Throughout the course of your psychedelic therapy protocols, you may hear about or experience yourself a session that feels underwhelming, as if “nothing” happened in your conscious experience.
If this occurs, it’s easy to quickly jump to conclusions, such as: “this isn’t for me,” “it didn’t do anything,” or “I did something wrong”. Though this isn’t the case, and there’s often a lot more going on under the surface than you may anticipate.
This piece explores the mechanics of milder experiences, potential meanings as to why they happen, the biological mechanics, and how to integrate/work with these experiences throughout the rest of your healing journey.
Defining “Nothing Happened” Experiences
By “nothing happened” experiences, individuals tend to mean that there didn’t appear to be any active effect/change in their physical bodily sensations and/or their conscious waking state.
In other words, they were “lucid” or “normal” the entire time during the session. And as mentioned, at this point it’s easy to make the jump to assuming that it didn’t work, that nothing happened, or that the individual made some form of mistake before or during the session. Though none of these are true, and “nothing happened” experiences can and likely will happen to anybody throughout a psychedelic therapy program with multiple sessions.
Given the amount of stories you may hear from others and their journeys, and given the classic hallmarks of a psychedelic experience — it is common to have some assumptions, or hard as you may try not to, have expectations about the nature of the experience. This includes what your session will be like, and more importantly, what you think you need to experience in any given session.
For the purposes of this resource, “nothing happened” experiences will be defined as no detectable change in the physical sensations or the conscious landscape during the dosing session, or while under the influence of the medicine.
Let’s return for a moment to a topic we have explored before in a number of pieces — which is that there are often two apparent sides to the psychedelic experience: the biological and the phenomenological.
These are differentiated by what happens to the brain and body, and what happens in your subjective experience and your conscious awareness.
It’s important to remember that when going through psychedelic therapy with any psychedelic compound, you will have ingested a compound that has a neurobiological effect. These effects are dose-dependent and will happen regardless of whether or not there are any associated phenomenological sensations/experiences that accompany them.
Psychedelic therapy compounds such as ketamine, psilocybin, MDMA, and others have powerful neurobiological effects. They help to repair, maintain, or promote healthy neural connections and pathways in the brain. These healing effects are always present whenever you ingest the compound.
No matter what the experience is like for you, rest assured in knowing that you are receiving a dose of medicine tailored to your needs, that is working on your mind and body regardless of the experience.
Just like a plant, if you give your brain and body the right conditions it needs to thrive, healthy growth is a natural byproduct. The positive neurobiological effects of psychedelics medicines help create and maintain the environment for your mind and body to heal, grow, and move towards health and wholeness.
What Does The “Nothing Happened” Experience Mean?
With the neurobiological benefits covered, there are many ways that you can interpret the “nothing happened” experience to help you continue on your healing journey.
A few framings and potential drivers of nothing experiences may include:
It may be unconscious priming
Some individuals are working through very challenging circumstances, and seek psychedelic therapy to resolve intense emotional pain or challenges. Always remember that the medicine and the experience is on your side, it is helping to heal and avoid further harm.
The experience may be working to prime or prepare a foundation of safety and healing, even before beginning to present the material being healed in your conscious awareness. Surfacing highly traumatic material before the individual has the resources, safety, strength, and trust in the experience to handle it can lead to re-traumatization, and does more harm than good. For this reason, the medicine may keep the healing and processing at an unconscious level to set the stage for further experiences.
It may be related to intentions
Though it is possible, the psychedelic experience does not always address intentions through the format of linear, languaged responses. You may ask a question in your intention, but the answer doesn’t always come in the form of a single-sentence response to you.
The medicine may present visions or images, re-surface childhood memories, generate physical sensations in the body, or many other forms of “communicating” the lesson and insight to be learned. It is not always straightforward or immediate to understand. This is also why continued integration and unpacking is essential in psychedelic therapy.
One of the ways the experience can address your intentions is in stating “you don’t need anything else/new,” or “the work you need to do is here in the world”. Instead of saying that in language, it answers you by not responding.
By keeping your awareness in the here-and-now of conscious experience, in the world. If you experience “nothing,” consider how a non-response or a suggestion of “there’s nothing you need to see right now in the psychedelic space” might be the answer or insight you need.
You may need rest
The healing process itself is a long-game. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. It’s possible to exhaust yourself with healing, to feel like you’re not doing enough, not moving quickly enough, haven’t “gotten there” just yet. Notice how these are the same feelings/patterns many people often seek to heal! With these attitudes, it’s easy to push yourself too far, too hard, too fast.
As always, your inner healing intelligence and the psychedelic experience recognize this, and will accommodate and match the experience to your energy levels, both physical and psycho-spiritual energy.
If you are tired, have a habit of overworking yourself or of pushing too far too fast, the medicine may bring you a restful experience. No grand insights, no visuals, no physical discomfort, just a period of time to relax, to be in relationship with yourself, and to directly see what self-care and self-love look and feel like. It’s not glamorous or fancy, and that’s the point. It’s taking intentional time to rest and recover.
Now of course, these are merely potential reasons as to why the experience unfolded as it did. They are different lenses that you can view your experience through, to see if anything clicks, if that feels correct, or to glean any insights from.
Though it’s important to also take the time to continue connecting with this experience, and to journal and reflect upon it.
Ask yourself: What did this mean to me? How did I react to this experience? What is this giving me the opportunity to learn?
It’s About the Healing Process
First and foremost, individuals come to psychedelic therapy for healing. To become more whole, to cultivate a deeper relationship with themselves and with life. The healing is paramount.
How the medicine and the experience chooses to facilitate that healing should come later. This is where the timeless mantra of Trust, Let Go, and Be Open comes back up.
Trust that the medicine and the experience is working for your benefit and for your healing. Let go of the preconceived notions you have of what the experience will be like and what it needs to do for you, when. And finally, Be open to the possibility that this is all working exactly as it needs to, when it needs to, how it needs to.
Sometimes these “nothing happened” experiences can be delivering you exactly what you need. This may be an opportunity to work with your disappointment, and an understanding of how to accept reality as it is. Maybe there aren’t any visions or visuals, strange sensations or distortions of time, but it helps to get the job done regardless. It helps facilitate your healing process, and that’s what matters most.
Integration and the Space Between
If you are moving through a psychedelic therapy protocol, it’s likely that you still have some additional sessions as part of the program. It is helpful to return to viewing these experiences as part of a much larger story, where the success of the program is not determined by the “success”’ of one individual session. This is a long game, and there are many steps involved.
In a way, having these ’nothing’ experiences can be extremely valuable. They help you address the balance of wanting a fancy experience vs. true healing. They help you come into direct contact with reality and accept things as they are. And they help you take the integration process more seriously and focus on the time outside of sessions, an often neglected area in psychedelic therapy protocols.
If you would like to be an ally on your own healing journey and continue the integration process after an experience like this, you might try:
- Continued Reflection: Dedicate time in the following days to continue reflecting on the experience —and in particular your reaction/emotions related to it— and see if you can dig deeper into why this experience happened as it did.
- Assist the Neurobiological Benefits: You will always have the neurobiological healing benefits, and the neuroplastic integration window, after any dosing session. Help this process by dealing in your physical health and wellness practices and routines.
- Continue Integrating: Whether it’s outstanding integration activities from previous sessions, or establishing new behaviors, honor your integration window by continuing the best integration practices you have available to you.
“Nothing happened” experiences can be challenging and highly confronting. It’s easy to get swept up in an emotional response to them afterwards, either blaming yourself or believing that this just isn’t the fit for you.
As you’ve seen, there are a number of ways that “nothing happened” experiences can be just as significant as any other session you may have throughout your psychedelic therapy program.
By taking advantage of the neurobiological healing benefits, and in working to continue processing and reframe the meaning of the subjective experience, you have a valuable opportunity to continue exploring who you are. This includes how you think or act, and where you want to go next.
If you ever have any questions about this, reach out to your Guide, to your Care Team, or others who have done this work for additional support and guidance. With that, enjoy the rest of the journey towards healing and wholeness!
Take Control of Your Mental Health
Taking control of your mental health is possible, find out it ketamine treatment can help you.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. If you are in a life-threatening situation, call the National Suicide Prevention Line at +1 (800) 273-8255, call 911, or go to the nearest emergency room.
Important FDA Safety Information
Ketamine is not FDA-approved for the treatment of depression or anxiety. Learn more about off-label uses here.
Side effects of ketamine treatment may include: altered sense of time, anxiety, blurred vision, diminished ability to see/hear/feel, dry mouth, elevated blood pressure or heart rate, elevated intraocular or intracranial pressure, excitability, loss of appetite, mental confusion, nausea/vomiting, nystagmus (rapid eye movements), restlessness, slurred speech, synesthesia (a mingling of the senses).
Do not proceed with ketamine treatment if any of the following apply to you:
- Allergic to ketamine
- Symptoms of psychosis or mania
- Uncontrolled high blood pressure
- CHF or other serious heart problem
- Severe breathing problem
- History of elevated intraocular or intracranial pressure
- History of hyperthyroidism
- Other serious medical illness
- Pregnant, nursing, or trying to become pregnant
Ketamine has been reported to produce issues including, but not limited to, those listed below. However, lasting adverse side-effects are rare when medical protocols are carefully followed.
While ketamine has not been shown to be physically addictive, it has been shown to cause moderate psychological dependency in some recreational users.
- In rare cases, frequent, heavy users have reported increased frequency of urination, urinary incontinence, pain urinating, passing blood in the urine, or reduced bladder size
- Ketamine may worsen problems in people with schizophrenia, severe personality disorders, or other serious mental disorders.
- Users with a personal or family history of psychosis should be cautious using any psychoactive substance, including ketamine, and discuss potential risks with your MindBloom clinician before proceeding with treatment.
- The dissociative effects of ketamine may increase patient vulnerability and the risk of accidents.
To promote positive outcomes and ensure safety, follow these ketamine treatment guidelines:
- Do not operate a vehicle (e.g., car, motorcycle, bicycle) or heavy machinery following treatment until you’ve had a full night of sleep
- Refrain from taking benzodiazepines or stimulants for 24 hours prior to treatment
- Continue to take antihypertensive medication as prescribed
- Avoid hangovers or alcohol intake
- Refrain from consuming solid foods within 3 hours prior to treatment and liquids within 1 hour prior to treatment
- Ketamine treatment should never be conducted without a monitor present to ensure your safety