Embrace Harm Reduction

Embrace Harm Reduction

A month ago I spent a weekend at a rave in the forest of Hope, British Columbia. This event was essentially a mini festival and one of the biggest social gatherings I had been to since COVID 19 gripped the world. 

Aside from getting a chance to escape the city and dance, I was also excited to attend because I had signed up to volunteer with the event's harm reduction crew. For anyone that doesn't know, harm reduction, in the context of a mini festival, is the concept of creating a safe and welcoming space for those that are having challenging mental experiences. This can be anything from a "bad" trip on a psychedelic drug to emotional distress from a relationship issue. The simplest way to think of harm reduction is as psychological first aid.

After setting up the harm reduction tent upon arrival and then volunteering for a few hours, I was free to enjoy the festivities for the rest of the night - which for me meant it was time to candy flip (LSD + MDMA) and get on the dance floor! After a few hours went by, someone I was camping with began to have a rather distressing and challenging psychedelic experience. What resulted from this was my group of friends stepping into harm reduction roles for one another. There were a few lessons from this experience that I wanted to share here today:

  1. If you are going to be stepping into a position to help someone else who is having a challenging trip, it is lot easier to do this when you are grounded. It's hard to offer harm reduction when you are on substances yourself. If you are taking drugs in a group, try to ensure there is someone close that is sober or at least not tripping on the same level you are in case your group does run into any speed bumps.

  2. Understand that everyone is having their own experience. Although you might be on the same substance as your friend, there are many different types of journeys the medicine can call us towards and it is important to recognize and respect the path you are called to follow. Although you might share the same intentions with the group you are partying with, psychedelic medicine has unique ways of gravitating you towards those intentions.

  3. Recognize the path is a spiral. This is really a beautiful lesson about life in general but here I am referencing something more specific. When you are having a challenging psychedelic experience and don't receive the help you need, it is common for things to go south pretty quick. This reflects the fact that when you are resisting a challenging experience, that resistance actually feeds into more discomfort creating a negative feedback loop. The important thing to remember is that the flip side is also true! If you get the proper support you need, you can actually spiral in the upwards direction and reverse the direction your "bad" trip is going in. The key here is getting the right help.

  4. Embrace harm reduction. Don't see it as something just for the inexperienced psychonaut. Anyone can benefit from harm reduction no matter how experienced you are with psychedelics. At almost every festival worth it's money, there will be a dedicated team of people offering harm reduction services. Befriend these people and most importantly, make a few visits to the harm reduction tent throughout your night of partying. Simply visiting the space and absorbing the relaxing and calming vibe can do wonders in stabilizing your headspace - whether you are having a good trip or "bad trip".

Don't see harm reduction as a "last resort" or something reserved for people having really challenging experiences. See it as a community of people with your best intentions in mind. As psychedelics become more adopted by the mainstream it is so important that we develop a healthy relationship to the concept of harm reduction and stop seeing it as just a physical space but really a mindset to approach your partying and ceremonies with.

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