Since the beginning of the 20th century psychedelic era, the informed psychoactive drug-using subculture has followed divergent paths. It was the dream of Albert Hofmann, creator of LSD, that these compounds be regarded as sacred medicine, administered in meditation centers by trained and knowledgeable guides for the purposes of personal and spiritual development. Once psychedelics hit the mainstream in the 1960s, however, they became the high-octane fuel for a wave of anything-goes ecstatic revelry, leading to a social milieu of acid tests with unmeasured punch-bowl party surprises, fear and loathing in the rock-and-roll parking lots, and dodgy doses at all-night raves.
Since this Dionysian explosion triggered many of the worst fears of the establishment culture, it contributed greatly to the demonization and suppression of psychedelics and the cessation of most legal scientific research with psychedelics in humans. Now, over forty years later—in a period that is regarded as a “psychedelic renaissance”—legal research is making headlines. The mainstream culture is increasingly receptive to the idea of psychedelics as agents of healing and as a legitimate avenue for spiritual exploration. At the same time, festival culture has continued to develop and is on its way to becoming a more conscious and intentional container for visionary experience than it was at its inception.
It’s easy to dismiss the consumption of psychedelics at crowded events as dangerous or irresponsible—the misuse of powerful medicines best employed in a more structured and less chaotic setting. The fact is that every year, across the globe, young and old alike experience some of the most transformative moments of their lives within the context of psychedelics use at large gatherings. And as many participants, from amateur acid-heads to seasoned psychonauts, have observed, sometimes the most challenging experiences can be the most rewarding.
Festival culture is here to stay. Massive, multi-day events are a normal part of many young adults’ lives. While events have become more adept at providing infrastructure for medical emergencies, there remains the need for dedicated spaces, staffed by trained specialists, designed to care for those experiencing psychedelic crisis. It’s towards this goal that an extraordinary team of authors and editors offers The Manual of Psychedelic Support, a landmark work that will change lives around the world.
The Manual was assembled over nearly five years, with contributions from more than fifty collaborators, and draws on five decades of field research. In the words of one of its authors, it is a “best-practices guide for creating safe and ethical care services for the multitudes of individual who are exploring with consciousness-expanding substances outside of Western medical research paradigms.” Including contributions from writers, artists and photographers such as Alicia Danforth, Annie Oak, Diogo Ruivo, Earth and Fire Erowid, Rick Doblin, Alex and Allyson Grey, Fred Tomaselli, Hoffmann & Venosa, Vibrata, and Jen Zariat, with Zevic Mishor serving as lead editor of the project, the Manual is, simply put, a masterpiece of harm reduction. As Earth and Fire Erowid write in their foreword, “This Manual shows how much the art and engineering of psychedelic support services have evolved…and sets a new high bar for the manner in which these services should be run and what they can accomplish.”
The guide kicks off with a history of the festival movement and of the care service strategies that evolved naturally from its beginning. It traces the development from forebearers such as the Hog Farmers, White Bird, the CALM volunteers of the Rainbow Family and the medics who roamed the parking lots at Grateful Dead concerts, to more recent incarnations such as KosmiCare at the Boom Festival, Burning Man’s Green Dot Rangers, DanceSafe, MAPS’s Zendo Project, and the Full Circle Tea House, to list just a few. The Manual of Psychedelic Support goes on to describe and define the ethical parameters and principles of psychedelic care services. It outlines an array of logistical guidelines, covering such topics as interacting with festival administration, legal considerations and preliminary planning. With its voluminous information on the recruitment, training, and coordination of the care service team, the Manual emphasizes not only how best to support guests in distress, but also how to ensure the welfare of service providers and facilitators themselves. Helpful suggestions and detailed supply lists are presented for the design, construction, and administration of on-site care centers. Guidelines are provided for guest intake screening, the use of complementary calming and grounding therapies, and how best to interface with emergency on-site medical teams and law enforcement personnel should situations turn gnarly.
In short, The Manual of Psychedelic Support includes everything one would need to start a new psychedelic care organization from the ground up or to fine-tune and improve the practices of an established group. Of particular note is the extent to which it is an open source and open-ended document. Appeals for reader feedback and collaboration are frequent. Space is provided on nearly every page to take notes and record experiences. The Manual is entirely a volunteer effort and is available to download for free. Its widespread dissemination is encouraged.
It is heartwarming to contemplate the effect this manual will have on those working in psychedelic care services, improving their ability to both give and receive support in the work they do. Even the way it was created reflects the values expressed within: collaboration, service, non-hierarchical organization, community-wide participation, elder-centric, ancestor-conscious, forward-thinking… More than just helping people to navigate freak-outs, the Manual is about helping to foster a worldwide culture of people committed to “a loving regard for all living things” and the transmission of these values to society as a whole. We do not know how festival culture will evolve in generations to come, but documents like this one will surely play a major role in helping direct that evolution towards a culture of “openness, sanity, and support”, where individuals can safely unfold and explore the extraordinary possibilities that lie within themselves.Originally Published In : Erowid Extracts Issue 27
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