Dear Molly, 

I recently went to a festival and saw someone having a really bad trip on psychedelics. To my surprise, that person was being helped by a team of harm reduction people. I thought it was really cool because that person was freaking out but I mean that person just couldn’t handle the drugs right? I have done psychedelics so many times and that has never happened to me. Could you tell me more about psychedelic harm reduction and why some people freak out on psychedelics?

Freaked on Psychedelics

Greetings Freaked,

Thanks for your question. In helping your culture make place for the psychedelic experience, it may be helpful for me to explain to you what is happening in a psychedelic state of consciousness. The word psychedelic literally means mind expanding and has been used across cultures for healing, ritual, fun, and initiation into adulthood. Although even in my time science has a hard time pinpointing the exact functioning of psychedelics in the body, we do know that they work on deep psychological processes. Stanislov Grof, a psychologist and long time researcher of psychedelic states notes that the brain processes and integrates unconsciously held past occurrences that could be manifesting in physical, mental, or transpersonal disruption during these states. Because of this, psychedelics can invoke incredibly difficult experiences for people which can bemoments of intense growth given a proper supported context. So when you say “freak out” I think of how frightened I would be if I were deep in a psychedelic consciousness without any understanding of what was actually happening outside of the narrative your culture feeds you about the cracking egg being your brain on all drugs. So you may use the term freak out, which is true in a sense, but I invite you to look at it from a different perspective. Try on the words difficult journey. By using this term, we can begin to deconstruct and understand the experience better. We can relate that everyone has difficult journeys at points. We can think from our hearts and realize that perhaps that what these individuals need is compassionate support, something not typically offered to someone undergoing these types of experiences in your culture. You may not have had that caliber of an experience yet, but it can happen at any moment. Your consciousness or that of the collective consciousness that you are tapping into on psychedelics may decide to work through something right during the middle of a music festival for example. That is where festival harm reduction comes in. It is interesting to think that there was a time where your culture completely looked over the need for such harm reduction services at festivals. It has been well known that festivals are havens of drug use but because of liability for the festival, they wouldn’t dare admit that they needed help in providing assistance to people having difficult experiences. But we have come to realize this is a mandatory service at festivals. Isn’t it weird to think that at one point your culture completely ignored the vast research and cultural records of support, context, and setting for people engaging with some of the most powerful medicines on the planet? 

Let me show you what can happen when we provide support to those in these types of consciousness. This is taken from an artist who, like yourself, had many experiences with psychedelics previously:

[Image] An art piece of miscellaneous shapes in blues, whites, reds, yellows, and greens from an artist who has had many, previous experiences with psychedelics. 

I wonder what would have happened to this piece of art and artist if instead of being supported in this he was sent to the hospital and tranquilized like so many people are. This artist ended up having a complete death rebirth experience and was completely inspired by his difficult journey. So, to answer your questions, it is not so much that the person cannot handle the psychedelics, it is more so that your cultural context for psychedelics has not given you the tools to engage in the best possible of ways with these states. Harm reduction services are one way that we are spreading education and creating containers for people to be with their experiences without the shame or dangers that come from needing help in psychedelic states. These difficult moments are gifts and insights into the functioning of the biggest mystery to science, consciousness. I wish you the best of luck in your journeys, hope this helps.