Nobody is even making me write this disclaimer, but let me be perfectly clear: I’m not saying that you need to do drugs, should do drugs, or that I even want you to do drugs. It’s just that, call me psychic, if you’re someone under the age of 21 reading this article, odds are decent that you’ve at least thought about it.
You’re probably not interested in doing drugs to code more efficiently at your tech job, or to find yourself in a yurt in the wake of divorce number two—boring reasons! You’re just trying to feel more connected to yourself or the world, blow off steam when things are shitty, or otherwise have a fun time. The advice below (and elsewhere on VICE) is in service of all of that, as well as, you know, keeping you nice and alive.
On a personal note, I know that being a beginner means being irrational. I’ve tried stupid drugs I’d never touch today, got into cars I shouldn’t have been in, done molly at a Ying Yang Twins concert in Maryland that they never even showed up to… Some pointers certainly would have helped me. But the good times and good memories far outweigh the bad ones, which is why it’s so important to pass along the basics of having a good time instead of a shitty one.
Some of this advice is common sense—but a lot of it comes straight from the trenches of freak experience that VICE journalists have been toiling in for a couple of decades at this point. Here are a few of the best tips from all of that intrepid reporting (aka, years of getting high and writing about it.)
1. Hang out with people you actually like.
It’s easier and safer to wait out a bad trip, throw up in a parking lot before a football game, or find the wallet you lost in a club bathroom with real friends—people you have just as much fun around when you’re all sober. You’ll always have a better time with people you feel genuinely comfortable around, who are way less likely to be pushy and weird when you say, “Eh, not tonight,” and more likely to celebrate with you when you say, “Hell yes!” On that note…
2. Watch out for creeps.
Do not spend time with people who make you uncomfortable in exchange for drugs. Don’t let adults use their access to legal weed or legal booze use that access to manipulate you. It’s weird as fuck for a 26-year-old to be friends with a bunch of 16-year-olds, or any age ratio of that nature. If something bad happens to you through contact with one of these types, it’s not your fault—but they’re best avoided as much as possible.
3. Test, test, test!
In today’s illicit drug market, there's a serious risk that powdered drugs (like molly, ketamine, and coke) or pills of dubious origin (like street Xanax or ecstasy) could be contaminated with fentanyl or cut with nasty shit like baby powder and lidocaine. Even if you trust your dealer, the only way to know what you’re actually taking is by testing your drugs—and that’s not foolproof, either. So if something looks or feels “off,” trust your gut. And if this worst thing happens: Know when and how to administer naloxone, which you might know by its brand name, Narcan.
4. Research drug interactions.
Even if you don’t expect to take more than one substance in a night, shit happens, and doing some reading beforehand through an educational resource like PsychonautWiki will help you be prepared to say, “Oooh, fun!” or, “Nope, pass!” Some drug combos, like coke and ketamine or LSD and… basically anything else are better and safer for people who have ample experience with all substances involved. Don’t forget to take prescription medications into account.
5. Learn how to roll a joint.
Smoking out of a water bottle is bad for you. This is how to roll a joint.
6. Venue security knows all the tricks.
Doing your drugs before the show (unless you’re driving!) is probably more prudent. But if you absolutely insist on bringing ’em in, you might want to invest in some stash gear… and be prepared to get your shit confiscated anyway.
7. If you’re tripping for the first time, plan ahead.
You definitely don’t have to build up a trip into the event of your lifetime, especially as psychedelics like shrooms become more commonplace at parties. But if you’re taking a large dose of a psychedelic drug with a full-on, hours-long trip in mind, set yourself up for success. Come up with something to do or somewhere fun (and relatively isolated) to go, like a public park with a few solid trails. If you’re looking for a more spiritual experience, take time beforehand to set an intention. Pack a bag with snacks, water, blankets, and a Bluetooth speaker, which will be good for literal hours of fun. Recruit a level-headed and patient friend to “babysit”—to watch you get high to make sure you’re safe and happy, aka a huge favor. Buy them dinner when you’re all sobered up as a thank you.
8. Start with small doses—less is more.
This gives you time to check in with how you’re feeling, helps you avoid going too far, and is generally a good rule of thumb, especially if you’re anxious about or new to drugs. For instance: Take just one hit of weed and see how you feel after 10 minutes before proceeding. For the love of all that is holy, DO NOT take more weed edibles, mushrooms, or acid because you’re “not sure you took enough”—almost all of the time, you will start to feel high right after consuming more drugs and be like, …Oops. Look into what typical doses are and build up from half a dose, or even look into microdosing.
9. Sex and drugs are a classic combo for a reason.
10. Feeling anxious is normal.
The beginning of a trip can feel like you’re perched at the top of a roller coaster—fun for some people, actively terrifying for others. What you don’t want to do is hold that emotion in, because letting anxiety rattle around your head is a great strategy for feeling worse. Crack a joke, ask someone to turn on a song they’ve been listening to on repeat lately, or pull your sober friend aside and let them know you’re kinda freaking out. (If you’re prone to anxiety, you can even make a list of what to do if you do start pivoting to nervous: What would make you feel better? What calming things can you remind yourself of in the moment?) And good trip, bad trip, or “meh” trip, going for a walk outside on drugs is the spice of life. Just stay away from busy roads and make sure you know where you are and how to get back.
11. It’s normal to get a little nauseous, too.
Some drugs, especially weed and shrooms, can have that effect. If you’re having a bad reaction or even just a weird one, try your best to keep in mind that it’s a part of the territory. On a purely anecdotal level, turning edibles into a “tea” versus eating them can help cut down the nausea factor beforehand, and all-purpose stomach soothers, like little sips of ginger ale or room temperature water, can definitely help you in the moment. The good news is nausea should subside by the time you’re on the come-up. Because…
12. Even the worst trip is only temporary.
It might feel like you’re going to be high for the rest of your life, but you won’t be. It’s just science! Drink some water, remove yourself from any upsetting stimuli (annoying people, barking dogs, and scary movies all spring to mind), listen to some calming instrumental music, and try to sleep it off.
13. Grounded > dead.
Even if it lands you in deep shit, before driving under the influence or trying to revive an unresponsive friend when you’re also trashed, phone someone you trust—even if you know they’re going to be pissed. Getting in trouble might feel like the end of the world, but it’s nothing compared to hurting yourself, someone else, or worse.
14. Blacking out is no joke.
It might be “normal,” but it’s not healthy to black out from drinking or doing drugs—in the case of alcohol, it could even be a sign of an allergy if it happens every time you drink, especially if you’re only having one or two beverages when you do. If this happens to you on even a semi-regular basis (like, once or twice a month), re-evaluate when and how you party.
15. Have a drug test contingency plan.
If you do drugs often enough, you’re gonna get caught by someone. Who, when, and how that happens will vary, depending on how well you comply with all of the above, but you’ll probably be able to laugh about it a few years down the road. I can’t say for sure that someone in charge of you—your parents, your boss, or your school administrators—is going to make you piss in that cup at some point in time. But if it happens, know that there are only two surefire ways to pass a drug test. One, stop using for as long as it takes to get trace amounts out of your system (a few days for coke or amphetamines, but potentially weeks for weed). Or two, find a way to access (and store) some clean pee. If all else fails, you can try your luck with one of those “detox” drinks—they might work, but there’s no substitute for an actual pre-test tolerance break.
16. Traveling with drugs is harder than you might think.
If you’re going on a road trip, bus, or train, maybe. If you’re traveling internationally, don’t even consider it. If you’re flying domestically, though, there are ways to make it happen (in your carry-on, with discreet and tightly-sealed packaging, after you’ve quadruple-checked that you don’t have any excess liquids or metal objects that would warrant further screening from TSA). But, really, it’s more stress than it’s worth.
17. Don’t be a mooch!
If you’re bumming off your friends on a regular basis, you have to chip in. It’s just the cool thing to do.
18. If you see a friend struggling, say something.
Nobody is too young, too smart, or too cool to have a drug problem or a problem they’re using drugs to cover up. Give them space to confide in you before pointing any fingers or using terms like “addiction.” Don’t use drugs around someone if you’re worried that their drug use has become an issue. If you’re really worried, reach out to a trusted adult: a parent, an older sibling, or a school counselor or therapist.
19. Give your brain a few days off.
I’ve never been the “take magnesium before, vitamin C after” type, but partying too much will wear you down, even while you’re young. You’re more likely to have a bad experience on drugs if you’re feeling tired or under the weather, so make sure you’re taking time to recharge, sober: Binge-watch something about cooking, play a round of pickup basketball, or take your dog for a walk. It’ll make partying that much more fine.
20. Make sure you’re doing more than drugs.
You shouldn’t need to be high or buzzed to enjoy your life. If you find yourself unable to relax or have fun with substances, that re-evaluation I mentioned above is also in order for you.
21. It’s fine to hate drugs. It’s fine to love them, too.
It’s called experimenting for a reason! You’ll figure it out.
Katie Way is a senior staff writer at VICE. Follow her on Twitter.