Drugs at Burning Man
We find Burning Man to be so amazing, drugs are almost irrelevant. At the same time, it is hard to imagine a more magical place to experience psychedelics than Burning Man.
Law Enforcement on the Way to the Playa
As we write about in more detail here, driving to BRC from Reno, San Francisco and all points south involves subjecting yourself to the potential of unconstitutional searches, which include drug sniffing dogs. The best thing you can do is be prepared and obey all applicable laws.
If you decide to bring contraband, there are ways to conceal it most effectively. One can vacuum seal each substance in a separate bag; dip the bags in a water/bleach solution to clean it while washing yourself carefully; put the sealed bag in another vacuum sealed bag and wash in bleach solution. Repeat 4 times, then put it in an airtight canning jar. If you do all of this the morning you are leaving, right before leaving to minimize the chance of scent leaching through the plastic and glass. Conceal contraband in a car or RV high and center, the most distant from where a dog will sniff.
Next, keep in mind the dog will trigger on your car if the dog’s handler wants it to. Read this, and this to learn more. So what to do? Don’t look or act like someone who law enforcement would suspect of carrying drugs. Next, record all encounters, especially involving dogs, so you have a record if the police cues the dog… If the police asks what you are doing, let them know why you are doing it. And overall, know your rights, and calmly and casually assert them, repeatedly if necessary. (Read more here and here!)
Law Enforcement on the Playa
Although there are many reports of law enforcement on the Playa, we have not found the police presence to be intrusive. This is not the free-for-all of the 90’s, or even the liberal attitudes found in clubs in San Francisco. However, arrests are rare - less than 1 in 1,000 - and citations/fines are also rare - around 2 to 5 per 1,000, with most of these being drug related offenses.
Staying clear of law enforcement at Burning Man is fairly easy to do by following these guiding principles Don’t conspicuously do anything illegal. Don't be a danger to yourself or others. Never offer drugs to strangers. Don't act aggressively toward others. Avoid extreme intoxication; alcohol seems to attract the most law enforcement attention. If in trouble or needing help with a drug or alcohol related issue, seek out a Black Rock Ranger, who will can find medical or psychiatric resources without alerting law enforcement.
Resources on the Playa
Understanding the resources available on the playa is a responsible first step before indulging in intoxication. Fortunately, you are well covered if issues happen.
First if there is an issue contact a Black Rock Ranger, who are volunteers and not law enforcement. They can help direct you to the appropriate resources for the issue you are facing.
If your issue is medical in nature, you will likely be directed to a medical station located: historically, on C near the 3:00 and 9:00 plazas, at 5:15 on the Esplanade, on H near the 4:30 and 7:30 plazas, and one last one out near the Temple. These are staffed with a mix of clinical (RNs, MDs, PAs, NPs, etc.) and field (EMT and Paramedic) volunteers.
If you are facing a medical emergency, any Ranger can alert the Rapid Intervention Team, who will come by vehicle to provide aid and to transport you to the appropriate medical facility.
If you are struggling with a psychological issue, you will be referred to either the Zendo Project. For more serious issues you will be referred to the Crisis Intervention Team.
The Zendo Project is a private group (part of MAPS) that provides support for those suffering for psychological issues associated with taking intoxicants, most commonly psychedelics, broadly defined to include THC and MDMA. They have two locations each year, one on the Esplanade, close to 6 and another annex location. In 2018, the annex was at 2:30 and G.
You can walk into Zendo anytime to say hello, and they will provide support to anyone suffering during a challenging psychedelic experience so long as (i) the person is medically stable (reasonably alert and able to maintain consciousness), psychologically stable (e.g., not posing a risk to themselves or others), not suffering from any significant medical issues (they have a staff medical on location at all times) and not having suffered physical or sexual abuse. If these are not all true, you will be referred to the BRC Crisis Intervention Team. Zendo posts their volunteer training seminar online every year if you would like to learn more about their services.
Crisis Intervention Team
The Crisis Intervention Team is an official part of Burning Man and is trained to deal with more severe psychological issues, including suicidal behavior or people suffering from abuse. They will also interface with law enforcement and local resources in a victim advocacy role as need be. The BM organization maintains a Sanctuary Space at center camp, which you can also walk into.
Buying or Selling Drugs on the Playa (Don’t Do It)
Hey, you don’t buy or sell anything except coffee and ice on the playa. It’s one of those ten principle thingies. Plus it will get you arrested. Bartering? Well, still violates a Burning Man principle… And it’s how you end up being cited. Or arrested. So don’t do it. No one should be trying to buy drugs from you. We can’t put this in more clear terms… Do not buy, barter or sell drugs at Burning Man. If you are going to bring something illegal into the playa, get it at home and drive it in.
One last note. I’ve heard more than one person say something like “I don’t have any connections at home.” Listen, here it is bluntly: If you aren’t competent enough to buy drugs in any town in the United States, you aren’t competent enough to buy drugs at Burning Man. No joke. Buy some booze and have a great time. Reminder - you don’t hear us suggesting not to do stuff around drugs very often on this website, so take us seriously when we do….
Risks of Drug Use at Burning Man
Things are sharp, and can kill you. Burning Man has some pretty unsafe things that you are encouraged to climb on. It has moving vehicles you can easily fall from. If this is your first rodeo, spend the first few days exploring and getting a feel for things. The dangers are real. The blood on that art project is real. This stuff probably won’t kill you, but might end your Burn quickly, so be safe and more conservative while intoxicated than you might be elsewhere.
Before getting on your bike, check in and ask whether this is a good idea. If you ride, stay out of congested areas, and away from cars. And be very well lighted. If you are in the last few days of the Burn to ensure your bike and clothing are still we lighted — every year you see people riding all dark because their lights are broken. Don’t be that person.
Don’t make a bad decision. In our experience, Burning Man is full of unusually wonderful people, and the chance of being taken advantage of is probably lower than many other similar settings. But stay alert. And here’s the big thing… at Burning Man you have the opportunity to do almost anything you can think of. So make wise choices for yourself. Make them while sober. Crazy things can happen on the Playa. We do crazy things. But we do them with intentionally. Keep yourself safe.
A special note about falling. The most common injuries at Burning Man involve falling and fire. The most common medical conditions include food poisoning, dehydration, UTI infections and sunburn. Intoxication can contribute to these conditions, but here are four simple ways to reduce risk.
Avoid taking MDMA during the hot days - almost all MDMA deaths and serious illness is related to overheating, so keep your roll to late afternoon and night.
Make sunscreen a ritual while intoxicated. Make sure you have a spray on sunscreen and use it every few hours when intoxicated. It’s very hard to judge how much sun you are getting when you are tripping. So be safe. Use much more than you think you need. Plus it’s actually really fun to spray sunscreen on yourself while tripping. Give it a try.
Don’t climb high on things while intoxicated and be cautious even while climbing low things. There are sharp edges that can do a lot of damage, and especially while tripping bad cuts can happen without noticing the injury.
After the Man and temple burn, while the coals are still hot, people will walk among them. If you plan to do this, please do it sober. Your body is very ineffective at communicating burns while on psychedelics, especially LSD and mushrooms, but also including MDMA and to a lesser extent THC. It’s easy to get a serious burn while high - it happens every year. Our advice if you want to experience this is to do your intoxication during the Man burn, and experience the Temple burn sober. And if you walk among the embers, save it for the sober temple experience; it will be far more profound that way.