Harm reduction 101: Psychedelics


1. Psychedelics differ from one another. There are entheogens: plants, fungi and animal products, such as Ayahuasca, Iboga, Psilocybin mushrooms, sapo, which help to get to the land of shamans and mystics. And there are their modern synthetic analogues, such as LSD, DMT etc, also getting us to the far lands, but without much mysticism and rituals, and with an increased risk of taking a substance one has not intended to.

In any case, make certain that the quality of the found product is impeccable. To quote the Master and Margarita: `There is only one freshness – the first – and it is also the last. And if sturgeon is of the second freshness, that means it is simply rotten.’ Just as with the sturgeon from the quote, if you have any doubts about the quality or authenticity of the psychedelic – Say “No” to the Experience. You don’t get to heavens on a lame horse.

2. The two whales of the positive outcome are: your internal space – the Set, and your external space – the Setting. Be ready to meet something grand and powerful, don’t show off, even in front of yourself. Remaining humble goes a long way on the path of a Psychonaut, especially a beginner Psychonaut. Start with respect – towards yourself and towards the substance that helps you reach the alternate state of your consciousness and reality. If questions and doubts remain – say “No” to the Experience. Do more research until you feel ready. I recommend commencing with vigour and determination, while remaining respectfully mindful.

Setting – quiet, safe, beautiful. Create the best environment for your about to be bare soul. Choose the right place, tidy up, wash yourself, put on clean, comfortable and festive clothes. Have your favourite objects near by, prepare your favourite music, ensure at least minimal contact with nature, if a garden is lacking, bring in some fresh flowers. Usually it is recommended to fast before the ceremony, at least for 4 hours.

3. Be aware of risks and remember your own responsibility for yourself. If you feel unprepared to go through the Experience, say “No” to it.

Biomedical risks differ with different psychedelics and the current state of well-being of the Psychonaut. For example, the use of Iboga and its derivatives by people with weakened heart has led to several fatalities; Ayahuasca does not combine well with prescription anti-depressants; San Pedro cactus ceremonies can be a challenge for people with diabetes etc. Erowid website is a good resource to learn more.

Psycho-spiritual risks are present with any psychedelics. It is possible that old psychic wounds are reopened, which can lead one into depression or worsening of current depression. Alternate state of mind and perception of reality can persist after the psychedelic ceremony is over, and such symptoms as depersonalisation and visual changes (“breathing walls”, “snow”) may in some cases remain for months, if not years, making the day to day life of a Psychonaut rather difficult (see HPPD: hallucinogen persisting perception disorder).

4. The role of a Mediator-Guide (aka Sitter). If you have gone “there”, and “there” you actually liked, if the role of a guide for rookies is of interest to you and you are ready to serve as a mediator of the Experience – thank you! Remember and discuss all the safety elements indicated above with the beginner Psychonaut. Encourage the expression of doubts and questions, and do not take part in any Experience for which either you or the Psychonaut are not ready. Consider finding a second guide – it is often easier together. Remember your role – actually just to be present, and to be able to be a link with a day to day reality during the ceremony if such need arises. Don’t play psychiatrist, minister or tribal shaman, if you are not one. During the session – offer water, tea, a blanket, to change music etc, when it’s appropriate. After the session – listen and assure the Psychonaut of the possibility of integration of the new experience.

If you are not an expert with years of experience, while acting as a Guide – do not take the psychedelic yourself, or take the minimal ceremonial amount to get into the mood.

After the Experience is over and you have said your goodbyes, attend to your spiritual hygiene – take a good amount of Nature and/or Friends. Go for a walk, listen to music, hug a tree after all. And give gratitude to the Psychedelic for the honour of serving as its Mediator-Guide.

These would be our basics. Any questions, colleagues?

With respect,