I finally caught the bug, and after a mild bout with the Coronavirus, I ate 3.7 grams of mushrooms during my final weekend of quarantine. Here’s how it went.
My body squirms as psilocybin rushes through one of life’s most complex biological systems. The sensation starts in the chest, then flows through the nervous system, until a tingling reaches the tips of my toes, the roots of my teeth, and then the grooves of my brain, engulfing my limited awareness, and transporting my conscious attention into a hazy field of dreams, dancing between the fibers of a cloth bandana and fluttering eyelids.
Late into a relaxing Saturday afternoon at home, I made a last-minute decision to ingest 3.7 grams of magic mushrooms. The plan was to lay down on a couch, cover my eyes with a blindfold, and listen to Jon Hopkins’ Music for Psychedelic Therapy as my favorite psychedelic compound intermingled with a body infected with the dreaded Coronavirus.
I had been quarantining for nine days at this point, letting the virus run its course while suffering mild flu systems, which were largely alleviated by edible cannabis. The fatigue, brain fog, and isolation from my community—including my fiancée’s lips, a human connection of the highest value—were the toughest challenges to navigate. Demons once considered conquered were awakened; old envies and insecurities flooded the mind; my eyes were watching the world continue to turn from the loneliest of vantage points: an Instagram feed. Everyone is out there living their best life, and I’m stuck here, alone, suddenly wondering if I’m destined to be a failure. Unfinished projects, unrealized dreams, and lingering writing assignments stack up as heavy burdens on my shoulders; guilt from procrastination clogs the mind. I’m used to a river of happier thoughts, but poisons have seeped in and infected the water this past week. My daily regimen of reading, meditating, exercising, writing, and singing had been disrupted in favor of junk food and movies—the comfort of my youth. At least I was home to cuddle with my dogs, and pick up their poop in the backyard before they could eat it, a disturbing canine addiction, and a shitty silver lining of a wasted week.
I was craving meaningful connection, and with the COVID-19 virus still making my body a public pariah, I would have to find it within.
A comforting mother figure greets me as the medicine goes to work.
In previous trips, she has been an ethereal voice, but this time, she’s taken on the familiar physical form of a friend. Is this a sign from Mother Mushroom? Perhaps. But the communion is cut short when the Music for Psychedelic Therapy stops. I bask in the silence. Maybe this is an intentional break in the record; time to reflect. But a few more moments and the empty room tone becomes unbearable. I take off my bandana and open my eyes to the dull world of my office, though now bedazzled with a rainbow hue, emanating from the Christmas lights I turned on earlier to set the vibe. But that vibe can’t compete with Mother’s world, and I desperately want to go back. I fiddle with Apple Music and my bluetooth speaker, and Music for Psychedelic Therapy resumes. I lay down and drift back into the subconsciousness behind the eyelids. The warm and fuzzies return, along with more visions of Mother and other loved ones, friends and family that make this life worth living. I want to reach out to them, and be with them, tell them how much they mean to me, right now.
But alas, I have COVID, and I’m tripping on mushrooms, and need to remind myself to resist the urge to make any calls or texts in this condition.
The soothing voice of psilocybin pioneer Ram Dass, backed by ambient piano and synthesizer chords, brings me comfort in the here and now. “Let the judgements and opinions of the mind be judgements and opinions of the mind, and you exist behind that.” Ah, so. A gentle reminder to stop wanting and start being. “You don’t need loneliness, for you couldn’t possibly be alone.” Ah, so. Mother is always with me. She is love. I am love. Love is all there is, and love is all that matters in the end. Tears stream my cheeks and my lips quiver as the author of Be Here Now continues his gentle sermon from the flames of a campfire burning in my heart.
But then flames are suddenly extinguished by another bluetooth or WiFi malfunction. I open my eyes again, and the outside world is a little wavier now. The trip is just getting started, and I don’t want my psychedelic therapy to end yet. I ate 3.7 grams of mushrooms to annihilate my ego and blast off into space, not hang out in my office. After more fiddling with technology, Ram Dass resumes. “The ember gets stronger, flame starts to flicker again, and pretty soon you realize that all we’re going to do for eternity is sit around the fire.” Ah, so. But then the soundscape fades; Hopkins’ Music for Psychedelic Therapy is over, already, and the streaming algorithm has picked an alarmingly poor followup. I rip off the bandana from my eyes and lunge for my phone to shut off an unpleasant, energetic blend of electronic dance music.
This was my first attempt at a more clinical approach to the psychedelic experience through psilocybin. I ate my first magic mushrooms at a friend’s house when I was 17, and have been ingesting psilocybin periodically throughout the 17 years since, usually with friends in a desert, beach, or forest setting. But after hearing so many trip reports from those who just closed their eyes and listened to music, I wanted to give this approach a shot in hopes of experiencing complete disassociation with my body, and getting a mind’s eye view of the cosmos. After an hour of lying under a blanket, though, it became apparent that probably wasn’t happening this time, either. I was over it, and ready to go outside, where the birds, the bees, and a gentle California breeze were waiting to lift my spirit.
Immediately, the sun and sounds of the suburban backyard bring me to a new plateau of high. The squirming is over; the psilocybin has been completely integrated into my biological operations, and I’m profoundly comfortable. Breathing gratitude for this paradise while walking slowly over the yard’s patchy grass, my feet feel the life below and absorb the energy. The concrete, soil, and tree bark are all squiggling, while the leaves melt with the wind. Rainbow sparkles in every ray of light. The sky is a special shade of blue, and the majestic, marble clouds are infused with mystical purple plasma, faintly glowing within the gasses.
This is Eden, and I can live here.
Psychedelics are scary because we’re afraid of ourselves.
As enticing as the media is making them appear, through a coordinated, industrial narrative that psychedelics will revolutionize mental healthcare, the general population is still dreading a “bad trip.” So much so, that there is a psychedelic arms race to eliminate, or at least, drastically reduce, the “trip” from what is being termed next-generation medicine. Scalability of treatment is the excuse to plunder these compounds' chemical makeup for a color-coated, branded pill; a new opiate for the masses; but profit is the motivator. Don’t ever doubt it.
Safety, efficacy and tolerability are three other industry talking points when companies talk about their patented psilocybin. And they’re also developing patented therapy techniques and programs that they can sell patients on top of a regular, refillable prescription. But psilocybin has already been proven safe, effective, and tolerable, for thousands of years, by Indigenous cultures and ancient empires. And then Western research validated it all over again in the 1950s and ‘60s, before the U.S. government, and others around the world, shut down research and distribution in fear. It’s great that the research re-emerged and the modern world is taking psychedelics seriously, finally viewing them in a positive manner after decades of brainwashing, but greed is a poison that runs deep through this global civilization’s veins. Much like the psilocybin running through mine, greed has been integrated into the engine fueling this ever-sprawling concrete jungle. I doubt the emerging psychedelics industry will break the cycle, and suspect the FDA will approve watered-down, far more expensive variations of psychedelic compounds, which will be effective, but only to a point—to make sure customers keep coming back for more.
A lot of people who take a psilocybin trip, casually or clinically, describe it as one of the most powerful moments of their lives, and then say they never want to do it again. They get a glimpse into another world, or at least, another mode of existence. It’s a profound sensation, frequently described as “ineffable,” and one that can loosen the grip of anxieties by leading us inward, toward peace of mind. But for those who aren’t ready to part with their dearly beloved view of self or sense of control, it could be an unbearable experience. The mind is the devil, after all, and he knows all of our secrets. Psilocybin can drag you to hell, but only if you’re already living in it. The Rolling Stones said it best: “You can't always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, well, you might find you get what you need.”
In my experience, Mother Mushroom always gives me what I need. Intentions be damned, revelations I never expect always come forth.
But who am I, anyway? The process of change. Growth. An ever-evolving personality shaped by conditions, many of which are beyond intellectual grasp. A story. A narrative forged from selective awareness, even more selective of what memories it keeps. The answer ultimately depends on who is looking. But who is really looking? That’s who the mystics are looking for. “I am not, but the Universe is myself” is how a realized sage may answer the question. But for those who answer “me,” well, it’s worth exploring just what me means. Although the truth can set you free, it can also be the toughest demon to face, which is why Mother Mushroom is an excellent guide.
The trip is the therapy; the psilocybin simply puts your ego in check to receive it. Indian saint Ramana Maharshi taught, “All unhappiness is due to the ego; with it comes all your trouble.” So, destroy yourself, and feel better. But the ego—a conception of self, shaped by a myriad of conditions—won’t go down without a fight, and will place the blame on everyone and everything else before ever accepting responsibility for its own misery. Only the sword of wisdom, cutting through the duality of our perceived existence, can slice and dice all the pesky illusions created by the self-and-other matrix of mind, space, and time. Psychedelics can help construct such a weapon to fight back against this little egoic mind, which, as you may have already heard, is a great servant, but a lousy master.
Spiritual seekers are after the Master within; the average person just wants relief from a barrage of worldly suffering. But those who fear the process of self-realization will never experience the payoff. And I’m not convinced that a mental health industry, meaning, a system of production and distribution built for generating profit, is actually capable of delivering the revolution it is promising. The psychedelic trip through the mind is what makes these drugs worth taking, and it is the same reason many people only want or need one dose. If chemists succeed in eliminating the trip, then patients on next-generation psychedelic drugs may end up just getting high for a few hours, returning to a sober state without any revelations or profound insights, which are truly what make these mushrooms so magical. We shall see is all that can really be said, with absolute certainty, about the future and impact of the psychedelics industry. In the meantime, I will continue dipping into this psilocybin paradise to commune with the ineffable, free of charge.
I’m crouched on a slab of cement, watching countless tiny bugs rush in and out of a crack—the equivalent of a canyon and city center for this insect civilization. Maybe they’re panicking because a giant is peering down at them, or because a foot just squashed a town square. Or maybe they don’t even notice me. But I’m fascinated, and even let the little buggies—some red, some black, some brown—crawl on my hands and feet while I marvel at the sight. They’re scurrying out of the canyon. But where are they going? I look up at the sun, and am reminded of mankind’s obsession with the stars, and our commitment to reaching more of them one day. Then I look back down at the bugs, also beneficiaries of the sun’s light, and I think that these bugs going the same place we want to go: onward and upward. “We’re all walking each other home,” Ram Dass famously said. Humans are as much drawn the light as these bugs are. We’re all just trying to get higher and higher on the food chain, closer to the light. And maybe, one day, we’ll get so high we won’t even need food.
Today, all I ate was 3.7 grams of magic mushrooms, and couldn’t be more satisfied, albeit, a little antsy confined to my backyard. After some internal debate spurred by my old friend Anxiety—taking shape in paranoid thoughts of what could go wrong out there—it is decided. It’s time for a walk around the neighborhood.
The sun is setting. Neighbors are walking their dogs. Or maybe their dogs are walking them. And a mariachi band is sound checking in the distance, gifting the entire neighborhood with a festive ambience, fitting for a Saturday night. A relaxed, contented smile takes shape on my face during this stroll through Eden; everything is perfect. I am no longer a bag of skin and bones attached to a personality, but just this, awareness floating through a scene of suburban serenity. The rusting RVs and dented campers illegally parked around the block are no longer met with suspicion; they’re my neighbors, too, and I feel suddenly compelled to knock on their humble abodes and finally introduce myself. But again, I remember I have COVID, and I’m tripping on mushrooms, so I resist the throbbing urge for human connection. Instead, I just give a friendly wave and hello to another transitory soul, camped out on the curb, enjoying the twilight.
It is not the virus that is tearing the country apart, it is the mind.
COVID-19 can not argue about the effectiveness of masks and vaccines, nor can it proclaim, “Not living in fear!” The virus, invisible to the naked eye, can not protest lockdowns and mandates, and does not care who “believes” in its existence or threat to public safety. But it can kill, or at the very least, impose some form of suffering onto bodies infected with it, and infect more when those bodies come into close contact. I feel fine today. It would be so nice to be on this psychedelic adventure with some friends, or to have skipped this trip entirely for a sober excursion, but I must suffer the separation for the good of the herd and my love for all those I’d rather be with.
Just like the insect civilization my feet and shadow were terrorizing earlier, humans crave community. We want to be together, as much as possible. Our survival as a species depends on it. That’s why we form families, tribes, cities, and civilizations. We are ants marching, and whatever we build, we build together. As much as America encourages and celebrates individualism, we are a collective consciousness, so it’s a huge blow to the collective ego when it’s forbidden from gathering, because we are ultimately defined by each other. You can inform me as to who I am as much as I can inform who you are. We learn about ourselves through interactions with others. Self and other become one through the collective experience of being with each other. This is emptiness meeting form, or subject meeting object. It’s really all one, which is why, I realize on this walk, it can feel so emotionally draining to be apart for long periods of time. Yin needs Yang for either to exist at all. States need to be united to form a country. You gives rise to me. And after nine days in exile, I miss you all, dearly.
So today, although Mother Mushroom didn’t give me that tour of the galaxy I wanted, she did give me another dose of what I needed: a vivid reminder of how happiness with myself is ultimately dependent on living in harmony and communing with others. I can't wait to test negative and get back to that community, but in the meantime, I'll enjoy as much of Eden as Mother Mushroom allows. I've still got a few more hours left in this garden.
Editor's Note: This piece reflects the experiences and opinions of the author, and does not reflect the opinions of Psychedelic Spotlight, nor is it intended to encourage or support illegal drug use in or outside of a clinical setting, but rather educate those curious about the psychedelic experience. Click here to read the same author's LSD trip report.