Conventional wisdom is that psychedelics are not recreational drugs; for every one who trips at a rave, it seems three are lined up to condemn them for it. With Burning Man this week, it seems like an appropriate time to ask: is psychotherapy the only acceptable use for psychedelics, or can they be fun, too?
To begin with, we should ask: why do people speak badly of recreational use? They consider it disrespectful towards the substance, thinking it frivolous and less likely to produce serious benefit. They consider it dangerous, because the risk of having a very unpleasant trip is much higher in a chaotic setting where anything could happen. They see psychedelics as incredibly powerful and commanding of respect, something not to be wasted, taken lightly or used merely for entertainment. And, in that, they’re right.
When used intentionally by someone with a relatively stable psyche, psychedelics are unlikely to lead to any kind of lasting harm (persisting harm from psychedelics does happen, but it’s very rare). Even a “bad trip” will most likely pass quickly, and the user will often emerge from it with a better self-understanding . On the other hand, nervous energy is a capricious thing. Even a good trip may have moments of anxiety and uneasiness, radiance and fear, calm and dis-ease, alternating like tick and tock. As your perceptions are magnified, music you normally enjoy might grate, a level of filth or sketchiness you’d usually be fine with might perturb, and people and conversations you would at any other time delight in could seem alien, ego-driven, or, more often, just entirely too prosaic. Worse, the tendency of psychedelics to get at your emotional core and prevent you from running away from your flaws means that you might end up very emotional and needing to either be alone, or at least only with loved ones — not good on a crowded dance floor. And, even if bad trips are uncommon, they’re a lot more common when there’s fear and hostility in the air. If the only people who come to a certain kind of party are beautiful and loving, fantastic, but you have to ask yourself, is that really something you can be sure of in advance?
Another effect psychedelics often have on people is making them quiet, slow moving and pensive. It’s not like you can’t dance if you choose to (you might even find you’re better at it!), but you’re likely to end up at the sidelines of the party thinking deeply about something with a mildly distraught look on your face. Is that how you were hoping to spend your night?
Psychedelics are work. Sometimes they make us feel amazing, filling our souls with radiant energy and bathing us in the eternally new love shared between all conscious beings, but even in that they’re anything but relaxing. If you want to blow off steam, loosen up so that you can have a good time without being anxious and simply feel good, frankly, there are better drugs for that. Psychedelics are a commitment: they often last a long time, they’re mentally exhausting, and until the trip is well underway, even someone with lots of experience will probably have no idea what it’s going to be like. Do not underestimate them.
Does that mean wanting to have fun is bad?
“Some of your youth seek pleasure as if it were all, and they are judged and rebuked.
I would not judge nor rebuke them. I would have them seek
For they shall find pleasure, but not her alone;
Seven are her sisters, and the least of them is more beautiful than pleasure.
Have you not heard of the man who was digging in the earth for roots and found a treasure?”
– Kahlil Gibran
Trips can last a long time. Even supposing that a party is so overstimulating that no introspection can take place, you’ll probably still be high when you leave, and you never know what might lead to a personal breakthrough. I’ve talked to people who were able to conquer self doubts and insecurities while high at a party, and more who were captivated and transformed by the wonderful, vibrant energy they bore witness to. Good things certainly can happen when you trip this way, there’s no denying it. For some partyers, psychedelics may even serve as a gateway to the unexpected: their hedonistic motivations lead them into spiritual epiphanies and away from unreflexive hedonism. I’ve personally interviewed several people whose psychedelic use, originally motivated by a desire to “get fucked up,” cured them of their addictions! Let them dig for their roots.
Further, anyone who looks down on fun and pleasure is missing the point: trips should to be fun. Meaningful, intense and at times challenging, yes, but what use are the thoughts we provoke if they do not help us to carry our burdens lightly and to open our eyes to the beauty all around us, so that our efforts to improve ourselves, each other and the world might be a song of praise and thankfulness for the joy we’ve found in our hearts? Make your trip fun! Nay, make your whole life fun! Be silly, and laugh at your overly serious conceptions of what spirituality “ought” to be. Give into freedom, dance, and love.
… just don’t make yourself vulnerable and open to psychic impressions somewhere you aren’t sure will help you feel safe, or where you’ll be pulled down into your own bad habits. If you’ve never done a certain drug before, you really ought to familiarise yourself with it before taking it in a chaotic setting, as it might catch you totally off guard. Even if you’ve already had a trip or two, the effects are unpredictable, so next time might be far more intense than last time! Take care. If nothing else, pick your party very carefully (hint: try to avoid drunk people), make sure you go with a friend who knows what you’re taking and will be there for you, and always, always, always have somewhere private and comfortable you can escape to, even if it’s just a nearby park, in case the party isn’t what you were hoping for.
Not all safe trips are fun trips, but all fun trips were at least safe enough.