If your friend called you up and asked you to be their psychedelic trip sitter (sober sitter or co-pilot), how would you react? In all likelihood, you’d freak out and tell them you’re not ready for that kind of responsibility. True, a tripsitter isn’t exactly the same as a designated driver, but with the right kind of preparation it’s certainly something you can hack. More importantly, you can also be there for your friend in their hour of need.
What’s a trip sitter?
A trip sitter is someone who’s assigned to look after the person who’s taking a hallucinogen, whether it’s LSD, Magic Mushrooms or DMT. This usually happens when it’s the tripper’s first experience with psychedelics. Ideally, the tripsitter should stay sober so they can monitor the tripper while they’re under the influence of the drug.
The concept of trip sitting can be traced back to Timothy Leary’s book The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which was written as a guide on what to do when someone’s going through a psychedelic trip, especially how to handle ego death. The book advocates for the presence of psychedelic guides to help trippers during the different phases of ego death.
What does it take to be an effective trip sitter?
Having first-hand experience with the substance being used, or training on how to handle any psychological or medical emergency that may arise certainly helps. But even more importantly, it’s your willingness to help, and being responsible enough to remain sober during the trip that really matter. Good trip sitters are able to empathize with the tripper without intervening beyond what the tripper would want. Of course, it always a plus when there’s already an existing relationship between the sitter and the tripper.
A sitter, like the one Leary had in mind, can play an active role in guiding the tripper’s experience. For example, people who sign up for psychedelic retreats have shamans to sit with them during their journey. In this case, the shamans have a lot of experience with hallucinogens and know how to react in case anything out of the norm happens.
The tripsitter’s responsibilities
A key responsibility of the sitter is to be there for the tripper throughout their psychedelic experience. That means before, during, and after their trip. It’s always good to ensure the surroundings are welcoming and do whatever you can to put the user at ease, especially when it’s their first time on the substance they’re taking.
A question many people ask is can the tripsitter be high themselves? Some sitters find it more effective when they microdose or smoke a joint earlier on in order to connect better with the tripper. However, it’s probably best to play it safe as a sitter and stay sober so that you can make the right decisions in case things go south.
What to do before the trip?
- Do some research
If you don’t have that much experience with psychoactive drugs, you need to do your homework first. Find out all you can about the substance the tripper is using (including the dosage) so as to fully appreciate what its effects are and how long they may last. Most magic mushrooms, for example, take 10 to 30 minutes for the effects to kick in, and a full psychedelic trip may last 6 to 8 hours depending on the dosage taken.
Understanding the five levels of psychedelic experience is also important. At level 1 the user will feel relaxed and only experience subtle changes in their visuals, while at level 5 they’ll be completely disconnected with reality.
Needless to say, it’s also important to know if the tripper has a medical condition that could be affected by taking the hallucinogen.
- Create the right set and setting
Ensure the tripper is in the right state of mind i.e. they’re positive and relaxed, rather than anxious about the experience. Discuss with the user what you’ve gathered from your research and agree on some ground rules before starting the session like what dosage they should take and any guidance they may want during the experience. You should also agree on how to deal with emergencies that may arise, and whom to call in case of an emergency.
As for the setting, you’re less likely to have a bad trip if the surroundings are familiar and comfortable. Your friend’s living room or bedroom, for example, can provide the right environment for a trip. Adjust the lights, ensure the place isn’t too warm or too cold, and turn on some music to create the right ambience.
During the psychedelic experience
- Whatever you do, be present throughout the tripper’s experience. Even if you don’t say anything, just being there may actually be enough to reassure them during the session. However, if they have questions that you can answer, indulge them, and try not to be judgmental. When talking to them keep your tone down to soothe them.
- Don’t forget to provide for their physical needs like keeping them hydrated at all times. Help them if they need assistance moving around, but if they need their personal space, respect that. When communicating, speak to them in a calm soothing voice.
- Lastly, it’s always good to recognize when the user is peaking and when the user is gradually coming back to reality.
After the psychedelic trip
The first thing to do is to monitor the aftereffects of the psychoactive substance. You may find that the tripper is still anxious or paranoid during the comedown, and you may need to reassure them that everything’s okay. They may experience a dry mouth, in which case, you should give them some water to drink.
Afterwards when they’re more comfortable, talk about the psychedelic journey with the user. If you had made an audio or video recording, play it back. This may help the tripper understand their experience better. If they’re anxious about something, reassure them once again.
Give the user time to rest as they may be tired after the trip.
What to do in case of a bad psychedelic trip?
If you’ve prepared the tripper adequately in terms of the right set and setting bad trips are less likely to happen. However, they are a reality and you should always be prepared to handle them.
When someone’s having a bad trip, the first thing you’ll notice is they become really fearful or paranoid. They may even get hysterical and violent. Stay calm and reassure them that what they’re going through is the effect of a psychoactive substance and it isn’t real. Let them know that they’re safe and that nothing bad is going to happen to them.
You can try moving them to a different room that’s more comfortable and help them relax by reminding them that the experience will be over soon. If the situation gets out of hand, call for professional medical help so that they can be kept in a safe place and sedated if the need arises.
There’s no doubt that trip sitting is an important part of safe recreational drug use and a great help to the psychedelic community. It’s always a good thing when the more experienced psychonauts step up and lend a helping hand to the newbies. Hopefully, this article has shed more light on what this actually entails. Happy tripping!
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