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Harm Reduction and Psychedelics: Setting yourself up for a good trip

Especially for those just starting to experiment, you want your early experiences to be safe and positive so that you can further your exploration with confidence and a history of good experiences.
Written by
Dr. Amanda Reiman
June 12, 2023

Like cannabis, psychedelic substances have been used across the globe for many purposes. And, like cannabis, psychedelics are relatively safe and have a low chance of dependence. And again, like cannabis they are not without risks, and there are steps that consumers can take to reduce the chance of harm. In this article, I review three ways to increase the chance that your psychedelic experience will be a positive one.

1. Know what you are taking

With cannabis buds, it is pretty easy to tell if what you have is the real thing. The same goes for psilocybin mushrooms (more on potency in a moment). When we bring in manufactured products like chocolates, and other forms like pills and powder, things get a bit trickier. Prohibition has caused an untested and unregulated market for these substances and even though you may trust the person giving them to you, unless you know the source (and even sometimes then) there is a risk. There is drug checking at some festivals and events thanks to organizations like Dance Safe, and if there is a chance to have your substance tested, definitely do it. Know that unless and until a regulated, tested market for these products is allowed, there will always be a risk in taking things that cannot easily be identified. Proceed with caution.

Now a word about potency. Just like different cannabis cultivars can vary in their amount of THC, varieties of mushrooms can vary in the amount of psilocybin and psilocin. Golden Teachers for example are known to have less psilocybin than Penis Envy mushrooms. So again, unless you grew them yourself, know the grower or have the knowledge to identify what species you have, be careful. There are some good resources that can help identify the variety of mushroom you have and its relative potency. Learn more here.

2. Trust who you are with

Anytime you are ingesting an intoxicating substance, there is a chance that your faculties and inhibitions may be affected. This can include decision making as well as general functioning like reacting to what is around you. That is why WHO you are with while using psychedelics becomes important. Before consuming psychedelics, ask yourself, if I need help, can I trust the people I am with? The answer should be a resounding YES. If you feel that vulnerability is even a small risk with the people around you, choose another time to use these substances. It is not worth putting yourself at risk. If you are in a group of people you trust, it is still a good idea to implement the buddy system, so that you know someone is paying particular attention to any distress you might be in and is willing to help you. For this reason, it is usually smart for at least one person in your group to abstain from psychedelics, especially if you have some newer consumers or are in a place where help might be hard to navigate, like a concert or festival. A designated driver if you will. Perhaps compensate this person by paying for their ticket or volunteering to be the sober one next time around.

3. Create a safe space

Finally, setting is important. Just like the people you are with and the substance you are taking, your surroundings can add or detract from the experience. If you are newer to psychedelics, I recommend NOT choosing a crowded, outdoor, chaotic festival as a place to try them out, especially if it will take work and time to extract yourself from the situation if you feel overwhelmed. If you are at such a location, identify the medical tent prior to taking a substance so that you know where to go should you need help. Some festivals have folks trained to help people experiencing a bad trip. Find out if your venue offers this and locate where it is. Personally, I recommend that newer consumers of psychedelics consume them at home, at the home of a friend or other place that is calm and quiet like an unpopulated beach or park. Again, it is a good idea to have a sober person there as well who can drive and provide things like water and calming words if needed.

Here’s the thing, the risks associated with psychedelic use are low, but they exist. And just like consuming too much THC from edibles can sour you on cannabis for some time, the same thing can happen with psychedelics. Especially for those just starting to experiment, you want your early experiences to be safe and positive so that you can further your exploration with confidence and a history of good experiences.

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