How Effective Is Fireside Project’s Psychedelic Hotline? New Study Aims To Find Out - Auvega LABS Inc. GENERALS

How Effective Is Fireside Project’s Psychedelic Hotline? New Study Aims To Find Out

The psychedelic renaissance has brought about many innovations, including a new resource that was created with the intention of minimizing harm. The Fireside Project’s Psychedelic Peer Support Line and app was launched in April and offers an ear to psychedelic explorers who find themselves in the midst of a challenging trip. The tool is about to undergo an official study of efficacy, thanks to the organization’s recent partnership with University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).

The app, which opens to a screen with large buttons offering ‘call’ and ‘text’ options, can be used by anyone who might be experiencing a difficult trip, including friends who might be acting as support, or ‘trip sitters’. A group of roughly 30 volunteers answers calls and texts on the other end of the line, each trained in skills like active listening, ready to offer help both during and after a tough trip.

The Fireside Project, the California non-profit organization responsible for launching the app, has partnered with UCSF to study the potential public health impact of the support line and to assess its efficacy. According to principal investigator Joseph Zamaria, his team will be looking at the variables in the delivery of Fireside Project’s service.

Support For Psychedelic Explorers

“This is a really important service that is being provided to society; first, because we’re in a mental health crisis, which has only escalated since COVID, and second, because I think more people are using psychedelics for this reason,” he says. “People are self-medicating with psychedelics.”

Even in places where psychedelic assisted therapy is offered (at this point, only ketamine can be legally administered in this way), this treatment is often prohibitively expensive, and so Zamaria can understand why the underground use of psychedelics is becoming more popular. The hotline, he says, “can assure a little bit of safety, a little bit of harm reduction in the space.”

Dr. Rachel Yehuda, Director of the Center for Psychedelic Psychotherapy and Trauma Research at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine, is an advisor for the study, and echoes what Zamaria has to say about self-medication: “The excitement about psychedelics and their potential therapeutic benefit is driving many to try them on their own, sometimes in a way that blurs the boundaries between recreational and therapeutic use,” she says.

“But for many, particularly those with unprocessed traumas who are dealing with many issues in their personal life, the medicines can bring up too much and be overwhelming. The Fireside Project is one of the only, if not only group that has anticipated this common outcome of being overwhelmed and overstimulated and offers realtime support during and after psychedelic use.”

Data Will Answer Important Questions

The study will look at responses to a post-call survey that Fireside sends out to those who have used the service, with no obligation to answer every question (or at all). The survey asks questions that consider demographic variables like age, gender identity, ethnicity and so on, as well as questions about the purpose of the call.

“Is somebody tripping while they are calling or texting? Did they just emerge from a challenging experience, something that might have happened last night or last week?” asks Zamaria. “Are callers trip-sitting, or acting as a sober guide for somebody who is using a psychedelic? Or is it someone gathering information? …Finally, is it helpful?” His team will take Fireside’s raw data and try to answer these questions.

Why Nuanced Care, Solid Data Are Crucial

While he can’t predict what the data will say, he notes that existing projects that offer similar support, like the Zendo Project (in-person assistance offered to people suffering from bad trips at festivals like Burning Man), provide harm reduction that is more considerate of the psychedelic experience than more general medical care.

“Going to the first aid tent, at best they might give you a sedative, and at worst you might be surrounded by semi-panicked medical professionals who are not really handling the situation with the emotional sensitivity that you might hope for,” says Zamaria, “whereas at a place like the Zendo Project, they are handled more gently.”

He sees the hotline as a virtual version of this, and while callers may not be able to be physically held or supported, volunteers on the other line are able to “hold them in conversation,” and take them through guided evidence and practical steps, if necessary.

Yehuda says the study will give the Fireside Project real data, something that is lacking in the mainstream narrative around psychedelics.

“So much of what is going on in our field is anecdotal or driven by people’s personal experiences,” she says. “Having the kind of data about difficult or challenging trips and how they can be ameliorated is absolutely critical to the psychedelic renaissance. In our eagerness to promote these medicines we must be open-eyed about all possible outcomes so that we can offer evidence-based solutions for people.”

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