Harm Reduction Tips to Prevent Bad Trips

Brought to you in collaboration with the TRIP! Project

Looking for some harm reduction tips for specific drugs? Well, look no further!  

Drugs and their use come in many different shapes and forms. There are several reasons why a person may choose to use drugs. The reasons why a person may choose to try, or use, a drug does not have to be a reason we understand, or agree with. For some folks, drugs may help with mental health or physical pain management. For others, drugs may carry a cultural element. Sometimes, people may use drugs because they like how it makes them feel. Drugs can also be used for exploring sex, ideas, dreams, and bodies.

People are in charge of their own bodies and choices, and drug use will continue to remain an activity that some people engage in. What we can actively do is try to prevent harms that arise from drug misinformation, restricted resources and stigma. This is an example of harm reduction; and harm reduction accepts you as you are.

In this blog post, we cover the major drug types: depressants, dissociatives +/psychedelics, stimulants, and cannabis. There are many other drugs that exist, but we’re unable to cover them all. We’ll break down the common ways various drugs are consumed, and ways to keep you and your friends safer.  

First, let's talk about depressants, which are sometimes called downers.

Any drug considered a depressant is one that slows down the signaling of the central nervous system. This means that your breathing slows down, your heart rate reduces, and you may experience a drop in blood pressure. Depressant drugs commonly cause feelings of anxiety relief, relaxation, sleepiness and tranquility.  

These feelings are not unique to depressants; for example, cannabis (weed) is not considered a depressant, but may cause similar feelings. This does not make cannabis a depressant drug, it just means that some effects overlap. Depressant drugs include the following five categories:  

  • Alcohol: includes drinks like vodka, wine, beer and liqueurs.  
  1. Alcohol should only be consumed orally and comes in varying potencies. The alcohol percentage we see on the packaging refers to the percentage of the liquid in the container that is alcohol. The higher the number, the stronger the drink is.  
  2. Typically, the liver can metabolize around one drink per hour. However some people may be able to drink more alcohol, or they’re able to drink alcohol with more or fewer side effects than others. This comes down to a person’s age, genes, gender, weight, health status, drinking experience and medications.  
  3. The effects of alcohol last several hours, with approximately six hours to sober up from being drunk.

You can reduce the risk of nausea, hangovers or getting “too drunk” by pacing your drinks, drinking alongside food/snacks and drinking water to replenish the fluids you lose (alcohol is dehydrating!).

Try to stick to only drinking alcohol when you do, as alcohol can affect the way your body responds to other drugs/supplements.

  • Z-Drugs/Sedatives: includes drugs like zolpidem (Ambien), zopiclone (Imovane), Eszopiclone (Lunesta) and others. Some informal names for these drugs include: zimmers & sleepeasy.
  1. Z-Drugs are medications that are prescribed for insomnia. Z-drugs are also known as sedatives, because they cause sleepiness, or what we call; sedation.
  2. Some effects include hallucinations, sleepwalking, vivid dreams, headaches, memory loss, loss of inhibitions, dizziness.  
  3. Their effects last about 8 hours. Click here to learn more!  

  • Benzodiazepines/Tranquilizers: include alprazolam (Xanax), clonazepam (Klonopin), lorazepam (Ativan) and others. These drugs are also sometimes called benzos, bars, footballs, ladders, school busses, hulks, xannies, kpins, and Addies.
  1. Benzodiazepines are used in medicine for anxiety relief, insomnia, before surgery, to manage manic episodes, and during alcohol withdrawal to prevent seizures.  
  2. Benzos are called “minor tranquilizers” as they cause feelings of calmness, or tranquility. Some effects of benzos include anxiety relief, memory loss, dizziness, loss of balance, “black outs”, changes in appetite, sleepiness.  
  3. Some benzodiazepines effects (like Lorazepam & Phenazepam) can last upwards of 8 hours.
  4. Some others, (i.e; Alprazolam & Diazepam) are felt for about 4-6 hours after dosing. More on those here.  
  • Opioids: includes morphine (MS-Contin, Kadian), heroin, oxycodone (Percocet, Oxycontin), hydrocodone (Vicodin, Hycodan) and fentanyl (Actiq, Fentora). Sometimes known as norcos, fent, oxy, H, brown, horse, china white, smack, M, demmies, lean, roxies, 30s, 40s, 80s, and OC.
  1. Opioids are used to reduce pain, and opioid drugs are made from opium, which comes from the poppy plant. They can also be made synthetically, to mimic opium.  
  2. Some effects of opioids include pain relief, anxiety, sleepiness, euphoria, nausea, dizziness, tingling sensations, itchiness, changes in appetite, and loss of sex drive.
  3. Depending on the opioid, short term effects typically last about 4-12 hours.

  • Gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) and Gamma-Butyrolactone (GBL): occasionally prescribed for narcolepsy under the brand name, Xyrem. These are sometimes referred to as Georgia Home Boy, juice, liquid E, liquid X, Grievous Bodily Harm, or G.

GHB is the drug that GBL is broken down into, in our bodies. If we first take GBL, by the time we get high, it’s turned into GHB.

However, GHB is sold as is, so if you take GHB, it’s already been switched from GBL to GHB.  

  1. GBL is used to make solvents such as paint strippers, stain removers, and nail polish removers.
  2. Some effects of GHB/GBL include increased sex drive, more sensitive reactions towards physical sensations, anxiety relief, blacking out, headaches, nausea and vomiting.
  3. Effects can last for around four hours. Check out this cool article to learn more about GHB/GBL & how they are used in chem sex. 💕

Withdrawal refers to the symptoms that come up when you abruptly stop taking a drug after you’ve been taking it for an extended period of time. You can withdraw from many drugs.  

However, depressants; particularly drugs that work on receptors in the brain called GABA (Z-drugs, benzodiazepines, alcohol, GHB/GBL) and opioids; can come with unique risks. Symptoms of withdrawal from these drugs include shaking, increased anxiety, insomnia, weight loss, increased heart rate, high blood pressure, cravings for the drugs, and in some instances, seizures and death.

For this reason, benzos, Z-drugs and GHB are often not prescribed for longer than 14 days. Opioid withdrawal is less known to cause seizures or death, but is still considered to be a very serious withdrawal.

For some basic depressant harm reduction, consider using a measuring unit to figure out your dosages, and starting low and going slow.

Avoid mixing with other drugs (especially other depressants), as to not risk completely slowing down your central nervous system. This is the system that’s responsible for our breathing. If we take too high of a dose, or mix too many depressants together, our system may become too relaxed and stop our breathing (this is known as CNS depression), risking coma and death. If possible, also stay away from grapefruit! Grapefruit can make the effects of drugs more potent, and can risk a severe overdose. Drugs like Gravol (Dimenhydrinate), Benadryl (Diphenhydramine) and others may make the effects of depressants more potent.

Depressant overdoses may look like: the person is unresponsive, fingernails/hands/feet/lips that are turning blue/gray, vomiting, gargled breathing, pinpoint pupils, excessive sweating, and feeling cold. Depressant overdoses are medical emergencies. Learn more about responding to a depressant overdose here.  

Next up are dissociatives +/ psychedelics!

This is a unique category, and we could separate the two, but technically dissociatives fall under the psychedelic category, so we’ll group them together.  

When a person says psychedelics, they may mean drugs like LSD (Acid, tabs), DMT (Dimitri, The Rogan), Magic Mushrooms (shrooms, mushies), or Ayahusasca (yage, aya).  

Effects of these drugs vary from lasting as little as 5-20 minutes like with DMT, and up to 15 hours in the case of LSD. That means: plan accordingly!

  • Psychedelics can cause temperature changes in the body, feelings of confusion, anxiety, wakefulness/energy, euphoria, curiosity, dilated pupils, sweating, headache and more.
  • Never heard of DMT? Learn more here.

On the other hand, disassociatives may also cause hallucinations and similar psychedelic sensations as the above drugs but are known for their dreamy, out of body, floating sort-of experiences. Dissociative drugs refer to Ketamine (vitamin K, horse tranquilizer), DXM (robotripping, triple C), Nitrous Oxide (nangs, whippets) and PCP (angel dust, monkey dust). Effects can last anywhere from one minute to several hours, depending on the drug!

Harm reduction for these drugs include avoiding consuming them with certain types of antidepressants (like MAOIs and SSRIs) and stimulants, to reduce the risk of serotonin syndrome. More info here on that here.  

Consider your set and setting prior to dosing: what is your set? This means your mental status, like how you’re feeling. Your setting is your physical location: where are you? Do you feel safe and cozy? Do you have a trip-sitter?

Learn more about set, setting, and trip sitting here!

Overdosing may look like vomiting, increased heart rate, extreme disorientation, and paranoia; which is what some call a “bad trip”. Reassuring the person, staying by their side and trying to positively distract them is key in soothing a bad trip.

With psychedelics, the concerns that pertain to other drugs like opioids (such as central nervous system depression) are not applicable, unless the person has taken multiple drugs at once. Usually, the main focus is emotional regulation in psychedelic overdoses. A person may need medical intervention if they are at risk for hurting themselves or others, or are experiencing chest pains, seizures, or psychosis.

Now, let’s talk about stimulants, or uppers!

Stimulants are the opposite of depressants/downer drugs. A stimulant drug increases the signaling of your central nervous system. This results in increased heart rate, increased blood pressure and breathing rate, and may also lead to increased energy. Often, stimulants cause feelings of euphoria, confidence, anxiety, insomnia, reduction in appetite, weight loss, increased sex drive, jaw grinding and sweating.  

These feelings are not unique to stimulant drugs - for example, ketamine can increase blood pressure and heart rate, but is not categorized as a stimulant. However, stimulants are referred to as such because of their stimulatory effects. Stimulants include the following:

  • Amphetamines: MDMA (Molly, X, Ecstasy), Adderall (Addies), Vyvanse, and Meth (Tina, crank, crystal, ice). Any of these can be referred to as amphs, uppers, or stims.
  • Methylphenidate (Ritalin & Concerta). Also known as ritz, vitamin R, uppers, or stims.
  • Cocaine (blow, snow) and Crack Cocaine (rock, hotcakes).  
  • Synthetic Cathinones/Cathinones. Also referred to as “Bath Salts” or “Monkey Dust”. This category includes drugs such as MDPV, Methylone, and Mephedrone.

Harm reduction tips for stimulants include taking them along with food to reduce jittery feelings and dizziness. Also, making sure you’re wearing clothing that won’t have you freeze or overheat to avoid hypothermia or hyperthermia; which is especially important when attending crowded venues where temperature may be higher.

Staying hydrated is key, as you tend to sweat more on stimulants, and chewing gum or having candy in your mouth may reduce the risk of grinding your teeth.

If possible, avoid taking stimulants with SSRIs, 5-HTP, MAOIs or multiple stimulants at once.

Overdosing on stimulants, also known as “overamping” is characterized by a red face, anxiety, paranoia, chest pain, vomiting, nausea, headaches, seizures, hallucinations and hyperventilation. If someone is overdosing on stimulants, try to reassure them that things will be okay. Giving somebody a downer to “chill” during a stimulant overdose will not end the stimulant overdose, and may actually create cardiovascular problems, along with confusion. Combining depressants and stimulants can send the heart mixed electrical signals. Stimulant overdoses may be a medical emergency, especially if the person is having a seizure or complaining about chest pains or severe headache.

Withdrawal may look like depression, fatigue, increased appetite, weight gain, loss of sex drive, cravings for the drug, mood swings, brain fog, and difficulty concentrating. Withdrawal from stimulants is uncomfortable and can feel intense - but does not come with life-threatening effects as with some cases of depressant withdrawal.

Last but not least; Cannabinoids (which is the stuff in cannabis/weed)!

Some effects of Cannabinoids include increased appetite, headache, sleepiness, euphoria, changes in sex drive, nausea relief (or even nausea itself!), paranoia, anxiety, pain relief, dizziness, increased heart rate, dry mouth, high blood pressure, muscle relaxation, hallucinations, and giddiness. Now let's get into them!  

  • THC: Tetrahydrocannabinol is the psychoactive component of Cannabis (weed) which accounts for the “high” feelings that we experience when we consume Cannabis.
  • CBD: Cannabidiol is the component of Cannabis that doesn’t get us high, but is suspected to have protective effects for our brains, like anxiety-relief. There are over 400 compounds in Cannabis, these two (THC and CBD) are the most popular, and most commonly sought out.

  • Synthetic cannabinoids: also known as Spice, K2, “fake weed”, and can occasionally be sold as “incense”. Synthetic cannabinoids are chemicals that have been made to imitate the effects of THC, but are not related to, made with, or effect the body the way THC does. Effects with synthetic cannabinoids tend to be more unpredictable than THC. Synthetic cannabinoids are usually sold as various plants/herbs which are then sprayed with, or coated in a powder of synthetic cannabinoids.  

Harm reduction tips include trying to consume weed in ways that don’t require you to burn it (like smoking joints/blunts/pipes). This way, you can reduce the risk of smoke-related injury and harm to health (i.e.; lung cancer, worsening asthma, etc.).  

CBD along with THC may reduce anxiety from Cannabis highs, and may provide some protection from some of the “neurotoxic” effects of THC. Neurotoxic here means it changes the way your nervous system works from its usual state.  

Mango can make your highs more intense, and high-fat meals can speed up the process of your edibles “hitting”.  

Hyperemesis is a condition where a person experiences repeated vomiting. This is caused by overconsumption of cannabis, and will stop once you completely quit weed. Hyperemesis can be a medical emergency. More info is yet to be released; as scientists are still researching and learning about it!

Withdrawal from cannabinoids may look like depression, cravings for cannabis, having trouble falling or staying asleep, fatigue, changes in appetite, headaches, or anxiety. Withdrawal from Cannabis is not dangerous, although it may be uncomfortable - it typically lasts a week or two. For more info on weed and everything in between, check out this article!  

Lastly, a few general harm reduction tips and resources!  

Here are some harm reduction tips that are worth keeping in mind, and can be applied to all drugs. Be sure to check out the Harm Reduction section of for some more important general harm reduction info, like responding to an overdose, managing drug dependence, reducing the chances of passing along infections like HIV and Hepatitis C, and more.  

  • Get your drugs tested at a drug testing lab; it’s free & anonymous. If there are no labs are near you, reagent test kits may be an option. They’re not as reliable or comprehensive as lab testing, but they’re better than nothing! Click here to learn more.  
  • Check medication/supplement interactions! For example, 5-HTP and stimulants can run the risk of serotonin syndrome.

  • If you want to speak to a trained peer about your drug use, judgement-free, consider calling the National Overdose Response Service phone line at 1-888-688-NORS(6677).
  • If you’re using drugs (especially if you’re alone) and want someone to contact emergency services for you if you become unresponsive, consider downloading and using the LifeGuard App.  

Have fun and stay safe!  

Written by Xeomë Dabelić-Košćak from the TRIP! Project
Find the TRIP! Project on Facebook, Instagram & Twitter: @tripproject  
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