Before doing 5 MEO DMT, a hallucinogen made from the venom of the Sonoran Desert toad, people told me it was the most powerful psychedelic of all, one that would take me to another dimension. So, after three doses, I was surprised to stay firmly on the ground, talking through the problems in my life.
5 MEO DMT still gave me valuable insights and a feeling of inner peace and euphoria, but some people experience even less with psychedelics. Hannah, 27, didn’t feel anything when she took magic mushrooms. Zoe, 23, once tripped on acid at a festival and saw nothing but “some lights dancing and some shadows” for 10 minutes. Bianca, 27, has taken LSD a few times, and they’ve all been very subtle. “If I focused on one thing for a long time, it would start to get wavy and glisten a little. And I was so, so giggly,” she says. “But that’s pretty much it.”
While most things you hear about psychedelics, both good and bad, focus on how intense their effects can be, some people feel very little or nothing. This can happen for a variety of reasons, ranging from the physical to the psychological.
What’s Inhibiting Your Trip?
One reason is painfully obvious: If you’re not feeling the effects of a drug, you may not be taking enough to do so. “A lot of newcomers are appropriately concerned about the dose, so they take a low dose, and it’s not enough for them,” says James Giordano, professor of neurology and biochemistry at Georgetown University Medical Center.
The other obvious factor has to do with other substances in someone’s system. Antidepressants called SSRIs will blunt the effects of psychedelics, says Giordano. That’s what Hannah was on when she took mushrooms. SSRIs, as well as benzodiazepines, affect both your nervous system and the enzymes that process psychedelics, says Giordano. This can make trips shorter and less intense and also make the effects come on later.
Then, there are innate differences in how people metabolize drugs. “You can share the drug, but you can’t share the trip,” says Giordano. “My trip can be very different from your trip on the exact same dose of the exact same drug under the exact same circumstances.” Or, as he tells his med students, “The devils and the deities live in the details of the structural and functional connections of our brains. That’s why these experiences can activate different nodes and patterns in different people to produce different effects.”
This is especially true for DMT-based psychedelics like ayahuasca and 5 MEO DMT. “A lot of what people describe with DMT effects — dimensional deportation and reaching an enlightened state — those really vary,” says Giordano. “Some people just get kind of chill, some people get multi-sensory hallucinations, and some have this profound spiritual experience, but that’s not uniform.”
Those who approach psychedelics from a spiritual perspective see deeper reasons why some appear unaffected by them. Tricia Eastman, who runs retreats with iboga, magic mushrooms, and 5 MEO DMT, says the mind sometimes blocks psychedelics’ effects because someone’s ego doesn’t want to go where the substance may lead them. People who are highly intellectual or who have histories of trauma are often more prone to this, she says.
Zoe thinks this kind of self-protection may have to do with what happened to her when she didn’t feel the acid. “I wasn’t at ease like the times I tried it before,” she says. “I was in a public place with people I [didn’t] know.”
Giordano, however, is skeptical that someone’s mind can really block the effects of a psychedelic. “Those drugs are pretty strong,” he says. “I really don’t know many instances that I’ve ever heard of clinically where somebody says, ‘I’ve been able to think myself out of it.’”
Another thing that can blunt the psychological effects of a psychedelic, in Eastman’s view, is the person’s intention. For example, if someone goes into a shamanic ceremony with the intention of physical healing, they may not get visions because the substance is working on their body.
Whatever the reason you’re not feeling a psychedelic, taking more in an attempt to bring on an effect can be risky — the trip can be more intense and last longer once it finally hits, says Giordano. You also may want to reconsider what counts as “feeling it.”
“Medicines are here to clean you, to align you, it’s meant for purification, or sometimes just a deeper understanding of self,” says Eastman. “That doesn’t necessarily come from visions. Sometimes, the visions can be a distraction, and if someone goes in with this attachment — ‘I have to have this experience, and I hear you’re going to see a white man in a robe with a beard and all this stuff’ and they’re expecting to see that, then they don’t see it and they’re disappointed, and they miss out on a huge part of the experience because they have this attachment.”
So, she recommends that journeyers keep an open mind and understand the drug may not affect them in the way they expect, but it’s still doing something. “The medicine wants you to completely let go and go on a journey.”