Trip responsibly

Tuesday, October 13, 2020 - 11:39am

Design courtesy of Katherine Lee

Design courtesy of Katherine Lee Buy this photo

How you prepare for a psychedelic trip can make or break your experience, not to mention ensure that your community stays safe. As community members of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County and the wider world, it’s important to be knowledgeable about the risks associated with psychedelic use and how to minimize them. 

For students and faculty members at the University of Michigan, the first thing to know is that despite the recent measure taken to decriminalize entheogenic plants and fungi in our area, federal law still criminalizes psychedelics. Since the University still favors federal law and university policy over local law when it comes to alcohol and drug use, decriminalization may not necessarily extend to U-M property. Unless the University and the federal government say it’s OK in the future, it’s still best to avoid using psychedelics on campus. 

If you are planning on off-campus use, know what you’re putting in your body — this is especially important with psychedelics since they’re unregulated. While it may seem like a hassle, using a testing kit or doing some extra research on the compound you’re taking may save your life by helping you avoid adulterated and dangerous substances. 

Whether you are seeking out a traditional healing journey or planning on tripping with a guide, approach it cautiously. These medicines can be a good thing — some Indigenous communities use entheogenic plants like ayahuasca to help remain spiritually resilient and in touch with the natural world. But in some cases, it’s possible to be taken advantage of if the drugs being purchased are not legitimate or masked as something else. Psychedelics put you in a different mindset, for better or worse. If it’s worse, the openness you experience could leave you in a vulnerable position. Despite the immense healing that legitimate traditional plant medicine can bring, there have also been instances which lead to people being sexually abused or dying as a result of their participation. 

You have to be careful about who you get substances from and who you take them with. If you choose to use psychedelics with a new organization or individual, trust your intuition. If something feels off, it probably is. Check multiple sources for reviews of psychedelic effects, do your research and don’t trip alone. 

While psychedelics, when taken in the right context, can be generally safe and potentially beneficial for most people, they aren’t for everyone. Bipolar disorder and other underlying mental and physical conditions may cause some people to have negative reactions. Before embarking on a trip, research effects of psychedelics on conditions you may have. In addition to talking to trusted family, friends and medical professionals, you may also want to check out local psychedelic support groups and other resources.

If you do decide that psychedelics are safe for you, the old idea of “set and setting” still matters. Set refers to your mindset; setting refers to your environment. In other words, it’s a bad idea to have a psychedelic experience in the Arb, the Diag or anywhere else by yourself. To get the most out of your trip, it’s important to be in a good mindset and in a place where you feel comfortable and with people whom you trust. For a more meaningful experience with psychedelics, setting an intention beforehand and creating space afterward for reflection can help you integrate what you’ve learned into your life. 

While each of these points are a start for what individuals can do to prepare for a safe trip, a community-based model could perhaps reduce the most harm. Going forward, it may be in the interest of retailers in the Ann Arbor community to consider providing testing kits and informational material to increase accessibility to education and reduce harm. If our community were to take these measures, like the Zendo Project does at music festivals, we could further ensure safety and responsibility.

Furthermore, in the interest of expanding our consciousness beyond our own health and safety, it’s also important to consider community and environmental well-being. Certain psychedelic plants and animals are becoming endangered. As we’ve seen in recent years with the Sonoran Desert Toad, Peyote and Ayahuasca, the demands of non-native American psychedelic tourists are overwhelming supply, leading to resource depletion and a neglection of Native American communities.

In the case of the Sonoran Desert Toad, its species is becoming endangered by non-Native American psychedelic tourists due to 5-MeO-DMT, a psychedelic/spiritual molecule found in the toad’s venom. Since the toad’s absence is considered a precursor for drought by communities like the Yaqui tribe of the Southwest U.S. and Mexico, endangerment of its species represents a risk to the ecosystem in which it inhabits and a loss to the Native American communities who rely on it. 

Peyote, a psychedelic cactus containing mescaline, has long been endangered in a similar way. On March 12, 2020, The National Council of Native American Churches (NCNAC) and the Indigenous Peyote Conservation Initiative (IPCI) made a request for Peyote to be excluded from Decriminalize Nature’s campaign due to its endangered status and significance to Native American communities. If you are a non-Native person, please reconsider using Peyote and other endangered species.

Spontaneity and the opportunity to explore the unknown are part of the draw of psychedelics. But taking precautions, paying attention to set and setting and respecting Native American communities are fundamental parts of ensuring personal, communal and environmental well-being in years to come. If you decide to trip, have a good one — but please make sure you do so safely and thoughtfully.

Lily Cesario can be reached at lcesario@umich.edu.


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