Experiencing anxiety when taking magic mushrooms or truffles is not unusual. Generally it tends to hit people hardest during the come up, but for some people it can ebb and flow throughout their entire trip. The great irony for those who experience this unlucky symptom is that psilocybin, the active compound in shrooms, actually can help to treat and reduce anxiety in the long-term. 

For some people the anxiety they have felt during previous trip experiences puts them off exploring the psychedelic sphere further. This is a great shame, as the journey into our psyche and soul that psychedelics can provide is unparalleled. However, all is not lost! There are various methods, checks and balances if you will, that can help you conquer, or at least subdue the anxiety caused by psilocybin. Even if you haven’t experienced this problem, having these in your arsenal can only make you a more experienced and learned tripper.  

The Science of Shroom Anxiety

First, we must ask ourselves why we feel this anxiety. Of course, some nervousness can be explained away if, for example, it is your first psychedelic trip. Newbie jitters are pretty normal, and usually dissipate once the shrooms start working their magic. However, for the more persistent anxieties, there is actually a scientific explanation. 

It is well known that anxiety is one of the most prevalent mental disorders, affecting 4.05% of people worldwide. Many people who suffer from this condition look for effective treatment to target its causes and symptoms. This is where psychedelics become so crucial — they have the capacity to do just this. But, it is also those who suffer from anxiety who may be more prone to heightened levels of anxiety during a psychedelic experience. Though this is, of course, a temporary feeling, it is not pleasant for the person going through it. 

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A recent study at Maastricht University looked into the science behind this phenomena. It was identified that there are several reasons why a person might feel anxiety when having taken psilocybin mushrooms or truffles. These include:

  • Changes in glutamate levels
  • Neurotic personality traits
  • Age

In their 2020 study at the University of Maastricht, Neuroscientist Natasha Mason et al. carried research to discover what happens in the brain during psychedelic trips. They hoped to be able to point to what causes some to experience anxiety-riddled trips, while others enjoy a peaceful and introspective experience. 

How Changes in Glutamate Levels Affect You Trip

The researchers found that psilocybin caused changes in glutamate levels in various brain regions, which determines what the experience will be like. Glutamate (for those like us, who are not neuroscientists!) is the most abundant neurotransmitter in the brain, that performs an important role in learning and memory function. 

The researchers found that if higher levels of glutamate in the medial prefrontal cortex were present, anxious ego dissolution (i.e. a scary experience of disconnection) was more likely. They were also able to link lower levels of glutamate in the hippocampus to positive ego dissolution (i.e. a profound experience of interconnectedness with everything). Athough it must be stated that a true “Ego Death” experience usually only happens through very high doses of psilocybin, and is more commonly associated with stronger psychedelics like DMT.

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Ego dissolution (or ego death) is thought to happen when temporary disconnection between the default mode network and the medial temporal lobe stops you from accessing your autobiographical information, your sense of identity etc. Without access to this self-data, your identity dissolves. This can cause the transcendental feeling of unity and oneness that ego death is famed for; or it can cause anxiety and confusion. However, the paradox is that psychedelics can offer relief from anxiety whether you have a positive or negative experience. 

Researchers also discovered that this increase in glutamate activity enhanced neuroplasticity, which can in turn help to rewire the brain, creating the opportunity for healing.

How Neurotic Personality Traits Affect Your Trip

A study by researchers at King’s College London‘s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience identified that neuroticism plays a role when predicting whether people’s psychedelic experience will be positive (with mystical elements) or challenging. According to the study results, those with higher levels of neuroticism self-report having more intense and difficult psychedelic experiences. This could be due to the fact that people with high levels of neurotic personality traits tend to experience negative emotions more frequently and with greater intensity. People with these traits can often have thoughts and feelings that are difficult to characterize and express, which can be intensified by the psychedelic experience, and result in highly challenging experiences.

How Age Can Affect Your Trip

In the same study from King’s College London, age was found to be negatively correlated with how likely a person is to have a challenging experience. This suggests that older people tend to have calmer and more enjoyable psychedelic experiences than younger people, who may be more prone to anxiety.

The researchers suggested that this result “…likely reflects the influence of psychological or biological factors associated with increasing age, such as the development of better coping skills for negative or challenging experience, rather than age itself.”

We’re Sensitive creatures

Humans are inherently attuned to social cues and emotional dynamics, and psychedelics can amplify this sensitivity, making individuals more susceptible to the energies and emotions of those around them. Even subtle cues, gestures, or shifts in energy within the group can be magnified, potentially contributing to the onset or exacerbation of anxiety. In states of heightened consciousness, the boundaries between self and others may blur, and individuals may find themselves deeply affected by the emotional states of their fellow journeyers, passers by, or even people who aren’t around, but you know are going through a tough time. We’re just that sensitive!

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Identifying and Combating Anxiety Triggers During a Psilocybin Trip

Identifying Triggers

Although scientific study can help us to understand the whys and wherefores about shrooms and anxiety — what we all really wanna know is — how does one prevent it from happening in the first place?

Some Anxiety Triggers Include:

  • Your chosen dosage
  • Mindset
  • Environment
  • The people around you (or not)

How To Combat Anxiety Triggers

Take a Sensible Dose

Educating and preparing yourself before a trip is essential for beginners. This means sensibly working out what dosage is best for you to consume. Without proper research or if you are influenced by bad advice from friends or internet forums, you may accidentally take a dose that is higher than you wanted. To be taken by surprise by the intensity of the experience can trigger anxiety, if you do not feel sufficiently prepared. 

Our dosage chart for all your referencing needs!

Prepare Your Set and Setting

Set and Setting, the concept introduced by Timothy Leary in his 1964 book The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead is a key tool for managing your trip. Your Set and Setting refer to the internal and external factors that can influence a psychedelic trip. You should prepare these prior to taking the psychedelic plunge. 

What is your ‘set’?

Your set is the mental state you are in when you plan to take a psychedelic. This can define how your trip will go before you’ve even taken any substances. You should be in a good place mentally; calm, centered, and open to the experience. If you are going through a hard time emotionally or spiritually, you should always reschedule for a time where you feel better. 

Top tips to set up your ‘set’:
  • Define, and then reflect upon, your intentions for the trip.
  • Practice yoga, meditation, or mindfulness (or a combination of all)
  • Educate yourself and learn about the psychedelic experience
What is your ‘setting’?

Your setting is the environment you will choose to take your psychedelic journey in. It should be a place that is familiar and makes you feel safe, such as your bedroom. Many experienced psychonauts like to trip in nature. Being around trees, plants, birds, earth, and moving water brings feelings of connection and releases anxiety. As long as you feel confident that you are happy to stay there once your trip begins, then this can be your setting. 

Plan your trip during a time where you have no pressing responsibilities.

Consider The People Around You

Do you want people around you during your magic mushroom trip? Some people love to trip alone, finding that it deepens and intensifies their experience. However, others prefer to ask a friend to act as a ‘trip sitter’. (We recommend the second course of action if this is your first psychedelic trip.) Your trip sitter must be someone you feel comfortable enough to be vulnerable with. Their job is to be like the ‘designated driver’ of your trip — to hold space for you without intervening. They should only provide guidance if you ask for it. 

Try the Lemon Tek Method

Sometimes, anxiety throughout a trip can be caused by nausea during the come up, starting it off on a bad footing. Because of this many psychonauts prefer the Lemon Tek method. This method of consuming your psilocybin consists of chopping up your mushrooms or truffles into teen-tiny chunks and soaking them in lemon juice for 30/40 minutes. The lemon juice starts to digest the psilocybin into psilocin, cutting down the come up process dramatically. Be warned this method may also make your trip more intense — another reason it is so popular with experienced shroom fans! Follow our step-by-step guide to make the perfect Lemon Tek.

Go With the Flow

Sometimes a bit of anxiety is unavoidable. However, research has shown that even challenging trips can have profound positive experiences on people’s psyches going forward. Being able to be in moment and let go — to sit in the passenger seat while the shrooms take the wheel — can help the whole experience to unfold more smoothly. No trip lasts forever; but learning from the experience may benefit you for a long time.