Harm reduction refers to practical strategies aimed to reduce the potential for any negative consequences associated with substance use. The term applies to substances across the board, but with psychedelics, it has specific connotations. Some people prefer the term “risk reduction,” because it implies that not all drug use is harmful, but can carry risks.
Things to Know
- Harm reduction does not necessitate abstinence from a substance, but reducing any potential negative consequences associated with substance use
- Harm reduction approaches can be applied to psychotherapy
- The principles of psychedelic harm reduction entail fostering a safe, comfortable space for the individual, while refraining from judgments about the experience
- Harm reduction techniques include providing drug checking kits and services, and needle exchange
- Supplies provided for harm reduction in party settings can also include earplugs, hand cleaner, electrolytes, condoms and lube
What is Harm Reduction?
In the context of taking psychedelics, harm reduction involves strategies that promote a safe set and setting, as well as preparing for the experience and having support set up in advance for the integration process afterward. It also includes the process of testing substances to help ensure that people purchasing these materials on the black market are not buying counterfeit substances or those that may have been adulterated.
Harm reduction techniques take a compassionate stance toward the individual, focusing on their personal autonomy, rights, and values. Harm reduction does not necessitate abstinence from a substance, and in fact takes substance use into account as part of its philosophy. The concepts of harm reduction also apply to supporting health and wellness in environments where people may be using substances, such as parties and festivals.
Some psychedelic therapists or psychedelic integration therapists might also practice harm reduction psychotherapy1, which applies the principles of harm reduction to therapy. This includes taking a nonjudgmental, non stigmatizing, and non pathologizing stance with the patient.
Principles of Psychedelic Harm Reduction
Many harm reduction spaces, including quiet areas at private parties, services offered by the Zendo Project, and other spaces often referred to as “sanctuary” areas, often follow common principles. The four principles of psychedelic harm reduction have been developed by many harm reduction providers over the years2:
- Create a safe space: Foster a calm environment, be a calm presence, make the individual comfortable by offering water, blankets, etc.
- Sitting, not guiding: Be a calm presence that promotes security, while letting the experience unfold. Do not impose your own beliefs on another person.
- Talk through, not down: Invite the person to connect with what they are feeling, rather than resisting it.
- Difficult is not the same as bad. What some people call “bad trips” are approached as “challenging experiences,” and have the potential to teach an individual invaluable lessons. While securing the safety of the individual in the care of a harm reduction space, they are encouraged to consider these experiences with curiosity rather than fear.
Harm Reduction in Practice
Harm reduction can take many forms. It can include having water and food handy during a psychedelic experience; making sure that triggering music is not playing during a psychedelic ceremony; and not making judgment calls on the person’s experience.