Harm Reduction: Take a Smart Approach to Drugs and Alcohol

The Zendo (Photo by Philippe Glade)

The Zendo (Photo by Philippe Glade)

Burning Man takes place on federal land. All local, state and federal laws apply in Black Rock City, and they are enforced by law enforcement officers at the event. Drugs, whether legal or illegal, can be dangerous on their own, and, like any city, Black Rock City is not immune to the dangers of intentional assault involving drugs and alcohol. Given these realities, Burning Man and its organizational partners in health and safety, including law enforcement, believe in the importance of harm reduction when it comes to drugs and alcohol on the playa.

Avoiding the Dangers

The highest priority of harm reduction is to mitigate the dangers of assault or accidental overdose. Even doses of drugs that are not physically dangerous, including legal prescriptions, can be psychologically harmful or overwhelming if taken unknowingly. Here are some important points to remember:

  • Bring your own water wherever you go.
  • If you don’t know what’s in something, it’s best not to drink or eat it.
  • There have been very few incidents of intentional dosing with intent to assault — sometimes referred to as “date rape” — at the event. But, it is important for all participants to be aware of this risk and exercise appropriate caution.
  • If you do feel yourself becoming ill, tell a friend what you’ve taken so they can share that information with medical personnel.
  • If you feel like you have been dosed without your knowledge, immediately call for help or call for a Black Rock Ranger.
  • If you see someone who appears to be overly intoxicated, ask them if they need help. If they do, or if you don’t think they’re in a state to answer safely, get help. Black Rock Rangers can be easily identified (they wear khaki) and are prevalent in all parts of BRC — they are always willing to help. You can also ask anyone wearing a radio.
  • If you or someone you’re with is feeling overwhelmed, don’t worry. There are lots of services in Black Rock City to support you. The Sanctuary team of the Black Rock Rangers and the Emergency Services Department (ESD) mental health team are trained to help people going through challenging emotional or psychological processes. There are also participant-run camps providing trained volunteer support, such as the Zendo Project located at 2:45 & A and 9:15 & D (download this sweet flyer and spread the word). These groups offer safe spaces around Black Rock City for people going through such experiences. Seek them out.
  • Call law enforcement for assistance or to report a crime. Wave down a law enforcement vehicle, or go to the substation on the Esplanade at 6:30.

Remember, Black Rock City is our community, and we need to look out for each other.

About the author: Burning Man Project

Burning Man Project

The official voice of the Burning Man organization, managed by Burning Man Project's Communications Team.

7 Comments on “Harm Reduction: Take a Smart Approach to Drugs and Alcohol

  • Sinbad says:

    Holy SHIT! Goodbye ‘radical self-reliance’, welcome retards to who don’t know how to even wake up in the morning. Who needs date rape drugs when you can just tell these burner chicks that you’re Brad Pitt?

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    • A says:


      Your lack of respect for your fellow burners is abhorrent. I find it particularly disgusting that you would reduce people in our community to “burner chicks” who you would try to trick into sleeping with you. Maybe you think it’s a joke, but it’s not funny. No one, whether they fit with your image of a burner or not, deserves to be treated like that.

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      • Adele Getty says:

        burning Man is lax in not allowing dance safe or other organizations to do substance testing. Come on organizers get real about this event, other festivals do it and it saves lives. Especially with all the toxic crap coming out of China. Don’t keep putting your heads in the dust, please!?

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    • TROPIXXX says:

      I’ve got a $100 bill that says Sinbad will be the guy at Distrkt passed out under a bike rack because he was sick all over himself before 3pm.

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  • Josh says:

    What about harm reduction in the shape of drug purity and quality testing? What about all these stupid deaths which a result of people taking one drug thinking it was the other? I know that BM can’t acknowledge for legal reasons that there are drugs at the festival which are being used recrationally, but making sure people don’t die from taking fake drugs should also be a priority. Not only OD and date rapes.

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  • Jericho says:

    Amen Josh! Organizations like DanceSafe or ANKORS should be allowed on playa to offer substance testing and report out when bunk or dangerous substances are identified. More shame = more risk. Burning Man as an organization could do more to promote, or at least not get in the way of, on-playa substance testing, as well as other harm reduction efforts (not just the Zendo Project, great as they are, they cannot be the only answer when pressed for proof of meaningful harm reduction services on-playa).

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  • Jim says:

    The physical environment at BRC is already severe enough to put great stress on us. Drugs and alcohol get a “head start” on pushing our minds and bodies over the edge. It might be best just to enjoy the art and the people, and defer celebratory intoxication until we’re safely back home.

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