What are the effects of Hallucinogens? How could they alter your festival experience?
There has been a resurgence in psychedelic drugs recently. Some people are curious to experiment with a variety substances that induce an altered state of consciousness (known as a ‘trip’).For some, these drugs complement heightened sensory environments such as festivals,where people ‘trip’ on psychedelic substances to hallucinate. During festival season, psychedelic drug-taking often increases, making the need to consider harm-reduction even more significant. Some festival-goers take psychedelics and report having a positive experience, others can become overwhelmed, fearful and panicked by their hallucinations. No matter the situation, it is important for festival-goers, volunteers,welfare officers and employers to understand the properties and potential effects of these powerful drugs.
The Psychedelic Family
Some psychedelics are natural products growing freely, while others are manufactured in the laboratory. They have varying effects and strengths; nonetheless, they are all taken for a hallucinatory experience that may lasts between 4, 6 or even 12 hours. A variety of psychedelic drugs are commonly used at festivals: 2-C drugs, LSD, magic mushrooms and NBOMe. These are all Class A substances controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971) making them illegal to manufacture, supply, possess and distribute.
A recent ‘designer drug’known as 2C pills (2CB, 2CE, 2CI, 2C [-x]) are made cheaply in laboratories. Many of these types of psychedelics were made by Dr Alexander Shulgin, the man known as the ‘Godfather of ecstasy’. 2C drugs contain the chemical ‘phenethylamine’, which produces psychoactive and stimulating effects that appear to mimic stimulant drugs. 2C substances appear to emulate the ‘rushing’ effects of MDMA so they are sometimes mis-sold as ecstasy at festivals. People report 2C’s hallucinogenic properties to be far greater than MDMA – it only takes a few milligrams to bring on intense visual imagery, distorted patterns and movements; some people report ‘seeing sound.’
LSD & 25I–NBOMe
The laboratory-produced drug 25I-NBOMe was once a ‘legal’ alternative to another synthetically produced substance known as d-lysergic acid (otherwise known as LSD or acid). LSD and 25I-NBOMe are often sold on 7mm squares of blotting paper, or ‘tab’, equal to one dose. They are dissolved on the tongue or in water. Tabs usually have distinct colorful designs which identify the syndicate who manufactured them and the chemical type.
These two types of psychedelic can present quite different levels of risk. LSD’s effects are much better known than N-BOMe which can be of less predictable strength and action.
In 2013, tabs were seized in Europe with a picture of a man on a Hoffman bicycle, and after a series of police seizures and lab tests,NBOMe was detected in the samples. This batch led to 7 non-fatal intoxications in North-East England where drug-takers were hospitalised after experiencing chaotic feelings and showing violent reactions. In the drug forum Bluelight, users discussed their concerns over how to distinguish LSD from NBOMe. One person wrote: ‘25I has a very bitter taste. The whole experience is very different. 25I has a pretty considerable body load [a strong sensation brought on by a psychedelic] compared to LSD.’
It’s this ‘considerable body load’ that has powerful mind-altering effect on drug-takers who are inexperienced and unable to cope with NBOMe’s overpowering effects. Earlier this year, Steven Horton 19 year old musician, found the drug too much to handle making him delusional and paranoid. Unable to handle the trip he ran from his friend’s caravan and was later found drowned. His friend said, “It was just horrible from the start. We were both feeling sick. It was way more intense than it had ever been before.”
Another popular psychedelic chemical is ‘psilocin’ and ‘psilocybin’ which are illegal, naturally occurring chemicals found in ‘magic mushrooms.’ These chemicals are Class A substances that are illegal if freshly picked or prepared (a dried mushroom).
Shrooms’ can either be eaten or brewed in a tea. The effects are similar but milder compared to the effects of LSD: visual hallucinations are common, perception becomes distorted and users may feel a sense of euphoria. Picking season in the UK is limited (September-November) so this seasonal drug is hazardous if the mushroom picked is misidentified – Liberty Capsare most popular psilocybin variety found in the UK. When taking psychedelic drugs, it is important to be aware of what would be too big a dose, as too may cause panic or anxiety. Only regular users are more aware of safer doses and their limits. Compared to other psychedelics the Global Drugs Survey 2017 discovered mushrooms had the lowest rates of hospitalisation.
How Psychedelics can impact your mental health at a festival
These drugs are proven to have an impact on some people’s mental health, with their effects tending to exaggerate certain anxieties or magnify surreal situations. The Global Drug Survey 2017 reported people’s ‘negative experience’ after taking: NBOMe (15.8%); LSD (7.6%); 2C-drugs (6.3%); magic mushrooms (5.2%). This survey does not capture everyone’s experience, but people are advised not to consume psychedelics if they are somewhere unfamiliar, experience depression or anxiety, or have an existing mental health problem.
Amphetamine type drugs (cocaine, ecstasy etc) used in combined with psychedelics can also cause a dangerous interaction: research has uncovered that long-term cocaine use can lead to infrequent psychosis in people who even take tiny amounts. This experience can make a person feel socially withdrawn, they might feel embarrassed by their irrational behavior or in some cases it has caused suicide.
Managing a trip
Across the globe there are few harm-reduction initiatives supporting psychedelic drug-users at festivals. In the United States, the charity Zendo Project provides a supportive environment for people taking psychedelic drugs. Working in partnership with law enforcement agencies and medics, a group of trained Zendo volunteers called ‘guides’ support people on their trip, creating therapeutic environments to encourage people to overcome distressing issues and identify people who need further medical assistance. Psychedelic harm reduction organisations acknowledge some people will misuse drugs and they appreciate that psychedelic drug-taking is ‘risky’ so their ethos is grounded in reducing harm, especially as this type of drug use is highly prevalent at the festival Burning Man, in the Nevada Desert.
This approach to festival drug-taking isn’t evident at British festivals as yet; in the UK, there are no specialist services dedicated to reducing harm from psychedelic use, and the only service that is available is usually the festival welfare and medical aid team.
Are festivals the right environment for psychedelic drug use?
Some people who use drugs appear not to thinks so – participants of the Global Drug Survey 2017 emphasised the need to create the right conditions for a psychedelic trip due to their powerful hallucinogenic properties. Some people attempt to mitigate the risk of a negative experience by controlling their environment: 44.2% of first-timers state that they used LSD in a ‘safe space’inside their own home, compared to 10.7% who had taken them at a festival.
Consider avoiding psychedelic drug use at festivals
These drugs are powerful and unpredictable, with a person’s trip dependent on their mindset and how much they are able control or guide their hallucinations. Psychedelics have caused harm to those who abuse them, as well as inexperienced drug users lacked help from a sober person. Harm reduction services promote the need to have open communication with drug users so they feel comfortable to openly speak about their experience if they become overwhelmed by the effects of the drug. The worry with drugs like NBOMe is they can cause paranoia, aggression, self-harm, seizures or very occasionally death which require intensive medical assistance.
The longevity of a psychedelic trip means most people need at least 48 hours to recover from the drug’s effects taking a toll on the mind and body, making recovery at a festival even more difficult. These substances are not drugs of addition but not one to take on a whim; it is a drug that (if being taken) should be carefully prepared for. Buying drugs at festivals makes people vulnerable to purchasing adulterated substances or being mis-sold a drug.
Festivals are a time to enjoy culture and escape daily life:they offer surreal, colourful environments that for a few lend themselves to indulging in poly-drug use and heavy alcohol consumption. However, these substances create dangerous interactions with psychedelics and should be avoided. Enjoy festival season psychedelic- and drug-free!
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