The psychedelic experience can be downright tantalizing for the unprepared folk. While most trips can lead to profound feelings of interconnectedness and life-changing introspective or philosophical insights, without preparation, some people may increase their chances of a tantalizing bad trip. One way to reduce the possibility of a challenging trip is to get an introduction of Timothy Leary's five levels of the psychedelic experience.

The psychonaut community is growing and so is the general acceptance that psychedelics hold a therapeutic potential for the treatment of many neurodegenerative diseases and mood disorders. Studies, some small in size, some with larger sample populations are releasing positive data suggesting that these mind-manifesting substances may be useful tools to treat depression, anxiety, trauma and so on, but not everyone is able to get a golden ticket to a psychedelic clinical trial nor are they willing to wait for FDA approval.

Many individuals suffering from debilitating diseases are seeking to self-medicate. As such, they will either resort to booking a ticket to legal psychedelic retreats, or reserving a session at a legal psilocybin center. Needless to say, the legal options available could cost an arm and a leg,  making the cost of psychedelic therapy totally inaccessible for those on lower incomes. Of course, with psychedelic dispensaries popping left and right in North America, anyone willing to dip their toes in the gray market can get a hold of some shrooms for less than $20 and decide to trip in the comfort of their own home or in nature.

The problem is that there is quite a bit of misinformation surrounding psychedelics.  Unprepared or inexperienced folks may end up facing the unpleasant and daunting reality of a “bad trip”  simply because they did not know how to prepare for their journey or what to expect when they reach the peak of their psychedelic experience. Being prepared ahead of time is key to a pleasant and life-changing journey into one’s psyche. To help you prepare for your first few psychedelic experiences, depending on the substance and the dose you decide to take, we decided to create a brief introduction on how to prepare for your psychedelic journey and recap Timothy Leary’s five levels concept, developed from The Tibetan Book of the Dead. 

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Preparing your psychedelic journey

Before even considering taking shrooms, LSD, ayahuasca, or any other mind-altering substances, it’s important to know that one does not simply take psychedelics – there are a few easy harm-reduction practices that anyone can do before blasting off through space and time. 

Read also: How to Prepare for Your First Psychedelic Trip in 5 Easy Steps

ALWAYS. TEST. YOUR. DRUGS.

How to Test Psychedelics for Adulterants with Testing Kits
How to Test Psychedelics for Adulterants with Testing Kits

First, it is good practice to make sure that your psychedelic substance is not contaminated. There are multiple tests available for those planning on dabbling with any illegally purchased drugs. Testing kits to screen different types of psychedelic drugs, including LSD, MDMA, and ketamine are easily available to anyone willing to purchase them and Psychedelic Spotlight has prepared a comprehensive guide to inspecting psychedelics using testing kits you can find here

Plan your set and setting

Using Ibogaine for Personal Growth

There is a plethora of reports of people taking shrooms or LSD while intoxicated at a party. Evidently, taking a tryptamine while inebriated and surrounded by strangers can lead to a bad trip. This is why optimizing you set and setting before your trip is crucial. Set refers to your mindset, and setting your physical surroundings.  If you’re aiming to experience profound feelings of interconnectedness as many studies have described and reach ego dissolution in a pleasant way, you must prepare your mind and physical surroundings. 

In the two weeks before your psychedelic journey, you want to focus on preparing your mind and body and reflecting on your goals. Incorporating mediation in your daily routine and reflecting on your intentions behind taking a psychedelic will ensure that your head space is in the right place.  You should also meditate and journal on the day of your psychedelic journey.

As for the setting, it is extremely important that you are in a safe, familiar and comfortable environment. This can be in your living room, in nature, and so on. If you choose to remain in the comfort or your own home, your space should be uncluttered and clean and you should have easy access to water and a washroom.  It is also suggested to play calming but expansive music, and to have your journal nearby to record any thoughts or emotions that may arise during your trip. It is also crucial that you are in the company of someone you trust. Oftentimes, psychonauts refer to these individuals are trip sitters or psychedelic facilitators. When under the influence of a psychedelic, your levels vulnerability will increase, and if you don’t completely trust the person in your immediate environment, you may become inadvertently anxious.

Prepare your body

what foods to eat before a psychedelic trip

Although preparing your mental state for a psychedelic trip is a crucial step for a successful journey into other states of consciousness, it is also important to consider what you eat before, during, and after your experience. Eating light and healthy meals will ensure that you don't experience any digestive discomfort or indigestion during your trip, which is why it is essential to avoid processed foodsjunk food, and greasy meals that may cause inflammation in the gut.

Psychedelics like psilocybin, ayahuasca and LSD can deplete the body’s nutrient stores — especially if you’re navigating some intense feelings and stress. To avoid feeling sick during your psychedelic experience, it is essential to make sure you don't run low on critical vitamins and minerals. Certain natural supplements like vitamin D rich foods, omega 3 sources, folate and magnesium rich foods,  and prebiotics and probiotics can enhance the psychedelic experience and reduce potential side effects such as anxiety and the comedown.

Read also: A Guide to Your Diet Before, During, and After Your Psychedelic Experience

Timothy Leary and the 5 levels of Psychedelic Experience

Timoty Leary and the 5 levels of psychedelic experience
Photo source: Shutterstock

Timothy Leary, a psychologist and psychonaut hailing from the US, dedicated himself to the exploration of psilocybin and LSD and their potential psychiatric applications while they were still legal. Throughout his life, he passionately advocated for the myriad of benefits these psychedelic substances could offer. Through his personal experiences with mind-altering drugs, he developed a profound philosophy centered around expanding the boundaries of human consciousness. In his influential work, “The Psychedelic Experience,” Leary skillfully intertwines ancient Tibetan wisdom, drawing from “The Tibetan Book of the Dead,” to address the profound questions of consciousness and reality that arise from the use of these substances.

The psychedelic experience encompasses five distinctive levels, spanning from subtle sensations to immersive hallucinations. These levels serve as a valuable guide in understanding what to expect during a psychedelic journey. However, it's important to acknowledge that these levels are not rigidly defined, and one can seamlessly transition between them. They provide a framework for managing expectations but should never be approached with a fixed mindset, such as anticipating a specific level three encounter. The true beauty of a trip lies in its ability to surprise and profoundly impact us when least expected.

Note about dosage

Before we dive into the levels of psychedelic experience, it's important to note that there are different factors that may affect your level of altered states such as: substance, contamination, dose, body weight, drug sensitivity, and so on. When it comes to dose levels, a low dose of LSD constitutes 15-50ug, an average, a regular sized dose is around 100-200ug, and a high dose can be anything above 250ug. One must know that since LSD is unregulated, the potency of the purchased tabs can vary. If you take a regular to large dose of LSD, the experience can last 8+ hours, and will start about an hour after ingestion.

For psilocybin mushrooms, what constitutes a low to medium-sized dose is approximately 1.0-1.5 grams, a regular or moderate dose is around 2.0-3.5 grams, and a large dose, also known as mega dose, is anything north of 3.5 grams. If you take a regular to large dose of magic mushrooms, the trip will typically last between 4-6 hours, with the effects beginning to take place between 30 minutes to an hour after ingestion.

Level 1 Psychedelic Experience

Level 1 Psychedelic Experience
Level 1 Psychedelic Experience

The level 1 psychedelic experience is very subtle and often feels very comfortable.  Many refer to it as the level where you dip your toes in the psychedelic water, testing the temperature without real commitment. If you’re expecting any life-changing psychedelic effects – you’ll probably be left disappointed.

Level 1 Effects:

  • Light synesthesia (cross-sensory perception)
  • Enhanced colors
  • Mindfulness, presence, and peace
  • Slightly elevated emotions
  • Enhanced senses
  • Slightly heightened awareness ( especially when you listen to music)

Level one drugs: cannabis, mini dose of psilocybin or LSD

Level 2 Psychedelic Experience

5 levels of psychedelic experience
Level 2 psychedelic experience

At this level, you slowly begin to submerge in the psychedelic waters. This it the time when perceptual changes will become noticeable. The sense of “self” is intact, however,  you will begin to notice a lifting of the veil that separates the physical and the spiritual. This is usually the stage where you begin feeling more connected to the world and to nature.

Level 2 Effects:

  • Visual effects: Warping, breathing, geometric shapes (mandalas),  slight kaleidoscopic visions
  • Significantly amplified emotional responses. This is correct for both extremes. Joy may turn into euphoria but sadness can turn into profound despair. This is why the concept of preparation, set and setting is so important in what is now referred to as psychedelic therapy”.

As mentioned above, to avoid the beginning of a bad trip, it is useful to practice meditation, yoga and breathing exercises at least for a week before your journey into the psychedelic world. This can help you learn how to change your focus from something you may find disturbing to something more pleasant, interesting or enjoyable. This is where a healthy mindset plays a vital role in your pre-trip preparation. 

Read also: How to Navigate a Challenging Trip

Level two psychedelic drugs: light doses of psilocybin or LSD, light doses of peyote.

Level 3 Psychedelic Experience

Level 4 psychedelic experience
Level 3 psychedelic experience

The level three psychedelic experience is what many define as the point where one is “tripping”. This level is what many study subjects or psychonauts recognize as a “life-changing experience” and your perception of reality is fundamentally changed as you begin to have more profound realizations about yourself and about the world around you. One common realization is the existence of a clear distinction between the physical and spiritual realms, prompting a profound sense of interconnectedness to take place.

Level 3 Effects:

  • Fractals, tracers, strong visual hallucinations
  • Profound thoughts of the “self” and the universe
  • Thought loops
  • Increased empathy
  • Conversational fluidity
  • Altered perception of sound
  • High sensitivity to physical stimuli
  • Light visuals and auditory disorder
  • Uncontrollable laughter
  • Open- and closed-eye visuals (e.g. patterns, auras)

Level three psychedelic drugs:

Regular doses of psilocybin

Read also: The Beginner's Guide to Psilocybin Mushrooms

  • Regular doses of LSD

Read also: How to Take LSD: A Beginner's Guide

Read also: Everything You Need to Know About Peyote

  • Regular doses of “the 2Cs”, low–medium doses of Salvia divinorum
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Level 4 Psychedelic Experience

level 4 psychedelic experience
Image generated by Ai By Sara Phinn

The level four psychedelic experience is when you are submerged into the psychedelic world.  Many psychonauts refer to this state of altered consciousness as “the no turning back point”.  You begin shedding certain levels of the “self” or the ego. This is where perspectives of life as we know it often change. At this level,  it is crucial to emphasize that without a healthy mindset and a proper setting, you may descend into a more chaotic experience. Having “trip-sitters” or people you trust around you may be beneficial as they can help you navigate challenging situations by shifting your perspective or by lending you an ear.

Read also: Trip Dos and Don'ts: What to Avoid During Your Psychedelic Experience

Level 4 Effects:

  • Powerful, otherworldly visuals
  • High-level hallucinations
  • Dissolution of reality
  • Deep introspection and unity with the universe
  • Powerful OBEs
  • Amplification of emotions, whether good or bad
  • Fear and anxiety (“bad trip” experiences)
  • Life-changing introspective or philosophical insights
  • Contact with spiritual entities, Gods or aliens

Level four psychedelic drugs:

  • High doses of psilocybin
  • High doses of LSD
  • Ayahuasca & DMT
  • High doses of peyote, the 2Cs, and salvia

It is important to note that at such profound levels of the psychedelic experience, it is recommended to “integrate” the lessons learned post-journey. In the last decade of psychedelic clinical trials, an important concept has become a popular topic of discussion – that is psychedelic integration. Psychedelic integration is understood as such a crucial part of psychedelic therapy for those using these substances to heal deeply rooted trauma, break free from depression or addictions, or even for the regular psychonaut. Integration has become accepted as such a crucial component of the post-psychedelic experience that it has even become a profession. The main goal of integration therapy is to help one integrate the insights, emotions, and new perspectives gained from the experiences of altered states of consciousness, with the aim of fostering lasting positive changes in mental, emotional, and behavioral patterns. Those interested in further exploring the lessons learned under altered-states of consciousness can easily find psychedelic integration specialists through our PSPACE one-on-one integration coach program by simply filling out the form here.

To learn more about psychedelic integration, you may read: Why Psychedelic Integration Therapy Is Important to Maximize the Benefits of Your Trip

Level 5 Psychedelic Experience

the 5th level of psychedelic experience
Level 5 psychedelic experience | Photo Source: Knowingless

The level five psychedelic experience is often described as the point when one reaches a non-human transcendent state of consciousness. It is the stage of complete ego death or ego dissolution where reality becomes but a faint memory. To some, this detachment of the ego may even feel like they are physically experiencing death. In this stage, people describe going into ineffable planes of existence and any attempt to put into words this level of consciousness is frequently met with challenges and often results in failure.

Read also: What is Ego Death and How Does it Work?

Level 5 Effects:

  • Mystical experience and intense feelings of wonder
  • Life-changing introspective or philosophical insights
  • Ego death
  • Very strong open- and closed-eye visions (e.g. memories coming to life)
  • Synesthesia
  • Time becoming meaningless
  • Disorientation
  • Compromised motor functions (sitter recommended!)
  • Strong fear and anxiety (extreme “bad trip” experiences)
  • Extreme difficulty with cognitive tasks
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Strangely sober, rational mental state

Level four psychedelic drugs:

  • DMT, 5-meo-DMT, ayahuasca
  • Mega doses of psilocybin
  • Extremely high doses of other psychedelic drugs

Final Thoughts

Sometimes integrating your psychedelic experience can be difficult, especially if the insights you gained were hard ones to swallow, such as the need to forgive, either others or yourself. Oftentimes, people can hide from these lessons and even put a conscious effort to ignore them. It is important to know that it is okay to be vulnerable in these scenarios, and be willing to break down, cry, and feel.

Self-improvement and integration is an ongoing journey, rather than a singular moment. The practice of integration can span days, weeks, months, or even years. However, in the end, the transformation you'll experience will make you a more refined individual.

Disclaimer:  Psychedelic Spotlight does not condone the use of illegal substances. The purpose of this article is for educational and harm reduction purposes only. If you suffer from a medical or mental condition, please consult with your doctor before taking any substance.

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