What is Harm Reduction, and What Role Does it Play in Psychedelic Use?
June 4, 2022

What is Harm Reduction, and What Role Does it Play in Psychedelic Use?

Using psychedelic drugs or participating in psychedelic-assisted therapy can be a transformative experience — and it’s becoming increasingly popular. According to a study by YouGov, approximately 21 million people in the US and 2.9 million people in Canada use psychedelics*.     

New research on psychedelics in medicine and academia, discussions surrounding their legalization, and easier access to substances are a few reasons why we’re seeing psychedelics reenter the mainstream.  

While it’s promising to see progress, the public perception of psychedelic use hasn’t evolved much since the 1960s. Because psychedelics are illegal in most parts of the world, some work still needs to happen to shift mindsets, particularly around the stigmatization of drug use and its therapeutic potential.  

One way to address these challenges is by prioritizing harm reduction. If you are interested in using psychedelics or if you are facilitating others on their psychedelic journey, here is what you should know.   

 

What Is Harm Reduction In Psychedelic Use?   

Harm reduction is grounded in removing stigma surrounding drug use; it is a proactive strategy that aims to minimize any potential negative effects of being under the influence of psychedelic substances and prioritizes education, safety, and compassion.  

Psychedelic Harm Reduction and Integration (PHRI) is a holistic, clinical approach to psychedelic use. A harm reduction framework for psychedelics could include screening for pre-existing conditions that could impact an individual’s experience, preparing and educating them on what to expect, safety planning, and ensuring ongoing care and support.  

Harm reduction does not involve using psychedelic drugs and differs from traditional talk therapy; it is the support offered by a coach, specialist, or therapist specifically for processing a psychedelic experience.

It’s worth noting that certain professionals who have a clinical designation may have ethical limitations on their license. If they do, they take a client-led approach, where they are encouraged to support safety versus directly condoning the use of psychedelic medicine.  

 

Who Is Harm Reduction For?  

The illicit nature of psychedelics and lack of a specific framework for their use means that many individuals who take psychedelics or facilitate psychedelic experiences might be unsure how to safely and effectively navigate their use.  

For this reason, harm reduction is critical for anyone involved in a psychedelic journey — from the person using them to practitioners working with psychedelics to mental health care workers who are curious about their therapeutic benefits and how they can be of support.  

 

How Does Harm Reduction Work?  

Regardless of how you use psychedelics, working with a practitioner who has received specific training in harm reduction will ensure you have the appropriate knowledge to minimize risks during your experience and maximize the benefits.  

 As for practitioners, specific training and education in harm reduction will help you determine best practices and approaches to use in your work. If you’re a practitioner interested in learning more about harm reduction, check out our upcoming workshop. 

 An example of how harm reduction could look in practice would be a specialist assisting someone interested in using psilocybin mushrooms. The specialist would help the individual plan their journey, prepare them for how they might feel, and offer tools to help them integrate and gain full therapeutic potential.

Other examples are participating in integration circles or receiving psychedelic-assisted therapy with a trained professional who can address safety concerns. 

What Are The Benefits Of Harm Reduction? 

For practitioners and health care providers working with psychedelics, a clinical approach to harm reduction helps to: 

  • Find a deeper understanding of the motivations behind an individual’s desire to use psychedelics 
  • Reduce unfavourable outcomes 
  • Increase positive therapeutic results, providing benefit to the individual as well.  

Applying a harm reduction framework to psychedelic use supports a non-judgmental view of drug use. More positive experiences could help normalize conversations around mental health and make strides in the legalization of psychedelic substances. 

Where Can I Learn More About Harm Reduction? 

If you are a practitioner or curious student interested in learning more about Psychedelic Harm Reduction & Integration, join the Numinus team for our next workshop. You can sign up HERE

Led by Dr. Patricia Rockman, Psychologist Joe Flanders, and Integration specialist Deanna Rogers, this workshop offers an introduction to the practice of Psychedelic Harm Reduction and Integration (PHRI). It aims to support therapists in educating clients about altered states of consciousness and how to apply harm reduction and integration to psychedelic healing. 

 You can also book a 1:1 session with a therapist to discuss harm reduction and best practices in psychedelic preparation. Book an appointment HERE. 

 

Disclaimer 

This article in no way promotes, condones, or facilitates illegal activity, and is strictly for educational and harm reduction purposes only. Please be aware that certain psychedelic substances still remain illegal in many jurisdictions, including Canada. This program and the contents of this website do not constitute medical advice, and are not a substitute for professional medical advice and treatment. 

 

*YouGov Citation: 

For Canada: 

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 2020 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 19th – 27th April 2022.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all Canada adults (aged 18+). 

For US: 

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 3731 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 13th – 18th April 2022.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all US adults (aged 18+).