Fireside Project, a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization, is launching a psychedelic peer support hotline — the first of its kind. It's intended to walk people through the mind-altering experiences that accompany psychedelic drugs, from LSD to psilocybin. The hotline is slated to begin operation on April 14, 2021. The goal is to eventually operate 24/7 via text, phone, or live chat, but the project will begin with a line that's operational 12 hours per day, 7 days per week.
The number is slated to be 1-833-2FIRESIDE, though it is not live yet.
Joshua White, the founder of the Fireside Project, tells Inverse the hotline is geared toward people who are mid-trip, friends watching someone else trip, or those looking to process those experiences afterward.
It’s more like a “warmline” – a tool that’s not geared solely toward emergency management but focuses on situations involving psychedelics, both good and bad.
In that way, this new enterprise differs from existing hotlines that are geared toward prolonged struggles with drugs — addiction, treatment, and recovery.
“We’ll offer weekly follow-ups to everyone who reaches out to us, with the hope that we can provide long-term support to our clients as they explore the meaning of their psychedelic experiences and use the lessons from those experiences to make positive life changes,” White tells Inverse.
Why does this exist? — The hotline comes in the wake of several ballot measures and decriminalization efforts across the United States, including a bill in California sponsored by state Senator Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat, aimed at decriminalizing psychedelics.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Wiener said the hotline is designed to give people immediate access to support and represents another step toward changing attitudes toward psychedelics more generally.
"It's time to stop locking people up and arresting people for psychedelics," Wiener says.
"We need to move away from that. We need to embrace their value and give people the resources to be safe while they are using psychedelics. That's what this hotline is about."
Why is this even needed? – Psychedelic drugs — like psilocybin, LSD, or DMT — tend to carry a low risk of dependence or addiction. (Though repeated use of DMT and LSD can both lead to increased tolerance for the drug). That’s not to say that psychedelics can’t have negative consequences, too.
Thirty-nine percent of people in a 2016 survey said that a “bad trip” was within the top five most challenging experiences in their lifetime. The consequences ranged from the physical to the psychological. Eleven percent put themselves or others at risk of harm.
Of those who experienced a difficult trip more than one year before the survey, about 8 percent sought treatment for psychological symptoms. Three people attempted death by suicide.
"There are lasting consequences from anything traumatic or impactful, good trips and bad."
On the flip-side, even good trips can be world-altering. Those experiences, while not always traumatic, can still lead people to seek answers and support, says Julie Holland, a psychiatrist who specializes in psychopharmacology. She wasn't involved with the creation of the hotline but addressed reporters at the press conference on Tuesday.
“There are lasting consequences from anything traumatic or impactful, good trips and bad. Being able to work through and process trauma will always help psychological functioning in the long run,” Holland told Inverse ahead of the press conference.
How will this trippy hotline work? — The people who will actually be leading that processing will be volunteers, White says. The hotline staff will undergo 36 hours of training, background checks in addition to a written application and an interview. They’ll also be overseen by an on-call supervisor.
White imagines that someone could reach out to the hotline while overwhelmed by a psychedelic experience. Maybe this is while at a festival or a concert in need of support — or at least just someone to talk to.
Crucially, that means the hotline must be top-of-mind before someone decides to have a psychedelic experience.
For now, the plan is to work with hospitals, clinics, community mental health organizations, law enforcement, psychedelic groups, student groups, crisis helplines, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health professionals, and private businesses to promote the hotline. The group has a budget for Google ad placement and PSA-styled stickers — something you might see in dance clubs and bars, among other establishments.
Gaining widespread attention will probably prove critical, as calls to already-established crisis hotlines have revealed.
Calls to established hotlines, like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, doubled between 2014 and 2017. In 2017, calls skyrocketed again when the rapper, Logic, released the song: "1-800-273-8255" (the number for the suicide hotline). The day the song was released calls hit the second-highest ever in a single day: 4,573 calls.
The increase in calls, though also a sign of increasing rates of suicides in the United States, could also be attributed to the awareness of the hotline, NSPL spokeswoman Frances Gonzalez said in 2018. The actual psychedelics hotline number has not yet been released.
What does it mean for psychedelics in society? – This hotline is one in a series of changes in how scientists, the public, and legislators view psychedelics.
It follows the passage of a 2020 ballot measure in Oregon that legalized psilocybin for mental health treatment (notably, the American Psychiatric Association opposed the measure). In 2019, Denver voted to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms, making them the “lowest law enforcement priority.” Also in 2019, psilocybin was granted a breakthrough therapy status by the FDA due to its potential to treat severe depression.
Speaking at the press conference, Wiener noted that his bill, and the hotline, both point towards efforts to treat drugs as a public health issue rather than a criminal one.
"This is about fundamentally ending the war on drugs. Psychedelics and other substances weren't always criminalized," Wiener said. He also indicated that he also supports broader drug decriminalization.
Despite shifting attitudes, psychedelics remain illegal nationwide. Psilocybin, DMT, and LSD are Schedule I according to the Controlled Substances Act, which is reserved for substances with a high potential for abuse and dependence.
But like other drugs (read: marijuana) that have also been subject to loosening restrictions, opinions and policies may be changing. A hotline for dealing with trip experiences is just another chapter in a developing story.
Editor's Note 11/19/20: The article has been updated to include the number for the hotline, and the date of launch, and the operational hours of the hotline. A previous version of this article misstated the date of launch and the operational hours.