Sunday, January 30, 2011

About Psychedelic Mushrooms

This is a public service announcement. About psychedelic mushrooms. Not for the sake of telling you to avoid them, or to seek them out, but simply to inform.

I'm a fairly mild person, something of a geek, and have now experienced the high from mushrooms three times, at different levels, and in different situations. Mushrooms, like all illegal drugs (and many legal ones) have many stereotypes and misconceptions attached to them. I want to share my limited experience in order to give understanding to those that are interested in the way the mind works, but not willing to become a guinea pig.

My interest in psychotropics came on quite spontaneously one day, when I realized that there were very interesting experiences right there within my reach. It wasn't a wish to escape reality, and if I did have a desire to escape, I don't think I would use mushrooms to do it. Alcohol is right down the street, and marijuana is pretty easy to come by.  I've found that I don't really enjoy either of those distractions (though a drink every now and then can be nice), and I do enjoy day-to-day life just fine.

I researched for days before I told anyone about my intentions. I read about the differences between LSD and mushrooms, the chemical that causes the reaction, and the different species of mushroom that contain that chemical. I read people's experiences at, news articles, and scientific papers.

Legality and Addiction

Magic mushrooms are, in the United States, a schedule 1 drug, right up there with heroin. Drugs that fall under schedule 1 are supposed to be very addictive, and are also supposed to have no medical benefit.  (For an interesting twist on the first qualification, look up the psychotropic drug, ibogaine). I'm not going to go on about the legality of any one drug, but serious, unbiased research will reveal that many drugs are classed incorrectly, some of them not being addictive (any more than fast cars are addictive) and some of them having well-documented medicinal benefits. I'm no activist, but it's obvious that the D.A.R.E. message is too simple to be honest, and the best way to get kids on drugs is to lie to them about it.

From what I'd read, I decided that, even if psilocybin mushrooms are addictive (which I won't discount completely) it's rare. Through personal experience and discussion, I maintain this view today. I've met alcoholics, tweakers, people who smoke pot several times a day, and people addicted to cocaine. I've never met anyone addicted to mushrooms.

My Experience

So what is it like? I'll share my experience from earlier this week, which is an extreme one. My friend had bought some mushrooms from a friend of his, who grows them. They're psilocybin cubensis, which is one of the most common street varieties.  The grower had told my friend that this batch was maybe three times more powerful than average. My two previous experiences with mushrooms, 3.5 grams dried, and 1.75 grams dried, were interesting, but I was curious to have a dissociative experience, which is something I'd read about that happens on higher doses of the drug.

psilocybin cubensis
I ate 3.5 grams of these stronger mushrooms, and I drank orange juice with it, which is supposed to intensify the effect, though I'm not sure if it's true. It was four mushrooms of different sizes, brown, closed caps, long stems. I've heard that they taste horrible, but I thought they tasted plain and somewhat mushroomy, not that different from a crimini.

I was hanging out with a handful of my friends, in a clean, comfortable room, setting myself up for the best experience I could have. I was in a good mood. (Mind)set and setting are very important when it comes to psychotropics.

My first hint that the small handful of mushrooms were taking effect was perhaps twenty minutes later. I was holding a toy bowling ball, and I pulled my finger out of one of the holes, and the suction felt bizarre. It felt almost like the ball was pulling back on my finger. I reported this to my friends.

Not much later, the ball felt strange in my hands, as if it were misshapen. I looked at my friend's computer monitor, which was showing a photo slideshow, and the pictures were moving. Things in the foreground were shifting over, so that I could see behind them. The colors on the wall posters were bleeding together.

My girlfriend left the room when I was playing Call of Duty: Black Ops (something I soon gave up on). When she came back, I was surprised that her skin was glowing canary yellow. It was very beautiful. I saw that she had put on her yellow sweatpants, and realized that my mind had somehow projected that color onto her skin. When she put on an orange sweater later, her skin turned orange. My friends faces looked flawless, and younger, hairs and blemishes having disappeared. Staring at anything for long enough would cause it to deform.

Hallucinations vs. Visuals

You have to understand that the hallucinations that people talk about with psychedelics are not necessarily hallucinations.  At least not with mushrooms, and not with opened eyes.  The majority of what you see on mushrooms are better called "visuals." I've seen wood grain swirl like whirlpools, I've seen a bathroom rug throb and pulse, I've seen the ceiling look as it it was made up of three different textures that were sliding around on top of each other. I've never seen anything appear that wasn't there. At least, not with my eyes open.

When I looked at someone's face, and then I closed my eyes, their face would still be there, behind my eyelids, and it would morph dramatically. A person's face might melt, or turn into some creature, or, one time, it looked like tiny rainbows were shooting out of their pores.

Time Distortion

The visuals were heavy as my high increased, and then disappeared as it peaked. To watch depictions of mushrooms trips on movies, which are a visual medium, you would think that the effects are mostly visual, but that's miles from the truth. My most notable distortion was the distortion of time. I was never quite sure how long ago something had happened, whether it was an hour or five minutes. Also, I was living in a perpetual sense of deja-vu. I was sure that everything I saw or heard had already happened, about ten minutes before. I kept saying, "You guys, this already happened."

A different distortion, that is easily confused for the deja-vu if you didn't experience it yourself, was that things were happening out of order. Most interesting, to me, was that I was, for a time, convinced that what I was experiencing events that had happened earlier. Not that they were happening again (deja-vu) but that I was, at any given time, experiencing an earlier time in the day. I felt that I wasn't living through current events, but instead experiencing memories, and that I didn't have access to what was happening right now. That's the best way I can explain it.

During the experience, I would sometimes take a moment to meditate. As chaotic as the world around me seemed, with all of its blazing sensations, as soon as I got into a half-lotus and concentrated on the end of my nose, it all went away, and I felt nothing but tranquility. It was an exaggeration of the calm I usually feel while meditating. The difference between this and having my eyes open was sharp and abrupt.  

The Peak

Oversoul, by Alex Grey,
my favorite artist on this subject
As I neared the peak, a few hours in, I let my friends know that I was tired, and was going to sleep.  My sober friend didn't believe it.  "Sleep after eating three grams of mushrooms?  I don't think so."  I went to my room, which was a little messy, but horrifically gross in the state I was in.  The cluttered carpet took on the texture of old, dried-out skin, and the floor was about as appealing as a garbage dump, even though it just had a few clothes on it. For how gross it was, it didn't bother me too badly, and I lied on my bed, glad to get away from the floor.

As I had said, the visuals had mostly disappeared at this point, but, when I closed my eyes, the normal hypnagogic imagery that happens behind the eyelids (usually when you're falling asleep) took on a life of its own. With my eyes closed, and no sounds in the room, there was nothing to anchor me to the solid world.

What I saw:  Imagine looking at a river, from about four feet away. All you can see in front, and in your periphery, is the river.  Now imagine that the river isn't running with water, but with slick, wet spaghetti noodles, all of them flowing along the grain, no ends visible. Now, imagine that each spaghetti noodle was striped, width-wise, with vibrant rainbow colors. This rainbow-spaghetti river was what I saw.

Now, what I felt was a bit stranger. Think of it this way: If your body was a four-walled room, and you, your personality, was the air inside of that room. The air outside of the room was the rest of the universe. When the walls went away, there wouldn't be any real division between you and the universe. No border, no way to tell one from another.

Well, this is, very literally, what I felt. I felt my body dissolve, but I felt it as if my body was a four-walled room, the air inside was the rainbow spaghetti, and when the walls that were my body dissolved, all the spaghetti mixed.  If I had any feelings at the time, I may have thought it was very nice, but I didn't feel anything, emotionally.

My friend came to check on me, and his voice through the door anchored a bit of me to solid reality. I told him I was fine. Some amount of time later, I realized that I was about to throw up.  I forced some sense into my brain, got up, and emptied a container to vomit in. It took a lot of concentration.  After I washed out the container, I re-joined my friends.


The rest of the night showed me just how differently a drug can make you think. While I was impaired when it came to time, telling people's emotions, and having any attention span at all, the chemical did give me a different philosophical perspective. I spent a long time trying to explain to one of my friends that we can't have any direct experience to the world around us. The best we can do is our five senses, which are very limited. It's like watching a video of the grand canyon, as opposed to actually being there. Except the being there, in this analogy, is something we don't have a definition for, because our senses are the only way we are able to experience something. It was even harder to explain while high.

At some point during the night, I saw a TV that was playing American Dad, and, just glancing at it, I realized that the entire show was a construction of exaggerations, the way a house is a construction of timber.

What I didn't feel was any real spiritual awakening, as some people report. In fact, I spent a lot of time explaining the opposite to someone. That all the world is is particles bouncing off of each other, and that any meaning anything has exists entirely in our brain. That we project it onto objects and people, but none of it technically exists.


I probably haven't covered half of what I remember, and I probably don't remember half of what happened, but I think this will give you a better feel for what goes on with this drug than, say, this.

Keep in mind that different people experience very different things on any drug, and perhaps moreso on psychotropic drugs. The one previous time I took a small dose of mushrooms with my girlfriend, while I was seeing things move around, she was hearing things more vividly, and found that her arms got heavier the lower she got, going down stairs. She was also convinced that she could feel where the ocean was, and that there were little stray hairs tickling her on her face, and fingers. She got almost no visuals.

Now, it's not all fun and games. I'm not going to tell you to Just Say No to drugs (though there are drugs I definitely feel that way about) but you should be aware of some things.
  1. The dumb person disclaimer: Of course you should never drive when you're on mushrooms. Not for fear for the stupid person who would do this, but for fear for the other people on the road.
  2. I've never had a "bad trip," but it does happen, and I can see why. I'm a very laid back person, but, if you're not, then maybe you should just go buy some pot and experiment with that, instead. Be sure to make sure you're in a good mood before taking any hallucinogen, and also make sure you're doing it in a clean, comfortable environment.
  3. Be sure to do this with at least one sober person around (called a "trip-sitter" in the parlance). For instance, I kept wiping tears out of my eyes, telling people that my eyes were watering. My sitter let me know that they were watering because, as I wiped them, I was actually touching them. For the rest of the night, if I felt tears in my eyes, I made an effort to just leave them alone.
  4. At least for me, there was a hangover.  I woke up the next morning at 7, still a bit high.  Throughout the rest of the day, I had a minor headache, and felt fuzzy-brained, and felt energetically incapable of any kind of work.
  5. As far as flashbacks, I've experienced that once.  After my first time doing mushrooms, I was walking down the street, and I suddenly felt a little fuzzy in my head.  I looked at the ground, and saw that it was moving around a bit, very subtly.  That was about three days later.
And, as far as addiction, it's less than a week after my third time with this drug, and I feel no physical or emotional urge to try it again.  I know I will try it again, sometime down the line, the way that you know, when you leave Disneyland, that you may not want to go back the next day, but you probably will in a few months.  If someone handed me a gram tonight, I would politely hand it back, and tell them that I've definitely got my fill of mushrooms for a while.

So now you know.  And knowing is half the battle.

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