Levente Moro is a well-known member of the European psychedelic community. He earned his PhD in 2017 at the University of Turku, on the subject of hallucinatory altered states of consciousness. In 2012 he started PsyHelp, an organisation by partiers, for partiers, to make psytrance and Goa concerts and festivals safer. Read the interview made by our intern, Jonathan Brozdowski!
Drugreporter: How do people come to you?
Levente: We have to find them. We usually have a basecamp, with a tent. We do some 24-hour services, distribute some water with magnesium and some kind of salty snacks, that’s the basis. We’re also walking around, trying to spot people who look like they’re not enjoying the festival, or laying down. Sometimes security comes to us. And the ambulance crew can contact us. If they conclude that this person is stable, but only in a very altered state of consciousness, they contact us. They don’t know about psychoactive substances; they can only provide symptom-relief… Sometimes we have medical doctors on the team. These are also young party people, but they have an MD.
Can you tell me about a typical case?
Well… it’s hard to describe a typical case. Maybe because these are psychedelic festivals, people take too much LSD, like two tabs, but I should emphasise that it’s not only the dosage, it’s also the set and the setting. When people are in a group of friends, and they’re taking care of each other – there’s good music that they like, they can walk in the forest – 99 percent of the time it’s a good experience.
But sometimes it could be, well, many factors. One typical thing is when friends get separated, and then someone might get confused. Some things in the environment might be scary. Or if they get dehydrated. It might be dark, they might lose their way back to their tent. They might get paranoid because of undercover police at these festivals, trying to spot the drug dealers, randomly flashing lights in people’s faces. We usually approach them with a blanket, with water, with sugar pills to raise their blood sugar, and maybe some salty snacks. If it’s a girl then we employ our female volunteers, we always have the team composition so there’s always one girl and one boy on the team at least.
At the basecamp, we give the impression that it’s a safe space. There, it’s basically waiting. It’s not very tricky in that sense, if the client is collaborative. It might be that the client is so far away that they’re not communicating at all, might be so scared that they don’t say a word. We don’t have any right to keep them there, so if they walk away then we walk with them. We make sure that they don’t get into conflicts with security or the police. Basically, we just wait until the drug effects are diminishing to the point when they’re returning to a self-reflective mode. And then we can talk with them rationally.
In your PsyHelp manual, you talk about how people need humility to be volunteers.
There are different styles in this, when one person is in a psychedelic experience, and the other person might be what is usually called a sitter. The sitter is not the same as a guide. The guide is like a spiritual guru or whatever, a chosen person. The sitter is just someone who is sober. When someone feels lost in the experience, just the knowledge that there’s another person who can take care of them is very comforting. We’re not guiding them in any way, giving them advice about what to do, we’re just letting them process the experience to integrate them better. The humility part comes from this.
Also, the person might not be nice. They might be scared of anyone. It’s a lot of work to make them comfortable… actually it’s not even comfortable. Make them tolerate that they’re there in the basecamp, convince them we’re there to help. Because we don’t have any uniforms. In a party situation, people in uniforms might have to report to someone superior, so if a person tells you something, the person cannot know what you’ll do with this information. But my group was organised of party people. They go to one party as a guest, go to another as a PsyHelp volunteer. It’s a very blurry line, and it’s the basis of trust. If someone says, “hey I took LSD,” they tell it to another party guest, not to an organiser, not to a security guard, not to a police officer.
How often do people want to talk about what they’re going through in a more in-depth way?
Sometimes it takes hours for a person to calm down, feel again at a baseline state of consciousness, strong enough to go home and sleep. During these hours, they use this situation, as they should, to talk about their problems. We do have trained psychologists and social workers, but we are not giving therapy. That process is more like psychedelic integration. Integration is more like an aftercare process, if someone had something very serious triggered by the psychedelic experience. We’re also starting these psychedelic integration circles now, small groups meeting, where people share their most difficult experiences, and others may comment. This is self-help integration.
There’s another form when someone would like to talk to a professional, but the problem is that if you go to a randomly chosen psychologist, they wouldn’t know about these experiences, so they would say, “Oh you might have some addiction problems,” which is not the case. Psychedelics are the least likely to cause any addiction problems, because it’s not easy to get addicted to your traumas or whatever might surface on psychedelics. You would need psychologists who are aware of the psychedelic experience, or who are trained in some branch of trans-personal psychology, which is a branch of a humanistic view in psychology.
How much similarity is there with mental health crisis intervention? Like when somebody is having an anxiety attack.
The biggest difference is that when somebody goes to a hospital, an emergency room or whatever, there’s usually a patient record. But we don’t know anything about our client. We have absolutely no idea what that case will be. What is their background, what language they might speak, if they’re speaking at all. What drugs they’ve taken. This is the hardest part, we have to figure out what happened, what put the client in that state of mind. We have to manage the mental state, so if someone is very paranoid, we’ll apply some technique to alleviate that, or someone could be catatonic, not talking for many hours, or very depressed, crying.
Drugs put people in very peculiar states of mind, and mainstream medicine is not addressing those states at all. They are basically just medicating them with antipsychotics, which is really not the goal here. We try to save our clients from this process in which the police are called. If you’re at a festival, you are grabbed, taken to a county hospital, without your passport, your money, then they drug you there with antipsychotics. Then you wake up two days later, and you’re in your shorts, with no money, with no idea how to get back to the festival, which is probably some tens of kilometres away.
We try to save people from that, because it’s usually just a couple of hours taking care of them, or having space they can sleep overnight, and then the next day they’re sobered up. This is the way to handle this situation. Antipsychotics are absolutely not necessary to solve these cases. It’s just a protocol that if another visitor finds someone, the other visitor just wants to delegate responsibility by finding a security guard, the security guard wants to delegate responsibility by calling the ambulance, the ambulance is delegating responsibility by taking the guy to the hospital, and they don’t want to take responsibility so they just give them antipsychotics. We are trying to break this protocol in the way we can. Things can be solved, if you really invest the time and energy and compassion.
There’s dialogue in the U.S. right now about how police officers don’t receive any kind of mental health crisis training. Somebody’s in the middle of a panic attack, and the police just know how to say “stop.” And if they don’t comply, the police are going to be harsh and make things worse. There’s not a lot of understanding that many people in the middle of a challenging mental state can’t and shouldn’t have to comply with direct orders to cease being a disturbance.
In some situations, security guards and police can think a person is aggressive, just because they’re energetic. And it’s totally different. Because of the stimulants, the person can really run around, wave around, interact with other people without being aggressive at all. But it’s really hard to tell the difference, and police and security guards don’t take the chance. It’s very incoherent behaviour. But still, you can see some signs. Restraining is good because sometimes they have this dopamine energetic feedback. Moving your limbs feels good, and as long as you move your limbs, you feel good because of the feedback. So, if you restrain someone for ten minutes, then this feedback just stops. Then he doesn’t feel so compelled to move his limbs around. This energy is totally different from aggression.
As you mentioned, there are these cases when the police are harsh, it also happens in Hungary in the context of these new psychoactive substances. There are some stimulants, like this MDPV called “bath salts.” There were situations when people made a public disturbance, they were half-naked and yelling on the street, because of this stimulant. Police were taking them to the ground, and sometimes the person was killed in the process. If three police officers are kneeling on your back, then you can feel like you’re suffocating and you’ll be fighting for your life, and then they’ll think that’s violent, and they’ll press you down even more. Guys have been killed in this way, and the police always get clean papers because they said that it was the drug that killed them.
Why is PsyHelp important?
We are specialised to these Goa/psytrance festivals, because people there utilise hallucinogens which allow for people to experience transpersonal and transcendental experiences. PsyHelp gives the opportunity to share and to make sense of your experience. It opens you up to the idea that maybe you’re not a machine, maybe there are some things above your machinery that you’ve been so sure about, and then you’ve been really hit by this realisation there might be things that I haven’t known about in the universe. You have experiences that you can’t explain by the mechanistic worldview that you’ve been educated about. Then it opens you up. There are more things in some other dimensions, that you can’t explain but you have to accept, because it’s your own experience, which must come from somewhere. So it facilitates this expansion of your worldview.
An interview by Jonathan Brozdowski