The term “heroic dose” was coined by Terence McKenna and consists of 5 grams of dry mushrooms (Psilocybe Cubensis) consumed in a specific kind of Set & Setting. The phrase is specific in that it is reserved only for this brave method of consumption. The rules are simple: 5 dry grams consumed alone, in the dark, in silence, with your eyes closed. McKenna used massive quantities of Cannabis – which however are not prescribed by his “heroic dose” instructions. In fact, I don’t consider that particular substance necessary unless at a certain point you really want to extend the experience. The heroic dose produces its effects for as long as 6 to 8 hours; I don’t think many people would feel the need to draw out an experience such as this, which is already pretty long and taxing. As time dilates during a trip of this kind, one’s suggestive perception of the time frame becomes far beyond that of ordinary measured time.
Here, I must strongly recommend you read the WARNINGS, being that they are particularly necessary to this article. I have a duty to say that I don’t recommend that anyone try this, and also that it isn’t a route that will work for everyone. But the spirit to challenge the real limits could find more answers here in this blog than anywhere else, answers which more often than not dream unknowingly. The noble discipline of the exploration of consciousness has ancient origins. It has never been an easy task, let alone a recreational one, so refrain from the literature which proposes it as an alternative to the latest videogame.
What kind of mushroom?
What mushrooms are we talking about exactly? Psilocybe Cubensis, a variety of psychedelic fungi whose principal ingredient is psilocybin. Lighter mushrooms exist, as do stronger ones – keep that in mind, and know what you’ve got on your hands, when reading about quantities.
The Cubensis are the most commonly found – though they contain less psilocybin than the spindly Semilanceata which are also found growing in Italy – and contain far more psilocin (the active ingredient in which the psilocybin is converted into a psychedelic substance) than Semilanceata. Prior to conversion, psilocybin has no effect, being nothing more than an inactive precursor.
Courage and Recklessness
The term heroic presupposes courage and therefore understanding – and in fact without the latter, the former is not courage but recklessness. What do you absolutely need to know? Fundamentally, just two things: yourself, and the magic mushrooms. If you really want to go crazy you’ll need to consume 5 dry grams with no experience. That may very well be the worst experience of your life, which you’ll only recount if you regain your powers of reasoning once the effects have worn off. And that is by no means guaranteed.
5 grams or “committed dose”?
The heroic dose is the result of a journey undertaken which could come in at 5 grams of perhaps even more – or you may stop well before then. Indeed, the quantity McKenna describes is not firmly restricted to 5 grams. For some, it could be higher or lower depending on their individual tolerance levels. I personally know people who never achieve that quantity at all! On other occasions, McKenna has tended to use the term “committed dose” – the dose, in other words, which humbles you and inspires your respect – which probably fits more with the definition of “heroic” than the figure of 5 grams. This quantity is a defined reference and identifiable for anyone early in their own journey of discovery with mushrooms. But once it has been reached, you could discover that that level of intensity no longer seems that heroic, because your courage will hardly feel challenged if it stays in your new comfort zone. At the moment, 5 grams are a medium-sized dose for me. Even though I never take mushrooms lightly, consuming that quantity doesn’t quite make me feel heroic.
Feel what’s right for you
A capacity for inner listening is vital to understanding what works for you, and it’s a test you need to do on multiple levels. Perhaps you hold it together well emotionally, but physically you could be causing yourself problems. When a certain friend of mine consumes mushrooms, their inner “fire” increases, causing them literal fevers and other disturbances. Listen and know what is best for your body, and furthermore ask whether mushrooms are a path you can tread at all, or if there is another road more suitable to you. After two consecutive experiences with ayahuasca upon which I felt no effect, I understood that mushrooms were the route for me. For others, ayahuasca could attest to the exact opposite. The Plant can seem tougher and more challenging when making a comparison between the two – which one shouldn’t really do – with medium doses of mushrooms, but as soon as the quantity of mushrooms rises, the road of the fungus is decidedly more difficult. And why? The Plant puts you through the wringer physically as well as mentally; mushrooms, meanwhile, are more gentle on the body but relentless on the mind. Therefore, fungi can be much more difficult than the sickness ayahuasca makes you feel.
How to get to a heroic dose
The practical advice for finding that elusive heroic dose is simple: increase the quantity incrementally, in a slow, progressive manner. Such slowness allows you to ascertain how you’re reacting on an emotional and psychological level. If you consider that every experience will be unique and different to the last, you’ll need time to understand how to interact with the psychedelic depths. The first three or four times you consume mushrooms are just sufficient to glean your physiological sensitivity to the substance – and in time you’ll understand the rest. Above all, you’ll grow to understand if you gradually feel better as you dive or not. Normally, experiences vary from the sublime to the problematic, but if you see a prevalence of problematic occurrences, you have to take heed. To explore this further, read this article.
Set & Setting
The Set & Setting requirements for a heroic dose are very specific – being alone, being in total silence, etc. – but it falls within the general rules which should always be applied to every one of your experiences. You’ll find an article on this very important topic HERE.
You won’t have a sitter for the heroic dose, but this doesn’t exclude the possibility of having someone be nearby, or even in the same house, who you can contact if you feel like you’re in trouble. A big help when you feel like this is to reach for some music. If at the moment of maximum intensity your thoughts start to torment you – for example, your mind starts to loop or fixate on something – and you don’t feel capable of activating your , you can use music to distract yourself (at least until you feel ready to re-enter into the silence once more).
The internal witness
The internal witness is like a part of you – they are not your body and not your thoughts. If you’ve arrived at a heroic dose, you’ve probably experimented previously and found that they’re there when you feel dissociated from your thoughts and manage to observe them as if you were a “third party”. In that moment when you’re observing yourself, this is called the internal witness. During the times when your emotions and thoughts are stimulated, taking shape as a whole that feeds itself (kama-manas), it’s difficult to move in the internal witness. The witness exists in ordinary states of consciousness too, but most of all during an intense experience, when identifying yourself with what you’re experiencing is in danger of being more than you think you can handle. If you are experiencing it, this means you can take it, but at that moment you don’t think you can. Perhaps you’re beating yourself up about it, having doubts about the amount you’ve taken, fearing for your health. Together, these amplify one another and can start to drag you into a crisis.
A bad trip
Cases such as this are in line with the start of what people call a “bad trip”, on which you can find more concrete information in my book. Put on the music you’ve prepared earlier, lie down and breath slowly into your abdomen; rinse your face with fresh water. Choose a technique and you’ll find your calm returning. The principle is simple: don’t run from your thoughts, don’t oppose them – simple substitute one for another, because resistance will only exacerbate what you’re experiencing.
Darkness and silence
Why alone, in silence and in the dark? These are not rules put in place to make life difficult. On one hand, they contribute to the intensity you experience, which doesn’t allow you to engage with people or situations; on the other hand, they allow you to delve deeply into yourself without distractions.
Effectively, even turning on music is a distraction. Indeed, it makes sense only if you don’t, but you have to have it on hand as a getaway because your objective is to explore only as far as you intend to. If you’re about to deviate from the heroic dose instructions, try to think about how you’ll be disappointed that you ran like hell as soon as you heard a “boo!” Overcoming the challenges will drive you forward and ultimately teach you something. To win the battle against the difficulty it can sometimes be enough to know that you have help if you need it. You’ll then pass the critical moment without giving in and find yourself in an utterly different phase of the experience, in which the bad trip has vanished without a trace.
Dangers and Fears
Is there any danger in taking the heroic dose? For some, naturally, there is – I can’t dispute that – but even for those who face no mental or physical danger, caused by Set & Setting mishaps or medical side effects, there is one obstacle that tries to get in the way each time: fear. You’ll find yourself confronted with two fears, which ultimately are no more than fears but are nonetheless intense and important. These are the fear of suffering or dying, and the fear of going mad. Make sure to read this article to find out more on what you can do about this, and what you shouldn’t do.
To go forward despite fear, you’ll need a couple of things. The first is trust – easy to say but harder to put into practice – and also a good foundation of experience in psychedelic trips. Experience is not theory, but first-hand repeated knowledge, through which you have properly understood that you’ll be confronting something within yourself, because the voyage will comprise “your business” alone.
Trust is about a transpersonal vision of life. If you understand that life itself loves you, you’ll also know that what you’ll be presented with – during the experience but also during life in general – will be for your own good even if there comes a moment when it seems like a problem.
The other aspect of trust that you need, complementary to the first, is trust in the fungus. After all, the fungus is not just a chemical substance, but much more than that. The chemical is a key which allows your brain to open a new frequency in reality, opening and amplifying. The director of this expansion is a benevolent force which I call Spirit, but if you think of it as something else, that works just fine and won’t make much difference. The important thing is that the chemical is the lowest level of interaction the substance has with you, and there are many other levels involved. In my book, explore this aspect in great detail. Here, I will just say be cognisant of the fact that “something” is accompanying you at each moment of the trip. You are never utterly alone.
You reach 5 grams, then you proceed with higher doses – for example 10 grams or more, a process which demands an active, even manly, attitude, and great focus. To what end? Well, it’s simple: you need to understand how to move mentally and emotionally through a “heroic” psychedelic voyage. It’s an important concept, albeit a subtle one. You can move within the experience, but can’t use any force of opposition – i.e. you can’t say not this or not that. You need something closer to the will of carrying out work on yourself rather than on the experience. Let me clarify this with a practical example.
8.5 grams is a beautiful quantity, but this example holds true for lower and higher doses too. Decide to stay sitting or standing for the duration of the experience. The reason for this? You have to develop the will and the capacity to remind yourself of this intent no matter what you’re experiencing. These are high-quality goals, though if you do this because you’re desirous to control the experience it’ll never work and prove inadequate, leaving you more shaken than usual. The mushrooms will support you if you’re trying to evolve, just as they have no problem showing you your faults so that you can properly comprehend and grow past them. It is not impossible to stay in a meditative state for some hours under the influence of mushrooms. At first, they will do everything to floor you, but if you hold strong and fast, they will start to help you. And you’ll arrive at a certain point where being on your back or your feet will not only feel normal but you’ll need verification to confirm your actual bodily position at all.
During this meditative state, you can work on the creation of your internal witness, which entails maintaining this flickering presence in the midst of the chaos your strain and your visions create. With 5 or 12 grams, I can assure you that this will be a lot harder, but hold onto the knowledge that something is changing, and that it’s this type of experience that ultimately brings permanent benefits after the effects have run their course. It is said that you should develop an ability to “return inside yourself” on command, that the process is a collaboration with the fungus, per say, in which one lets go (posing no resistance) and he does the same with you when required.
A safe space and time
To plunge into these depths, you need a few other things – in particular, a space in which you feel protected and secure, not only from possible interruptions by family or friends, but above all from the little things. If you haven’t yet had any experience with mushrooms I’m sure you won’t appreciate this warning, but if you have a few excursions under your belt you’ll likely understand that all of your composite parts have to feel “reassured” to face such exposure – otherwise you could experience resistance, which as we’ve learned leads to suffering. While I can’t explore this topic too extensively here, there are dozens of pages dedicated to it in my book. Of course, no matter how much reading you do, I anticipate that you’ll need to translate that knowledge into a ceremony to truly understand.
The support of your subconscious
When we say “ceremony”, we’re not talking about religions or superstitions but of truths which have existed for millennia and speak to our deepest parts (whether that be one’s personal unconscious or that which we share collectively). A mushroom ceremony speaks the language of symbols and the subconscious, of images and emotions that are perfectly understood in the depths of our minds, which constitute the biggest portion of the iceberg. The personality with which one identifies is only the small section which emerges above the water; the other 90% is unknown and shrouded in mystery. Nevertheless, it is the part that really guides us in life. The ceremony works with this part of us, and as the expedition goes further you’ll need the right allies on hand, the most important of whom lie within you.
Working on yourself
As you up your doses, no experience with mushrooms should be done randomly. More and more, you must put yourself to the test, be that standing, sitting cross-legged, in silence or with music specially selected for a group experience or some other activity that requires some form of sacrifice. Let me be clear why the point is not so intuitive: when I exercise an intention – for example remaining seated, or on my feet, or to monitor the other people taking part in the trip in a group experience – I am not resisting the fungus. I’m not opposing that which is transporting me but in fact am doing something which takes a great deal of commitment and energy. It’s almost like performing a sacrifice – and in my day, as a matter of fact, we called it fioretto (“small sacrifice”).
It would be easier to let go, but I chose to make an effort because I know that I’ll learn something from it. The fungus will sense that your intention is “pure”, or rather that you’re not just doing it because you want to feel radical, man. Therefore, something clicks that allows you to stay seated, or stay standing up, or snap into action as soon as someone there is having problems. Strive to believe in that.
I know it might seem strange, being able to apply some form of will in these moments – sitting still, for example – but if you resist at the start, it becomes “easier” (for want of a better word) to continue. However, if you quit and lie down, he will continue the dance and you’ll only be able to sit up again after quite some time. Don’t get me wrong, it will always be easy for him to lead the dance even if you stay seated, but it is as if a little part of you has gathered around a point of greater awareness. I must confess, it’s hard to explain…
The effects of a heroic dose
The fungus only acts in one way: the goal of the first and most intense phase is to “unhinge” the brain. It reshuffles the mind so that nothing then remains of the base which dictated your ordinary way of thinking. If you’re fearful or you aren’t willing to truly give up those quotidian thought patterns, he will go forth despite that resistance. Every defiance (fear, resistance, etc. etc.) becomes a leverage point by which the fungus overwhelms you – and the more you resist, the more difficult the experience becomes. Accept, breathe, and let go.
When dealing with this kind of quantity, the steep climb of the effect is very intense. One could compare it to throwing yourself from a rollercoaster or a rocket taking off. And indeed, this stage is often accompanied by a roaring in the ears as one starts to ascend to the giddy heights. In these moments, direction loses all meaning.
Rapidly, you find yourself entering a dimension in which you lose all notion of space and time. However, it’s more than not knowing where you are and how much time is passing. More than anything, it’s that “I” am no longer “I” – a disturbing and yet marvellous concept, depending on how solid you are interiorally. What feels incredible to me could be a nightmare for someone else. Thankfully, how it will feel for you is something you can discover progressively. Do not attempt to reach this stage without ample preparation.
I’m not looking to disappoint you if you’ve been expecting to hear nothing but amazing stories. There’s none of that here. You’re alone, in silence and in the dark with your eyes shut. Nothing is happening on the “outside” that can constitute a gripping tale. The thing of interest you must understand is what goes on “inside”.
What will you experience at the peak of the mushroom’s effects? Describing it in words is impossible. I’ve visited “places” I recognised, places I’d already been to during other experiences on mushrooms or on ayahuasca, and I was incredibly surprised at having forgotten them! I remembered them, and I realised that, sadly, I would not be able to remember or recount them once back on planet earth. I’ve felt a Love, which is not that emotion or feeling that’s felt in day to day life, but one that constitutes many things… How can I begin to explain it? What words can one use to describe the indescribable?
This whole phase of the trip is ineffable: you know you’re there but there isn’t much more to report. You are the knowledge of existing, and yet with no trace of mind or emotion. It’s hard to explain how I knew in those intense moments that I could have augmented the dose even further, knowing for certain that I would be safe and have no problems. The fear I feel always happens before the trip, never during.
And then the effect starts to decline. Arguably, this is when the most useful and interesting part of the experience begins – or at least you go through something that isn’t quite easy but possible to describe. The most obvious thing that happens is that your thinking no longer comes from the place it usually does. Furthermore, you can stop it as you please and, above all, you are not identified in it.
You see everything through a “magical”, expansive lense, but the things you see are interlinked with meaning you could have never imagined. You can lose yourself in a leaf, in the details of the floorboards, in the flame of a candle… all seems laid out before you, rich with connections and meanings normally out of reach. You feel one with everything, no longer separate. These are moments of great understanding and inner healing.
Stop the world
During this phase, we are in a realm that’s easier to understand for anyone who’s taken mushrooms in a lower dose. In my opinion, this is what so many describe as “the magic of mushrooms”, and interestingly it’s what Don Juan Matus, warlock and teacher of Carlos Castaneda, called “stopping the world”. Knowing it’s that which permits you to recognise it, and recognising it allows you to think that you’d be able to reach that place even in a state of regular consciousness – this, for me, is the essence of the magic mushroom experience. In other words, bringing the experience through into your quotidian life, knowing that certain states of consciousness can be acquired even on a regular day, without the help of the fungus.
The saints or extraordinary individuals who have, in my eyes, “stopped the world” manage to exist in that state we sometimes reach during magical experiences with mushrooms. They have reached it as a result of a path… a path that we too could take. Mushrooms illustrate this superior mental state to us. To experience and recognise that is a precious step forward.
I hope I’ve given you a starting point from which you can begin your journey to the heroic dose – and to higher doses in general. In my book, you’ll find a lot more on this topic and others in a way that’s more structured and complete. In addition, I dedicate a large portion to how exactly different ceremonial practices, both solo and communal, are done, and explain just why these are so useful and important.
Ceremonies are an essential framework by which one can be sure they’ll be safe and protected throughout the experience. Indeed, the use of symbols and rituals has great value for our subconscious, which we’ll have at our side as an ally as we navigate the most profound experiences ahead of us. As Terence McKenna is known to have said, one’s first contact with a substance should be a book on it, or rather to inform oneself. If you know what you’re doing, you’ll be better equipped to confront the challenging moments and, most importantly, be unhindered by dangerous ones.