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Sarah McGruddy, a drug safety advocate and University of Otago Alumni gives us our third installment of "Good to Know"

‘Know before you go’ – we’ve all heard this term before in terms of a trip into nature, but what about metaphorical trips of the mind … The three key questions to ask yourself are: where are you going? What are you doing? and who have you told?* These simple rules for tripping can be extended to tripping on drugs – so let’s be educated humans and learn what this entails.

Planning your trip beforehand: when going for a hike you might pack a bag, bring some snacks and some layers if it’s going to be cold. When preparing to take drugs, similar rules apply. Make sure you know the environment that you’ll be in. Physically, this might refer to a location that is judgement free and safe – consider the peacefulness of nature, comfortable textures, and warm clothing. Mentally, plan to be with good friends – the types that will stick with you through the highs and the lows in the evening. It’s always useful to have a sober mate too.

Check your list before you go to make sure you have everything. Check that what you’ll be taking is what you expect it to be – organisations like Know Your Stuff, or Facebook pages to ID mushrooms are great for that. Having a plan is the most important thing – who knows when you’ll stumble off the trail and get lost in the forest of your mind. If you ever feel overwhelmed, plan before what you will do to combat it and get back on track. Perhaps listening to your favourite album, doing some painting, or lying in a cool patch of grass will do the trick. It’s different for everyone, so just think of things that make you feel happy and calm - and have those readily available.

On the trip: we all know that being prepared makes the trip more fun - you want to pull out the marshmallows at just the right moment. However, not all surprises are fun especially when doing things on a whim. Unless you have planned and checked the safety of combining drugs (as per, don’t do it spontaneously. One of the most common drugs combined with MDMA or psychedelics is alcohol, but if you have more than a couple of drinks, the good effects of these other drugs can be reduced, and other negative effects may rear their ugly head. Suddenly, you’re dehydrated and disorientated - bushwhacking in the middle of nowhere, lost, looking for the nearest source of comfort. Perhaps you’ve taken something earlier in the day and you feel the effects wearing off so you want to try another drug. Be informed of how these drugs interact and be aware of the symptoms you might experience. If you’re feeling weird from something you’ve taken, voice your concerns. It can be helpful to just get it out of your head and to let your mates know what you’re going through. Especially if you’re new to the experience, it can feel different and exciting, but it can also feel different and scary. Sometimes you need a little water break while you’re walking, and sometimes you need to sit down for a while. And that’s okay.

When you get home: after your trip you might feel tired and weary, especially the next day. After the big adventure you’ve had it’s important to fill your puku with good, nutritious food and drink some refreshing OJ! After such an exciting time, you might feel a little down the next day or so too. It’s important not to exclude yourself, instead validate your right to sit in your comfiest clothes with your mates and watch Friends reruns all day. Ask your mates how their trip was, were they happy with the experience? Were you a good buddy? What could you do better next time?

Most of all, remember it is okay to not be okay. Strong emotions may have come up for you, or memories you didn’t realise you were hanging onto. It is always okay to ask your mates for help, ask a professional and to look inward to see why you might have fallen off the trail. However, you just went on a trip of a lifetime and saw so many amazing things, and you made it home safely! Be proud of yourself for being so well prepared, being present, and keeping yourself safe.

Written by Sarah McGruddy: Otago University Alumni - Neuroscience and Psychology.

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