Hosting Safer Psychedelic House Parties


Hosting Safer Psychedelic House Parties


Two Approaches for Risk Reduction

Written by Annie Oak
Illustration by Pol Morton

Published September 19, 2020


A note from our editors and writers:
This article was completed before the COVID19 pandemic. It appeared in our first print issue, but was posted online later. For the duration of the pandemic, writers and editors at The New Modality strongly urge everyone to practice social distancing and do their part to flatten the curve. We don't recommend having house parties with people outside your quarantine group or pod. With that said, this article contains safety information that could be useful in any situation involving psychedelics, whether it's a big party or not.

(Sidenote: Are you looking for The NewMo House Party Risk Reduction Checklist that was originally published in our print edition? Do you seek the checklist in the form of a thrilling, compact, single-page downloadable PDF? Click here!!)


Imagine this scenario: An invitation arrives in your inbox. Your friends Bobbi and Chris have invited you to a house party at their place, which is called the Club Car. Sweet. You love house parties and you haven’t seen these folks in a while. You set aside the date and arrive ready to reconnect and have fun. 

Bobbi and Chris are happy to see you. They’re having a good time, but they seem a little extra stressed taking care of their guests. Pretty soon it’s clear that there are a lot of people at this party you don’t know, and a lot of them are pretty lit. There’s a bar, of course, and people smoking joints and spliffs outside on the porch. One of the bedrooms is set aside for folks inhaling whippits (nitrous oxide), accompanied by the distinctive clink of the emptied metal cylinders as they’re tossed aside. 

You head back to the living room to chat up some new faces on the sofa. After a while, people start describing experiences they’re having at that very moment with MDMA, LSD, and various other psychedelic substances — some of them for the very first time. A few of the guests are on a couple of different substances at once. But it’s cool, they’re on a journey. Immediately you think about your friends, the hosts. You’re hoping that Bobbi and Chris have some sort of plan in place to help support these psychedelic newbies. If not, they could have their hands full here at their rocking house party. 

[[This article appears in Issue One of The New Modality. Buy your copy or subscribe here.]]

The Challenges of Hosting Inexperienced Psychonauts

If you have not had this experience, just wait, you might soon. Thanks to the mass marketing of popular books about psychedelics — and widespread positive press coverage of research studies examining the potential benefits of psychedelic-assisted therapies — many people who have never tried psychedelics are now deciding that they should have this experience too. After all, most media sources aren’t presenting much of a downside to using psychedelics — except maybe the challenge of getting access to trained therapists and affordable treatment in a therapeutic setting. 

Only a small number of people can presently get legal access to these substances through FDA-approved studies. But ketamine-assisted therapy clinics are booming, and underground therapists and ceremonial leaders are offering their services, sometimes via websites or flyers posted on telephone poles. Besides, there’s lots of opportunities to purchase various substances online, or from a friend of a friend, or even on the street. A growing number of people are thinking: Why not just pick up a little something and head off to a house party? Hopefully the music will be good. We’ll have a great time. Besides, the hosts are there to help in case we need them. Right?

To prepare for guests who may be new to psychedelics, some party hosts are doing a bit more planning to support altered partygoers — even those who may have more experience with substances. After all, even seasoned psychonauts can have challenging encounters with psychoactives.


To prepare for guests who may be new to psychedelics, some party hosts are doing a bit more planning to support altered partygoers — even those who may have more experience with substances. After all, even seasoned psychonauts can have challenging encounters with psychoactives.


Let’s explore these ideas by going together on a fictional party crawl. We’ll visit two parties where hosts are making some good decisions about how to support guests who are just beginning their relationship with psychedelics, and also learning some lessons about how they might improve their approach. These ideas are far from comprehensive, given that this is a magazine article and not a book, but it’s a start. Are you ready for a night out? Great, let’s go. 

Hosts Wear Many Hats

It’s about 10pm and the party at the Club Car has welcomed about thirty people. The guests appear to be having a great time. You wander into the kitchen and see that Bobbi and Chris are trying to be thoughtful hosts, and have done some things that could encourage their very altered friends to have a good experience. There is water and cups available, plus fruit, some soup on the stove, and other food that’s tasty and easy on the stomach. At the bar, there’s soda, juice, and other alcohol free drinks. There’s also antiseptic hand cleaner near the food, plus hand soap by the kitchen sink. 

You also notice that the hosts have smoke detectors and fire extinguishers in the house, the exits are open and easy to see. While the music is pretty loud, there are some chill spaces with low lighting where people can retreat to if their experience is making them extra sensitive to sound and bright light. Bobbi reminds the guests that breakfast will be served at 4am, and that there are places to sleep for people who want to rest and sober up before they travel home. 

Heading back to the sofa, you see that one of the newbies, who seems very altered and filled with exuberance, has announced that they intend to drive off to another party. Chris steps in and gently suggests that someone in the group, who is not altered, should serve as the designated driver. A member of the group named Toby says that he’s sober and willing to drive. Toby pulls Chris aside and tells them that he chose not to take anything because he’s had some mental health issues that psychedelics might potentially exacerbate. Toby said that he’s also advised his friends to start out with small doses and educate themselves about substances on and other sites. Chris tells Toby that they support these wise decisions and sound advice. Chris asks Toby to make sure the group is careful crossing the busy road out front. 

As Chris is getting Toby’s group sorted, another guest comes into the living room asking for help. One of their friends is in the bathroom lying on the floor on his back. He’s been vomiting and his friend is worried about him. You and Bobbi go to investigate and see that the guest, a guy named Robin, seems very altered. Bobbi immediately repositions Robin on his side and makes sure that he can breathe, that his airway is open, and that he’s not choking on anything in his mouth. Bobbi tells Robin that he’s in a safe place and that they can move to a more comfortable location when Robin can stand up. Bobbi asks Robin if he thinks he can keep some water down, and Robin says yes and drinks a cup of water.

After about ten minutes, Robin says he can stand. Bobbi and Robin’s friends help him get up and onto the sofa. A friend brings a bowl in case Robin feels sick again and puts a blanket over him. Robin says he feels anxious and a little confused. Bobbi says some things that she learned working in a care space at a festival. She tells Robin that sometimes psychedelic experiences can be challenging, but that’s not necessarily the same as a bad experience. Bobbi explains that psychedelic experiences can occasionally upset your stomach and make you feel anxious, but sometimes they can also give you insights into your life that can be beneficial. It often takes a while to integrate these lessons after the experience, so it’s a good idea to wait a while before making big life changes. One of Robin’s friends adds that working with an integration group, a therapist, or trusted friend can help integrate these lessons. In the meantime, says Bobbi, she’s not going to try to guide Robin or impose her own views, but simply support him together with his friends. 

Bobbi asks Robin if he feels safe on the sofa with those present. Robin says yes, but adds that he feels embarrassed. Bobbi and Robin’s friends help Robin explore these feelings. Bobbi takes care not to judge Robin, especially when Robin starts to get emotional. Bobbi hands him a tissue and resists telling Robin too much about her own encounters with psychedelics. Robin is having his own experience and Bobbi and his friends just stay close and listen. 

While Robin is being supported by Bobbi and his friends, you wander into the backyard to check out the DJ and discover a group of people dancing and having fun. But there is another person, Lisa, who, like Robin, appears to be having a challenging experience. Lisa says she might have taken a substance offered from a friend who didn’t weigh it correctly. Now Lisa feels like she may be overdosing, and her friends are worried. With Bobbi working with Robin, it’s up to Chris to figure out how to make sure Lisa is supported and gets medical attention if she needs it — while at the same time keeping an eye on the food, the bar, the DJ, and a group of people downstairs at the door who don’t seem to have been invited. 

While Chris tries to find someone to take care of Lisa, the party starts getting a little chaotic. The neighbors call in a noise complaint and the cops show up and ask Chris to turn down the music. Chris does her best to multi-task and you and others try to help. But it’s clear that Bobbi and Chris are feeling stressed trying to care for guests having intense experiences — while also making sure that the people who are enjoying themselves have a good time at the party. 

The SIR House Safety Plan

After a few hours, the Club Car party starts to level out. Lisa and Robin are okay, the cops go away, and Chris puts out more water and food. Your ride taps you on the shoulder and says that they want to go to another party. You reluctantly get ready just as someone next to you on the sofa scoops out a pile of white powder by sticking their finger in a baggie, rather than measuring the powder with a scale. You grab your coat and leave, hoping that the person with the baggie doesn’t overdose someone, and that Chris and Bobbi’s friends continue to help out. 

You drive across town to the next party at Sophie and Ishi and Randy’s place, the SIR House (the SIR stands for their combined initials). These friends have also welcomed a group of relatively inexperienced psychonauts to their party, which is a little larger, about 50 people. The vibe at this house is different from the scene at the Club Car. There are the same kinds of substances in use, plus a room where plates of ketamine and cocaine are being passed around for snorting. But in addition to the water and food and quiet spaces at Bobbi and Chris’ place, the SIR house has more of a safety plan in place. 

When you arrive, your friend Sophie introduces you to her housemate Randy and also to Tali. Randy and Tali both have advanced first aid and CPR training, and are the house “Safety Leads” for the evening. They’re even wearing identical light-up armbands, so they can be easily identified by guests who got info about the safety team in the party invitation. Since the party has designated “Safety Leads,” Sophie and Ishi are free to deal with music, food, the door, and any concerns from neighbors. 

As part of preparing for the party, the entire crew did a check-in before the event imagining the issues they might need to deal with and how they would handle them. Randy and Tali have a plan for how to provide medical care and escalate to calling an ambulance if needed. In addition to the same fire safety provisions you saw at the Club Car, these hosts have a fire evacuation plan and a first aid kit on hand. They also have Narcan, also known as naloxone, which blocks the effects of opioids for the complete or partial reversal of an opioid overdose. Both Randy and Tali have been trained to use injectable and nasal Narcan and are on the lookout for people who may have breathing difficulties or are “nodding out,” which can indicate an opioid overdose. (Public health departments and nonprofit groups now teach these skills in some places.) Because of their training, Randy and Tali know how to do rescue breathing, and how to keep a person’s airway open during an opioid overdose, until the Narcan takes effect and the person can breathe on their own. 

The SIR hosts and their safety team have also discussed what many people are increasingly concerned about — that guests might accidentally overdose on opioids, such as the synthetic opioid fentanyl, by consuming adulterated substances. Around Christmas last year, two musicians in a nearby town died after consuming cocaine that was contaminated with fentanyl. After welcoming you to the party, Randy and Tali lead you down a hallway and you step inside a private room. There on the coffee table in front of the sofa is a full reagent testing kit, which can test substances for the presence of different drugs, and also fentanyl test strips, which can be used to indicate the presence of fentanyl. (These kits are available at, the website for a nonprofit focused on harm reduction.)

Randy explains to you that guests at the party are welcome to use the reagent testing kits and test strips to confirm that their substance is what they expect to be taking — and to test for fentanyl and other adulterants. While Randy says he’s not willing to test substances for guests (for reasons of legal liability), he will explain how the testing kits are used if guests need a refresher course. There is also a grinder available to crush up pills, and a ceramic plate to hold the caustic chemicals used in the reagent kit. 

Randy says that a calibrated milligram scale of good quality (available for sale from online retailers) is also available for guests to weigh doses, instead of eyeballing them and risking overdose. Randy won’t weigh substances for guests, but he will show them how to properly use the scale so long as they use alcohol wipes to return it clean. 

You and Randy discuss the challenges of testing an entire bag of white power for fentanyl or another adulterant. The contaminant may not be mixed evenly, so testing just a sample of the bag may not reveal its presence. The fentanyl test strips require that the substance be dissolved in water, but some people are hesitant to dissolve their entire stash and even if they do, many prefer to bring a solution back into solid form after dissolving it. Randy says guests can use the oven if they want to dry out their dissolved stash; cook the liquid off in a small container over a flame; use a provided graduated cylinder and syringe for measuring liquids; or dump the substance into a new baggie, fill the old baggie with water, and test the residue. 

Responsibilities Get Complicated

Just as you’re wrapping up your conversation with Randy, you hear shouting from another room in the house. You watch as Randy and Tali move quickly — but without running — and pause for a moment to take a breath and scan the scene before approaching. You realize that by acting deliberately and keeping their own safety in mind, they appear to be applying training they received while working with volunteer ranger crews at arts events.

The scenario is certainly distressing. Two people are shouting and pushing each other. Randy and Tali ask onlookers to step back. They then split up and try to talk to each party without getting between them. They are finally able to draw each guest aside, introduce themselves while keeping a safe distance, and ask why they are fighting. 

One of the guests, Crane, who says he’s a bit altered, explains that he started to push Jasper after his friend Amanda said that Jasper kissed and touched her in the hallway without her consent. Sophie, the SIR housemate, says she feels too triggered by this situation to talk with Amanda. Randy and Tali thank her for her honesty. They kick this request sideways to their housemate Ishi, who has received some training as a counselor, and agrees to help Amanda and make sure she’s safe. Jasper admits that they touched Amanda without her consent, but that they’re a little drunk, and didn’t mean it. Crane apologizes to Jasper for pushing them. Sophie, Ishi, and Randy decide that Jasper will need to leave, and they tell him why. They first make sure that a sober friend can drive Jasper home, and that the friend will check in with Jasper in the morning. 

The team makes sure that they have Jasper, Crane, and Amanda’s full name and know how to contact them to follow up after the party. Sophie and Tali step aside to talk more about how to deal with Crane, and Randy goes back to keep an eye on the party. Ishi heads off to check in with Amanda. 

You take a moment to admire how the SIR House crew is tackling some complicated situations. It’s only 3am, and they could have a lot more on their hands before the party winds down. But at least they’ve thought about possible scenarios. They clearly care about looking out for their guests. Plus the music is great. It’s an awesome party, and most of the attendees are having a terrific time. You head back out to the dance floor to check out the DJ, and your friend Sterling sidles up to you. You say hi and mention that the hosts seem to be well-organized to deal with possible safety issues. Sterling smiles and says they feel better about cutting loose at events where the organizers have a plan. Wanna dance?


We’ve created a House Party Risk Reduction Checklist that you can use to remember everything you need to do for your events! View and download the checklist in PDF.

 [[This article and checklist appears in Issue One of The New Modality. Buy your copy or subscribe here.]]


Transparency Notes

Annie Oak is a co-founder of production company Take 3 Presents, and creator of the Full Circle Tea House. A long-time public health activist, she organizes risk reduction workshops for the Women’s Visionary Council and other organizations. Send her your favorite suggestions for radical risk reduction at

Pol Morton, born in Palo Alto, California, received their BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2009. After graduation, Morton lived, painted, and exhibited in Beijing, China for four years. They are currently an MFA candidate at Hunter College in New York City. Find them at

This article was edited by Lydia Laurenson. It was lightly fact-checked by our editorial team, and was also reviewed by a doctor and a materials scientist before publication. There's more about our transparency process at our page about truth and transparency at The New Modality.