Don’t Look in the Mirror – the Truth about Psychedelics and Reflections  

Have you guys ever seen the film Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics on Netflix? Although it came out in 2020, it somehow managed to slip under my radar. It’s a somewhat dramatized documentary with a handful of celebrities describing their experiences with psychedelics using story-telling, reenacting, and animations to bring life to their accounts. While I enjoyed the light-hearted nature of the movie, overall, the celebrities’ stories were shallow and cliched, reading like something out of a Hunter S. Thompson Novel.

One thing all the celebrities emphasized, was “don’t look in the mirror”, while on psychedelics. I’ve been told this before when I was in my teens and first started experimenting with hallucinogens, but never really gave it too much thought. The idea is that your face will morph and distort into something that could be possibly terrifying, sending you into a traumatic bad trip. But how much truth is there to this warning, or is it just an urban legend?

Tripping on psychedelics 

A psychedelic experience is a temporary altered state of consciousness induced by the consumption of a psychedelic substance. For example, an acid trip is a psychedelic experience brought on by the use of LSD, while a mushroom trip is a psychedelic experience brought on by the use of psilocybin.  

That’s a very basic definition of it, but what actually happens when you’re tripping? From a scientific standpoint, our brains react in a similar way when we trip, regardless of what the substance in question is. Typically, neuroscientists and other experts in the field use the term to describe substances that bind to the serotonin 2A (5-HT2A) receptor; although there are a few other mechanisms through which these drugs can work. The other ways that psychedelic drugs can make us hallucinate is by activation of dopamine D2 receptors (usually happens when using psychostimulants like ecstasy) or by blocking glutamate NDMA receptors (like with dissociative anesthetics). 

Once the psychedelics reach the brain, we typically see an increased activation of delta and gamma waves and the suppression of alpha and beta waves. When we are awake and alert, the brain is dominated by alpha, beta, and gamma waves. When we sleep, delta and theta waves take over. The pairing of “alert” gamma waves and “sleeping” delta waves, could explain why psychedelics trips are akin to dream-like states that we experience while still awake. 

This is also why psychedelic trips are so sentient and thought provoking in nature. Trips often vary in intensity, but they can affect all the senses and can change a person’s thought process, and their sense of time, space and reality. They are known to produce auditory, visual, and sensory hallucinations, however, some users experience no hallucinations at all.  

Rather, they may invoke feelings of general well-being, spirituality, euphoria, connectedness, introspection, and overall well-being, and experiencing of mystical and otherworldly encounters. Numerous factors make tripping a very subjective experience such as dosing, set and setting, tolerance, among other elements.  

On the flip side, some people experience bad trips, which means they had some type of negative side effects or maybe even scary hallucinations. Physical symptoms of a bad trip can include but are not limited to: irregular heartbeat, nausea, chills, sweating, and anxiety. Dosing and setting, among other factors, can significantly impact a psychedelic trip, so you want to make sure that you’re doing everything possible to ensure an uplifting and beneficial high. 

Don’t look in the mirror 

Many people have been told at least once by their more experienced friends that they should avoid looking in the mirror while using psychedelics. And while that typically applies to LSD, higher doses of mushrooms and other hallucinogens can have similar effects. So, is there any truth to this warning, or is it just an urban legend?  

While I’ve personally looked in the mirror many times on mushrooms and not had any life-shattering experiences, I can understand where the saying comes from based on how I personally see faces when I’m tripping. For example, the last time I tripped with my best friend, there were a few times that I’d look at her face and it would start morphing into something else, like an old witch or some type of mystical elf. It still looked like her, just kind of not. And mind you, this has been my best friend for the last 20 years, so she’s definitely someone I feel comfortable taking mushrooms around.  

Granted, we were wandering around the middle of the desert at night so we were in pitch-black darkness, and even when you’re not on drugs that can make you start imagining things. And it didn’t send me into a bad trip or anything, all I had to do was look away for a quick second, remind myself I’m high, and everything was cool and happy still. But nonetheless, it’s trippy and weird. And that’s a common occurrence for me, pretty much every time I take hallucinogens, faces contort.  

Now when it comes to my own reflection, I experience the same thing. Some slight morphing and distortions, but overall, nothing too crazy and I can look away and regroup with ease. One of the main problems that people have when looking in the mirror is that it can trigger some unpleasant self-reflection, like having bad thoughts about yourself, feeling older, ugly, hyper-fixating on certain aspects you don’t like about yourself, thinking about stuff you’ve done in the past, and so on.  

Seeing your own face doing crazy things and really examining yourself on psychedelics can be eye-opening, but also quite scary if you have self-esteem issues or any deep-rooted pain or trauma you’re dealing with.  

Do look in the mirror? 

Again, I disregarded this advice because I know that I usually maintain pretty good control and situational awareness while on shrooms. But a lot of people view the whole “don’t look in the mirror” warning as a sign of the person saying it may be lacking experience or self-knowledge. A person who is in touch with themselves spiritually will not avoid looking in the mirror – either literally or figuratively.  

And if you’re taking hallucinogens to gain a better understanding of yourself and the world around you, learning how to deal with various unpleasant aspects is a really important aspect of your psychedelic journey. Although unpleasant, people often learn a lot more from bad trips than good ones.  

If you approach every psychedelic journey with honesty and humility, and with the sincere willpower to learn from the experience regardless of what happens, then you’re already halfway there. With this mindset, looking in the mirror on psychedelics can be viewed as an opportunity for self-discovery and growth, rather than something scary that should be avoided.  

Final thoughts  

To look in the mirror, or not… that is the question. The answer? It really depends. Is there a reason to look in the mirror? If not, then there really is no point. But if you happen to catch a glimpse of yourself, just know that it might not be as horrifying as everyone says it will be. If you’re not suffering from crippling self-esteem issues, looking in the mirror on psychedelics should be ok.

Do you have any experience with this? Have you been lost in the mirror while tripping on drugs? Let us know in the comment section below, we’d love to hear from you!

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