In its first year, Fireside trained more than 100 volunteers and conducted about 2,550 conversations with callers, including Greenberg. Within months of arriving at Jasmine, he quit his job (and his psychedelic high salary) to focus on his work of “adding value to the universe.” Eventually, he called Fireside again—this time not asking for help, but offering it. When we spoke, he had donated $100,000 and was about to start working as the organization’s CTO, free of charge.
I should make a rather obvious point, perhaps sometimes lost: Although extremely rare, hallucinogens able cause serious injury. A family history of mental illness may push someone into a psychotic episode. Symptoms of travel may mask a concurrent medical crisis. A 2022 lawsuit found that MAPS was partially responsible for Baylee Gatlin’s death. Baylee Gatlin died of organ failure and heat stroke after being cared for by Zendo volunteers at the festival in 2017.
“What the sport is doing is definitely helpful for a lot of people,” said Charles Nemeroff, co-director of the Center for Psychedelic Research and Therapy at the Dell School of Medicine at the University of Texas at Austin. It added that although “numerous case reports suggest that these substances are relatively safe,” we are still in the data-gathering phase.
For her part, O’Donnell called this harm-reduction approach “very valuable.” She also warns that even one session with a trained tour operator isn’t necessarily enough for people whose past traumas are suddenly surfacing, or who are going through a deeply disturbing experience.
The stakes, Nemeroff points out, even outweigh any individual’s well-being. “None of us want a situation where the unregulated use of psychedelics leads to tragedy and then a backlash,” he said. “We haven’t really studied psychedelics for a long time.”
For now, there seems little danger of turning our tide. interest in psychedelics. Sara Gael, Harm Reduction Officer for MAPS, describes the social inflection point behind the current psychedelic renaissance. In recent years, with recession, climate change, white supremacy, and a host of dysfunctions, people have increasingly relied on these substances to view their world.
All of this made me wonder about the true nature of the psychedelic peer support movement. Of course, this is a movement against these substances, rooted in a specific context: an era of persistent regression in drug policy and the collapse of official support systems. But maybe it’s more than that.
Jail, Thorazine, Wavy Gravy, Zendo: as nodes on an arc, these represent a decades-long, mostly underground evolution of how we understand a very particular kind of help each other on a level.
Pires told me that the principles behind contemporary psychedelic peer support apply to everyday life as well—she uses some of the same skills with her children. slow down. Provide calm.let feelings arise. Perhaps good travel is no different from being a good company, a good friend, a good relative. Perhaps one day, when we look back, we will be shocked by this era—not because of our growing interest in these substances, but because of the transformation in our understanding of ourselves in them.
This article appears in the July/August 2023 issue. subscribe now.
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