calming. This might include nearby natural surroundings. While many people feel fine tripping in public, others may find crowds overstimulating and overwhelming. So it may be best to avoid city centres, high streets, or public transport if possible. It’s also wise to avoid being around traffic for the sake of your safety.
  • Having distractions, meaningful possessions, activities, or creature comforts at hand, such as movies, nature documentaries, a notepad, materials for drawing or painting, musical instruments, your favourite food, art books, and sentimental objects or photos.

You could even decide to use the Trip app from Field Trip Health to help guide you on your psychedelic journey, although some found it strange to be using the app while in an altered state. There are now also books that can aid solo experiences, such as The Trip Journal by Ronan Levy (co-founder of Trip Health) and Kori Harrison, which includes sections on preparation, the trip itself, and integration, providing you with space to write about the experience.

Being Able to Reach Out for Support

Solo psychedelic experiences can, at times, involve challenging moments. But it’s also possible you may find yourself stuck in a state of emotional distress. If tripping with others or a sitter, it can be easy to find the psychological support you need when this happens. Soothing touch, like a hug, from someone else can make a huge difference when feeling disoriented, overwhelmed, or afraid, but if you’re tripping alone, then this kind of touch-based support isn’t an option. 

However, you can still seek out warm, empathic, soothing support by talking to a friend or loved one on the phone. Their words and perspective can easily bring you out of a dark place. You ideally want to let a friend know about your plan to trip and mention that you may want to text or call them. This way you won’t have to worry about your friend not replying or answering your call, which may only serve to magnify your distress (since you could then feel you don’t have emotional support when you need it most). But even if you weren’t able to contact someone you were close to and trusted to confide in, you could still contact Fireside Project, which provides a hotline for those currently experiencing a challenging trip, or use Tripsit, which offers a live online support service in the form of a chat room.

Being Careful With Dosage

Many challenging experiences occur, at least partly, because the dose taken was too high. If deciding to trip alone, especially for the first time it’s vital to opt for a dosage that you feel some confidence in being able to handle. This would typically mean not taking a significantly higher dose than you’re used to, and possibly dosing lower than you would if tripping with others; after all, the unique experience of solo tripping can lend itself to more emotionally and mentally intense states, so you may not actually need a high dose to have insightful and mystical experiences. 

Taking a heroic dose (e.g. five grams of psilocybin mushrooms in silent darkness, alone) is a common recommendation for a breakthrough experience in the psychedelic community, but this may not be necessary or wise for all individuals. Some psychonauts, however, feel mentally stable and comfortable venturing into this territory alone. 

From a harm reduction standpoint, it’s crucial not to aim for high doses or exceptionally intense experiences as a way to compete with yourself or to reach some imaginary level of intrepid/expert psychonaut status. This egoic approach to psychedelic use is risky and pretty much antithetical to the kinds of insights one would ideally like from psychedelics, which would benefit one’s character and well-being: the sort that dethrone the ego.

Concluding Remarks

I do believe with the above points in mind, solo psychedelic use can be considered sensible, and it is likely to remain a popular way of using psychedelics, based on the advantages outlined and also because of individual differences in personality (introverted types may feel more comfortable spending a whole trip alone, whereas tripping in a group – or even just with one person – for 12+ hours can feel quite draining, which may be an appreciated downside to tripping with others).

On the other hand, the rise of solo psychedelic experiences is curious and it does warrant a discussion about how much of this type of use is due to the declining social capital that Putnam described and decried in Bowling Alone. The loss of social capital is likely to be much greater now compared to 1996, when Putnam authored the essay that inspired the eponymous book published in 2000, due to the widespread adoption and increased usage of smartphones. We should also consider whether individuals seeking out personal healing through solo trips reflects a pervasive lack of friendships, romantic partnerships, and community, which might help to provide the emotional support and container for a personal experience that many individuals would prefer and most benefit from.

Moving forward, I agree with Adams that the decriminalisation and legalisation of psychedelics should be accompanied by public education on harm reduction (which is especially important for solo tripping). But at the same time, we need to address perhaps some of the more disheartening reasons why more people are tripping at home alone. This could signal that psychedelic experiences are being accommodated into the dominant social and cultural paradigm of individualism, which tells us that healing comes from ourselves and ourselves alone, and which, in any case, separates and disconnects us from each other, so we have fewer strong interpersonal relationships that can facilitate supportive psychedelic experiences.

Building a culture of community around psychedelic use, then, is critically important, but this does not mean group experiences are optimal; it is just one option that may be ideal for some people or in some personal contexts. Solo tripping will always be preferred by many, and it has its place, so it needs to be approached carefully, ensuring that people have safe and beneficial experiences.

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