Responsible drug use
Responsible drug use is a set of ideas and practices based on the theory that recreational substance use can be engaged in a healthy and responsible manner by consenting adult individuals. It is related to the concept of harm reduction, which seeks to minimize the risks and potential harms of psychoactive substances while maximizing their benefits and utility.
According to the harm reduction approach, recreational substance use should be understood as an inherently high-risk activity that inevitably involves an elevated risk of addiction, serious injury, and death. Therefore, the most pragmatic strategy an individual can adopt (other than complete abstinence, which may not always be realistic or desirable) is to carefully research the effects and take practical steps to reduce and mitigate potential risks and harms.
As an activity, recreational drug use can be viewed in a similar light as other risky-but-enriching activities, particularly extreme sports such as sailing, skiing, skydiving, surfing, and mountain climbing. More mundanely, it may be compared to driving a car, riding a motorcycle, or flying in an airplane. While these activities carry substantial risks, including death, it is widely understood that these risks can be minimized to an acceptable level with proper education and training, and culminate in a net positive impact on the individual and society. In a modern context, these activities may be viewed as an inalienable expression of an individual's freedom, self-determination, and dignity.
The philosophy underlying responsible drug use is relatively radical in that it places absolute responsibility on the user to conduct proper research and take the necessary safety precautions. This is accompanied with the understanding that there is no such thing as truly "safe" use (only "safer" use) and that individuals are ultimately responsible for the outcomes of their decisions. Advocates point to the many well-known artists and intellectuals who have used drugs, experimentally or otherwise, with few detrimental effects on their lives. Critics argue that drugs are escapist, dangerous, unpredictable and sometimes addictive; therefore, responsible drug use is an illusion.
Examples of general harm reduction advice include:
- Understanding and educating oneself on the effects and legality of the substance being consumed
- Measuring accurate dosages and taking other precautions to reduce the risk of overdose
- Taking the time to chemically test all substances being consumed to determine purity and strength
- Not driving, operating heavy machinery, or otherwise being directly or indirectly responsible for the safety or care of another person while intoxicated
- Having a trip sitter when taking a substances with which one is not familiar
- Not attempting to trick or persuade anyone to use a substance they are not willing to use
- Not allowing substance use to overshadow other aspects of one's life or responsibilities
- Being morally conscious of the source of one's substances
This page is dedicated to providing information on the various factors that should be considered when experimenting with psychoactive substances. The first section covers general harm reduction practices for all classes of substances while the latter section is specific to hallucinogens.
Main article: Dosage
In the context of psychonautic or recreational substance use, it is vital to choose an appropriate dose. Administering an excessive dose of a substance can lead to negative experiences such as extreme anxiety, distressing side effects, hospitalization, or (in extreme cases) death. Likewise, taking too low of a dose can make the user feel uncomfortable and frustrated, which may promote reckless behaviors such as re-dosing multiple times and increasing the risk of a cumulative overdose.
The user should always remember that while "you can always take more later, you can never take less".
Main article: Choosing dosage
In choosing a dose, the user should avoid doses which they are uncomfortable or unfamiliar with. An inexperienced user should always start in the lower end of dose range, with the goal of working their way up in small increments until they are familiar with the behavior of the substance.
Doses should be adjusted by slightly increasing the dose (i.e. 1/4 to 1/2 of the previous dose) with each separate experience and avoiding large, erratic increases (i.e. doubling or tripling the previous dose). It is important to note that many substances do not have linear dose-response curves, meaning that doubling the dose will cause a greater than double increase (and rapidly become overwhelming and unpleasant). Following this rule will significantly minimize the risk of a negative experience.
It is vital to remember that everybody reacts differently to every substance depending on factors such as their own personal tolerance, body weight, metabolism, and personal sensitivity. Another factor to consider is substance purity which is likely to differ between different vendors and batches of product.
Main article: Allergy testing
Some individuals, especially those with health issues, exhibit adverse reactions to substances in the form of allergic reactions, uncomfortable physical or cognitive effects, or hyper-sensitivity. To mitigate this risk, one can perform an "allergy test", which is simply dosing a minuscule amount of the substance (1/10 to 1/4 of a regular dose) and waiting several hours to verify that one does not have an unusual or idiosyncratic response.
Main article: Eyeballing
Do not eyeball. Eyeballing is a highly inaccurate and unreliable method of measuring substances which involves looking at a substance and making a rough guess of the amount. Since there is not much difference between 10 milligrams and 30 milligrams visually, it can easily result in taking too much of a substance, which can have fatal consequences.
There are numerous forms of eyeballing methods including using micro scoops and the graph paper method, both of which result in inaccurate dosing.
Users should not trust a vendor's word that their product weighs a certain amount as it is not unheard of for vendors to accidentally or intentionally give out the wrong amount of a product, resulting in overdoses for some users.
It is especially dangerous to eyeball substances that have extremely low doses (under 10 mg).
Main article: Milligram scales
When buying or using chemicals in powdered form, it is strongly recommended to invest in a reliable and accurate digital milligram scale to ensure the ingestion of safe and known doses.
To achieve the most accurate measurement, the scale should only be used on a completely flat surface away from vibrations, wind, and drafts. Low batteries can also affect the scale's accuracy, so one should periodically replace them. Scales usually come with a calibration weight which can be used to detect accuracy decreases.
There is a large variety of different scales available online through various sites. To choose a quality scale, users should read the reviews before buying and come to their own personal decision. Users should ideally choose a scale that has a 0.001 gram (1 milligram) readability. When using a scale that has 0.005 gram readability (5 milligrams), the weight will be off by 5 milligrams in either direction, meaning that if one measures 20 milligrams of a substance, the results will be between 15 - 25 mg.
Milligram scales under $1000 cannot accurately weigh out doses below at least 50 milligrams and are highly inaccurate under 10 - 15 milligrams. For potent substances, the volumetric liquid dosing technique is advised.
Most milligram scales are more accurate in higher ranges (5 - 15 grams) than the lower ranges. Therefore, it is better to weigh chemicals while the included calibration weight is on the scale.
Main article: Volumetric liquid dosing
Volumetric liquid dosing is the process of dissolving a compound in a liquid to make it easier to measure.
In the interest of harm reduction, it is essential to prepare certain compounds which are too potent to measure with traditional weighing scales using a liquid solution. Most standard milligram scales cannot accurately weigh out doses below 10 - 15 mg. This technique makes it possible to use a cheap $30 scale and still measure accurately to only a few milligrams.
There is a volumetric dosing calculator located here which will calculate the amount of drug and solvent needed as well as the concentration.
Main article: Routes of administration
- Oral cavity: Avoiding sublingual, buccal, and sublabial (under the lip) for substances that are bioavailable in the stomach is a good way to avoid mimics. For example, 25I-NBOMe breaks down in the stomach, but LSD has been sold as 25I-NBOMe which has been attributed to several deaths and may commonly be mistaken for LSD by sellers and users.
- Respiratory tract (inhalation, vaporizing, smoking): It is harder to administer substances through the respiratory tract because the exhaled air often has significant amounts of residues due to improper technique. Improved bioavailability can be achieved with 1) holding the breath for as long as possible, usually a minute 2) If one notice exhaled mist (vaporizing) or smoke, then the desired dose can be divided into smaller doses which are repeated.
- Injection: Injection is the most dangerous route of administration and is highly advised against due to the elevated risk of overdose, addiction, and other health complications. Sharing injection materials can be fatal due to blood transmitted diseases and infections. If one is determined to inject, refer to the safer injection guide for information on reducing some of the risks associated with injection drug use.
- Insufflation ("snorting"): Frequently insufflating substances can damage one's mucous membranes. Sharing snorting equipment (straws, banknotes, bullets, etc) has been linked to the transmission of hepatitis C according to a study and researches warns that other blood-borne diseases can be transmitted as well.
Main article: Recovery position
The recovery position refers to a position of the body in which an unconscious but breathing person can be placed as part of first aid treatment to prevent death by the suffocation of vomit after a drug overdose.
Many combinations of substances, especially depressants such as alcohol and GHB, can result in dangerous or even fatal levels of respiratory depression. There is an increased risk of vomiting during unconsciousness and death from the resulting suffocation.
Main article: Reagent testing kits
When purchasing substances online or in-person, the user should always seek precise knowledge of which chemical they are in possession of because it may very well differ from what it was advertised or sold as. If this is the case, it could potentially result in a negative experience, serious injury, or death. Investing in reagent test kits (e.g. Marquis, Mecke, Mandelin, or Ehrlich) will provide the ability to test chemicals at home without needing to submit them to a laboratory.
Reagent results can also be compared with data found online to verify chemical content. Test kitting has become particularly important since Chinese chemical manufacturers became involved in the research chemical scene, sometimes selling impure and/or mislabeled products.
There are detailed instructions on how to use these testing kits available here and displayed within the infographics below.
Although many substances are reasonably safe by themselves, there are many combinations which can be extremely dangerous or even fatal. This should always be considered when combining multiple psychoactive substances and adequate independent research must be performed in order to determine the safety of the combination if one wishes to avoid injury, hospitalization or death.
Many prescription medications interact negatively with commonly used recreational substances. The most common cause of substance-related deaths is the combination of depressants (such as opiates, benzodiazepines, or alcohol) with other depressants.
Main article: Subjective effect index
It is important to know in advance the duration, subjective effects and potential adverse effects which the substance or combination of substances are likely to induce. There are many online resources to use for education and reference regarding this aspect of substance usage, such as the psychoactive substance index.
For further research on the effects of any substance that one may be considering, a combination of Erowid, Tripsit, Wikipedia and Google can be used. It may also help to read relevant anecdotal trip reports found here on PsychonautWiki or elsewhere on the internet.
If one knows the exact effects of the drug in advance, then they will know what to expect. This is something which significantly reduces the chances of a negative experience by a huge margin through the prevention of unexpected circumstances.
In order to ensure responsible use, the user should carefully monitor the frequency of any substance use. Many stimulants and depressants in particular are known to be highly addictive. Careful consideration and research should be put into the regular use of any of these substances (and any substance in general). There are certain smartphone apps that can help keep track of one's substance use.
Although the classical psychedelics are physically benign and non-addictive, this is not the case with all hallucinogens. Dissociatives, deliriants, entactogens, and certain psychedelics (e.g. DOx, 25x-NBOMe, 2C-T-x) may come with potential adverse health effects that need to be individually researched before use.
Any hallucinogen can cause problems with a person's psychological health if overused. Keep in mind that substance usage becomes an addiction once the negative aspects start to outweigh the positive aspects, but one continues to use regardless.
- Choosing a suitable place to undergo the effects of a hallucinogen is extremely important and plays a major role in determining the outcome of the experience. The ideal place for an inexperienced user is a familiar, safe and indoor environment which they have full control and ownership over and is devoid of factors that can negatively influence one's mental state. In order to prepare a proper setting for hallucinogens, it is important to take the following steps:
- Ensure that one is completely free of responsibilities for the duration of the experience, and ideally the day after. This is because even the simplest of tasks can become incredibly difficult and potentially stressful to perform while under the influence of hallucinogens. The user should be prepared to fully relax, not perform chores or everyday routines. This includes driving and operating heavy machinery.
- Avoid people who are not directly participating in the experience. This includes relatives who may be sleeping in the same house and friends that are anything but extremely trustworthy, understanding, and informed about the effects of hallucinogens. The mere vicinity of unaware people can prompt anxiety and paranoia as well as prevent full immersion in the experience.
- Avoid unfamiliar, loud, cluttered, and/or public environments. The user should select an environment over which they have a considerable degree of control. This can be as simple as having the ability to adjust the air conditioning settings or freely enter and exit a restroom. One should be able to sit, lie down, and walk around as they please for the full duration of the experience. The chosen setting should ideally be equipped with privacy, relaxing music, comfortable seating and readily available food and water. Examples of such settings include a safe, comfortable room at home or a friend's house.
- Avoid sources of anything that can generate "bad vibes." The user should not expose themselves to unpleasant or disturbing stimuli such as scary films or dark music. If bad vibes are encompassing the experience, they can be escaped by quickly changing the immediate environment the user is in. For example, if one is sitting down with the lights off, stand up and turn the lights on, change the music or move to a different room in the house.
- Once the user has become intimately familiar with their substance of choice, it is up to them as an individual whether they would be comfortable tripping in a less controlled environment such as out in nature, social gatherings, parties, raves, etc. However, it should be noted that tripping in these settings entails considerably more physical and legal risk.
Set (State of mind)
The user's set or state of mind in plays a major role in determining the outcome of a trip. Hallucinogens amplify one's current state of mind, mood and outlook: a positive mindset will likely become more positive and a negative one will become even more negative. As a result, hallucinogens should generally be avoided during acutely stressful or negative periods of life. Users should be fully aware of the ways in which hallucinogens, particularly psychedelics, are able to force one to face their internal problems that they may not be psychologically prepared to handle at that time.
Those with preexisting mental conditions (especially individuals with psychotic illnesses like schizophrenia) should avoid hallucinogens due to the way they can strongly amplify one's underlying mental and emotional state as well as promote delusions and hallucinations. Those who wish to take hallucinogens with such conditions should seek the advice of a qualified medical practitioner.
During the experience, the user needs to "let go" and allow the effects of the substance to take charge. One should take the metaphorical passenger seat and forgo trying to control or suppress any part of the experience. It is extremely important that the user simply relaxes and take things as they come, as any resistance will only serve to amplify what is trying to be avoided.
Additionally, the user must understand that the experience of tripping is often incomprehensible, meaning that one should accept being unable to understand or express the full scope of what is happening during the experience. One should embrace the fact that their thought processes, although more lucid in some ways, will be unavoidably impaired along with motor control, conversational skills and general functioning. The user should be sure to view these effects as normal and (most importantly) temporary.
The user's current bodily condition is just as important as one's mood and mindset when going into a trip. If one feels tired, sick or injured, these sensations will manifest as amplified versions of the same conditions which, when combined with possible body load, may easily detract from or ruin the experience.
Instead of tripping while stressed, tired, sick or injured, one should wait for a more suitable opportunity. This will drastically lower the chances of having a negative or unfulfilling experience.
Main article: Trip sitter
When using hallucinogens, a trip sitter is strongly recommended to be present, particularly if one is inexperienced with the substance. It is the trip sitter's responsibility to assist the individual or group by maintaining a calm and grounded frame of mind. This can be accomplished by simply watching over the trippers and calmly reassuring them if they experience any anxiety or stress, whilst also preventing them from coming to any harm. There is an obvious correlation between the name trip sitter and babysitter: this is because trip sitting often feels like babysitting and it is a responsibility that must be taken every bit as seriously.
A good trip sitter needs to be sure of a number of things throughout the experience. In addition to being a generally responsible adult, they should ideally be a sober and able to relate to the group member's situation from personal experiences or researched knowledge. Trip sitters should understand that when an individual is tripping, they may not be able to communicate or interact as they usually do. Also, their balance and spatial judgement may be impaired so assistance in performing tasks such as staying hydrated or navigating through an area can greatly reduce anxiety and confusion. The trip sitter can participate in the conversation, but should also remember to give the trippers space to explore the experience without too much external influence.
Once the user becomes familiar with a substance, it becomes a personal choice as to whether or not they feel comfortable enough to trip without a sitter. It is also advised to use trip sitters when taking high doses or a dose one has never taken before. It should be remembered that having friends around while tripping is the best way to avoid potential psychological, medical or legal consequences.
In the context of hallucinogen use, an anchor is an activity or physical object which keeps the user grounded during heavy distortion of a person's sense of time, space, memory, and sense of self. At higher dosages, this can result in extreme disorientation and confusion. Anchors are often used to counteract this and maintain one's concept of the current situation as it is within reality. Examples of anchors include:
- Familiar and uplifting music. An example of this includes our community good vibes portal. However, the creation of a playlist that is comprised of music one personally associates with being happy is highly recommended.
- An extremely personal and ingrained image or object.
- Continuous repetition of a meaningful word or motto as a mantra.
- Writing an easily readable reminder onto a large piece of paper and placing it close within one's visual field throughout the experience. Common reminders include the name of the substance along with its dosage and phrases such as "You are tripping on LSD." The same principle can be used to write reminders on one's hand or other visible body parts.
- An item of clothing or an accessory which is only worn during and therefore associated with the act of tripping.
Hallucinogens have the potential to become overwhelming and push trippers into paranoid and dreadful moods, particularly if they are inexperienced or in an inappropriate set and setting.
If one decides to terminate the trip, benzodiazepines and other sedatives such as some antipsychotics can be considered analogous to an "eject button" of a downhill-headed or extensively long trip. They are very effective tools in preventing panic attacks, paranoia, and possible traumatic experiences. However, experienced users advise waiting out difficult parts of a trip for as long as possible as these moments are often temporary and later turn out to be the greatest learning experiences.
Independent research should always be done to ensure that a combination of two or more substances is safe before consumption.
- The Importance of Measured Doses (Erowid)
- Psychoactive Vaults: Dose (Erowid)
- Research Chemical FAQ (Erowid)
- Guide to Drug Combinations (TripSit)
- Fundamentals of Responsible Psychoactive Use (Erowid)
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