How to Prepare for Your First Psychedelic Experience

Deciding to participate in a healing ceremony with a plant medicine or other psychedelic substance is a profound and personal decision -- and one not made lightly.

This article assumes you have already done the due diligence and medical checking to see if you are mentally and physically able and ready to begin your healing journey.

What follows is a discussion of the five major phases of a psychedelic healing journey. Note: everyone's experience with psychedelics is different.

Decide on the Medicine and Proper Dosage

Multiple medicines are "available" for use in a healing ceremony, but few are allowed to be used openly in counseling or other situations -- and only under certain conditions.

Including the underground marketplace, there are a variety of options for psychedelic medicines:

  • Psilocybin -- the ingredient in Magic Mushrooms (of which there are many varieties). You can harvest and dry the mushrooms themselves or find them online in powder, capsule, and chocolate products. Effects last about 4-5 hours.

  • Ketamine -- this product was developed as an anesthesia for surgery, but in subanesthetic doses, it induces profound psychedelic experiences and hallucinations. Effects last about 20 minutes to 1 hour.

  • LSD -- Lysergic acid diethylamide -- a synthetic chemical made from a substance found in ergot (a fungus that infects rye). Effects typically include intensified thoughts, emotions, and sensory perception. Effects last about 10-12 hours.

  • DMT -- N, N-dimethyltryptamine -- the "spirit molecule" is a hallucinogenic tryptamine drug. Interestingly, DMT is produced endogenously (naturally in the body, in the pineal gland in the brain). Effects last about 45 minutes when smoked.

  • Ayahuasca -- a psychoactive brew developed by indigenous tribes in South America, produced from parts of the Psychotria viridis shrub and Banisteriopsis caapi vine. Effects last about 4-5 hours.

  • Mescaline -- 3,4,5-trimethoxyphenethylamine -- is a naturally occurring psychedelic protoalkaloid found in some cacti native to the southwest United States, Mexico, and South America, including the peyote cactus, the San Pedro cactus, and the Peruvian Torch cactus. Effects last about 10-12 hours.

  • MDMA -- 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine -- a synthetic chemical that acts as both a stimulant and psychedelic, producing an energizing effect, distortions in time and perception, and enhanced enjoyment of tactile experiences. Effects last about 4-6 hours.

Depending on the medicine, dosage will either be controlled by you or a facilitator. If you are consuming something like psilocybin, you can research dosages online. For your first experience, it's best to start on the lower end to see how you will handle the effects. Once you have experienced your first journey, you can decide how to handle the dosage of future experiences.


Some experts say you can simply "do" a psychedelic experience, but it's best if you prepare for the journey -- both mentally and physically.

Regardless of the medicine used, people should make a plan to restrict certain foods, people, and experiences (such as exposure to media, social media) at least a week prior to the ceremony -- and, ideally, for several weeks.

  • Diet: it's best to eat cleanly -- which means eliminating fast foods, processed foods, sugar, salt, heavy creams/sauces, and most meats. Eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and grains, and some limited pasture-raised eggs, wild-caught fish, and farm-raised chicken. Consume organic and sustainably raised foods and meats -- not factory foods. Eliminate alcohol, cannabis, recreational drugs.

  • People: take a break from toxic people in your life; focus on relationships with loved ones and others who truly matter to you.

  • Experiences: remove yourself from negative situations, discussions, etc. Again, focus your time and energy on positive things and self-improvement.

  • Screen Time: take a break from social media, news sites, and any other distractions and potentially negative encounters.

Set & Setting

This section refers to two important aspects of your journey.

Set refers to mindset -- what you want to accomplish with the medicine -- your intentions. Yes, one can ingest any of these medicines for recreational purposes, for the fun of seeing crazy colors and geometric patterns, but the real work comes from taking the medicine seriously, and you do so by setting an intention.

An intention is an aspect of what you would like to learn from the medicine -- or healing you want from the medicine. An intention helps you stay focused on a goal, even though the medicine may lead you down a completely different path. Your intention should be something easy to remember so it can serve as a mantra for you as you start your journey.

Some examples of intentions:

  • Show me what I am afraid to see about myself

  • Help me become a more loving person to myself and others

  • Help me process the trauma from being abused

  • Show me how to heal myself

  • Give me the courage to change my life

  • Teach me how to love myself

  • Help me surrender completely to the medicine

William Richards, Ph.D., a psychologist and research affiliate at Johns Hopkins University, offers this affirmation for those entering into a psychedelic trip: "let go, be open, trust the process."

Setting deals with where, when, and how you plan to have your journey. Some things to think about:

  • Location: Use a safe and comfy location. I have used my bed, sofa, and lounger on my deck. Have pillows and blankets nearby, and easy access to a toilet.

  • Music: Create a playlist of favorite soothing/uplifting music. Music really enhances these experiences. (See more here: Listen to 5 scientifically-approved playlists for psychedelic therapy)

  • Light: Some people use eye masks to block out stimuli, but I just close my eyes -- so I can open them anytime I need to readjust my reality.

  • Clothing: Cozy clothing, with layers, works best as the medicine can affect your extremities.

  • Trip sitter: Especially for a first time, having a sober partner/friend/professional there to help you with the visions and journey can help alleviate challenging aspects of the experience.

The Journey

Depending on the medicine and the dosage (and whether you decide to take a booster dose), the psychedelic journey can last from about an hour to 12 hours. Please do your research on dosages and timing as you plan your work with these medicines.

Obviously, if you are at a retreat center, the facilitators should work with you on expectations about the medicine and about the timing of your journey.

It's almost impossible to describe what you may experience with your psychedelic experience. Yes, there are likely to be visual and auditory distortions and hallucinations, but as you delve deeper into the journey (especially with higher dosages), you may experience time travel, space travel, or deep insights into your past and/or future.

On a side note, expect to have some sort of purging experiences with these medicines -- the process of eliminating energy, emotions, and trauma from the body -- whether via traditional bodily experiences (vomiting and defecation, especially with ayahuasca) or other purging, such as laughing, crying, shaking, sweating, and hacking.

Final tip: As best you can, remember to completely surrender to the medicine to receive its full effects. It may be hard on your first journey, but surrendering to the medicine opens up its effects.


Perhaps the most important part of your psychedelic experience is not the medicine itself, but what comes afterward with integration. Integration helps take the experiences you had with the medicine and apply them to your life moving forward.

Sometimes the lessons you are supposed to learn are brought out during the ceremony; others take reflection and time to come together into something meaningful.

Integration can be painful -- intense/confusing realizations, acceptance, difficult/painful changes... but integration should be for the good -- for leaving behind trauma and negative experiences and beginning anew.

In some cases, integration is like a blooming flower, and as the petals open over time, the depth of your understanding, healing, and growth expands exponentially.

The key thing to remember is integration is a process... which can take weeks or months... and, really, a lifetime.

Final Thoughts About Your First Psychedelic Experience

One suggestion you should start as soon as you are contemplating consuming one of these medicines is keeping a journal -- of your thoughts, dreams, intentions, hopes, fears, etc. The more you can write leading up to, during, and after the ceremony, the better. It's amazing how quickly the brain starts forgetting some of the details of your experiences.

Finally, remember to keep safety your highest priority. Take the time to do your research, consult with experts, and go into the psychedelic experience knowing you are in a safe place.

For Learning More About Psychedelics From Dr. Randall

Additional Psychedelic Resources

Dr. Randall Hansen is an advocate, educator, mentor, ethicist, and thought-leader... helping the world heal from past trauma. He is founder and CEO of, a network of empowering and transformative Websites, including

He is the author of the groundbreaking Triumph Over Trauma: Psychedelic Medicines are Helping People Heal Their Trauma, Change Their Lives, and Grow Their Spirituality and the well-received HEAL! Wholeistic Practices to Help Clear Your Trauma, Heal Yourself, and Live Your Best Life.

Dr. Hansen's focus and advocacy center around true healing ... healing that results in being able to live an authentic life filled with peace, joy, love. Learn more by visiting his personal Website, You can also check out Dr. Randall Hansen on LinkedIn.