The words ‘magic mushrooms’ evoke kaleidoscopic imagery, mind-bending hallucinations, and bad trips. Yet beyond the romantic hippy notions and foreboding illegal status, lies a natural substance that is not only intensely enjoyable but has the ability to permanently alter consciousness.
Forget everything you think you know about psychedelics.
Like everyone, I dabbled in alcohol, the socially-acceptable toxin. But it was always a wild-card gamble, often resulting in poor judgements and morning mortification. Weed left me coughing, paranoid, and underwhelmed. And the rest? Psychedelics were never on my radar. The possibility of a bad trip and vague, unchallenged assumptions that ‘drugs are bad for you’, and quelled any interest I may have had.
Yet last August, fate found me cross-legged on a hostel floor, surrounding a plastic bag full of magic mushrooms. Caked in dirt (which I later learned was elephant shit), blue-tinged with stringy stalks and shrivelled caps – I’ve never seen something look so inedible. We crunched and gagged our way through a small handful each of the ominous fungi, then waited for the magic to happen. The surreal adventure that followed opened my eyes to an entirely new realm of consciousness.
Down the Rabbit Hole: What to Expect
Taking shrooms is the equivalent of taking the red pill in The Matrix, thrusting you into a plane of perception unlike anything in ordinary life.
While weed dumbs you down, leaving you couch-locked, and alcohol impairs co-ordination, hindering your reaction times, shrooms actually heighten your perception, igniting all your senses into overdrive. It’s like seeing the world in HD. Colours become brighter, sounds richer, emotions more intense. Every moment takes on a cinematic quality. The beauty of the world is compounded a thousand-fold. A sunset on shrooms moved me to the point of tears, the colours were so mind-blowing. The world takes on an Instagram level of saturation– but enhancement filters have nothing on shrooms. If you do it for nothing else, do it to see our beautiful world on an entirely new level.
Thought patterns during a trip range from amusing to transformative, granting you a unique perspective inaccessible in normal states of consciousness. Your mind will fall into weird and wonderful states, happen upon ground-breaking epiphanies, or wander off on inspired tangents depending on the moment. You only have to look to music for evidence that psychedelics are a powerful creative stimulant.
Your perception of time passing is dramatically altered on shrooms. Time will seem to slow dramatically, or disappear altogether. Seconds feel like minutes, minutes feel like hours. The average trip length of 2-6 hours often feels like a long journey to another world. Shrooms have a way of zeroing your focus down to the present moment, to the very millisecond. In normal consciousness, we have attention filters that sift through the vast data our senses take in and choose to focus only on what’s deemed relevant. Mushrooms lift that filter, enabling us to focus on minute details and see the beauty in things we’d have never noticed in ordinary consciousness.
Tripping is the closest you will ever get to returning to the wonder and excitement of being a kid. Every sight evokes a child-like wonder. It’s as if you’re seeing things for the very first time again. Then there’s the spirit of adventure and excitement. Experience takes on the quality of a video game, as though you’re on a mission to unlock the next level in a choose-your-own-adventure RPG.
Your awareness that you’re tripping triggers the realisation that normal consciousness is also an illusion. The qualities that we perceive the world to have, do not exist objectively in reality. We perceive different wavelengths of light as different colors, yet color is a subjective feature of our perception and doesn’t objectively exist in the world. Seeing the way reality changes when we tweak brain chemistry, wakes us up to the subjective and fluid nature of consciousness. Tripping is the Inception equivalent of dreaming within the dream. Not to get all new-age hippy on you, but the elevated nature of the trip head space makes it easier to see the neurotic way we live our lives in ordinary consciousness.
Your Brain on Shrooms
Psilocybin is the active compound in magic mushrooms responsible for its trippy effects. There’s been a recent surge of scientific interest in the psychological healing potential of psychedelics which has sparked a string of studies which are starting to explain the magic behind the mushroom.
One study had subjects ingest psilocybin during an fMRI scan (fMRI scans allow scientists to track brain activity using electromagnetic fields). The scans showed a hyper-connected brain, displaying links between areas of the brain which normally have little to no communication; stimulating novel connections the brain wouldn’t normally make. Which could explain the feeling during a trip of having access to new levels of thoughts and concepts – the brain is literally freer during a trip to spark new connections between neurons.
A study by John Hopkins University conducted supervised psilocybin trips, which found subsequent long-lasting effects. A third of participants defined the trip as the most ‘meaningful and profound spiritual event’ of their lives and 2 months later still declared the experience had a lasting positive effect on their mood and life satisfaction.
Other studies suggest that tripping can permanently alter personality and psychological disposition for the better, making trippers more creative and open to new experiences. Psilocybin and other psychedelics like MDMA and Ibogaine are being trialled as treatments for depression and PTSD.
So maybe the hippies of the 60s were onto something?!
Advice for Tripping Rookies
The atmosphere of the trip is paramount to having a positive experience. A friend of mine’s initiation into the world of psychedelics, involved taking shrooms in the crowds of a major music festival and wandering into a mosh-pit. Not advisable.
Fellow Trippers – While taking shrooms with friends is ideal, you might find yourself at a house party or travelling when the opportunity presents itself, this needn’t deter you; provided you trust and are comfortable with your companions. It’s advisable to have at least one person in your group with prior experience. A group of shroom noobs with little knowledge of dosage or what to expect doesn’t bode well. It’s helpful to have an experienced tripper present, who can be your spirit guide through the shifting waves of the trip.
Trip Environment – perhaps the most fundamental factor which will influence your trip. Avoid crowded public places or anywhere with heavy traffic at all costs, you’ll be overwhelmed by the amount of activity around you. Outside trumps inside. Mushrooms are Mother Nature’s way of making us appreciate our neglected planet. Nearly all trippers report feeling more in tune with nature and appreciating the natural world more. Personally, tripping unleashed my inner tree-hugger; I’ve often felt the plants were trying to communicate with me whilst on a trip. They just seemed more alive. Experiencing a more eco-minded consciousness during the trip is common, as thoughts of oneness and feelings of solidarity for all life on earth abound. Animals are endlessly entertaining and enticing on trips, I’d recommend having a few around.
Day or Night? Your choice is only weather restricted, each have their respective charms. For me, nothing rivals the beauty of the night sky on shrooms. Day trips have the obvious advantage of more light, allowing you to experience colour in all its vividness.
Dealing With a Bad Trip – Trips are more malleable than you’d think. It is entirely normal to experience some fear and anxiety, especially on a first trip, but hang tight it usually disappates. Unless you take a heroic dose (a no-no for first timers), you won’t be subjected to extreme hallucinations. On a normal dose, what you’ll experience will be more like perceptual illusions than actual hallucinations. Swirling patterns appear, lights leave trails and objects seem to ‘breathe’ and shift slightly. The appearance of reality will morph to reflect the content of your thoughts and moods. Since your emotions are heightened, the strange appearance of certain objects or people might freak you out at first. Rest assured, you can turn things around. Relax and focus your attention on something else, keep music you like on hand for a sense of familiarity. Turn to your fellow trippers for reassurance and support.
Should your trip experience go south and you feel you can’t turn things around, there’s no shame in taking the blue pill and returning to the safety of normal reality. Chugging a high-sugar beverage or eating a meal are guaranteed ways to bail from a bad trip.
Magic mushrooms are more than just a recreational drug, they literally allow us to experience another level of reality; offering new perspectives on life. We watch movies and partake in extreme sports to expand our perception, tripping is just another way to expand your reality. Go on, take the red pill, you won’t regret it.