What does it mean?
People are throwing the phrase “harm reduction” around a lot lately. What does this really mean? How does it work? What are the risks to this approach?
What does this mean? When we say harm reduction, instead of coming at the issue of drug use from the perspective of “it’s wrong and people shouldn’t do it”, we’re approaching the issue from the perspective: “People are doing it”. A lot of the work that is done here is to unravel the situations that lead people to want to use drugs - that’s the work of 361 days of the year for the staff at HC. For 4 days a year, our goal is to help people take care of themselves, be safe, and get the most possible benefit from what they, as adults, choose to do. We do this using three tools: education, crisis support, and set/setting.
Under ideal circumstances, the psychedelic experience allows a person to teach themselves the lessons that are most important for them to learn at the time. People approach themselves and their problems from a new perspective, and make changes to their lives which send them on a never-before dreamed of course of events, greater than anything they could have imagined. Set and setting are the tools we use to try to “get people there”. The psychedelic experience is shaped by the people, the environment, the intentions of the person journeying, and the colours and sounds they find. People can be helped along the path of self discovery by leaders, walking before them, clearing it of obstructions and helping them over and through barriers. The canoe flows down the river. A strong sternman can sometimes be the difference between pleasure and suffering, or even life and death.
Not all voyages are pleasant, but not all unpleasant voyages are without merit. Often, to grow, we must endure suffering and mourn the death of our former selves. This can be a wholly unpleasant and terrifying experience, as death often is. It is here that we utilize our second tool, crisis support. People experiencing psychedelic crisis – bad trips - are often on the brink of a spiritual awakening – they must be treated as such: delicately, and with strong boundaries put in place to ensure their safety and the safety of the people around them – they need a safe space to process unresolved trauma and someone to ensure that they do so safely.
Education is where we learn about the tools of our expedition. Not all substances are created equal, and not all people should ingest some or any substances of any kind, ever. People react differently to different substances. Some substances are highly addictive. A truthful education on how one feels on certain substances, the risks, possible contraindications, and possible interactions between personality and substances. All these things should be known by anyone “experimenting” with drugs. Usually we incorporate personal tales as some of our staff have histories of addiction and have experienced the curative power of psychedelic plants, and always with the questions.
How does it work? Harm reduction works by accepting the truth of the situation – some people, sometimes, are going to use drugs. We believe that keeping people safe, and helping ensure they enjoy the greatest possible benefit from their choice, is extremely important. We also believe that some drugs should be all together avoided – drugs like methamphetamines, crack cocaine, and heroin. We believe that people should be able to ensure the quality and type of substance that they are using, and we believe that an earnestly-given education will eventually help to overcome the power of addictive drugs over people if people are able to experience positive relations with one another, have meaningful roles in their communities, are able to develop and express their spirituality, and can pursue activities that bring meaning into their lives – this is how we are going to beat addiction, by turning to something better: each other.
What are the risks? One of the risks is that we might appear to be condoning drug use – this is not the case, we are accepting that sometimes, some people will use drugs. Another risk is that people, believing this, feel encouraged to use more drugs than they would have, or try something they wouldn’t have. Hopefully our education and year-round work help curb some of these tendencies. Our goal is to ensure safety and comfort for people, regardless of what they choose to do with their own bodies, and to encourage healing and growth wherever possible.