It’s been four months since the first call came in to Fireside Project’s free peer-support line, which aims to help people process psychedelic experiences. In that time, volunteers and staff have held space for more than 600 conversations, split almost evenly between calls and text messages, with interactions lasting from minutes to hours. It all started with the goal of reducing harm and offering psychedelic explorers a safe container for healing, connecting and realizing their own potential.
“It feels very surreal,” said Joshua White, an attorney who co-founded the Fireside Project with Hanifa Nayo Washington, Adam Rubin and Nicolai Lassen. “And it certainly feels like we brought this service to the world at a time when it’s so truly needed. The mental health concerns that were present a year ago have only been exacerbated over the course of the last year.”
Noting the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, dire warnings from scientists and environmental advocates about the trajectory and impacts of climate change, and the continued surge in advocacy and awareness around the healing potential of psychedelics, White said all of those elements combine to demonstrate why people sometimes turn to psychedelics―to escape or process difficult lived realities―while also highlighting the potential for igniting change that can come from the use of psychedelics as tools for personal, societal and spiritual growth.
“When you create a safe, compassionate container for someone to have a psychedelic experience, you are helping them reduce the risks of their experience,” White said.
“And the presence of that safe container also allows someone to fulfill the potential of their psychedelic experiences.”
This month, Fireside Project added an app to its service, allowing anyone with a smartphone to access the support line in a couple clicks. The app serves the same function as texting or calling the line (62-FIRESIDE), but doesn’t require the person to type the number into their phone or have it saved in advance. In the first eight days of the app’s launch, White said they’ve had more than 880 downloads.
Fireside Project does not automatically collect demographic or other personal data from those who reach out to the support line, but its staff and volunteers do record some confidential and anonymous information, which is aggregated, when it comes up in conversation naturally. To that end, White said the data they do have indicates the age range of people accessing the support line is between 17 and 70, and most people report being at home or outdoors in nature when they reach out.
There have been no times when support line volunteers or staff have had to direct someone to emergency medical services, but operators have indicated the line has helped de-escalate more than 170 situations of psychological distress. Fireside Project is not a substitute for medical advice, treatment or diagnosis, White said.
Combatting Isolation Through Compassionate Connection
While much media buzz is made of “bad trips,” Fireside’s Project’s mission is more nuanced and expansive than good trip/bad trip navigation, and so far, those accessing the support line seem to understand the concept behind the mission.
There have been instances where the Fireside Project support line has received calls from people wanting to discuss psychedelic experiences they’ve had in both the recent and distant past (days and weeks to months and years ago), and more than a dozen occasions where microdosing was discussed. In addition, people seem to simply seek comfort in knowing that the line is there to support them, should they need it on their psychedelic journey.
Psychedelics remain illegal in the United States, and while decriminalization efforts continue to see success in local jurisdictions, most psychedelic experiences continue to occur outside traditional societal boundaries which can, for some, be confusing, scary and isolating.
“We’ve had numerous phone calls and text messages from people who just want to know that we exist,” White said. “And for me, some of those conversations, even if they’re less than one minute long, are every bit as powerful as a longer, two-hour conversation. And that’s because for me, loneliness is a feeling. Isolation is a feeling. Disconnection is a feeling, and the knowledge that someone else is out there waiting to support you — wanting to support you — can create a safe container. We’ve even had someone write a testimonial for us where they knew we existed and chose not to call us, but the knowledge that we were there if they needed made all the difference.”
Opportunities in Risk Reduction
It’s too early in the process to declare definitive trends from calls and texts to the peer support line, White said, but he has observed areas of opportunity that could provide insight into psychedelic harm reduction.
With many people finding psychedelics through the popularity of microdosing, setting clear expectations of and educating around what a microdosing experience is and is not (delving into sub-perceptual vs perceptual psychedelic experiences) can help those new to the practice and the substances better understand the process and help prevent people intending to microdose from inadvertently experiencing the effects of larger doses.
Another area for growth is in the harm reduction aspect of integration, including the need for safe, nonjudgmental spaces for people to discuss their psychedelic experiences with others. Lastly, White said, there’s an opportunity to improve the emphasis on and education of expectations in preparing for psychedelic experiences overall, but particularly with larger dose journeys.
“I’ve noticed that often people will hear about psychedelics from popular media, and have the erroneous view that psychedelics work in the same way that aspirin works for a headache, where you’re just having this medicine passively work on you and eliminate this problem,” White said. “When you don’t understand that a psychedelic experience can be the hardest experience of your life, when you don’t have that expectation, it can be all the more destabilizing.
“I think that fact highlights the need for robust education in the psychedelic space. Education when it comes to preparation, when it comes to trip sitting, when it comes to integration is a core part of what risk reduction looks like. I think that everyone in the psychedelic space has a responsibility to think about risk reduction, to think about education and to think about what if anything we’re doing to create an equitable, liberated psychedelic movement.”
Fireside Project’s peer support line is available for free thanks to donors of all kinds, and White said there’s several ways to support the project.
“I like to say that just as your local NPR station is listener supported, we’re community supported,” White said. “Even if you haven’t used the service yet, if you believe that a service like this should exist in the world, if there’s been a time in your life when you could have used a service like this, we would be honored if people would make a donation.”
In addition to financial contributions, people can support Fireside Project by helping make others aware of the peer-support line by talking with friends and family, sharing a photo of themselves and the app on your phone on social media, or by volunteering with Fireside Project directly.
Those interested in helping field calls and texts to the support line or otherwise becoming involved can apply on Fireside Project’s website, firesideproject.org.
Currently, the Fireside Project psychedelic peer support line is available Thursday through Sunday, from 3 p.m. to 3 a.m. Pacific Coast Time, and Monday from 3 to 7 p.m. PST. Starting in October, the line will be open every day from 3:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m. PST.
Editor’s note: Ann Harrison, managing editor of Lucid News, is an advisor to Fireside Project.
Image: Fireside Project