My teenage relative is interested in psychedelics and came to me for more information. How do I talk about psychedelics with them? Is it ever ethical to recommend someone underage do it, or approve of them already having done it?
I LOVE this question because I myself started doing psychedelics on my 16th birthday, a year after I started smoking weed. I was extremely fortunate to have some close adult figures in my life who were willing to serve as confidantes and share information with me. I’d made it clear to them that yes, I was going to do these drugs, and no, they really couldn’t dissuade me.
Thus is the beauty of growing up around real live adults who not only acknowledge their drug use, but are willing to talk about it openly and candidly with minors. I was already ordering truffles from Holland on the internet and eating them in parks with my friends. I was also, coincidentally, engaging in the socially acceptable behavior of drinking several cups of coffee per day, which led me to develop a severe physical dependence on caffeine by the time I was 17 that included crippling withdrawals. But there was no need to talk about that, right? It’s just caffeine! (Don’t even get me started on vapes.)
If I’m being completely frank (as someone who is not all that far from my own teenage years), I find that the present “normal teenage behavior” drug use that takes place with alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine (read: vapes) is minimized in a way that’s disproportionate to its actual risk. On the flipside, I consider teenage psychedelic use with the guidance of a trusted adult to be stigmatized in a way that’s disproportionate to its actual risk. To be abundantly clear, I don’t think that any of these substances are better or worse than each other. I am explicitly talking about how socialized behaviors around “normal” or “abnormal” drug use seem to conveniently give free passes to talk openly about some drugs while making it seem like reckless negligence to talk openly about others.
I’m completely in favor of kids seeing drug use in general (very hot take). Kids see adults use all of the “socially acceptable” substances out in the wild or at home on a daily basis. There’s the “oh, I’m so heartbroken, want to drink a whole bottle of champagne together?” in rom-coms, and the “I need a cigarette” in every genre of media known to humankind, and of course the “won’t speak to you without my coffee!” plastered on every mug in every gift shop in America.
What matters to me is whether a child’s quality of life is being negatively impacted by someone else’s chaotic, problematic, or directly harmful relationship with one or more substances, including whether those use patterns negatively impact a child’s use in turn. I do not believe that witnessing someone doing drugs, talking about doing drugs, or discussing what might happen if you do drugs are at all inherently the same thing as a child being traumatized by things going sideways for any party involved.
Most drug use isn’t chaotic, problematic, or directly harmful. There is a spectrum. It is okay to acknowledge that reality. We acknowledge that reality with the socially acceptable triad (alcohol, caffeine, nicotine) on a daily basis. Why can’t we extend it to other drugs, too? This is really just an extension of the long-standing event promoter fear of being seen as “endorsing drug use” by having DanceSafe harm reduction services on site. It’s the War on Drugs in a nutshell. There are so many cemented social taboos in place that might make it feel impossible to even consider talking to a teenager doing mushrooms without trying to stop them; I just don’t think it’s that simple. (In fact, kids use psychedelics in a number of cultural indigenous contexts.)
In my opinion, the same kind of conversation you might have with your kid or your sibling’s kid or your grandkid or ANY kid about alcohol could be largely applied to psychedelics as well. And yes, of course I think it’s delicate. You have to consider issues like informed consent, cognitive liberty, bodily autonomy, age dynamics, power, resourcing, opportunity cost, liability, health conditions, predispositions, and many other things that wouldn’t be so prevalent with someone who’d had a bit more time to learn how to evaluate the risks and benefits of their own decisions.
But I think there are ways to do this. There are boundaries and disclaimers you might put in place, for instance:
- I won’t help you source any drugs, but if you end up getting some on your own, let me know before you take them and I’ll help you test them. There are tens of thousands of drugs out there and you can’t know the dosage or risks of what you’re taking without testing first.
- You can always call me if you need help, you’re not feeling okay, or you’re about to do something and you want advice.
- We should talk through your physical and mental health and make sure you have a prepared environment, both inside and outside of yourself, if you want to do this.
- I can’t guarantee anything for you. There are inherent risks involved with most things you do, and this is no different. It’s impossible to predict exactly how things will go. All you can do is learn as much as you can, start low, go slow, and consent to the fact that you don’t have a lot of certainty.
- There might be times when I tell you I think something is a bad idea. That’s part of this. If you decide to do something anyway we can sit down and talk about it afterwards.
- I’m not going to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. I can only tell you what I know about this, help you talk through your thoughts, and share my opinion about the lowest-risk course of action if you decide to proceed.
Another extremely hot take coming through: if you’re talking to a teenager who has expressed direct intention to find and purchase certain drugs, and you’re willing to take the legal risk involved, don’t leave them to their own devices. Get them drugs from sources you trust. This is in contradiction to the first bullet point above, since it is usually too high-risk for adult figures to be comfortable with, but it’s what I would recommend above all else.
Teach the next generation how to identify red flags with dealers, like people who are too pushy or make big claims about their product. Teach them average prices so they don’t get ripped off. Teach them about the illicit market and drug checking. If you’re comfortable with it and your/the kid has been very clear about their plans to do this substance anyway, do it with them or tripsit them (I had my first experiences on both LSD and MDMA with trusted adults when I was 16). Show them how you’d do it. Pass the baton. Help them skip a decade of trial and error and potentially super dangerous learning experiences. Break the cycle. (Of note: This obviously holds substantially higher risk for parents who are navigating custody cases or are otherwise vulnerable to the criminal “justice” system. Proceed with discretion.)
I’m sorry, but I don’t think it’s harm reduction when a 16 year old kid ends up buying a $300 ball of methylone from a group of a dozen loaded 35 year olds in a parking lot because she was dead set on buying MDMA, but didn’t know how to find it – or have any adults willing to give tips on sourcing drugs. (Yep, that’s me.)
I think the bottom line of my advice is: speak candidly and neutrally, ask lots of questions, and say “I don’t know” if you don’t know. Say “I think” or “I believe” to qualify your statements. It’s important for everyone to understand that no one knows everything about drugs. Helping a curious teenager get an idea of just how many unknowns there are is a critical part of instilling drug safety (an abundance of caution, really) right off the bat. Two great resources for this are psychonautwiki.org and effectindex.com.
You don’t have to explicitly endorse or not endorse anything to be a good support system, and in this case I wouldn’t recommend doing so. Your relative is probably going to do psychedelics regardless of whether you offer your wisdom. I’d bet money the experience would be lower risk and higher benefit with you in the corner keeping an eye out.
I’m curious about mixing psychedelics with cocaine. Do you have advice about this?
Yes, but it’s not very exciting advice. I don’t endorse any interaction charts for exactly this reason: interactions are dose-sensitive, circumstance-sensitive, substance-sensitive, and person-sensitive. You can’t distill that algorithm into “synergistic” or “risky.”
Basically, experiment. I always recommend doing drugs on their own before mixing them together, so if you don’t have a solid amount of experience with either substance in question I’d get familiar first. As always, the specific drug matters. I reserve the classification of “psychedelic” for only the big four: DMT, mescaline, LSD, psilocin. If you consider other drugs to be psychedelics, you might be referring to substances that have very different pharmacology and relative risks when combined with coke. So let’s approach this assuming you’re talking about one of the big four.
DMT and cocaine I’d be less inclined to recommend trying out because you’re really not in your body when you blast off on DMT. Maybe you’d blast off faster? Vibrate harder? I don’t know. I doubt it’d be particularly dangerous but I haven’t heard anyone talk about doing it. High doses of coke before blasting off on DMT could be really overstimulating and potentially riskier because of it, I’d imagine mainly due to the chance of a seizure or hyperthermic event or something. I’m not a doctor. Just guessing here.
Of note: I don’t consider ayahuasca to fall under the DMT umbrella in this case because it contains MAOI, which might pose a significantly higher risk with cocaine. I’m not sure the extent or the specific issues but advise only mixing them if you’ve been able to speak with multiple people who are experts in ayahuasca interactions – unlike me.Everything else (mescaline, LSD, psilocin) probably would have a fairly similar combination
profile, with LSD being the most traditionally stimulating of the three on its own. There’s only so deep I can go here because the dose is so important to consider, as well as your own personal relationship with each substance. If you, for instance, are prone to physical anxiety, doing a bump of coke while tripping super hard on acid might make you feel pretty uncomfortable. It could also be perfectly comfortable and pleasant. It could make it easier to socialize, reducing overall anxiety levels. Or it could mask the fact that you haven’t eaten enough and you start feeling disoriented and unwell because your blood sugar is too low. Or… send you into a traumatic panic doom spiral. Or not even hit you at all. And so on, and so forth.
What a useless possibility tree, right? Without the specifics of your situation, there is so little I can tell you about what may or may not happen. The best bet with anything like this is to always start with very small doses of whatever you’re mixing. Understand this: no matter how hard you try to standardize your experiments, it’s pretty likely you’ll run across curveballs along the way. Things may or may not be consistent with dosage. A bump of coke on top of a tab of LSD might be great one time at the 2.5 hour mark and awful the next. The idea is just to get an average over time.
TLDR: I don’t think it’s inherently a bad idea to mix most things. Mixing one microgram of something with one microgram of another thing is still technically mixing, but the circumstances and specifics determine if it actually matters at all. Like marbles on a 20-pronged scale, there are many parts of you that contribute to what does or doesn’t go well.
What psychedelics can you take if you’re on SSRIs or MAOIs?
Another question that requires much more information! You’ll always, always, always ultimately need to specify the exact substances you’re considering mixing if you want to get a more helpful interaction profile. There can sometimes be broad generalizations made across classes, but they have limited application in the real world. I suggest starting out with the minimum threshold dose of one, both, or all substances you’re mixing to get a feel for how they play together, regardless of how much information you have available to you.
A blanket statement I can make with a moderate degree of confidence is that SSRIs typically have fewer potential really problematic interactions than MAOIs. MAOIs interact with quite a lot of stuff, sometimes in ways that might actually be truly dangerous. SSRIs are more likely to blunt the effects of certain drugs (like MDMA and some psychedelics), but could enhance the effects of others (like alcohol, for many people).
It’s important to distinguish between SSRIs, SNRIs, NDRIs, etc., since lots of people just call them “antidepressants” and assume that word refers to SSRIs exclusively. I don’t typically hear about people having many interactions of significance when taking SSRIs with classical psychedelics (the big four) or ketamine. MDMA, on the other hand, is usually blunted to the point of being totally ineffective when you’re on SSRIs, and combining MDMA and MAOIs is, to my understanding, often explicitly high-risk because pharmaceutical MAOIs are administered in active doses by default. That is where serotonin syndrome can truly take place.
MAOIs I honestly can’t say much about in terms of classical psychedelics. While I have initial impressions about the relative risk level, this is one I don’t feel qualified to speculate on because there may very well be serious interactions I don’t know about.
You can read more info on the topic of antidepressants and psychedelics here, including an awesome workbook.
About Your Psychedelic Auntie
When we have questions about psychedelics, we often consult our Auntie. An Auntie can be a person of any gender who offers wise advice about psychedelic substances and how to effectively use them. Lucid News is asking a collection of well-informed people to step in as Auntie and answer your questions about psychedelics. Some of the best peer-based, accurate information about psychedelic substances and harm reduction comes from DanceSafe, a nonprofit educational organization founded in 1998. DanceSafe provides health and safety services at festivals and events. This month, our Psychedelic Auntie is DanceSafe Programs and Communications Coordinator Rachel Clark. Send your questions to the Psychedelic Auntie via the Lucid News contact page and watch this space for the answers.