Ten Questions with Terry Gotham: Sara Gael, Director of Harm Reduction, Zendo Project

(Yes, I’m never going to stop banging on about harm reduction. At least as long as Burners are still smoking ground up ecstasy pills and combining heroic levels of dumb drugs. The people at the Zendo Project continue to keep Burners at burns all over the world safe, so I’m delighted to speak to Sara Gael, who has more to do with Burning Man staying sane than most will give credit!)

Zendo Project Manager Ryan Beauregard and Zendo Project Director Sara Gael performing a skit about harm reduction at Symbiosis Gathering in Oakdale, California (2016)

Photo care of Zendo Project

Interview by Terry Gotham

1.What is Psychedelic Harm Reduction like in 2018?
For the Zendo Project Peer Support services, we will continue to attend our regular events, and also expand our training workshop program. We provide both public and private trainings both in the US and internationally. We saw the demand for these trainings grow tremendously in 2017. The purpose of these workshops is to provide individuals and organizations with helpful tools to work with challenging situations, substance-related or otherwise- when they encounter them in any environment. Our public trainings draw a diverse crowd-everything from University students to mental health workers. We have also private trainings and consultation for event producers, emergency service professionals and we are increasing the number of these trainings in 2018. At Burning Man, we still hold our largest annual public training, on the first Tuesday of the burn week. Over 300 people attended this training in 2017. We feel very grateful to have had the opportunity to now train thousands of individuals in the Zendo Project model.

2.For Burners who may only remember the Zendo from a few years ago, what new awesomeness is coming to playa this year?
In 2017 we moved to one centralized location near Center Camp and Rampart. We plan on having one location again this year, in a slightly different location but still near 6:00. We are planning on doing additional talks and workshops later in the week after the main training for people who show up later in the week who can’t attend the main workshop. We are also planning on working more directly with major theme camp organizers to help prepare their camp leads for handling situations they may come across in camp.

3. Besides regional/international Burns, has the Zendo Project had any success connecting with retail/EDM festivals?
We provide the Peer Support component of Project #OpenTalk, a non-profit initiative developed by Insomniac in collaboration with the Drug Policy Alliance, Healthy Nightlife, and MAPS, with the aim of providing drug and sexual health information and emotional support provided services under one umbrella. We have been collaborating with Project #OpenTalk since Electric Daisy Carnival in 2016 and have provided services and trainings at multiple events since then. The initiative that Insomniac is developing is unique in that it serves as a multi-disciplinary effort to combine different harm reduction services. The peer support services that we provide are just one element of the umbrella of event/festival harm reduction which is under the even bigger umbrella of drug harm reduction initiatives taking place all over the world. Our goal is to continue to collaborate with other harm reduction organizations beyond just the transformational festival setting.

Zendo Project staff members Ryan Beauregard, Sara Gael, and Erica Siegal leading a public training about psychedelic harm reduction at Lightning in a Bottle in Bradley, California (2017)

Photo care of Zendo Project/MAPS.

4. For everyone out there in the trenches doing harm reduction for their friends or attendees, are there any principles that they can take from the Zendo Project and use on their own?
Our mission is comprised of two components – direct service and education. It has always been a priority to educate the public by engaging in honest and unbiased conversations about recreational drug use. We dream of a time when the collective is more prepared to work with difficult emotional and psychological experiences, whether related to psychedelic use or otherwise. The Zendo Project model is one of compassionate presence, acceptance, and creating a container for processing and transforming grief and pain, as well as celebrating life. It is a place of connection where people have the opportunity to be witnessed and held in their darkest and most vulnerable moments. All of the principles and practices that we teach are easily accessible through our website and we encourage individuals to take these practices and apply them to their unique communities and situations.

5. What is the wildest thing your teams have seen in the last year or two? Would you say the volume of Burners you serve is going up or down as the years go on?
I’d say that the wildest thing we have seen is harm reduction being more accepted and integrated as a theoretical framework and practice at events, and how exponentially this grows from year to year. Zendo was born at Burning Man and even prior to the Zendo Project, MAPS worked to help develop harm reduction at transformational festivals like BOOM in Portugal. Transformational festivals have really led the way as far as modelling what it looks like to incorporate services such as the Zendo Project. It is exciting to see bigger event and festival producers begin to adopt a harm reduction model. The general public knowledge of harm reduction and peer support has also expanded. We have had an increase in the past couple of years of professionals looking to

The general trend at all the events we attend is that our numbers usually increase every year. We believe that this is related to a few factors:

  1. More people learning about and thus accessing our services.
  2. An steady annual increase in attendance at most of the events we attend.

6. How does legalization advocacy and the work that MAPS does collide with the Zendo Project’s goals? Have there ever been big synchronicities or (conversely) conflicts due to the slightly differing goals of the different groups?
Psychedelic harm reduction, clinical research, advocacy, and education are all elements of MAPS mission which I believe are intrinsically linked and mutually supportive. MAPS is currently primarily focused on doing clinical research to help MDMA become a medicine for the treatment of PTSD while also doing advocacy work for substances like MDMA and cannabis. While MDMA and other psychedelics have therapeutic value and potential, it is important for us to simultaneously address the risks of recreational use of these substances. The Zendo Project helps accomplish this through education and direct service. We believe that providing safe environments and support for challenging psychedelic experiences is community advocacy work in action. Providing these services decreases the number of incidence of arrests, sedation and restraint, and unnecessary psychiatric hospitalizations. This in turn influences the public view and stigma surrounding psychedelics. The legal and political climate and punitive policies in place do not keep people from doing drugs. As we work toward medicalization of psychedelics and decriminalization advocacy work, we must simultaneously address the fact that millions of people are taking psychedelics in recreational environments. These individuals are at a greater risk without harm reduction initiatives.

Photo care of Zendo Project/MAPS.

7. Besides donating to MAPS & the Zendo Project, how can people who love what you do help you do it?

  • Continue to learn about harm reduction and peer counseling.
  • Encourage festival producers to implement harm reduction services at their events.
  • Sign up for our newsletter via our website to learn about our local workshop events and attend and promote them!

8. Is there music played at the Zendo? If so, what do you play & how do you select the tunes?
We currently don’t have music playing in the Zendo but we have considered having some soft background music like chimes, singing bowls, flute, hang drum, live sound healing to help move the energy in the space. One of the challenges is that music is very personal and so we have opted out until now. Also, there is already so much music at these events that we decided to offer a place of silence, similar to an actual Zendo meditation hall. We may be shifting that up a bit in the future. For the first two years at Burning Man we were located right inside one of the bigger sound camps on playa:  Fractal Nation/Fractal Planet. The Zendo structure shape itself turned out to produce a bit of a sub-woofer effect, so that it was often louder INSIDE the Zendo then outside. That drove people crazy-volunteers and guests alike. We have had a relatively quiet few years since then and we’ve been enjoying that aspect!

9. What is the biggest barrier hampering the Zendo Project’s efforts currently, and what do you believe will be the biggest obstacle to summit in the near-term future?
Funding is still an obstacle, though becoming less so as people really start to see the importance of this work and event organizers see it as an essential service. In the beginning, it was sometimes a hard sell because we were doing something that wasn’t really being done. When people have a new idea that solves a particular problem, sometimes it is hard to see the problem until you see the power of the solution. With initiatives like the Zendo Project, if you build it they will come. Many festivals don’t realize how many of their participants are in distress except in the more extreme cases where people are violent or disturbing other attendees. Once event organizers see how busy we were and the pressure we were taking off of the other emergency service departments so they could focus on their areas of expertise-they begin to recognize that this is a real issue and that money and other resources need to go toward this type of work. Then other organizers and producers follow suit. If you are going to have a medical tent or security at your event, you should also have people who specialize in emotional and psychological support. Just because you can’t see someone’s emotional wound doesn’t mean it’s not there.

We need to move toward becoming a more compassionate society that takes these things seriously and care for one another. This work is labor intensive. In some ways, it’s like the opposite of a Western medicine get in, get out model. We have a “come, stay as long as you would like as long as you would like” model. People will spend hours getting help from a sitter in the space. This requires a lot of staff and volunteers. It also requires that we stay open 24/7. This all costs money. We are blessed to have had the support of our successful crowdfunding campaigns and the forward-thinking festivals we have worked with over the past 6 years.

10. If I could snap my fingers and make it happen, What would your dream event to host the Zendo Project for, be?
Burning Man, of course! ☺ But really, I would like the bandwidth to implement services at all the regional burns. We aren’t there yet but hope to work toward it. We helped get the Sanctuary at AfrikaBurn off the ground over the past 5 years. We are at the point where the local leads are carrying the torch and we no longer need to be there. Although I will miss going to Africa every year, this to me is one of our great accomplishments and demonstrates an effective training model.

Ten Questions With Terry Gotham: Ingmar Gorman, Psychedelic Integration Specialist

(While partying safely is one of the most important parts of the drug experience, the journey doesn’t end when you come down. Psychedelic Integration is critical to taking what you experienced and actually using it to enhance your life. Ingmar Gorman is teaming up with Dr. Katherine Maclean at the Center For Optimal Living to actually teach people in the New York area how to do it. I’ll be taking this class, because it’s one of the only things I truly think makes me a better Burner. You should join me.)

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1. How would you explain Psychedelic Harm Reduction to someone at the dinner table on Thanksgiving?
People use psychedelics for all sorts of reasons, spiritual, therapeutic, or for fun. In pursuit of this, the contents of one’s mind or their thought process can be affected in unexpected ways. Many people pursue psychedelic use for this very reason, to learn about themselves, to experience the unexpected, but it’s difficult to be completely prepared for what emerges. Sometimes a person needs support while they’re in this sensitive state. As Dr. David Nutt has pointed out with his article about “equasy”, many activities have potential risks, even horseback riding. So, Psychedelic Harm Reduction is here for people who may be experiencing challenges during their experience. The role of the support isn’t to be a therapist or to “guide” the trip, but to act as a calm reassuring presence that can help keep the person physically safe. Something like “ground control,” while a person is navigating their internal experience. Psychedelic integration can include the therapy that comes after the harm reduction, but that’s another subject.

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War on Drugs Leads to Wholesale Rainforest Destruction

Photograph by Luke Duggleby www.lukeduggleby.com

Photograph by Luke Duggleby http://www.lukeduggleby.com

By Terry Gotham

I usually talk about how to reduce the damage drugs can do to people, but today I want to switch it up a little bit. I’m going to tell you about the Mreah Prew Phnom trees of Asia, the Sassafras trees of America, and how our voracious appetite for drugs is hurting them. This isn’t a story about water usage or gang violence, but of appetites. The explosion in popularity of MDMA has ensured one of the trees that produce a precursor substance, safrole oil, is now critically endangered. It’s estimated (not verified) that more than 5 million trees have been destroyed over the last 10 years.

Photograph by Luke Duggleby www.lukeduggleby.com

Photograph by Luke Duggleby http://www.lukeduggleby.com

 

 

Formally named Cinnamomum parathenoxylon, the tree grew in Bhutan, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan & Vietnam, but is currently most often found in Cambodia. The remaining population is clustered in the Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary, as cultivation of the tree is increasingly restricted. When the roots are chopped up and processed, safrole, an essential oil is produced. This stuff has been an herbal remedy, a critical part of perfumes, soaps & can be used to make MDMA.

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Party Like A Rockstar: Tips For Festivals & Burns Without The Ruin

By Terry Gotham

One year, in my camp, there was a fellow named Bad Andy. He had a penchant for yelling “Rock & Roll” at the top of his lungs while executing bad ideas, which is how he got his name. One such bad idea was drinking a bottle of Jameson & a 24 pack of Bud Light before going on a midnight art walk without a Camelbak. Some of you may have seen this episode before…

The next day, after Rangers delivered 3 IV bags of fluid & 4 32oz bottles of Gatorade into his system, he was back at our camp, suffering in a hammock while we poked him with sticks. His penalty was the same as it was for all Burners who get a little too confident. He lost a literal day to the hangover and had 10-15% less Burning Man than the rest of us (depending on how many days you’re usually there, of course). With festival season s about to kick off, I figured I’d create the spiritual successor to my New Year’s Eve article and get our faithful readers information they can actually use when going hard at weekend festivals, regional Burns, or even the Big Kahuna itself. Some advice will be more relevant to Burning Man, while other notes will apply more to regionals and retail festivals.

Basic Tips For Comfort

One thing that I learned the hard way my first year on Playa: Bring more than 2 pairs of sunglasses. There’s nothing worse than bringing a pair of sunglasses and having them break, or bringing 2 pairs, loaning one to your friend, and then smashing yours by accident. This may seem like a fashion faux pas, but wearing a cheap pair of plastic gas station sunglasses will get you way more Instagram likes than squinting in a 3-7 days worth of pictures.

For Burners, this goes double. Have 2 pairs of sunglasses & 2 pairs of goggles. Even a cheapo 2nd pair purchased as an afterthought can seriously decrease the amount you mutter “fuck fuck fuck” to yourself during a whiteout.

For anyone who hasn’t been to Mysteryland or PEX Summerfest or Burning Man, trust that the sound never stops. Ever. No matter what festival you’re going to, have a noise cancellation/hearing protection plan. This is more than just “bringing a pair of foam ear plugs,” because we both know you’re going to lose those on night one. At least 1 pack of foam ear plugs or those custom fitted/molded ones are must-haves if you’re planning on camping anywhere near amplified sound. If you bring extra, you can earn friends on the dance floor when you’re generous with the rest of the pack. This might be a good time to do some window shopping at gearhungry.com, camping survival gear and burns just go together, trust.

Additionally, if you’re bringing a child, know that protecting their hearing is paramount. Construction grade noise cancelling headphones are a must. If I see you with a baby on the dance floor, and that baby doesn’t have ear protection that makes him look like he works on a tarmac at an airport, I’m going to hate you to death with my mind.

One little suggestion to help you feel refreshed: Bring a toothbrush when you head out for the night. While this tip doesn’t really work in club land, giving yourself a fresh clean mouth and splashing some cold water on your face is as rejuvenating as a 20min nap.

Know the route from where you’re partying back to your tent in daylight & the dark without relying on too many landmarks. One of the biggest issues newbie Burning Man attendees report is, the day after the Man burns, no one can find their way around because they were using “the man” as a guide post to locate themselves.

Even if you don’t plan on tanning during the event, don’t forget sunscreen! Not tanning oil, sunscreen, with at least SPF30.You’re going to be in the sun all day, so even if you’re not lily white, you might burn. I wouldn’t wish a sunburn on my worst enemy at Electric Daisy Carnival Las Vegas or Burning Man.

Lastly, have a plan to get there AND TO GET HOME. I’m amazed I need to say this, but apparently it’s a tough one for some of us. No one wants to be the guy who is hitching a ride away from the festival. And yes, if you’re hitching to get off playa on Sunday or Monday after the man burns, we all hate you.

How To Avoid The Penalty Box (Hangovers)

While some issues are largely surrounding being comfortable while partying, some will sideline you if you don’t handle them properly. That’s why the mistake Bad Andy made was so costly. He lost 24hrs of Burning Time, which is pretty expensive, given the cost to attend and how much he’d been looking forward to it all year.

On day 2 and 3, start mixing Gatorade & salty snacks into your water regimen. Pissing clear is important, but because you spend so much time sweating, unless you’re replacing those electrolytes, you’ll be at risk for an equally problematic situation. Here’s a pile of potential problems to look forward to if you’re not maintaining those levels.

Moreover, at Burning Man, unless you’ve got an RV, by the time it’s 10 am, it’s too hot to sleep in the tent you took to Rainbow Gathering & pitched in the shadows of a big ass tree. So, this is a big one. Get to bed early enough such that you’re solidly in deep sleep by the time the sun is up. While you may not be punished for this so severely at a forest-based festival, if you’re on a beach or on playa, messing this up will cost you a night of sleep. That may not be 100% disabling, especially for our younger readers, but do this 2 days in a row, and you’ll be a zombie, guaranteed.

An easy way to sneak snooze time is to schedule a nap during a DJ you hate. It feels like you can’t miss anything and you’ve gotta go hard, trust me, don’t give in to FOMO. You’ll have a better time if you’re well rested, and you won’t piss off the people you camp with. Even a nap that only lasts 90min is a full REM cycle if uninterrupted.

One oddly helpful suggestion I received on playa one year is to start collecting/packing out your garbage daily over the weekend. This sounds like a thing we all say we’re going to do, but never remember. I tried it once and can attest to how smoothly it made my departure. Bag stuff up and get it ready to process/bring back with you from Leave No Trace events, so when you’re hungover/tired the day after the burn, you’ve got one less thing to think about.

Reports of My Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

This last category will be a bit more serious. Certain mistakes will ruin your night and the following day, while others can ruin your life. For example, know where the crisis intervention/Ranger stations are before you have an emergency. This can literally make the difference between life & death. I cannot stress this point enough. Say hi to the Rangers, Ground Control (EDC) or Conscious Crew (Seattle/Tacoma region events) before you get fucked up. Make sure your sober spotter knows how to get the attention of emergency staff. I cannot stress this point enough. When you need help and everyone’s on Ketamine, reading a map’s gonna get real tough, real fast.

No matter what the amphetamines tell you, don’t dance for more than 4 hours at a time without stretching and taking a break to cool down. Seriously. The stimulants have gotten powerful over the years, but the cardiovascular system of your average dance floor participant hasn’t. Stretching isn’t just because it feels good while you’re fucked up, it’s to prevent soreness, stiffness and aches you might attempt to medicate with painkillers. Take a break, the party will still be there after you take 20min to relax in a cuddle puddle.

Secondly, calm it down with the frat row level drinking. No really, you can’t be conversationally drunk for more than 12 hours. Either exhaustion finally overtakes you, or you mis-time that 14th shot and you crash hard. I couldn’t be a bigger fan of margarita walks in the inner rings near center camp, but don’t plan on day-drinking all day and partying until sunrise that same night. Give yourself an early bedtime and a Camelbak or two of water, so you can actually hit up Utili-kilt Yoga the next day.

If you’re honestly attempting to take drugs to stay up longer than your body allows, skip the adderall and hit up the provigil. You’ll get a couple more hours of party but less of the amphetamine jitters & insanity. The old urban legend of being awake for 72hrs causing you to qualify as clinically insane is a total myth, but amphetamine psychosis most certainly is not. Don’t try and push it, because the drugs will knock you around.

Be kind to yourself. Don’t try and push so hard, there will always be another party. Slow your roll so you make it to Labor Day with epic memories that don’t involve ambulances or puking on the deep playa because you needed more calcium. If you find me on the dusty dance floor, I’ll have ear plugs for you.

Ambien: Side Effects Include WHAT?

Cartoons by Toothpaste for Dinner: http://www.toothpastefordinner.com/

By Terry Gotham

A lifetime ago, I worked in a Sleep Lab at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. We looked at the effects of sleep deprivation on pain tolerance & sensitivity. The non-clinical way of explaining that is, I poked and prodded a bunch of hilariously tired people. Inability to sleep continues to be a huge issue on & off playa, with 40% of Americans admitting to Gallup they don’t get as much sleep as they’d like. While the CDC has declared insufficient sleep a public health problem, Burners are the champions of functional partying with nowhere near appropriate amounts of sleep. But, because a lot of Americans are currently taking/addicted to sleep aids, I figured I’d run through the risks & rewards to consuming Ambien (Zolpidem). People are even attempting to tether it to the death of Justice Scalia, so get a non-caffinated beverage and strap in for this wild, amnesiac ride.

One of the immediate problems that people discount when they start taking Ambien is when you don’t follow the specific rule: Please allow yourself a full 8 hours of sleep to sleep after taking Ambien. There is nothing in the world so disoriented than a random dude attempting to build a geodesic dome 6hrs into an Ambien dose on playa. Seriously, if you need to get sleep and you don’t have 8hrs to sleep, take another drug. Do a shot of whiskey, eat some melatonin gummies (recommended option), or if you’re Archer, soak the melatonin gummies in whiskey. While the Indian Army gives its soldiers Ambien, I can’t say I recommend the practice if you’ve gotta be up at 0500 after getting to sleep at midnight.

This next point I cannot stress enough. Be very, very careful consuming Ambien on repeated evenings. Most sleep medicine practitioners agree that you can develop an addiction to Ambien in two weeksThe easiest way to keep this from happening is to try your hardest to not take the substance one night after another. Even reducing the frequency to once every 3 days or once a week, can seriously help your chances at preventing physical dependence. Don’t discount the potency of Ambien or other sleep aids, even over the counter ones. Over the long term, Ambien loses its effectiveness, but maintains the dependency. If you think taking a fistful of pills to sleep is scary, imagine taking them & realizing they’ve become totally ineffective.

But these aren’t the reasons you’ve heard of Ambien, or that you joke about it with your friends. You have because you’ve heard all these horror stories about people taking Ambien and sleep eating, sleep driving and sleep fucking with no memory of it. And I’m here to tell you all of those horror stories are true. Yes, even the ones you heard about people killing their spouse & mounting an Ambien defense, claiming they didn’t remember it.

First, Ambien has caused people to develop what I can only describe as a sleep eating disorder. This is where you binge eat while retaining no memory of it. The New York Times reported on research done by the Mayo Clinic & the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center, confirming this wackiness. Dr. Carlos Schenck has estimated that thousands of Ambien consumers suffer from this issue. While turned on gas burners, peanut butter in the sleeping bag & weight gain seem like it could be fun on the playa, I think we can all agree that this side effect should be a deal breaker.

Sleep driving is a real problem for people who consume Ambien in suburban & rural areas of the country. If I had to wager, more than 1 person who reads this will have had an experience of driving on playa on Ambien & not remember it. As you can imagine, this has significant legal ramifications, as this report from the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found. It reviewed cases where patients had reported 3-5hrs worth of amnesia and had been pulled over for driving while intoxicated. Personally, the risk of operating a motor vehicle sans-memory or non-autonomic functioning would keep me off a drug forever, but this is America, home of the brave. I’m not entirely sure what recommendations I could make from a harm reduction perspective, but hopefully, your unconscious self remembers to put your seatbelt on.

The third in the trio of “What The Fuck?!” side effects is sleep sex. So many people have reported going to sleep after Ambien, then waking their partners up and asking for wildly different sex, that the Daily Beast’s story about this was actually titled Is Ambien Sex Hotter? While the veracity of the reports may vary, the volume has been such that even non-drug publications like Men’s Health & the NY Daily News have reported on it. I’m not going to tell anyone they shouldn’t try to spice up their sex life, but as per my GHB article, I’m against people giving other people roofies. If you want to roofie yourself, maybe ask yourself a couple of questions as to why before doing so.

The last problem I need to mention doesn’t affect the vast majority of Burners, but it might affect their parents. Even after giving themselves the 8hrs of rest that Ambien directs, Consumer Reports and other sources have confirmed that if you’re over the age of 80, there’s some residual coordination/drowsiness problems that amplify the risk of accidents while driving. If Gramps has trouble sleeping, perhaps get him those gummy bears or ZZZQuil, instead.

Of course, it’s not all bad. It’s not only exceptional at providing 8hrs of restful sleep to those who need it very occasionally, but it might actually help you recover from a stroke. Researchers at the Stanford School of Medicine found that stroke recovery in mice was improved when given Ambien, both in sensory acuity & motor coordination. The findings still need to be independently verified by other insitutions for humans, but what kind of reporter would I be if I didn’t include some good news. If you’re interested in trends in pharmacology and sales information, here’s an exhaustive report on the industry and specific consumption patterns of Zolpidem in the USA & China. If you run into John Stamos, ask him about it. He’s probably got a story or two about how he got off the stuff.

If you’re planning on taking the stuff, take it and hit the pillow immediately. Don’t take it and go brush your teeth or try to do your taxes. Take it, crash out, and set your alarm for 8-9hrs from when your head hits the pillow. If you suffer from chronic insomnia, definitely speak to your doctor, therapist, herbalist or local Vitamin Shoppe employee. There are substances that can knock you out that won’t cause you to eat bacon at 3 AM or ask your husband to be tied up like a pig on a spit and not remember it.