On March 6, 2020, Will and some friends took psychedelics. He had a challenging experience, which led to a state of psychosis. He needed to be reassured and kept safe. His friends called the campus emergency line for help. The dispatcher notified campus public safety. The officers arrived, but needed assistance to handle a student experiencing an impaired level of consciousness, or psychosis, as Will was experiencing. They called for an ambulance, and then police. Will was able to fatally harm himself before that help arrived. Psychedelics themselves do not cause death, like overdoses from alcohol and other drugs can. However, people can injure themselves or others while hallucinating. He is missed every day by cherished friends, close family and an extended community that loved him dearly.
What does harm reduction for students mean?
It is unrealistic to think that young people will completely refrain from trying alcohol, and/or other drugs during the life stage with the highest likelihood of experience-seeking and experimentation. In particular, psychedelics present a paradox because of their potential therapeutic benefits for people with PTSD, depression and other mental health issues. In a study of college students who had used "mushrooms," reasons
given included "to achieve a mystical experience" and "introspection" (Hallock RM, et al). A harm reduction approach discourages young people from using alcohol and other drugs. But it goes further, providing information to help them keep themselves and their peers safe if/when they encounter these substances.
An abstinence-only approach puts us in the position of having nothing to say to the young people we need to reach the most, and it prevents us from having conversations about how to reduce harm and stay safe. If we really want to minimize drug use, and prevent drug abuse and drug problems among young people, we need a strategy that includes comprehensive education, one that puts safety first.
In addition to improving harm reduction skills and knowledge throughout the community -- among students, resident advisors and staff -- harm reduction also means fostering help-seeking behaviors by promoting medical amnesty policies and it means proper training for the helpers who will respond to the call. First responders encountering adverse reactions to hallucinogens – or acute emotional crises, as the two can be indistinguishable in crisis -- need specialized training and de-escalation skills to keep students safe.
The William G. Nash Foundation will work to facilitate honest discussion and close gaps in college campus safety by engaging in the following key activities:
Grantmaking to organizations and student groups working to reduce harm and introduce restorative justice on the college campus.
Partnering with like-minded organizations to raise awareness and create programming when needed to meet a goal.
Contribute to public discourse on harm reduction and psychedelic use in uncontrolled campus settings through legislative advocacy, media campaigns, opinion editorials, grey literature and peer-reviewed publications.
Work to advocate for reality-based substance use education and culture/policy change at institutions of higher learning and high schools across the country.
Rosenbaum, M. Safety First: A Reality-Based Approach to Teens and Drugs. Drug Policy Alliance, 2019.
William G. Nash Foundation Theory of Change
Programs that include the following will be prioritized:
Incorporate college student voices and perspectives into solutions/
Take a harm reduction approach
Integrate both prevention and safety messages related to alcohol and other drugs into learning objectives
Use the evidence base of what is effective in preventing use AND reducing
Address policy structural barriers to transparent dialogue on campuses