By Terry Gotham
While there are literally thousands of sober people at Burning Man every year, and how to guides & resources for individuals who choose to not drink or do drugs at Burning Man, we can’t seem to shake the monkey on our back. The class of drugs that seem to be tethered most tightly to Burning Man (besides Margaritas & poorly rolled joints) is psychedelics, acid in particular. For better or worse, it’s as if LSD & Burning Man have become linked. There is something deeply primal about taking certain kinds of drugs and dancing to a beat in the middle of nowhere until dawn. The trope of “taking acid at Burning Man” has been so deeply embedded into the American alternative cultural landscape that there’s an extensively upvoted list of answers for the “What should you think about before trying LSD for the first time and doing so at Burning Man?” question on Quora.
Not just because of the psytrancers or the hippies either. With more and more of the tech landscape believing psychedelics can generate “out of the box thinking” or a predeliction for black turtle necks, the merging between the technorati, the 1% & Black Rock City will most likely remain psychedelic. There are dozens of trip reports from the playa and with reporters being granted expanded access to Burning Man, the potential for your private LSD-drenched art walk to make it into The Atlantic or Salon grows every year. But, that doesn’t mean that people aren’t having resonant, powerful experiences on playa consuming this stuff, or even merely orbiting those that do.
One of the biggest news stories to emerge from Burning Man 2015 surrounded Susan Sarandon & the ashes of Timothy Leary. She wanted to provide his ashes with an alternative to being shot into space and was able to do so on playa. One of the things I like about this story especially is that Susan went to Burning Man to work. Not to kick back in a chez-lounge being waited on. She was helping to build art, participating and getting her hands dirty. There’s a lot to unpack with this story here, so feel free to watch the 14min video including Ms. Sarandon’s wonderful words and a reminder of why we all burn.
I think the potential for life-changing experiences using psychedelics on the playa is very different than the potential in therapeutic, urban or even retail festival environments. However, commensurate with this explosive potential, is exceptionally ramped up risk. Just like always, this is not a recommendation to do illegal drugs, nor that those drugs are inherently safe. While LSD has proven to be surprisingly non-toxic over the long term (much to the chagrin of Richard Nixon’s ghost), the potential for harm lies in the set & setting the drug is consumed in, and the fact that Burning Man is inherently a more complex environment to drink, do drugs or even just simply survive in.
It’s much easier to become dehydrated on playa than most other places on the planet. As one of the main symptoms of LSD intoxication is a significant stimulating effect, it’s also easy to walk for hours and not realize just how long it’s been since your last fluid intake. Additionally, communication among dispersed groups is difficult and it gets even harder when you think the two-way radio you brought with you is trying to eat you, so the standard ways people trip, floating away from each other & floating back together in a 3-5 room party, may be almost impossible in deep playa.
Besides the obvious problems of dehydration & getting lost, it’s one of the most alien settings you could choose to turn on, tune in & drop out. You have zero control over the music, temperature, ambient people, and it’s very easy to become disoriented, even without the dust storms. The best way I’ve heard it described is “you’re already kind of high just being on playa, so take it easy. A good rule of thumb is “take half.” Like, you may think you’re a drug Jedi, but unless this is your tenth time tripping this many hours from Reno, always take less than you think you’ll need.
I’ve written about the problems of adulterants in psychedelics before, and if you’re interested in what people are cutting LSD with, you can find some info on that here. The problems with drugs I’ve discussed in post after post are in full effect here. Test and make sure you’re in the right frame of mind. For example, if you’ve been fighting with your girlfriend all week, do yourself, your campmates & your neighbors a favor and don’t trip. Seriously. Burning Man is harsh enough without having to deal with the ravages of a psychedelic break-up.
More seriously, the safety measures associated with LSD everywhere continue to be true on playa & emphasized. If it didn’t seem like a good idea at home, don’t do it here. However, if things get bad, definitely wander over to The Zendo Project. Remember that you’re not alone, and there are people on playa who want to help. Green Dot Rangers and Zendo Project outposts are uniquely equipped to help you if the glittering psychedelic lights of Burning Man become too much. Piss clear, get some rest, and have a great weekend, y’all.