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Psychedelic Safety 101

For persons with no contraindicative mental health conditions or conflicts with current medications, there is no “good” or “bad” way to use psychedelics. With friends at a Flaming Lips concert, in a clinical trial, alone in your bedroom, at festivals, or at snarky and expressive temporary autonomous zones…

 

However, there are safer and less safe ways to use these powerful substances. Below are some important considerations for first-timers and for experienced users alike.

Considerations for First-Timers

Educate yourself! This is the first and primary means of going into your first experience safe and prepared. Talk to experienced friends, read books and articles, consider even working with an integration coach who can help you prepare and set intentions (perhaps one of our very own BPS facilitators?). Collect as much information as possible, and decide what you want from the psychedelic experience. You’re starting the right way by reading this page.

 

Most importantly, do not rush! The same psychedelics that exist today will exist tomorrow. We assure you that they’ll be just as exciting and useful in the next five years as in the next five hours. Don’t let a sudden fascination overwhelm prudence and intentionality. 

Basic Educational Resources

Recommended Books

  • Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide (James Fadiman)

  • Allies for Awakening: Guidelines for Productive and Safe Experiences with Entheogens (Ralph Metzner)

  • PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story (Alexander and Ann Shulgin)

  • TiHKAL: The Continuation (Alexander and Ann Shulgin)

First-Timer FAQ

  • Should my first trip be alone or with others? Many people prefer to have a trusted friend or two with experience with the entheogen in question during their first journey. This has become the norm recently, as it reduces the likelihood of a challenging experience. Conversely, some people validly choose to face the experience head-on without such a lifeline. Like many things psychedelic, this decision should be based around intent and comfort.

  • How much should I take? Some people use Erowid to get a sense of dosage. For your first time with any particular substance, some people consider it best to go with the smallest active dose and work your way up, using the age-old mantra “You can always take more, but you can’t take less.” Other people of a certain personality type may choose a larger first dose, understanding that one may only have a first experience once in their life. As with most things, there is no right or wrong answer; the latter is more likely to provoke a challenging experience, but to certain mindsets this is exactly what is called for.

  • What is a bad trip? There’s no such thing as a “bad trip” if you’re intentionally ingesting the amount you desire of the substance you chose. There are, however, terrifying trips, challenging trips, difficult trips; all of these can be thought of as learning experiences that, while requiring more processing and integration than an easily digestible experience, can lead to significant wisdom.

  • What do I do if I’m having a challenging or difficult trip? Read this Double Blind article, and the rest of this guide for tips.

  • What is integration? This article from Psychedelic U is a good place to start.

  • Have a question? Submit it to hello@bps.community!

First-Timer Mantra & Safety Protocols

Here is an abbreviated version of a mantra that has existed for a very long time. It is recommended for first-timers and veterans alike. Repeating this to oneself from the moment of ingestion through the peak of the experience, and particularly during challenging portions of the experience, can help ground the user even absent peer support: “I have ingested [substance] intentionally; this is an experience I chose. This experience will be over by tomorrow. My worries are valid but temporary.” If in public, add: “Nobody but myself knows that I am on this journey. I choose not to interact with others for the duration.”

 

When planning an experience alone, choose grounding materials ahead of time. For example, designate a couch or park bench as a safe space, a stuffed penguin or a photograph of a loved one as a safe object, an album or two as safe musical retreats. Don’t be afraid to explore, but return to your safe space as needed to meditate, breathe, and center yourself.

Testing

It’s always a good idea to test your drugs. As of December 2021, over 1,100 novel substances have been reported to the United Nations. Many psychedelics, especially powders, pills, and blotter, are at risk of adulterants. 

Perhaps the most well-known adulterant in recent years has been fentanyl, potentially fatal and often hidden in powder. Reliable fentanyl test strips are now readily available, and the majority of the psychedelic community is well aware of the problem. Fentanyl is far from the only problematic substance found in psychedelics sourced from unknowns, however.
 
For example, many people consider “blotter acid” safe because they are under the assumption that only LSD can fit on a tiny piece of paper. This is not the case. Dangerous (and potentially fatal) Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS) can be found on tiny little pieces of paper, in geltabs, and in liquid as well. 
 
If you'd like to learn more, or to discreetly (and legally) have your blotter tested free of charge, please reach out to our in-house “Harm Reduction Penguin” at the.penguin.mo@gmail.com

Dance Safe also sells fentanyl test strips as well as simple at-home tests, and instructs you how to use them.

Working with Retreat Centers and Underground Facilitators

Many individuals find benefit in taking psychedelics with the support of experienced sitters, guides, or clinicians, whether solo or with a group. Such practitioners, by creating a safe and intentional container, can facilitate deep inward journeys. They can also offer a framework for preparation, navigation, and integration.

Some individuals seek out a more holistic and challenging experience, such as that provided by a shaman who ingests alongside their charge in order to facilitate a spiritual or mystical bond that allows for a deep, sometimes painful, and often cathartic experience without the trappings of the Western medicinal approach.

However, just because someone has a professional Instagram account or appears on Retreat Guru doesn’t mean they are capable of holding you in your deepest, most vulnerable moments. 

Red Flags

  • No exhaustive physical and mental health screening is conducted

  • No preparation and integration is offered

  • The ratio of participants/facilitators is high (ideally there is at least one facilitator/helper for every four participants)

  • Facilitators seem closed off to discussing their own spirituality, experience, views on the nature of psychedelics, and other essential components of their own character and beliefs

  • Significant sums of money are requested/required and no sliding scale is offered to ensure that care is available to all

1. Vet Your Facilitators

​Whether you are seeking underground or aboveground services, there are a number of things you can do to vet your guides. Consider asking them to speak to a client/participant who has experience there. Do a Google search. Check the forums on the New Age-frauds and Plastic Shamans website, where people have posted known fraudulent facilitators. 

Be aware that sexual abuse and other abuses of power do happen in both aboveground and underground settings. Chacruna’s Community Guide for the Awareness of Sexual Abuse is a valuable document in this regard. Psychedelic Safety Flags is also a valuable resource for those in this discernment phase. 
 
Note also that a marketing-driven practice (via Instagram and newsletters) can sometimes be a yellow flag. Often, word of mouth recommendations indicate that a retreat/facilitator is building a solid network of relationships rather than relying on aggressive marketing strategies.

2. Establish Trust

The number one factor in positive outcomes in psychedelic work is the rapport between the journeyer and the supporter. A guide’s role is to create trust and safety. A good facilitator or retreat will welcome challenges and probing questions, because they understand that the safer you feel, the more you will be able to lean into your own growth and healing process. 

A good facilitator will also ask probing questions to help you achieve the results you desire from your journey. Trust must work both ways here; you must be honest with your guide, and they must be honest with you. Too much honesty has never been a problem in psychedelic culture. Too little honesty has historically, and continues to be, a major cause for concern.

3. Finding Adequate Support

If you are considering an out-of-country retreat, make sure that you have adequate support systems in place for your return. In this survey, 30% of participants in a psilocybin retreat reported emotional challenges lasting up to three weeks after the retreat, including feeling unsupported, emotional volatility, disconnection from home, and ontological shock. These are challenges that can be contained, and sometimes even prevented, by adequate integration support. 

Many persons in psychedelic culture are willing to take time to help newcomers process their experiences at length. Making friends and connections within the community can only help ensure that your journey is fruitful.

4. Legal Considerations

Be aware that it is not uncommon for underground guides and ceremony holders to exaggerate their legal protections.

5. Report Abuses of Power

The more accountability we bring to bear on psychedelic spaces, the safer it will be for everyone.

  • If a practitioner has proved untrustworthy, tell your friends, peer circles, and people at your local psychedelic society…

  • Shine Collective for psychedelic survivors is a support group for people who have experienced sexual abuse or harm in psychedelic spaces. 

  • New Age-frauds and Plastic Shamans contains forums where people have post about fraudulent facilitators.

Meeting Challenging Experiences

Prepare Yourself in Advance

  • Work with an intention. This is the simplest and most powerful way to direct a psychedelic experience. An intention might be open-ended, such as “I want to be open to whatever arises,” or “I want to practice self-compassion.” Or it may be specific, such as “I intend to confront a certain addictive behavior,” or “I want to listen to my inner child.” It is perfectly valid to hold intentions such as “I want to have fun”, “I want to experience joy”, or “I want to lose myself in this concert.”

  • Several days in advance of your journey, bring special attention to the conditions of your life and your “set” (mindset). Eat healthy, sleep well, exercise. Avoid other mind-altering substances. Resolve interpersonal conflicts. Watch the media you consume and consider avoiding violent and negative content. Engage in relaxing and contemplative activities like nature walks, meditation, yoga, journaling, and art-making.

  • Be sure your schedule is cleared of any obligations for a day or two, giving yourself time to physically recover, self-reflect and integrate. 

  • The day-of, if you are in a particularly anxious state of mind, consider postponing.

  • Remember that while it may get challenging, at every moment you have a choice between fear and curiosity. Curiosity is non-judgmental. You can bring your curiosity to bear on the most frightening monster, and learn what it wants. 

During the Journey

  • Return to your breath: this is the most basic and powerful tool at your disposal if you find yourself confused, fearful, or otherwise spiraling. Simply focus on deep inhales and longer exhales. To some journeyers, accompanying the exhales with low-frequency humming can have a calming and centering effect.

  • You can also try "5-7-8 Breathing": a five-second inhale, seven second hold, and eight second exhale (repeated as many times as needed to feel grounded). 

  • If you are working with a guide or sitter, they can help direct the journeyer’s breathing or offer you co-regulation through shared slow, rhythmic sounding. 

  • Return to your intention.

  • Be aware of your state of stimulation. If you are overstimulated: if there are too many visual things dividing your attention, or too many auditory things pulling you in different directions, consider an eye mask, sunglasses, earplugs, turning off the music, et cetera. If you are under-stimulated and having an unpleasant internal experience, try putting on your favorite album, looking at art, drawing or painting, and so on.

  • Use aromatherapy, such as lavender essential oil for calming and soothing, or vetiver oil to help with grounding.

  • Change the music or environment; this may lower the panic and help to calm you down.

  • Trying singing or humming.

  • Work with a mantra. “TLO” is the phrase psychedelic therapists learn at Johns Hopkins: trust, let go, be open. 

Ask for Help

​Whether before, during or after your psychedelic experiences, you can ask for support at any time. Here are some resources.  

  • Fireside Project: This psychedelic support Line provides emotional support during and after psychedelic experiences. Don’t wait until you’re tripping–get the app on your phone now!

  • ICEERS Support Service: The ICEERS support service offers six free sessions of online therapy for people who have had difficult psychedelic experiences. 

  • BPS Facilitators: Our trusted, fully-vetted list of integration coaches, counselors, and therapists are a valuable resource for those navigating preparation, journeying, and integration of psychedelic experiences.

Post-Experience Difficulties

While unpleasant or debilitating post-psychedelic phenomena are not common, we believe that everyone using psychedelics–whether for the first time or the fiftieth time–should be aware of the existing risks.

 
Challenging Psychedelic Experience Project is a useful resource for those who would look deeper into the research around risks.

 

Some reported difficulties associated with psychedelic use include:

  • anxiety

  • social disconnection

  • derealization

  • existential struggle

  • insomnia

  • continued visual distortions / HPPD

 

Ketamine addiction:

  • There is evidence to suggest ketamine can become psychologically addictive.

  • There is also evidence of ketamine leading to physical harm, such as bladder injury and liver injury. 

Interpreting Psychedelic Experiences

The Brooklyn Psychedelic Society does not take any particular stance regarding the interpretation of psychedelic experiences. Instead, we encourage you to be flexible with your interpretive frameworks, and to consider “ontological agnosticism”: a willingness to hold experiences with a degree of lightness, without fixating on particular frameworks. 

 

If you would like to consider this aspect of integration in more detail, we recommend the following books:

  • Varieties of Religious Experience (William James)

  • High Weirdness (Erik Davis)

  • Rational Mysticism (John Horgan)

Ways to Give Back

Whatever presence psychedelics have in mainstream culture is ultimately thanks to the various indigenous communities and traditional knowledge keepers who have stewarded psychedelic plants and fungi through generations. 

 

If you have received benefit from these substances, we encourage you to look into the following organizations, and to consider a donation:

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