This is an article by Joseph Holcomb Adams from the Substack, Ecstatic Integration, which covers psychedelic and ecstatic ethics, integration and harm reduction.
Last December, I saw two Phil Lesh & Friends shows at the Warfield in San Francisco. When I walked out of the theater after the second night, I heard familiar and abrasive sounds: the hissing of nitrous oxide tanks, balloons loudly expanding and sometimes popping, and the barking calls of the nitrous salesmen (“Ice cold fatties, fresh of the tank!” “three for twenty, ice cold, ice cold!”). Concert attendees (young and old) were gathering around the nitrous tanks, exchanging cash for gas-filled balloons of various sizes and colors. People stood around and walked down the street while taking hits from their balloons. There was a visible police presence, but they clearly didn’t care at all about the nitrous sales.
This is a scene that I’m used to encountering outside of concerts, but to this day it still seems bizarre and surreal to me. Everything about it is very loud, and not just in the literal sense of all the hisses and pops and salesman barks. There’s a fast, frantic pace to all of the activity around the tanks, as salesmen try to sell as many balloons as they can as quickly as possible, and as eager customers return again and again, gathering around like pigeons in the park circling an old man who is throwing out bread crumbs. This all can create an edgy, unpleasant sort of mood in the air outside of the concerts, especially when I see the ground becoming littered with discarded empty balloons.
As soon as I exited the Warfield, I noticed that it had been raining during the show, and that the sidewalk was extremely wet. Oh no, I thought, this is not good. I was already well aware of the phenomenon of people falling down and hitting their heads while inhaling nitrous balloons, and I could see that the present conditions were especially dangerous in that regard.
I was very, very concerned that people were going to hurt themselves that night, and so I went around trying to encourage folks with balloons to find a place to sit down while inhaling the gas. The people almost always acknowledged me, but they generally did not seem interested.
Within a few minutes of walking down the sidewalk, I noticed an ambulance, and saw a man with blood…