With the movement to decriminalize psychedelics gaining increasing steam, talk of psilocybin mushrooms, arguably the most readily available of entheogenics, is in the air. After contributing to this buzz with an article about their therapeutic benefits, I decided to take advantage of them myself.
I have a storied history with ‘shrooms so I didn’t do much planning or research, but realized afterward that I could have had a much better experience if I had. Nothing went wrong, but I’d forgotten my list of rules—gathered during college in the early aughts, probably whilst watching the Las Vegas strip melt from the top of the Law building.
We’ll get into experiential tips—mirrors are a thing—from the culture side, but first, let’s get some advice from the professionals. Read on to help ensure a safe and enjoyable trip.
Tips from the professionals
The Zendo Project is an organization sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), and they focus on psychedelic harm reduction. They acknowledge that millions of people every year experience psychedelics outside of a supervised medical context and work to ensure people do them as safely as possible.
“An increasing number of cities and states are decriminalizing psychedelic substances like psilocybin. Many people are learning about the potential therapeutic benefits of certain psychedelics. This is wonderful. It is also equally important to be aware of the risks inherent in the use of any psychoactive substance so that people who choose to use them can be informed of their effects,” said Sara Gael, Zendo Project’s Director of Harm Reduction, and the Harm Reduction Advocate for the Denver Psilocybin Mushroom Policy Review Panel.
What does it feel like?
When asked to describe the experience Gael said, “Psilocybin significantly alters perception of reality. Effects can range from positive to negative and are unique to every individual. Some effects of psilocybin include elevated mood or euphoria, creativity, mystical or spiritual experiences, dissolution of the ego and altered perception of oneself, their environment, altered perception of time, and increased sensitivity to outside stimulus.”
“Some negative or adverse effects can include fear, disorientation, confusion, paranoia, physical discomfort, or nausea,” said Gael. “Effects of psilocybin last between 4-7 hours with after effects lasting up to 6 hours post-journey depending on dosage.”
Be in a good headspace
“If you choose to take psilocybin, take into consideration your past and present mental and emotional wellness and health. Psilocybin can precipitate or exacerbate latent or existing mental disorders,” said Gael.
Since it’s also therapeutic for some mental illnesses this might sound confusing, but psilocybin has also been known to trigger psychotic episodes—so it’s wise to know your family history, and to avoid them if there are incidences of schizophrenia and/or early onset mental illness in your family.
Have a buddy
Because of these risks, Gael suggests teaming up with someone who knows the ropes. “Especially If you have never taken psilocybin before, you should plan to have a sober sitter and start with a small dose. Your sitter should have experience with the substance itself and ideally should have assisted others through experiences in the past. They should be someone you know and are comfortable with and feel safe with.”
Set and setting
The who and where of the situation should also be carefully selected. “Don’t do psychedelics if you are in an unsafe environment or with people you don’t trust.” She recommends being selective about your set and setting: “Set and setting refer to your internal and external landscape, respectively,” she said. “Limiting external stimulus is a good idea.”
Wisdom from psychedelic culture
Now that you’ve heard from the pros, we also thought it wise to also consult psychedelic culture at large for more experiential tips, which the Netflix documentary Have a Good Trip outlines delightfully.
The first rule of thumb is “don’t drive,” which Gael alludes to in her suggestion to limit external stimulus, but it’s something worth spelling out clearly—your reality will be very distorted, so do not drive any sort of vehicle. Getting arrested because you didn’t know what to do when the stoplight turned purple wouldn’t lead to a good trip.
Another tip from the film is “Don’t look into the mirror,” which is later countered by, “Do look in the mirror”—and this is no mistake. Skin can look bizarre on ‘shrooms, and staring at yourself can really freak you out … or entertain you endlessly. Choose wisely.
Set and setting (again)
The film also suggests you control set and setting. Make sure that you’re safe and comfortable—clothes too!—and that no one will disturb you, and that you’re prepared with everything you’ll need, like water, a place to use the restroom, etc.
Personally, I wouldn’t do mushrooms without a notebook and markers—notes to yourself about your journey are great to have later. Having a music playlist (think tunes from the ’60s and/or songs you enjoy when stoney) is also a great idea. Television can also be crazy looking when on mushrooms, with humans turning cartoons and other warped fun. If that appeals, pick out a flick with good vibes that you’ve already seen. Art, gorgeous fabric, and other fun-to-look at things are also great to have around.
And of course, going into nature is ideal. Just make sure you won’t be disturbed, that the area is familiar, and that you are safe and have everything you will need before setting out.
Enjoy the trip
Their final tip, and ours, is: “Just hang on, man.” When Gael tells us that we’ll likely experience dissolution of the ego, she’s being literal—the part of your mind responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity may temporarily fall away, leaving you one with everything, connected to all of existence.
It’s beautiful. Usually. It can get weird, so just hang in there. Remember you’re tripping, and just go with it. Don’t fight the journey, just let it lead.