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      Are you tripping comfortably? Investigating the relationship between harm reduction and the psychedelic experience


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          Alongside a recent revival in the use of psychedelics in clinical settings, there have been increases in the prevalence of recreational use, with many using psychedelics to deal with difficult emotions or to improve well-being. While clinical research is conducted in carefully controlled settings, this is not necessarily the case for recreational use. In this mixed methods online survey study, we aimed to develop an understanding of frequently used psychedelic harm reduction practices in recreational settings and how their use relates to the psychedelic experience. We also aimed to characterise users’ first and most recent psychedelic trips to understand how harm reduction changes with experience.


          Participants ( n = 163) recounted their first and most recent psychedelic experience by providing details about the harm reduction practices they employed and completing the Challenging Experience Questionnaire (CEQ) and Emotional Breakthrough Inventory (EBI). We also asked open-ended questions for a more in-depth qualitative understanding of their views on psychedelic harm reduction.


          Using ANOVA, we observe greater use of harm reduction practices for participants’ most recent versus first psychedelic experience and that use of these practices is positively associated with EBI scores and negatively associated with CEQ scores (particularly for the first experience). Participants engaged in a wide range of harm reduction practices and we provide details of those which are most commonly used and those which are deemed most important by experienced users. Our qualitative analysis indicated that participants were largely positive about psychedelics and many recounted profound positive experiences. While specifics of the drug they were taking was important for aspects of harm reduction, participants largely focused on the importance of ensuring a good “set and setting” for enhancing positive effects.


          Our research helps us understand how engagement in harm reduction may increase with experience. Our mixed methods data shed light on the perceived importance of different harm reduction practices and examine their association with the psychedelic experience itself. Together, our research has important implications for the development of psychedelic harm reduction advice and provides opportunities for future research to explore the importance of these different practices in more detail.

          Supplementary Information

          The online version contains supplementary material available at 10.1186/s12954-022-00662-0.

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          Most cited references27

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          Human hallucinogen research: guidelines for safety.

          There has recently been a renewal of human research with classical hallucinogens (psychedelics). This paper first briefly discusses the unique history of human hallucinogen research, and then reviews the risks of hallucinogen administration and safeguards for minimizing these risks. Although hallucinogens are relatively safe physiologically and are not considered drugs of dependence, their administration involves unique psychological risks. The most likely risk is overwhelming distress during drug action ('bad trip'), which could lead to potentially dangerous behaviour such as leaving the study site. Less common are prolonged psychoses triggered by hallucinogens. Safeguards against these risks include the exclusion of volunteers with personal or family history of psychotic disorders or other severe psychiatric disorders, establishing trust and rapport between session monitors and volunteer before the session, careful volunteer preparation, a safe physical session environment and interpersonal support from at least two study monitors during the session. Investigators should probe for the relatively rare hallucinogen persisting perception disorder in follow-up contact. Persisting adverse reactions are rare when research is conducted along these guidelines. Incautious research may jeopardize participant safety and future research. However, carefully conducted research may inform the treatment of psychiatric disorders, and may lead to advances in basic science.
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            Psychedelics and the essential importance of context

            Psychedelic drugs are making waves as modern trials support their therapeutic potential and various media continue to pique public interest. In this opinion piece, we draw attention to a long-recognised component of the psychedelic treatment model, namely ‘set’ and ‘setting’ – subsumed here under the umbrella term ‘context’. We highlight: (a) the pharmacological mechanisms of classic psychedelics (5-HT2A receptor agonism and associated plasticity) that we believe render their effects exceptionally sensitive to context, (b) a study design for testing assumptions regarding positive interactions between psychedelics and context, and (c) new findings from our group regarding contextual determinants of the quality of a psychedelic experience and how acute experience predicts subsequent long-term mental health outcomes. We hope that this article can: (a) inform on good practice in psychedelic research, (b) provide a roadmap for optimising treatment models, and (c) help tackle unhelpful stigma still surrounding these compounds, while developing an evidence base for long-held assumptions about the critical importance of context in relation to psychedelic use that can help minimise harms and maximise potential benefits.
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              Drug harms in the UK: a multicriteria decision analysis.

              Proper assessment of the harms caused by the misuse of drugs can inform policy makers in health, policing, and social care. We aimed to apply multicriteria decision analysis (MCDA) modelling to a range of drug harms in the UK. Members of the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs, including two invited specialists, met in a 1-day interactive workshop to score 20 drugs on 16 criteria: nine related to the harms that a drug produces in the individual and seven to the harms to others. Drugs were scored out of 100 points, and the criteria were weighted to indicate their relative importance. MCDA modelling showed that heroin, crack cocaine, and metamfetamine were the most harmful drugs to individuals (part scores 34, 37, and 32, respectively), whereas alcohol, heroin, and crack cocaine were the most harmful to others (46, 21, and 17, respectively). Overall, alcohol was the most harmful drug (overall harm score 72), with heroin (55) and crack cocaine (54) in second and third places. These findings lend support to previous work assessing drug harms, and show how the improved scoring and weighting approach of MCDA increases the differentiation between the most and least harmful drugs. However, the findings correlate poorly with present UK drug classification, which is not based simply on considerations of harm. Centre for Crime and Justice Studies (UK). Copyright © 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

                Author and article information

                Harm Reduct J
                Harm Reduct J
                Harm Reduction Journal
                BioMed Central (London )
                24 July 2022
                24 July 2022
                : 19
                : 81
                [1 ]GRID grid.5337.2, ISNI 0000 0004 1936 7603, School of Psychological Science, , University of Bristol, ; Bristol, UK
                [2 ]GRID grid.5337.2, ISNI 0000 0004 1936 7603, MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit (IEU), , University of Bristol, ; Bristol, UK
                © The Author(s) 2022

                Open AccessThis article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.

                : 16 March 2022
                : 28 June 2022
                Custom metadata
                © The Author(s) 2022

                Health & Social care
                psychedelics,harm reduction,recreational drug use,mixed methods
                Health & Social care
                psychedelics, harm reduction, recreational drug use, mixed methods


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