This year, millions of people will use psychedelics outside of supervised medical contexts, many of them for the first time. Taking psychedelics can result in overwhelming and uncomfortable experiences, more likely with high doses, amongst first-time users, and without adequate preparation or setting. Psychedelic harm reduction includes a variety of methods to help prevent and transform difficult experiences while in a non-ordinary state of consciousness.
The Zendo Project:
Reduces the number of unnecessary psychiatric arrests and hospitalizations
Creates an environment where volunteers can work alongside one another to improve their harm reduction skills and receive training and feedback
Demonstrates that safe, productive psychedelic experiences are possible without the need for law enforcement-based prohibitionist policies
Zendo Project's 4 Guiding Principles for Psychedelic Experiences
If someone is having a challenging experience try to move them into a comfortable, warm, and calm environment. If possible try to avoid noisy or crowded spaces. Ask what would make them most comfortable. Offer blankets and water.
Talk through, not down
Without distracting from the experience, help the person connect with what they are feeling. Invite person to take the opportunity to explore what’s happening and encourage them to try not to resist it.
Sitting, not guiding
Be a calm meditative presence of acceptance, compassion, and caring. Promote feelings of trust and security. Let the person’s unfolding experience be the guide. Don’t try to get ahead of the process. Explore distressing issues as they emerge, but simply being with the person can provide support.
Difficult is not bad
Challenging experiences can wind up being our most valuable, and may lead to learning and growth. Consider that it may be happening for an important reason. Suggest that they approach the fear and difficult aspects of their experience with curiosity and openness.
Characteristics of a Challenging Psychedelic Experience
Psychedelic experiences can vary tremendously, and are sometimes unpredictable, but are most influenced by these factors:
- Presence of impurities
- Sense of safety
- Level of noise/activity
- Emotional state
- Psychological well-being
- Previous experience with substance
Possible characteristics of a challenging experience:
Feeling alone or trapped
Altered sense of time and space
Fear of losing control
Mission & Vision
The Zendo Project provides professional comprehensive harm reduction education and support for communities to help inform and transform difficult psychedelic experiences into opportunities for learning and growth.
We envision a world where communities are educated, resourced, and engaged in applying harm reduction principles to support individuals exploring psychedelic states; recognizing that challenging experiences can be opportunities for self-exploration and healing.
“After doing psychedelics the night before, I felt I needed to talk to someone about what was happening in my head. My friend was sleeping so I knew that people at the Zendo would be able to help out. All I wanted was to talk to someone that could listen. I found that at Zendo. Thank you. This has been an important part of my journey at Burning Man.”
"For the first time in a long time, I truly felt safe. I woke up in a brand new world. I embraced the vulnerable feelings and integrated the experience by relaxing with friends and family back at camp. Thank you, Zendo!"
"Zendo was an amazing resource. It transformed what could've been a physically risky and emotionally devastating night into a powerful experience of growth and an emotional cleansing."
"It was one of my first times using psychedelics, and I was not fully prepared at the time for the experience. I was so grateful to have reached the Zendo. I felt safe, away from the chaos. I was able to talk about the emotions that I have suppressed for so long."
"After learning from Zendo Project, I am now more responsible. I practice and spread harm reduction practices among my social group."
"My sister was in a bad place and you guys gave us a great place to get back a more normal place. Thank you so much. I would be interested in doing a volunteer shift to learn more."
"The Zendo staff has welcomed me into the safe and calm space. They have turned their entire attention towards me throughout the entire experience starting from me coming, entering, talking, napping for three hours, eating Zendo-provided snacks, and leaving."
"I am very grateful for you. You have changed my entire life. I did not know who to turn to after my LSD trip and did not know anyone who could decipher the meaning behind my experience until this day."
"I knew that my sitter had helped because before going to Zendo, all I wanted to do was get drunk at a random bar so that I could pass out early in my tent. After talking, I wanted to spend time with my friends and go explore, which I did. I had a really nice night after visiting Zendo."
"Positively transformed a difficult psychedelic experience through the attentive and compassionate care provided by the stellar team of volunteers maintaining a comfortable space amid the overwhelming environment."
“I just wanted you all to know that what you all are doing is greatly appreciated. Please keep up the good work and hopefully society will begin to see the capability that psychedelics hold in bringing the individual personal peace.”
“Zendo is great. Everyone I spoke with during the burn about Zendo was very appreciative about this service. It is very helpful to the people who come, as guests and as volunteers. I was really glad to have a role at Burning Man and the opportunity to meet cool people and do a valuable service. The philosophy of Zendo is right on and totally works, and is very simple to learn.”
“The Zendo was perfect. I came in feeling desperate and dry, like the only thing I knew how to do was ask for help…You made sure I had food and water. That I was alive and that I could keep on being alive. So warm, so open, so gracious and human.”
“The moment I walked into the Zendo I started crying – as I do when I’m hurt and I see my mother. I found release here to be open enough to be exactly where I was at.”
“Just wanted to say a heartfelt thank you for your attention and empathy late Tuesday night at the Zendo. That night ended up being a real turning point for our camp and for me, with everyone reuniting at the temple at sunrise. The crazy experience and crazy weather really brought us all closer together in the end. It made a huge difference to have your help processing reality when it was a bit challenging to figure out what was real.”
Zendo Project Staff
Sara Gael, M.A.
Harm Reduction Officer, MAPS Zendo Project
Sara has worked with the Zendo Project since 2013, coordinating psychedelic harm reduction services at festivals and events worldwide, and serving as the Director of Harm Reduction from 2016-2020. In her current role as Harm Reduction Officer, she continues to provide harm reduction education and consultation to organizations and communities. Sara received her master’s degree in transpersonal counseling psychology at Naropa University in 2012. She is a therapist for the MAPS clinical trials of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD in Boulder, CO. Sara serves as board president for DanceSafe and as the harm reduction advocate on Denver Psilocybin Policy Review Panel. Sara believes that developing a comprehensive understanding of psychedelic medicines through research and education is essential for the health and well-being of individuals, communities, and the planet.
Chelsea Rose Pires, M.A., LMFT
Harm Reduction Operations Manager, MAPS Zendo Project
Chelsea Rose graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles Honors College with a B.A. in psychology in 2007, and received her master’s degree in Integral Counseling Psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies in 2012. She has a passion for harm reduction as a therapeutic and practical approach to drug use and abuse prevention. Chelsea also works with DanceSafe, a public health organization, as manager for the reagent testing kit program. Additionally, she supervises the Crisis Response Team in Nevada County, supporting clients who come into the emergency room in psychiatric crisis. She lives in the Sierra foothills of California with her husband Alexandre, who is also involved in harm reduction work, their three children, and their chickens, fish, and kitties.
Ryan Jay Beauregard
Harm Reduction Programs Manager, MAPS Zendo Project
Ryan received his B.A. in Psychology from Claremont McKenna College, and spent 10 years mentoring at-risk teens and families through wilderness survival skills and nature connection. His passion for community connection, the environment, and intrapersonal healing continued with his involvement in permaculture, natural building, and ancestral grief rituals. As a volunteer with the Zendo Project since 2013, Ryan has had the opportunity to connect and expand the scope of psychedelic harm reduction in communities and festivals all over the globe. As the Zendo Project Manager, he integrates his skills in psychology, design and and community engagement. When he isn’t on the road with the Zendo Project, Ryan can be found at his home in Boulder, CO enjoying the great outdoors, experimenting with sustainable technology, and designing websites, logos and sacred geometry art.
Zendo Project is sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), a 501©3 research and education organization that develops medical, legal, and cultural contexts for people to benefit from the careful uses of psychedelics and marijuana. To find out more, visit MAPS.org.