Psychedelic Harm Reduction at Music Festivals

A piece of art typically associated with psychedelics.

What is the Zendo Project?

The Zendo Project is an organization that attends festivals, music events, and other large gatherings to provide a space for those who are undergoing difficult psychedelic experiences, or trips. Their presence is of high value, as they hold the tools necessary to address these kinds of situations (Flemming, 2016). They provide guidance, safety, and resources that guests need in order to make the most of their experiences by encouraging exploration and open mindedness. Each team member is given training in order to act according to what any given situation presents and are typically paired with each other when helping individual guests. A significant message that their presence conveys is that safe and productive psychedelic experiences are possible without the need for law-enforcement based policies, with their more positive outcomes standing as proof of this idea. They also provide education on drug use so that fewer individuals find themselves making poor decisions as a result of not being exposed to information that could benefit them.

Set and Setting

Two of the most important things to consider before tripping are set and setting. Set refers to being mindful of one’s emotional state, experience with a given substance, and knowing exactly what the substance that is being consumed is; setting refers to the physical environment and one’s familiarity with it. 

The set element rests more on the guests, as they tend to come into festival environments already under the influence. However, they can still learn about any given substance if they speak to a volunteer and ask questions before they take a substance without explicitly revealing their intentions, as to keep themselves and Zendo volunteers out of trouble. Zendo volunteers can also guide guests through their psychedelic experiences through simple means, such as offering to listen or accommodating their needs in whatever way they are able to.

People that are tripping at music festivals typically go to the Zendo in order to escape from the high volumes of people and sounds occurring. What they find is a large tent with volunteers ready to help shape the most peaceful environment possible by establishing trust and a quiet space. Additionally, Zendo tents can be up past midnight, ensuring that psychedelic users have wide access to their services that can help them through a large portion of their trip if not the entire thing.

Principles of Psychedelic Harm Reduction

Building a Safe Space As a Zendo volunteer, it’s important to keep the tent and space in shape for every guest coming in and out. This will ensure that every guest is receiving the same kind of support from their immediate environment as they are from their volunteers. Furthermore, it’s important that as a volunteer, you are offering confidentiality to every guest and that you are presenting yourself as a rock (Zendo Maps, 2015).

Being a Good Listener One of the most important things to remember when tending to someone undergoing a psychedelic experience is that you are also a part of what they are going through, so it is critical that you listen, empathize, and be a nondirective source of support. (Janikian, 2019) Be sure to listen or even sit in silence if you need to, as giving any excessive opinions or advice can change a guest’s trip for the worse. Present yourself as an available source for guidance, whether that means actively conversing with the guest or being their rock of silence. Other additional things that can help include making eye contact with them and being personable. Giving guests space or materials that they may need in order to express themselves in art forms can be very useful for them (Zendo Maps, 2015). It is important to mention that a Zendo volunteer and anyone else who finds themselves holding a space for someone undergoing a psychedelic experience should also respect their own boundaries.. In the context of being a Zendo volunteer, this could mean taking a break or requesting that someone take your place. The best way to operate as a volunteer, especially when someone else’s experience is in your hands, is to make sure you are tending to your own needs as well. 

Encouraging Exploration Many fall into bad psychedelic experiences when struggling against the forces of their innermost thoughts. It is vital to embrace every part of the psychedelic experience so that you can get the most out of it. This can be very difficult, however, as it is easy to drift away without the proper guidance or anchor. Zendo volunteers should guide guests in exploring their experience and trying to understand them, which is another reason listening can be very helpful in allowing someone to better ground themselves. Curiosity is an essential piece of productive trips and the Zendo tent should be a space where that can be cultivated (Zendo Maps, 2015). 

Growth When guests undergoing a psychedelic experience have room to explore them without overwhelming levels of anxiety. In the case of especially challenging trips, they often happen for reasons that are beyond an individual’s understanding until after the effects of the substance wear off. Zendo volunteers can help bring guests back to Earth as they begin their transition from their psychedelic induced headspace to the real world. This can include giving guests ways to integrate whatever realizations they may have had into their day to day life, such as practicing different art forms or practicing meditation (Zendo Maps, 2015).

Law-Enforcement Obstacles

The Zendo Project as well as many other organizations that promote harm reduction are constantly forced to deal with the stigma behind drug use and educating others on how they responsibly consume substances and what they should expect. In particular, general law-enforcement figures regard the principles of harm reduction as radical and consequently make police presence at music festivals heavier. This acts as a blockade in the communication between Zendo volunteers and those they seek to support. The conversation about substance use becomes quieter at these events due to the distrust that stems from police presence and strategies. Consequently, the Zendo Project must take precautions such as labeling themselves as “Psych Support” rather than “Psychedelic Support”, perpetuating the division between individuals undergoing difficult trips and the resources that could grant them a safe space.

Zendo has also been moved from accessible central locations to more remote areas, cutting down visitor participation (St. John, 2017). This has heavy implications for the influence of law enforcement on access to harm reduction and their views on substance users as well as those who provide them support when necessary . Since they heavily rely on crowdfunding and donations, their lack of visitors makes it difficult to garner attention and operate to their fullest extent. In combination with the misconception that harm reduction is for the purpose of promoting drug use, this demonstrates the importance of spreading the principles of harm reduction to bring more support to organizations such as Zendo. This spread of information, however, must begin with sprouting conversations about harm reduction and eliminating the stigma behind substances and individuals who partake in them in place of pretending that substances and the people who use them are inferior or that they don’t exist.


Jurvetson, Steve. “Magic Mushrooms 2.0: Induced Synesthesia, with Spaceship Launches, and a Child-Like Mind.” Flickr. Yahoo!, March 15, 2015.

Fleming, Dede. Interviewed by Linnae Ponté. Psychedelic Harm Reduction in the Festival Industry: An Interview with Do LaB Co-Founder Dede Flemming. 2016.

Zendo Maps. Zendo Training Manual. Zendo Project, 2015.

Janikian, Michelle. “How to Trip Sit”. Double Blind (blog). December 16, 2019.

St. John, Graham. Weekend Societies : Electronic Dance Music Festivals and Event-Cultures. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017.

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