Drugs, –noun, Officially, there are no illegal substances allowed at Burn events. For all that Burners would like to consider themselves separated from the default world, the laws of reality camp still apply. That Thing In The Desert is actively patrolled by multiple LEOs who are all too happy to hand out citations or even perform undercover drug busts and entrapments. Regional events may seem safer, but inevitably attract more attention from authority figures as they grow (though noise complaints probably among the most common way to draw official ire).
While the official party line remains strict for obvious reasons, drugs are common among individual Burners, as they are amongst much of the counterculture. Burns are stimulating, supportive, and offer a wide variety of experiences that make them many people’s idea of a perfect set and setting for the healthy, positive exploration of entheogenic substances. For those who have more difficult experiences, rangers, medical professionals, and many regular Burners have a host of experience at trip sitting. There are even special spaces set up at many events for the safe recovery from difficult psychological experiences, substance-related or otherwise; of course, what most troubled Burners need is to be encouraged to drink plenty of water and to relax if they get stressed out.
Unlike in reality camp, where drug war propaganda has created an environment of paranoia and misinformation, the use of many drugs is supported by many elements of Burner culture. These include legal drugs like alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco; but also cannabis, LSD, MDMA, nitrous oxide, psilocybin mushrooms, and a host of other less well-known psychedelics. There are still cultural prohibitions against the use of other substances like amphetamines; while still sometimes present, their use is kept relatively hidden.
Additionally, some Burners like to downplay the importance of drugs at these events, making them the elephant in the room that is rarely discussed directly for fear of the attention it might bring. Of course, many choose not to partake, whether for philosophical reasons, because of their default world employers, due to being in recovery, or simply because the event is stimulating enough for them without. It is the wise virgin who abstains at least until they get their bearings; drugs can be disorienting and many, alcohol in particular, are dangerously dehydrating too.
Though one should never expect a direct return for anything offered, the gift economy can make for a happy psychonaut. At a regional burn long ago in the old days, the lexicographer once helped someone set up their tent. After we finished, he said, “Thanks so much. Can I offer you anything? Some Mountain Dew?”
“You’re welcome,” I replied. “But I don’t need anything and I don’t really drink soda anyway.”
“Then how about I give you some shrooms?”
My reply is left as an exercise to the reader.
Attitudes toward substance use will vary among individual Burners, of course. One ranger once told me, perhaps hyperbolically, that “all the problems in our community come from alcohol and speed.” And at least two people in my local community (who contributed anonymously to this entry through the discussions we had) are convinced that the Burning Man Organization is going to sue me and shut down my blog just for writing openly about this topic.
Let’s test this theory together!
This entry owes a debt to multiple sources of comments and feedback that shall remain anonymous.
Other entries in A Burner Lexicon can be found at https://kitoconnell.com/lexicon/