April 23, 2021

A Brief History of Tripsitting

From indigenous guides leading communal ceremonies to recreational users recruiting a trusted caretaker ahead of an evening of mind altering substances, tripsitters have held an indispensable space throughout human history.

What exactly is tripsitting?

While the origin of the term “tripsitter'' is difficult to pin down, there is ample historical evidence to demonstrate that “tripsitting” was conceptualized and put into practice by humans in a variety of contexts. Whether it be rite of passage or healing ceremony or sacrament, the use of hallucinogenic substances has upheld ancestral societies and transferred intergenerational wisdom. Where you saw individual and societal usage of psychoactive and dissociative compounds, you would often see a guide, sitter, or intermediary. 

While context varies largely amongst the cultural use of psychoactive substances, the core concept of tripsitting remains: to safeguard and provide guidance to those under the influence of psychoactive substances, principally if it’s their first experience with a particular substance. Tripsitters can also be referred to as “guides”, “psychedelic guides”, and “sober sitters”. The extent of their duties may range from being a fly-on-the-wall to the master of ceremonies.

A tripsitter can take on a more involved role through any combination of preparing the user prior to ingestion, directing the dosage, guiding the user throughout their trip, and providing post-experiential assessment. The more active and involved approach to tripsitting may presume that the guide has partaken in the psychedelic experience themselves. Personal experience with a substance is becoming less of a necessity for tripsitting as the popularity of micro-dosing and the adoption of psychedelic-assisted talk therapy bears out. A guided approach to tripsitting is especially common in the use of entheogens, thoughtfully detailed by psychedelic publication, Double Blind Magazine

"The word itself expresses ideas about who uses these substances, and how and why they do so, and represents an important departure from common assumptions. Communally shared, personally grown, used for spiritual and restorative purposes, these are not the “drugs” of wayward teenagers or the escapism of dropped-out hippies."

Ancient origins

The ancestral usage of psychedelic plants dates back more than 7,000 years and has documented use in indigenous societies of North America, Central America, Greece, India, Africa, and even as far-reaching as Siberia. Plant medicines such as cannabis, peyote, wormwood, ayahuasca, salvia, ibogaine, and psilocybin fungi were enmeshed into the traditions and rituals of both egalitarian and non-egalitarian societies. The act of ingesting mind-altering plant medicines served many purposes to many cultures however broadly speaking, individuals partook in psychedelics to:

  • Hold ceremony 
  • Earn a rite of passage
  • Commune with ancestors, spirits, second worlds, interdimensional beings
  • Diagnose and treat illness
  • Interpret events and forecast the future

This list represents a small sampling of the practical and spiritual applications of psychedelics in ancient societies. Recently, there has been a renewed global interest in acknowledging and revitalizing the wisdom gleaned from these sacred traditions. As the healing power of psychedelics becomes harnessed into a clinical format and further industrialized, one can’t help but wonder what lessons, precautions, and guidance can be applied to our collective advocacy for alternatives or supplements to traditional mental health care models. 

Reducing harm

Even if today’s idea of tripsitting doesn’t quite echo the past, the goals of self-realization, ego-shedding, and healing are commonly sought after when embarking on a non-recreational psychedelic experience. Understanding the act of tripsitting as a form of “harm reduction” has become a crucial and actionable insight in fighting the stigma that is still culturally bound to psychedelic drug use. Organizations like The Zendo Project exist to help shape a world that is educated and oriented towards a harm reduction strategy in relation to the usage of psychedelics. Other thought leaders such as MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) have been leading that fight with their research and advocacy since the mid 80’s. With such dedicated and resourceful organizations in our corner, we are better positioned to broaden the playing field and accessibility to these remarkable healing modalities.

A clinical tool

Increasingly, tripsitting has emerged as a critical part of any psychedelic clinician’s toolkit. As the popularity of using psychedelics medicinally unfurls itself in the world of western medicine, tripsitting may take on a practical, public health derived application. Tripsitters went from primarily being our close friends or trusted partners to trained medical professionals (physicians, nurses, therapists, psychologists). Tripsitting even became a lucrative career for some folks. Ultimately, there is a proper tripsitting context for every psychedelic experience.

As clinicians, part of our job is to establish best practices within our fields. Whether it be preparing a user prior to their trip, remaining present and attentive throughout it, or providing post-trip integration and interpretation, we should understand the relationship between tripsitter and tripper as a partnership. In the end, we must advocate for a harm reduction approach to the intentioned use of psychedelics. I believe that foundation must be built on mutual trust, empathy, and responsibility. 

Learn about how we utilize tripsitters in our at-home, physician directed treatment plan of evidence-based ketamine therapy by joining our newsletter. Remember to always get advice from your physician before beginning any medical treatment. 

TripSitter Clinic is transforming lives.

References:

Joanna Steinhardt, What Does ‘Entheogen’ Actually Mean?
https://doubleblindmag.com/what-does-entheogen-actually-mean/

Sam Woolfe, The History of Psychedelics: A Timeline of Psychedelic Drugs
https://blog.retreat.guru/the-history-of-psychedelics

Sandra Nomoto, Indigenous Cultures That Used Psychedelic Plants
https://www.truhavn.com/news/indigenous-cultures-that-used-psychedelic-plants

The Zendo Project
https://zendoproject.org/

MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies)
https://maps.org/about

Whiteney Joiner, Who Will Benefit From Psychedelic Medicine?
https://www.washingtonpost.com/magazine/2020/09/21/psychedelic-medicine-will-it-be-accessible-to-all/

Dr. John Huber
Dr. John Huber
CEO

Dr. Huber is a mental health professional of over 20 years, as well as a clinical forensic psychologist. He regularly provides analysis to national and local media and has appeared on over three hundred radio shows (NBC Radio, CBS, Fox News Radio) and thirty national television programs (ABC, NBC, Spectrum News). In addition, Dr. Huber is also the host of “Mainstream Mental Health Radio” a nationwide broadcast delivering interviews with today’s top mental health professionals.