Biz Bliss from The Psychedelic Society suggested that ‘sometimes we need a reboot, remembering what’s important, connecting with the self.’ She invited her audience to ‘connect with the heart space’, by looking deep into the eyes of the person (probably a stranger) next to them.
The idea was to put people in vulnerable situations where they were forced to be uncomfortable. ‘We try to create spaces to remember what it’s like to connect,’ she said.
Through a ‘beautiful retreat centre’ north of Amsterdam, she tried to create the ‘perfect set and setting’ through an intimate sharing circle with music, enhanced by taking mycelium truffles in ginger tea. Once people learned to get familiar with their feelings, including grief and pain, the idea was to learn to ‘use this space’ without psychedelics and ‘access the experience’.
The idea that we can support each other through talking was not isolated to a retreat. Katy McLeod of Chill Welfare met many people in festival settings who were experiencing intensive psychedelic interventions. The network of volunteers offered practical and therapeutic support and ‘de-escalation’, which involved ‘being careful around questioning, humour, refocusing and distraction’.
The purpose was to keep people safe but was also an opportunity for early interventions – a chance to talk to relevant drug services. The specialist interventions included a dedicated mental health response team, which appreciated that people sometimes had an experience they hadn’t expected. They supported them ‘in that moment’ and worked holistically as a team of volunteers to provide a safe space.
These initiatives were invaluable in a climate of massive cuts to drug services, and equally important was the progress being made in some areas by police and crime commissioners. Megan Jones, policy manager for West Midlands PCC said reducing harm was a key driver to strategy, alongside reducing crime and cost to the community. Birmingham officers were now saving lives through carrying nasal naloxone and their eight-point recommendations included heroin assisted treatment (HAT) and drug consumption rooms, alongside diverting people away from the criminal justice system. Liaising with schools and colleges was creating a new dialogue with young people.
Lizzie McCulloch of Volte Face also emphasised the power of talking in ‘mobilising and engaging’ and inspiring change. Their campaign to legalise cannabis had engaged people from all affiliations. ‘People underestimate how influential it is having these conversations,’ she said.