Writer Aldous Huxley called psychedelics “heaven and hell” drugs. Without a guide, therapist, or friend, the “hell” part can get pretty hellish. Today, help is just a text or phone call away. Fireside Project, the world’s first psychedelic peer support line, launched April 14th, is dedicated to the idea that no one should have to feel alone with a psychedelic experience.
“If you’re tripping now, you can reach out to Fireside Project,” says Joshua White, co-founder and executive director. Call or text 6-2FIRESIDE, and volunteers will talk you through whatever weirdness or panic you’re feeling. They’ll say: you don’t have to be alone. We’re here.
In its first month, fireside project volunteers had more than 200 conversations. They deescalated 62 people from psychological distress, according to the trippers themselves, Fireside reported. Two dozen people said they would have experienced physical or emotional harm if not for Fireside’s help. And 16 people said they would have gone to the emergency room or called 911 if not for Fireside. Overall, 88% of people said they felt heard, supported, or understood.
The simple mission is to “help all people minimize the risks and fulfill the potential of their psychedelic experiences.”Joshua White
“We see this as being about pure love, connection, and understanding, and trying to create a more interconnected world,” White says. The simple mission is to “help all people minimize the risks and fulfill the potential of their psychedelic experiences.”
Volunteers do a 36-hour training course and commit to 200 hours on the support line over a year. Many hope to become psychedelic therapists.
For now, the line is open to calls from the US on weekends, Thursday through Sunday, from 3 p.m. to 3 a.m. Pacific time, plus Mondays 3 to 7 p.m.. Fireside hopes to add more hours next year.
The San Francisco nonprofit is funded by donors, including Dr. Bronner’s soap. They’re working on an app so that trippers too far gone to use a keypad can mash a single button to call for, as they say, “real-time support for when time doesn’t seem real.”
Psychedelics Are Mostly Safe—But Not Always
By most measures, psychedelics are far safer than most illicit drugs. The Global Drug Survey found mushrooms less likely to lead to emergency medical treatment than alcohol, cocaine, meth, or cannabis.
It’s not clear what percentage of psychedelic journeys become “bad trips.” But bad trips can be horrific. A 2016 Johns Hopkins survey of folks who’d had “bad trips on psilocybin mushrooms” found that about 3% had acted aggressively or violently, and 3% received medical help. About 8% eventually sought treatment for enduring psychological symptoms. In other words: people need help.
Set and Setting Up for Rough Seas
Psychedelics stir up whatever is already around you; Fireside can help you chart turbulent waters. For instance, White coached a tripper through the scary situation of taking multiple hits of LSD in their room just after smoking DMT while their roommates, who weren’t into psychedelics, were just outside. Another tripper called because they had smoked DMT and encountered jaunty, colorful little sprites who seemed to interact with them. The caller had never heard of “machine elves” or read anything by Terence McKenna and thought they’d gone bonkers. A Fireside volunteer explained that the “entities” are routine in DMT space. The caller relaxed.
What Fireside Lights Up
Before the Internet, bad trippers in the West were largely alone, except in rare places with a visible psychedelic community, like Grateful Dead tours. When the Internet came around, limited support could be found on Erowid and AOL Instant Messenger. Today, there are virtual hand-holders available on Reddit, BlueLight, Discord, and Tripsit.
But a dedicated phone line like Fireside is something new.
White, a San Francisco lawyer, birthed Fireside from two powerful experiences in his life. The first was taking MDMA and psilocybin, which helped him glimpse the childhood roots of his anxiety. With the help of a therapist, he integrated those insights, and decreased his day-to-day worries. The second was volunteering at a San Francisco support line for parents struggling to care for kids. Some parents were near the end of their ropes, almost ready to shake the baby. The volunteers soothed them. “I saw firsthand how powerful a role support lines can play in community mental health,” White says. “Connection, compassion, and understanding are basic human needs.”
Diversity is Strength
The igniting spark for Fireside lit about a year ago, when George Floyd’s killing spotlighted racism and forest fires darkened California’s skies. “It left me with the feeling that the world was falling apart,” White says. “I needed to do something that gave me hope for the world. And the answer was the psychedelic movement.” But psychedelics, despite their ability to produce kaleidoscopic visions, are not all rainbows and sunshine. White saw a psychedelic culture that had been serving hippies and outcasts joining country clubs and courting venture capital. High-quality psychedelic therapy is a rich person’s game now. Retreats in Jamaica require passports and hotels, MDMA and psilocybin-assisted therapy will cost as much as a used car and even underground therapy is the price of a new iPhone. And you have to know somebody. “We needed to change the direction of the psychedelic movement to make it more inclusive and more equitable,” White says, “so everyone could benefit from the radical power of this medicine.”
“We needed to change the direction of the psychedelic movement to make it more inclusive and more equitable … so everyone could benefit from the radical power of this medicine.”Joshua White
Fireside Fills a Gap for Free
Fireside is not therapy or medical advice, and it’s not as thorough or transformative as an Amazonian ayahuasca retreat or a Costa Rican Ibogaine cleanse. But Fireside does allow free access to the kind of basic hand-holding that can walk you at least halfway home. So you can feel safe doing some of your own work in your own bed or backyard.
What’s more, Fireside has gone out of its way to recruit diverse volunteers who speak numerous languages and represent different hues on the racial, sexual, and gender-identity spectrum, so callers can find a support person whose voice speaks to them. “We have equity built into our DNA,” White says.
Recordings are now available to watch here.
Fireside is About Integration
While the headlines about Fireside projects have all been about bad trips, that’s not all Fireside does. That Hopkins survey found “bad trips” actually end pretty well: 84% of survey respondents reported benefitting from their challenging experience, as many survivors of harrowing trips wring meaning out of a soggy thing.
“You don’t actually have to be having a bad experience to reach out to Fireside Project,” White says. “Integration conversations can be so powerful.”
Integration refers to the process of reflecting on and assimilating the insights of a psychedelic experience, and Fireside’s motivation is to open integration to more people, especially BIPOC, LGBTQ, and folks without the means to pay for a therapist. Fireside has already helped people whose rough times with psychedelics happened earlier in their lives, anywhere from days before to three years in the past. Fireside connected these people with resources and community. As Fireside adds volunteers, they plan to do follow up calls for people who continue to struggle.
How to Support
Fireside project needs money—dollars or crypto—and for folks to spread the word.
As it keeps going with its first year, and hopefully growing to include other countries, Fireside hopes to guide the entire psychedelic movement in a positive direction. “We are tapping into the essence of what psychedelics are,” White says, “which is interconnection, which is community, which is a lack of separation from each other.”
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