Have you ever noticed that the same dose of the same drug can make you feel completely different depending on how you’re feeling?
For Mental Health Awareness Week, we talked to Phil Glaser, one of the team behind The Level, about how your state of mind has a bigger impact on your trip than you might think.
What should people consider about their state of mind before taking drugs?
My first bit of advice would be – it’s always worth taking a moment to check in and think about how you’ve been feeling lately.
For lots of people, taking drugs can be exciting, or it can feel like a good way to cope with everything going on. But regardless, it’s important to check where your mind is at and if now is the best time to be taking drugs.
How can someone's mental health change how drugs affect them?
If someone's feeling anxious, depressed, or paranoid, many drugs can make that worse or more intense.
And if you are on medication, it’s definitely a good idea to talk to your doctor or psychiatrist about if they will mix badly with certain drugs.
It’s worth drawing on your own past experiences. If you know that weed tends to make you more paranoid, or make your anxiety worse, then it’s probably best to avoid it, especially if you’ve been feeling more anxious lately.
Of course, lots of things factor into how you’re feeling mentally, including where you are and who you’re with. That's why I always say pick some good people and a positive environment if you're going to use drugs. Doing acid with strangers at a club is probably going to make it a lot harder to stay in a mentally good place, compared with if you were at a friend’s house with people you know and trust.
Also think about how you are taking the drugs. If you haven't been in a great place mentally lately but really want to use, taking less and not mixing drugs can help make sure you don't put yourself in a worse place. Even if you're planning on using drugs to escape everything for a moment, it’s still worth trying to think about how you feel afterwards. Is the comedown or hangover afterwards worth the positive effects you get when you take it?
It can be hard to really check in with how you're doing sometimes. Some people may feel fine, but then feel mentally distressed or anxious once they've taken drugs. What tips do you have for people in that situation?
First of all, remind yourself that feeling those things is normal.
I have spoken to many people that talk about having panic attacks while smoking weed or feeling anxious and not wanting to tell their friends. In an ideal world, if you're smoking with supportive people, you should be able to tell them that you are feeling anxious and get some support.
If you are at a festival and feeling that mental distress, don’t hesitate to access the support they offer. They may have chill out zones, or crowd care people that can talk to you and help you calm down. It's also okay to speak to the medical staff, you won't get in trouble.
And for quick things you can do for yourself, here’s an easy breathing exercise:
Take a deep breath in for 4 seconds, hold for 3 seconds and breath out slowly for 7 seconds. Repeat this over and over until you feel better.
And an easy mindfulness exercise that I do for myself all the time is:
Look around the room:
- Choose 5 things you can see. Focus on their shape, colour and texture.
- Choose 4 things you can feel (e.g. feet on the ground, back against your chair). Focus on how it feels.
- Choose 3 things you can hear. Focus on distant sounds that you hadn't noticed before.
- Choose 2 things you can smell.
- Take one deep breath
And of course, if you aren't feeling mentally well while you’re taking drugs, don't take more and definitely avoid mixing with alcohol and other drugs. I know it can be hard to not take something that you've paid a lot of money for or gone through a lot of trouble to sneak into an event, but future you will be thankful!
For this story we also spoke to a few people about their own experiences balancing mental health and drugs.
"The positive experiences I've had taking drugs have been when I am in a good mental place, I am surrounded by good people and In a place I am most comfortable" - Male, 20s
"I was in the mosh pit at a festival. My heart was beating so fast and I was breathing so heavily. I thought I was just hyped up on the MD. When the band stopped playing, I realised that it was still hard to breathe, and my heart was going scarily fast. I walked around the festival for hours, uncomfortable and pretty scared but not understanding what was happening. I wish I had just gone to the medical tent. They would have told me I'm not having a heart attack or dying, which would have calmed me down instantly.” - Male, 20s
"I just straight won't take acid when I'm not in a good place [mentally] anymore. It sends me down a real spiral..." - Female, 20s
"I was smoking weed daily and it really slowed me down - and it made my lack of motivation worse when I was down. I didn't realize how much time and energy I invested. Moderation and self-awareness is (key emoji) - Male, 30s
"If I do smoke weed when I'm in a rough patch mentally I try to be super mindful of how I am using to make sure that I'm not escalating or just doing it to feel good" - Person in their 20s
"I've kinda avoided using [drugs] often because I have a family history of addiction and mental health. So yeah, I'd recommend people think about that as well before using"- Male, 30s
"If you're on meds for your mental health just please check the interactions before you use any drugs" - Person in their 20s
Otago University researched ranked 23 drugs by they harm they cause to individuals and communities. Here's the results.
We talk to a psychotherapist about looking after your mental health during and after a psychedelic trip, and how to make sense of your experience.