Perhaps the most consistent question posed to the Baltimore Psychedelic Society is “how can I have a psychedelic journey of my own?”. Given the current socio-legal environment in the Baltimore area, this question is not a simple one. This page is meant to help you in navigating the many possibilities for a psychedelic experience that currently exist, and help you decide on what might prove best for your situation. Whatever you choose to do, we desire for you to have a journey which is safe, optimal, and effective for your personal health and psycho-spiritual evolution.
From our vantage point, a person looking for a psychedelic experience has three primary paths: acceptance into a research study, accessing a legal psychedelic retreat center, or choosing to “Go it Alone” by creating your own DIY project. You can find all the current research options with psilocybin and MDMA on our Research page on this site, which may be a starting point for many of you. A lot of options are opening here in Baltimore at both Johns Hopkins and Sheppard-Pratt Hospitals. For the rest of you, we’ll be dividing the remainder of this page into two categories: Retreat Centers and Going it Alone. We hope it serves you well.
A Brief Comment: As a psychedelic society, we clearly see the incredible value that psychedelics can provide to individuals and society at-large. Given recent research and the large collection of both first-hand and second-hand accounts of physical healing, relief from psychological issues, contacts with the numinous, and awe-inspiring experiences, we need little convincing about their power and promise. And we also know that these are powerful substances that can elicit life-changing experiences, create challenges both during and after usage, and overwhelm one’s established psyche and normal consciousness. We strongly suggest that those interested in trying psychedelics for the first time ideally do so with a sufficient understanding of psychedelics, stable mental health, and a trusted mentor/sitter/guide leading the way. Above all, we want people to remain safe from harm, as these important explorations into non-ordinary consciousness are made.
The growth of psychedelic retreat centers across the world in the last 10 years has been quite remarkable and fast-paced! Most of these centers have focused on Ayahuasca, Peyote and psilocybin as the primary substances that are used in a ceremonial or quasi-ceremonial manner. Some also provide MDMA, Iboga, and other options. They are also located in countries whose drug laws are friendly toward psychedelics and whose use is ostensibly legal, or at least in a grey area. Instead of listing all the places available, we’ve listed several websites that serve as clearinghouses for such centers. As with everything psychedelic, we encourage you to do your homework and assess your own readiness before attending a retreat center. There have been reports of abuse and neglect associated with several centers, so having a friend travel with you can be a good way to bring increased safety and less anxiety to the adventure. Third Wave (Retreats Directory / Choosing a retreat) has vetted a few providers, which offers a good place to start... but do your own research, regardless. You can find more directories on our Resources page.
Going it Alone
This section is written primarily for the novice who is interested in negotiating the vast psychedelic landscape and crafting their own experience. The considerations that go into choosing to enter the psychedelic realm are significant and varied. The challenge lies in negotiating the large number of variables involved in such a choice. These include:
1. Experience level of the journeyer
2. Type and provenance of the substance to be used
3. Amount of substance used
4. Setting: the immediate environment surrounding you
5. Set: your psychological mindset entering the experience
6. Intentions: recreational vs introspective vs healing vs transpersonal
7. Use of a psychedelic guide/sitter
8. Social supports: People in your life who are in support of your journeying
9. Therapeutic supports: life coach, therapist, breathworker, etc.
10. Physical readiness: medical contraindications/concerns—cardiac issues, medications, etc
11. Psychological readiness: psyche sufficiently stable to handle psychedelic states
If you are relatively new to psychedelics, a best first step in moving forward is to get yourself educated. Whether engaging the many books, articles, videos, and podcasts that have emerged recently, finding a formal psychedelics 101 on-line course, or using an online database like Erowid's Big Chart Index or PsychonautWiki, you can familiarize yourself relatively quickly with the psychedelic landscape. In doing so, you may find yourself more drawn to one substance over the others. You can find some of these possibilities on our Resources page.
In your self-education, you will be exposed to an array of psychedelic options. The substances involved are derived from a variety of sources, including plant life, animal life, lab discoveries and indigenous traditions. Each has their specific qualities and range of typical experiences. One’s first decision is choosing what substance speaks to them (figuratively... for now!) and best matches their personal intention. So, let’s say you just want a “recreational” experience to enhance a music festival you’re attending. This will likely narrow down your choices, significantly, to the most typical psychedelics, like LSD, mushrooms, or MDMA. The more indigenous, ceremonial medicines, such as San Pedro and ayahuasca, will not be your first choice here. Neither would the deep dives into transpersonal spaces one takes on DMT and 5-MeO-DMT.
Since “do no harm” and “safety first” are two significant values in the entheogen space, it’s important to make sure that you are both physically and mentally able to engage with it. Medical contraindications are substance-specific, but there appear to be several areas of concern:
1. People with uncontrolled high blood pressure and other cardiac concerns are discouraged from using
psychedelics, particularly MDMA and Ibogaine.
2. People with thyroid, liver and kidney dysfunction should get clearance from their physician.
3. There are many interaction effects between psychedelic substances and other drugs and medications, particularly with MDMA and ayahuasca, where interactions can be potentially fatal. Here are some good places to start, but in the case of prescriptions, one should always talk with whoever prescribed the pharmaceutical:
4. Equally important is one’s mental health status in entering the psychedelic space. Individuals in a state of emotional crisis or who have diagnoses where psychotic breaks are possible should consult their psychiatrist or therapist prior to using entheogens.
In addition to ensuring your own safety, it's good to consider the ethics of whatever medicine you choose. Consider avoiding the use of endangered species - notably Peyote, Iboga, and Incilius (Bufo) Alvarius. Alternatives to peyote include San Pedro, Bolivian Torch, and other mescaline-containing cacti. Voacanga Africana and synthetic ibogaine can be used in place of Iboga, and synthetic 5-MeO-DMT can be used instead of the toad. Consider avoiding the use of amphibian-based medicines (kambo & bufo) altogether. Amphibians are among the most vulnerable animals on earth - they are indicator species whose population is rapidly declining around the globe. Harvesting their venom on a large scale will only accelerate this process, not to mention striking great fear into the source of your medicine. As for synthetics, the manufacture of MDMA has become more difficult as more precursors are banned. The majority of MDMA is manufactured in the Netherlands, and the hazardous waste produced in the synthesis is sometimes dumped in wildlife preserves and other vulnerable areas, as there is no sanctioned and legal way to safely dispose of waste from illegal drug synthesis.
A Word about Ketamine: Ketamine is a consciousness-altering substance which is legal in the U.S. when administered by authorized medical personnel. Private use by citizens is not considered legal. Its use as a psychiatric treatment is fast growing, with new clinics being opened across the U.S. every month. It is categorized as a dissociative anesthetic, used in surgeries, that can also occasion more psychedelic-like experiences at higher doses.
Ketamine can induce a state of sedation (feeling calm and relaxed), immobility, relief from pain, and amnesia (no memory of events while under the influence of the drug). Although the long term effects are still being studied, its use as a short-term anti-depressant has been significantly established.
Ketamine’s use in the psychedelic community runs that gamut from recreational to deep dives into seemingly unconscious realms. At higher dosages, it is a best practice to have medical personnel present to monitor and assist you, as needed. When administered intravenously, this becomes an obvious caveat. If you are dealing with significant depression and want immediate relief, this may be a good choice for you.
Beyond the narrowing down of substances, there’s the question of dosage. For the festival, you’d want to steer clear of high doses, unless your experience tells you, otherwise. This means ingesting a lower “museum dose” that allows one to straddle both normal and expanded consciousnesses, while able to remain fully functional and present.
Ingestion of high doses will often overwhelm in these environments and could end up with you in a fetal position on the ground or in a Zendo tent.
Using best practices increases the likelihood that your experience will be safe, secure, and optimal. For example, when ingesting mushrooms or plants, the first thing to know is that there are many different species that produce a given alkaloid, and multiple cultivars of each species, and that each one has different concentrations of whatever active ingredient you're seeking. The various parts of the mushroom or plant may have different concentrations, as well, as will each individual specimen, since plants and fungi do not produce predictable amounts of alkaloids. Nonetheless, it is important to do your homework so you can at least make an educated estimate of how much of the active substance will be entering your body. This ensures your own safety and an optimal trip. The old adage of “Start low and go slow” is apt here.
Likewise, with synthetic substances like LSD, MDMA and Ketamine, it is strongly suggested that you test them with reagents and/or test strips. These can be found through DanceSafe or WIM Scientific Laboratories. Make sure that you test for multiple substances, not just the one you're expecting, as many different drugs can be present in a given pill, either as impurities or adulterants. The sites we linked above offer panels of multiple tests for each substance so that can you can check if the expected substance is present and if any unwanted substances are present in addition to or instead of what you think you have. Synthetics have a similar dosing problem to the natural products, as reagent tests can verify the presence or absence of a substance, but cannot tell you how much is present. It's impossible to tell how much is really on a tab or in a pill without sending them off to a European lab (as American labs are legally unable to give you quantitative data).
As such, it's best to play it safe when dosing. To the best of your ability, KNOW WHAT YOU ARE TAKING and KNOW HOW MUCH YOU ARE TAKING! Putting a pill in your mouth that somebody gives you at a rave, festival, or party without testing it is asking for hours of trouble... or worse! And when it comes to how much you're taking, YOU CAN ALWAYS TAKE MORE, BUT YOU CAN NEVER TAKE LESS. Use your best judgment with the information you obtain and be sure to get as much information as you can.
Set & Setting
So, let’s say you’ve decided that you want to have a significant experience with mushrooms that could potentially provide you a revelatory view into your psyche and psychological makeup and perhaps touch into the numinous and mystical realms. Here is where the variables spoken of above come into play more fully, especially if you’re a relative newbie to the chosen substance. Now that you know WHAT (mushrooms) and HOW MUCH (3+ grams) you are taking, your next concern is what’s known as set and setting. Setting is the place and environs where you are going to have the journey. The key questions in choosing a setting are:
1. Do you feel it to be a safe and quiet space?
2. Is it an environment where you can and will be undisturbed for 8-12 hours?
3. Is it comfortable/does it have a space to lie down?
4. Will you have access to help, if you need it?
Set is trickier, as it speaks to one’s psychological mindset. Set means that both your inner and interpersonal lives are mostly settled and you are not in crisis mode, psychosocially. What it does not mean is that you must go into the experience fully anxiety- or depression-free. If you have very high anxiety entering the experience, however, you may want to hold off and work-through whatever is driving that. Also, entering the psychedelic space driven by an acute sense of desperation can lead to a challenging trip, for sure. Bringing significant emotional chaos into the experience, in whatever way that has emerged, is to be avoided unless you are intentionally seeking a highly challenging experience.
Now that you’ve secured a solid set and setting, another choice point is setting an intention. Choosing a deep trip means that you want to work on yourself, have a healing experience, engage the numinous, or maybe just satisfy your curiosity. Whatever the motivation, it points to a personal intention—what is it that you would like from the experience? Maybe it’s to cure an addiction. Maybe it’s to know Truth. Perhaps it’s to better understand the source of your fears. Whatever it is, it’s helpful to get clear about one’s intention coming into the experience. An intention can help focus the experience and provide a soft structure for its unfolding. With that said, the intention is best held onto loosely, to allow for other messages and experiences to come through as you let go into the journey.
Sitters & Guides
So, for this go-round, you’ve managed set and setting and have chosen your cigarette addiction upon which to intentionally focus. A next question becomes, “do I want someone around while I do a high-dose journey?” The simple answer for the newbie is a resounding “yes”. And here you have several choices:
1. You can have a friend be nearby to make sure everything in the environment is managed and that you’re mostly okay, which can bring some peace of mind.
2. You can enlist a trained trip sitter to not only manage the environment, but to assist in your personal needs and know what to do if the trip gets challenging and/or non-productive.
3. Finally, you can hire a psychedelic guide who will work with you before, during, and after your journey. This person typically has significant experience with psychedelic journeying and knows the territory (though note that there is currently no standardized formal training for guides, so use strong discretion when choosing one). They will work with you to prepare for the trip, decide on substance and dosing, set intentions, and help you begin to integrate the experience afterwards.
Matched with the right guide, the psychedelic journey more readily becomes optimized for the novice traveler. Since such guides are “underground”, they may take some dedicated exploration to find. Psychedelic journeying does not happen in a vacuum and can impact closest friends and family. The experience can have broad-reaching effects across the psychosocial landscape. Having support for your exploration from such people is a key element in fully integrating the experience. Given societal attitudes toward psychedelics, however, it is likely that not everyone in your orbit appreciates the value that they hold. Taking care in who you talk to about your journey is important. There is a reason why Timothy Leary offered the mantra “Find the Others”. Developing a psychedelic “tribe” who can provide advice, a listening ear, knowledgeable feedback, and a friendly presence, both pre- and post-trip, is important. And a great way to do this is getting involved with a Psychedelic Society and/or attending a psychedelic integration circle (like the ones we offer) to meet like-minded people.
Beyond the natural supports we can create around us, it can be helpful to engage with a psychedelic-informed therapist or coach to work with revelatory material experienced during a journey. This is a quickly growing field of treatment that appreciates the incredible value of psychedelics, especially regarding healing, addiction resolution, and working with mood disorders. Many journeys include experiences which may at first seem highly unusual and difficult to understand. Engaging with a counselor who knows the “transpersonal” territory involved can be instrumental in integrating the experience more fully. Many therapists, breathworkers, and coaches will provide wraparound services, both preparing you for the journey and serving as integration partners in follow up. They typically do not provide any substance, nor guide psychedelic trips. Resources for this type of service can be found on our Resources page.
In order to find a sitter or guide that is the right fit for you, be sure to ask many questions. The first thing to evaluate is safety - does this person respect boundaries? Are they careful about getting consent for anything that may happen (for example, touch in a session)? Do they check what medications you're on? Are they trauma informed? If they administer synthetics, do they test them? Do they have a safe space to work in? Look for warning signs. Do a rudimentary background check (i.e. google, asking friends) and see if everything looks ok. If they pass the safety test, then you’ll want to determine if their style matches yours. Does their personality agree with you - do you think you'd feel comfortable around them in a vulnerable state? Do they allow you to use and develop your own framework, or do they try to impose their own? Do you want someone to be really involved in the process and steer you towards an outcome, or would you prefer they quietly sit back and allow you to undergo your personal process until you explicitly ask for help?
Legal Status of Psychedelics
An important part of the safety conversation is knowing the legal status of various psychedelics in the United States and Maryland. In short, the legal situation is sticky and complicated, filled with loopholes and technicalities. The simple part is that the vast majority of classical psychedelics (Serotonin 2a partial agonists) are Schedule I drugs, meaning they have 'no recognized medical use and high abuse potential' - a classification which is being strongly contested today. Let's go through the federal status of each substance in more depth:
SYNTHETICS: LSD, MDMA, and other synthetic or semi-synthetic psychedelics, psychedelic amphetamines,
empathogens, and entactogens, are all Schedule I. In the early 2000s, it was possible to buy many research chemicals online legally which were similar to Schedule I drugs, but these were largely made illegal under a revision to the Federal Analogue Act, which places any substances that are 'substantially similar' to Schedule I substances under the same schedule. Note that what makes a compound 'substantially similar' to another is not well defined, so the act is ambiguous at best.
MUSHROOMS: Only products containing psilocybin or psilocin are scheduled. This means that spores are legal in every state except California, Georgia, and Idaho, as the spores do not contain any illicit substances. Growing them out, however, is illegal, and counts as manufacture. As the mycelium also contains psilocybin and psilocin, things which contain live mycelium like liquid cultures and grow blocks are also illegal.
CACTI: Mescaline is a schedule I drug, but oddly, the only cactus it is illegal to own is Peyote (Lophophora Williamsii). Seeing as Peyote is a vulnerable species, this may not be such a bad thing - though one could argue that this law prevents cultivation with the intention of restoring the population. Meanwhile, it is legal to own any other cactus that contains mescaline - namely, the Trichocereus cacti, like San Pedro, Peruvian Torch, and Bolivian Torch. These are even sold in some garden centers. However, it is illegal to consume the cacti or prepare them for consumption.
AYAHUASCA PLANTS (& ANALOGUES): The harmalas contained in Ayahuasca Vine & Syrian Rue are not scheduled substances in the USA (though they are in places like Australia & Canada), so these plants and the substances they contain are legal to own in any form. DMT, on the other hand, is a schedule I substance, but all plants containing it are legal to own. This is likely because thousands of plants contain some amount of DMT, including citrus plants. However, there have been some busts for large orders of Mimosa Hostilis root bark, so this doesn't necessarily mean you're in the clear. Other plants which contain forms of DMT, like Yopo and Virola, are unregulated.
LYSERGIC ACID PLANTS: Oddly enough, LSA is not a schedule I substance - it is listed as Schedule III as an LSD precursor. LSH may be covered under the Analogue Act, but it is unclear. Nonetheless, morning glory seeds containing these substances can be found at basically any garden store, though they are often coated with fungicides to deter abuse and need to be grown out to be of use.
SALVIA DIVINORUM: This plant is federally legal, but has been banned on the state level in 29 states. It is still legal on the state level in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, South Carolina, West Virginia, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire. It is legal with age restrictions in California, Maryland, and Maine. It is decriminalized in Wisconsin and Tennessee.
CLASSICAL DISSOCIATIVES: The NMDA antagonists have more unpredictable scheduling - for example, PCP is schedule II, Ketamine is Schedule III, and Dextromethorphan is unscheduled and can be purchased over the counter (though full of adulterants to counteract abuse). The Ketamine analogue Methoxetamine (MXE) was recently moved from schedule II to schedule I.
MARYLAND LAW: For the most part, Maryland follows federal drug laws and DEA scheduling rather than having their own specific code. Unfortunately, these laws contain quite a lot of ambiguity. Possession of any controlled substance besides Marijuana is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 4 years in prison and a $25,000 fine. However, possession of 'excessive amounts, suggesting the intent to distribute', has harsher penalties of up to 20 years in prison. What constitutes 'excessive amounts' seems to be up to the discretion of the courts.
The general sentencing guidelines have separate sections for Schedule I and II drugs and for 'LSD, PCP, and other hallucinogenics', even though there is a lot of overlap between those categories. A mandatory minimum 5-year sentence and a fine of up to $100k is instituted for possession of '1000 dosage units of LSD', but a 'dosage unit' is never defined. There is no listing of specific numbers for mushrooms, cacti, DMT, or other psychedelics. This unfortunately leaves the law open to interpretation, and that interpretation can be stretched quite a bit. For instance, possession of a scale alongside drugs is often considered sufficient grounds to prove intent to distribute. The numbers people are charged for are often heavily inflated, including precursors and other related things as part of the weight. Even if you haven't grown anything, you can also get charged with intent to grow if you possess the right materials.