Overcoming Psychedelic FOMO

Psychedelic FOMO

The fear of missing out (FOMO) is by no means a trivial form of distress. Fears about missing out on information, events, experiences, or life decisions that could enhance one’s life are associated with worsened depression and anxiety, and a lowered quality of life. FOMO drives the need to persistently stay glued to social media, yet this ironically exacerbates FOMO by exposing one to a curated picture of the lives of others. Social media sites inundate us with a manicured, highlight reel of what others are up to, giving us the impression that we’re missing out on perfect holidays, relationships, and experiences, or making the wrong decisions with our lives. 

There are also different types of FOMO: there can be FOMO related to travel, friendships, romantic partnerships, careers, lifestyle, achievements, status, reputation, and enriching experiences in general. But one type I’ve not really seen discussed is psychedelic FOMO. The plethora of positive media coverage of psychedelic therapy and decreased stigma surrounding these substances (meaning more people are sharing their experiences online) means more people might feel they’re missing out on transformative, spiritual, healing experiences.

In this post, I would like to explore the phenomenon of psychedelic FOMO, the pitfalls associated with it, and what can be done to overcome feelings of missing out on life-changing experiences.

The Experience of Psychedelic FOMO

The media reporting of the influx of new psychedelic studies has been largely positive, and, many argue, it has been too positive, helping to fuel hype surrounding psychedelics. Many media outlets have touted psychedelics as a cure or miracle drug, and use misleading titles and language, such as psychedelics being able to ‘reset’ the brain, as if depression, and its solution, were as simple as an off-on computation. 

As well as media hype, participants in psychedelic trials and retreat centres are coming forward to offer testimonials about how psychedelics saved their lives, and other users – including highly influential celebrities – are increasingly doing the same for articles, blog posts, social media posts, and podcasts. The destigmatisation of psychedelics has helped to make doing so more acceptable and less risky to one’s reputation and career (although stigma still exists, of course, as people are still hesitant to disclose such personal information and negative perceptions of these compounds persist). 

The result of this abundance of glowing trip reports is, as with the sharing of other positive life experiences online, increased FOMO. But psychedelic FOMO is certainly unique. FOMO often relates to positive experiences, sometimes life-changing milestone experiences (like getting married, having a child, buying a house, or starting a dream job), but most FOMO is not related to profound, spiritual, healing, and transformative experiences, which are reported by participants in psychedelic trials. Psychedelic FOMO, then, can feel much stronger than other types of FOMO. This is a sense of missing out on rare, exceptional experiences and not things like holidays, which are more commonplace and certainly less profound than a full-blown mystical experience. There can be a sense in which you’re not just missing out on a euphoric experience, but one that could fundamentally change you – swiftly, positively, and for good.

Psychedelic FOMO can relate to more recreational experiences as well. Just as you might not want to miss out on other types of fun and memorable experiences with friends, you may feel apprehension about missing out on psychedelic-induced fun – whether that be with friends at someone’s house, a national park, a gig, or a festival. No one likes to feel left out of what could potentially be a highly memorable group trip – an event that will turn into an oft-repeated story.

Psychedelic FOMO is also distinct from other types of FOMO because it may encourage one to pursue experiences with a completely different set of potential benefits and risks. 

Are You Tripping for the Wrong Reasons?

Other kinds of FOMO may, through anxiety and dampened self-esteem, motivate individuals to travel more, buy more, date more, go out more, and do more. Positive and negative experiences can follow. But if psychedelic FOMO makes more individuals want to try psychedelics, for fear of missing out, this can be riskier. Using psychedelics when not prepared, or out of the combination of peer pressure and insecurity (which is what FOMO is, in a sense), there is a higher chance of feeling overwhelmed (by the intensity, strangeness, and psychological material that arises). Moreover, FOMO is not the ideal ‘set’ (mindset) with which to enter a psychedelic experience.

However, this doesn’t mean tripping at least partly out of FOMO will lead to a difficult experience. Even if you decide to trip (on your own or with others) because you don’t want to miss out on a fun, bonding, or therapeutic experience, such experiences can still occur. But you should still be aware of your intentions for tripping since if you trip purely or largely out of FOMO, you may find yourself unprepared for what arises during the experience. It is also possible that entering a psychedelic state from a place of FOMO may, given psychedelics’ amplifying nature, force you to confront your FOMO (and its roots).

It is healthy to pursue positive experiences, so long as this is done so from a place of positive emotion, which may be characterised by self-compassion, therapeutic intentions, love of nature, zest for life, and connection to others. Conversely, issues can follow when we chase positive experiences from a place of negative emotion: anxiety, insecurity, low self-esteem, jealousy, and competitiveness. In the context of psychedelics, the latter can lead to more challenging experiences. 

In addition, psychedelic FOMO can be associated with high expectations. So whether you want to join a psychedelic trial or retreat, use a guide or sitter, or trip on your own, going in with the expectation of achieving a peak experience – an experience of egolessness and unity with all things – may lead to severe disappointment if that doesn’t happen. And this disappointment might fuel hopelessness. After all, for many people, committing to a psychedelic experience might feel like their last resort – their brave and final attempt to feel well.

Understanding the importance of set when approaching a psychedelic journey may be one way to overcome psychedelic FOMO. It can instil self-awareness and patience; it gives you a reason to pause and consider whether you are approaching a potentially intense experience for the right reasons.

Don’t Fall Prey to the ‘Psychedelics Highlight Reel’

For reasons mentioned earlier, many of us will be exposed to largely positive (and over-hyped) messages about psychedelic experiences. The nature of psychedelic news reporting, social media, and perhaps cultural facets in the psychedelic community (‘there are no bad trips, only challenging experiences; ‘positive vibes only’, ‘psychedelics give you what you need, not what you want’, ‘you just need to integrate’, and gaslighting people who suffer psychedelic-related harm), many people will be exposed to a kind of ‘psychedelics highlight reel’). Risks associated with psychedelics can become ignored, sidelined, minimised, or trivialised. 

But the mental health risks of psychedelics are real. They can occur even when set and setting are respected. For example, researchers have found one common factor underlying bad trips is high dosage. Related to this discussion, a common factor underlying psychedelic FOMO is fear of missing out on the kinds of experiences offered by high doses of psychedelics. Psychedelic use may be framed in a hierarchical way, with the high-dose experience offering one the ‘best’ or ‘fullest’ experience. While it is true that a strong dose is more likely to produce a life-altering, healing experience, these doses come with added risks. And if psychedelic FOMO encourages people to pursue high-dose experiences on their own, the risks increase. This is because the person will be lacking the psychological support of relevantly trained and licensed therapists before, during, and after a deep internal journey.

Author and philosopher Jules Evans has been documenting the risks of psychedelics in Ecstatic Integration, the newsletter of the Challenging Psychedelic Experiences Project, the latter of which launched in September 2022 and is producing academic research and harm reduction information on adverse psychedelic experiences, enduring post-trip difficulties, and what helps people deal with these issues. The newsletter includes detailed and thoughtful insights from Evans, as well as from researchers, ethicists, journalists, and psychedelic users. The posts are not sensationalised or anti-psychedelic; they are honest accounts of risks that seek to add balance to the debate surrounding the effects of psychedelics, which is needed in an era where medicalisation, decriminalisation, and legalisation policies are being enacted.

The risks of psychedelics include traumatic experiences and enduring difficulties like depersonalisation, derealisation, hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD), depression, anxiety, nihilism, and spiritual emergencies. The prevalence and nature of each risk, and relevant treatment, need to be studied (and more institutions are beginning to tackle these questions). But even if these harms are infrequent or rare, this does not make them negligible. For those who suffer from them, the consequences can be devastating. 

Coming to terms with the reality of these risks can help to hamper feelings of psychedelic FOMO. They can encourage more care and caution when approaching a psychedelic experience, rather than being in a rush to trip, or tripping just because others are doing (in spite of issues related to set and setting). 

There will always be other (and better) times to use psychedelics. While it’s possible not tripping means missing out on a positive experience, this applies to all users; there is always the possibility that deciding not to trip means missing out. However, this mentality only leads to regret and dissatisfaction with the present. It’s equally possible that not tripping could mean you miss out on a negative experience. One can overcome psychedelic FOMO by approaching these experiences with a different mindset: appreciating the experiences one has had, trusting one’s gut about the decision to trip or not, respecting set and setting, being aware of one’s reasons for tripping, and realising that there will be plenty of other opportunities to have positive experiences. 

While it would be a shame to go through life without having a single psychedelic experience, you don’t miss out on a fulfilling and meaningful life by not tripping as much as possible. As with so many other aspects of life, quality matters more than quantity.

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