On the Winter Solstice – a very special moment in the year from an energy standpoint – I and three others took part in a magic mushroom Ceremony. All of a sudden, in a completely unexpected manner, I understood that which is the greatest risk one faces when taking a strong psychedelic substance. I already had everything necessary at my disposal to realise it, but until that moment I hadn’t made the connection – and when it was finally revealed to me, I had no choice but to understand. Once the experience had ended, my first thought was that I ought to share this information with anyone who was interested in understanding magic mushrooms. Writing about it also aids the process of integration, of course – a subject which my book explores in great depth.
The structure of reality
In answer to the question of whether mushrooms are dangerous, I cannot give a simple yes or no, because both are correct. Why is that? Well, it depends on who’s posing the question and which “layer” of reality the question is referring to (“layers” being the different levels which compose our realities). To clarify, let me give you an example: two people are talking with one another. In that moment their reality is composed of many coexisting and interacting layers – i.e. physical, emotional and mental; the type of rapport between them (whether they be parents, friends, colleagues, lovers, etc.); the exchange of ideas; and unconscious dynamics (such as projections, systemic social relations, suggestions, hierarchies of weakness and strength, etc).
All the possible distinguishable layers are too numerous to list here. Every one of them is connected to every other and helps us understand how each can represent something as simple as a chat between two people in an entirely unique way.
The answer to the question of whether mushrooms are dangerous can be different for each level. But more importantly, the correct answer for one person can be completely wrong for another, and so the yes and the no are both correct responses – or both entirely incorrect. Every case requires individual evaluation; generalisation is not an option. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that a mushroom is dangerous in any case just because it is psychoactive or that what I’m writing is simply mental gymnastics. Really, this reasoning can be applied to any substance we introduce to our bodies. I repeat: the humble peanut is, until proven otherwise, more dangerous than magic mushrooms, having caused many more deaths.
The real danger for everyone
But there is a big risk linked to magic mushroom use to which the answer is always yes. It is specific and well-defined and applies to absolutely everyone. The motives for exercising caution and care when working with mushrooms are many, but this is the most pertinent by far. Read the following very carefully, because misunderstanding or overlooking this particular danger is easily done, and it takes place much more frequently than you might imagine. When it happens to you, you’ll understand the importance of having people you trust around you (preferably people who are competent and prepared to work with mushrooms). During their first experience, for example, everyone should have a sitter. If problems arise, you will appreciate their presence infinitely.
What’s real anyway?
The fact of the matter is this: you are under the influence of psychedelics, but you’re certain that the effects have not yet kicked in or, alternatively, are not sure whether they have run their course. In that moment, you’re under the impression that you are lucid and “normal”, but that is not the case: the effect of magic mushrooms is there but simply not being perceived. Sounds strange, I know, but that’s how it is.
It doesn’t sound like much, yes, but the potential consequences of this misunderstanding can be dangerous. The person in question makes decisions and acts with conviction under conditions that are totally removed from those appropriate to shared reality (i.e. the conditions of ordinary states of consciousness). In particular, be cognizant of the fact our sense of reality is always completely subjective, even in quotidian life and unaltered states of consciousness – but psilocybin highlights this to the user, perfectly overlapping the perception of reality and amplifying small specific aspects of it. To you, what you’re perceiving might be “ordinary” reality, but be careful not to assume.
This difficult situation a person can find themselves in is hard to sum up in words, and it can be difficult for the people around them too. Allow me to clarify a little by giving you a few examples of situations I’ve witnessed myself or have been made aware of.
A few examples
You’re already under the influence, but you think it’s finished or believe you’ve reached a state of lucidity. And so you decide to drive home, ignoring the advice of the people around because what they’re telling you conflicts with what you believe.
You have taken a heroic dose (5 grams) but after an hour you feel that nothing’s happened. You then decide to up the quantity, consuming more grams still. At that point, the effect rises to vertigo-inducing heights – as does your fear. You are convinced that you’ve gone too far and start to feel sick. Then the moment comes when you think you’re going to die, certain that your time is up.
Or you take, perhaps, a normal dose. The effect comes on, then comes down. The effect of mushrooms is often characterised as waves, always in a state of undulation. At times, it seems to be passing, then before long it becomes even more intense than before. But in the moment in which it drops you think you’re finished – paranoid thoughts begin to spark in your mind and you get the feeling that the others are conspiring against you because they’ve been possessed by demons or shadow creatures. And this appears as plain fact to you because, after all, you’ve seen it.
Similarly to the movement of the effect as it comes in waves, at a certain point one becomes unquestionably depressed. You see that life has no meaning, that nothing has a purpose, that everything you do is useless in the context of the vastness of the universe. You sink into a severe crisis in which – convinced that you’re seeing everything with clarity – death seems the only escape. In that moment this great pain becomes so intense that having found a way out, it manifests itself in a crack in the wall of the house right before your eyes!
Lastly, in the midst of an intense experience it seems normal to get naked and try to scale the garden fence and run to meet the sun. Except that on the other side all you’ll find is farmland and farmers working the fields…
I reckon that if presented with these cases, a therapist would discern the extremes of a psychotic episode. Not being a doctor myself, I cannot be sure, but I’d hazard a guess at that being the probable medical opinion.
Psychedelic means “mind manifesting”, so it makes sense that normal and well integrated people, both in the context of society and interpersonal relationships, can discover something profound under the effects of psychoactive substances or in particular emotional states. While the difference between neurosis and psychosis is a question for medical professionals, we can say with some certainty here that the neurotic can know they have a problem and remain in contact with our shared reality and the psychotic, conversely, loses contact with shared reality and is convinced they are completely fine. Everyone else might have problems, they think, and can often be considered allies, although paranoia is an element of psychosis. Neurosis is a psychological problem; psychosis almost always has some kind of organic origin (disrupted neurotransmitters for example).
The indispensability of Set & Setting
If you’ve already read my article on Set & Setting (which you can find HERE) you’ll be acquainted with the extraordinary importance of avoiding psychological or psychiatric problems if one wants to consume magic mushrooms. However, I want to make a specific point here to clarify. Not all psychological issues are dangerous in the same way in conjunction with mushrooms, but a few of them can pose a somewhat intense, or in some cases grave, danger. This is the case for those suffering from psychological conditions both manifest and latent, the latter being decidedly more insidious if it hasn’t been detected. You don’t know, let’s say, that you’re suffering from something and therefore you don’t know that psychedelics aren’t right for you. Assuming leads you to find yourself in a situation that’s ugly not only for you but for the people around you.
What should you do?
In the event of a situation like this, what should you do? I am not a doctor, but in a moment like this the most correct formal solution would be to take a tranquilizer, which would technically resolve your problem. However… The person in question, considering themselves completely sane, wouldn’t necessarily agree! A medical solution in this case could become necessary if there are grounds to worry over the person’s physical safety. In the absence of a medic, you should call for help – a lousy situation seeing as the substance in question is not legal – but safeguarding the health and safety of the person in crisis, and others around them, must be your first priority.
Prevention is the cure
The real solution to the problem is in its prevention – be that in the form of avoiding consuming a substance altogether, or, if you’re not sure whether you’d be at risk, taking a minor dose. This is why I recommend to absolutely everyone, both in this blog and in my book, to start with small doses. The issue of one’s individual tolerance for the substance aside, any eventual psychotic reactions (paranoia or disconnection from reality) will be shorter in duration and less intense, avoiding more severe problems which would arise upon consuming a major dose.
Pay attention to neuroses
Remember that psychotic reactions don’t manifest solely in pathologic subjects, or subjects who suffer from a disorder they are unaware of. If it does happen, and no one in the vicinity is in danger, the only thing to do is to wait for the effect to pass, reassuring the person and reminding them that they are under the effect of a psychedelic. Often, in fact, the subject doesn’t even remember having taken something.
Why does a psychotic reaction occur even in subjects not suffering from psychological disorders? The key word here is “psychedelic”. That is to say that the mushroom reveals a deeply hidden problem in the psyche. The phrase “let sleeping dogs lie” might come to mind, but this evokes another, but a more appropriate saying would be “burying one’s head in the sand”.
The last psychedelic voyage
My book talks about how an intense mushroom experience might resemble the moment of death, in which we take a final deep plunge into ourselves. Our five senses withdraw from the phenomenal world, and so our awareness follows suit and is submerged within.
What will happen is simple: an unhindered experience of the self. Working with mushrooms is an important step to take if you want to experience this. Indeed, in my opinion, it can be a way to prepare for that inevitable moment. Having problems in the pathways of our psyche will not help when the time to die arrives.
The Tibetan Book of the Dead (or The Bardo Thodol) describes how the departed find themselves confronted with monsters, which are simply projections of that which lives inside them. So one could say that death itself is a kind of psychedelic experience too – the last which we will face in this life. If it’s your first time facing the monsters, it’ll be less easy than if you had done it before. Or maybe, at least…
(Don’t forget to click HERE to read some WARNINGS)