What is Psychedelic Harm Reduction & Psychedelic Harm Prevention?

What is Psychedelic Harm Prevention™?

Medicinal Mindfulness at its foundation is a Harm Reduction program for psychedelic and cannabis medicine users.  However, we take the the Harm Reduction paradigm an obvious, yet important step further by explicitly acknowledging that the use of psychedelics and even cannabis do not have to always cause harm, but can also elicit important and well documented benefits.  Please review our online resource list for further information regarding the benefits of psychedelics and cannabis when used in appropriate contexts.  We refer to this new paradigm as Harm Prevention.  

More often than not, Psychedelic Harm Reduction, as used by mainstream organizations generally only refers to acute crisis interventions by trained mental health professionals.  A primary goal of Medicinal Mindfulness, as an education and training program, is to reduce the likelihood of crises happening in the first place, not only by training mental health professionals but by also training medicine users themselves in safer use practices and mindfulness based, clinically informed, somatically oriented and transpersonally aligned navigation techniques to handle challenging big states experiences on their own.  

Most psychedelic medicine users are healthy enough to not require a trained professional in the room with them, and most users couldn’t afford or find such a professional in the first place.  It is a responsibility for advocates of psychedelic and cannabis medicine use to give everyday users as many skill sets and tools as they can to not only stay safe but to also get the most out of their psychedelic or cannabis experiences.  

Our Introduction to Mindful Journeywork training program is designed to do just that.  Not only can we actually prevent potential harm from using these profoundly evocative and life changing medicines, we can teach people to maximize the benefits of their psychedelic and cannabis medicine use as well.  This is a core principle of the Harm Reduction paradigm, in that we truly meet people where they are at, reducing the shame and stigma imposed on medicine users by society by fully acknowledging that when used with the right skill sets and in the right container, these medicines heal people and save lives.  

When we come from this paradigm, which explicitly acknowledges the benefits of use, our clients understand that when we bring up areas of use that could be in better alignment, we are not doing so from a manipulative, dogmatic, abstinence only paradigm.  Since there is no need to defend one’s use from an intrusive force that sees these medicines as fundamentally wrong, simple strategies to enhance use and make it safer, which sometimes includes periods of abstinence from use for better integration purposes, can be implemented by our clients with very little resistance.  The results of which have been quite amazing to witness. 

Principles of Harm Reduction

Below is a section defining Harm Reduction from the Harm Reduction Coalition (HRC).

Harm reduction is a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use. Harm Reduction is also a movement for social justice built on a belief in, and respect for, the rights of people who use drugs.

Harm reduction incorporates a spectrum of strategies from safer use, to managed use to abstinence to meet drug users “where they’re at,” addressing conditions of use along with the use itself. Because harm reduction demands that interventions and policies designed to serve drug users reflect specific individual and community needs, there is no universal definition of or formula for implementing harm reduction.

However, HRC considers the following principles central to harm reduction practice.

  • Accepts, for better and or worse, that licit and illicit drug use is part of our world and chooses to work to minimize its harmful effects rather than simply ignore or condemn them.
  • Understands drug use as a complex, multi-faceted phenomenon that encompasses a continuum of behaviors from severe abuse to total abstinence, and acknowledges that some ways of using drugs are clearly safer than others.
  • Establishes quality of individual and community life and well-being–not necessarily cessation of all drug use–as the criteria for successful interventions and policies.
  • Calls for the non-judgmental, non-coercive provision of services and resources to people who use drugs and the communities in which they live in order to assist them in reducing attendant harm.
  • Ensures that drug users and those with a history of drug use routinely have a real voice in the creation of programs and policies designed to serve them.
  • Affirms drugs users themselves as the primary agents of reducing the harms of their drug use, and seeks to empower users to share information and support each other in strategies which meet their actual conditions of use.
  • Recognizes that the realities of poverty, class, racism, social isolation, past trauma, sex-based discrimination and other social inequalities affect both people’s vulnerability to and capacity for effectively dealing with drug-related harm.
  • Does not attempt to minimize or ignore the real and tragic harm and danger associated with licit and illicit drug use.

According to their website, the Harm Reduction Coalition also attempts to reduce harm by specifically educating drug users on how to use illicit drugs in a safer way.  An excellent example of this is their Getting off Right Safety Manual descried as a “straightforward, easy-to-read how-to survival guide for injection drug users.” 

What is Psychedelic Harm Reduction?

Psychedelic Harm Reduction (PHR) is simply the Harm Reduction paradigm put in the context of Psychedelics and Cannabis medicine use.  Psychedelic Harm Reduction work is also primarily found at festival settings where illicit substances are being used in high quantities and where some participants have extremely difficult or even physically or psychologically dangerous experiences from the overconsumption of psychedelics and other medicines.  MAPS describes four basic principles of Psychedelic Harm Reduction as:

Create a safe space
Sitting, not guiding
Talk through, not down
Difficult is not the same as bad

and provides a basic discussion on PHR here:  Manual:  How to Work with Difficult Psychedelic Experiences

There are also online resources available for psychedelic medicine users in online forums as well, Erowid and Bluelight being good examples of PHR programs.