Scientists have a new tool to investigate ‘bad trips’ on psychedelic drugs

With more research being conducted on psychedelic drugs, scientists are seeking to improve the tools used to gather data. To this end, researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine have created a new survey to investigate adverse psychological reactions to classic hallucinogens like LSD and psilocybin-containing “magic” mushrooms.

“With the recognition of the importance of set (participant psychological state) and setting (interpersonal and physical environment), acute adverse effects of psychedelics may generally be minimized and successfully managed in research contexts,” the researchers, led by Frederick S. Barrett, wrote in their study. “However, challenging experiences can still occur in the presence of substantially controlled and supportive conditions.”

The researchers first used data from a previous study on “bad trips” to construct and validate the Challenging Experience Questionnaire (CEQ). The questionnaire asks participants to recall the entirety of a psychedelic session and rate on a five-point scale the degree “to which at any time during that session you experienced the following phenomena.” The CEQ lists 26 adverse phenomena, including items such as “Experience of fear” and “I had the profound experience of my own death.”

The researchers then administered the CEQ to 981 participants who had used psilocybin, and were able to successfully replicate the findings from the previous study on “bad trips.”

“The CEQ as validated in this article may serve as a valuable tool for characterizing psychologically difficult aspects of experiences occasioned by psilocybin and, very likely, by other classic hallucinogens. Better understanding of challenging experiences with classic hallucinogens may increase the precision of our understanding of both the psychological nature of and neural mechanisms underlying the effects of these drugs,” Barrett and his colleagues concluded.

The study, “The Challenging Experience Questionnaire: Characterization of challenging experiences with psilocybin mushrooms“, was published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology. In addition to Barrett, the study was co-authored by Matthew P Bradstreet, Jeannie-Marie S Leoutsakos, Matthew W Johnson and Roland R Griffiths.