One’s first psychedelic voyage sticks in the mind forever, perhaps even more than any other kind of first time. Coming into contact with other dimensions is a momentous event, and one which is capable of changing the course of a person’s life. Over the course of millennia it has happened to many people across cultures and I am certain that it will continue to happen until humanity surpasses the need for it – in other words, for a long time yet. If you’ve already experimented with mushrooms, or some other psychedelic substance such as LSD, I’m sure that you remember your first time very well, and if you’re thinking of giving it a go I can imagine your curiosity as well as the many questions probably going through your mind. There’s no article or video that can truly answer these questions, and this blog is no exception.
So what’s the purpose of this article? Knowing just how useless it is to try and explain what exactly happens during a psychedelic trip – and because every time is markedly different – I am ultimately writing for my own pleasure. I have decided to share with you my first few experiences with psychedelics and would like to use this retelling to pass on some useful information. If you’ve never had contact with mushrooms but you’re thinking about it, this information could be very useful.
For some time, and with increasing frequency, the mainstream media has touched upon the topic of magic mushrooms. There have also been re-releases of books about psychedelics, as well as new titles, appearing over the years. As a result, we’re going to see more and more people who will want to educate themselves and think the decision through. This is why it makes sense for me to write an article such as this, to introduce people to this fascinating journey and present its basic concepts.
The need for caution
Every time I write a piece for this blog, I think to myself how nice it would be to say that there’s nothing to worry about, that everything will be easy and risk-free, but I cannot. I myself have always been lucky with the substances I’ve used and haven’t encountered any problems. (The substances in question being LSD, Salvia Divinorum, Ayahuasca and Mushrooms). I’ve never had a bad trip and so I hasten to say that you won’t either. However, I’ve seen with my own eyes that not everyone is quite as lucky, and many people’s voyages have gone less than smoothly. Therefore, I must pause every time I talk about this to give some vital recommendations.
Here, I’ll simply refer you to some articles in which I delve much deeper into the various topics everyone must be familiar with, and make room for a little digression.
For the pure and simple purpose of avoiding doing harm to yourself and others, I’ve listed a few articles below which you can use to inform yourself.
Moving on now, I’d like to say a few words on the special characteristics of psychedelic substances.
Information and experience
Information is always a key resource before consuming any substance, psychedelic or otherwise. Without it, many people make mistakes of the practical variety – incorrect doses, for example, or modes of consumption – which can have dire consequences. But in contrast to the likes of heroin or cocaine, to name two of the worst offenders, mushrooms and other sacred substances – natural products with a long history of traditional uses – call for something that drugs in general do not: experience.
The difference can be seen when one looks at theory and practice: both are needed but are available at different points during the journey towards psychedelic knowledge. To gain experience, one must practice. It’s as simple as that. Or rather, the more trips you undertake, the better shape you’ll be in to face the road ahead. He who starts off on the wrong foot easily puts himself out of the running and so exits the path; he who proceeds wisely starts (bit by bit) to understand the map of the psychedelic world and will less easily fall into panic or fall off the path altogether. I won’t say it becomes easier exactly, that’s not it, but it does become “less easy” to find oneself in a bad trip and its various consequences.
Experience is indispensable if and when you want to increase your dose. While at the beginning you don’t have it even if you need it, a low dose will hardly land you in a tough spot. When you’re starting out, you need only information on what to do and what to avoid.
Knowing the rules
Let me repeat: the first few times you trip, you must only take a little. Starting with a high dose is dangerous, and many people describe such a trip as the worst thing that’s ever happened to them. A bad trip is born from several causes, and a badly calculated dose is just one of them. Indeed, incorrect Set & Setting is usually the deciding factor that leads one into a horrible time. Make sure to never overshoot the quantity, and keep the importance of adequate Set & Setting in mind.
I’ve witnessed first hand so many of the issues that can arise. If you want to see for yourself, just have a look on YouTube. It seems incredible that someone can lose themselves so much in a bad trip, but alas it does happen. We are all different, and so it’s best to exercise prudence.
Respecting the rules
Theory is one thing; practice is quite another. Personally, I knew nothing entering into my first time. I know that this probably applies to everyone, but if you’re here reading this, this is your chance to learn from the experiences of others, and so avoid the more dangerous mistakes. Thankfully, that which you lack in terms of experience can be compensated with knowledge of the necessary information – that is, obviously, if you utilise it! Experience will guide you as you continue to explore, but first you need to build to that moment of using the information to reduce dangers to, quite possibly, zero. There might very well still be some problems – sometimes those prove the most useful experiences – but when it comes to dangers, these are easy to avoid if you’re not stupid about it. You must always keep danger at arm’s length, respecting the rules – essentially, use your common sense.
Memories of: LSD
I lost my psychedelic virginity one long ago July in 1981, with an excellent blotter (paper card, or “tab”) of LSD, an experience I repeated more than once that summer. But while the memories of those successive times get lost in confusion with one another, I remember that first time with absolute clarity. I’d compare it almost to a film I can choose to rewatch whenever I like.
Set & Setting? Quantity? Did I do this on an empty stomach? And most importantly, what effect would this LSD have on me? I didn’t have the faintest idea of anything at the time. I was young, touring the seaside on holiday with my friends, adventuring with no particular plans, when one afternoon we stumbled upon these tabs of acid in Amsterdam, the city of drugs. I was completely ignorant, and so I violated all the basic precautions one should follow to evade danger – including the matter of time and place: which was at night on a cliff!
An unknown dose of a substance that was unknown to me; a first time outside at night, with a rather dissolute group of people – a few of whom I didn’t even know – on a cliff.
I remember the visions well, all of them: rocks turning into seals; luminous pythons in the water and fluorescent flowers blooming on the rocks. People’s faces became colourful like those of native americans on the warpath… I also recall how one of them continued to repeat “oh God, I won’t go back” like a broken record. There was a big radio with a tape deck which was blasting Joe’s Garage by Frank Zappa, my first contact with music in an altered state (an incredible thing). Zappa is an extraordinary genius, but I must say that I only appreciated him on that occasion. I’ve tried to give it another listen, but it’s not my genre.
I had the incredible fortune to try a mystical experience, given my company and my inexistent preparation anything could have happened, but it all went rather well. Dawn was on its way, so I found myself a comfortable rock to be my armchair and sat nude on my sleeping bag with the sea and the rising sun before me – a vision of the adriatic coast. Beneath me the sea waves entered a crack between the rocks, were compressed and fired out into the air. My whole body felt the vibration of the rocks being blasted by the tide. A fresh, gentle breeze moved all around me, brushing my skin; the colours of the sky and the water… left me speechless. I had never in all my life experienced such a marvel.
It all went well, no one felt sick, and the member of our party who thought he’d never come back had also returned. My psychedelic baptism had been perfect – a real stroke of luck.
Memories of: Psilocybin
Many years later I tried psilocybin in the form of Holland truffles. I had a 15 gram bag and ate about half initially (the equivalent of one and half grams of dried mushrooms). After some time had passed, I took some more, almost finishing the bag. This time I knew all the safety rules, so I made sure I was home and taking the substance on an empty stomach. I had also selected some music for the occasion, and had on hand all the comforts I could possibly desire. I had steered clear of mushrooms for many years. I had held the unfounded prejudice that mushrooms were “hepatotoxic” (harmful to the liver), which I discovered wasn’t true – just as the belief that LSD burns brain cells and damages genes is a complete lie.
Having discovered that mushrooms were perfectly safe (bar potential complications which you’ll find information on in other articles of mine) I decided to give them a go. I had numerous happy experiences with ayahuasca under my belt and was very curious to see what effect this new substance would have.
I felt all the classic effects. With my eyes closed, colourful fractals danced before me; when I opened my eyes the walls of the room would be “breathing”. Paintings came to life and left their frames, music was more beautiful than it had ever been before. Yet again, for this first everything went swimmingly.
Towards the end of the experience, when the special effects had started to wane in intensity, came the phase that hit me the hardest. I had gone through an experience that I had been familiar with in theory but was totally alien to me in practice: I was sat chatting with a friend while listening to music, when all of a sudden my ability to pay attention was divided into multiple coexisting parts.
Normally, our attention concentrates on just one thing at a time. In other words, if you pay attention to something, you tend to stop being aware of other elements around you. (The womanly ability to multi-task aside, which vaguely resembles what I’m trying to convey but is not the same thing). In this particular case, the ability was fully present throughout my body. I had the feeling of sitting in a state of complete relaxation, attentive and present to what my friend was saying, while I felt and appreciated the music, and also was simply enjoying the beauty of the atmosphere created by the lights illuminating us. It was as if I was the director of an orchestra organising the attention of every part of me, every element of my being contemporaneously present and composed. The conductor was the witness, or he who was not identified with all that was happening. I was experiencing the mushrooms’ “magic” (or the truffles’ magic, to be precise, but it’s the same thing). Essentially, a completely unexpected moment of temporal reawakening was taking place.
Some instructions for use
I’ve written a book on this particular topic (which, naturally, I encourage you to read) where you’ll find everything you’ll need to have a long, pleasant relationship with psilocybin. However, it’s important to reiterate a few fundamental things to those who really know nothing about this natural substance and who perhaps have found themselves here by chance.
Let me briefly sum up what you need to know when approaching mushrooms (or truffles) as a newcomer. Empty stomach; start with a small amount; be in a comfy environment; pre-prepare the music; and make sure to avoid having pharmaceuticals or other substances in your system as some can have very dangerous side effects with the integrity of your psychophysical state.
You must know: physically you can have a sensitivity to a principal active ingredient that’s different to the others, and there is no way to discover this other than by simply trying it. It’s impossible to know beforehand, even if you have a wealth of experience in other substances to refer to. For this reason I must insist on repeating myself here: start with just a little. I’ve known one gram and half to provoke an intense experience in many people, and if you’re an emotional person you might struggle even with this quantity alone. Why take the risk when there really is no need to?
At home or out in the open?
Outdoors is ideal – especially if it’s a beautiful day and you’re surrounded by nature – with a low dose and working within the correct advised conditions. Pay attention to the little annoyances one can come across outside: when you’re under the influence and your sensitivity is very heightened, these small factors can become difficult to deal with. For example, the presence of other people in an ordinary state of consciousness, physical discomfort, the heat, the cold, hunger and thirst… even the absence of a bathroom. None of these are life-threatening, but in psychedelic conditions they can become incredibly challenging. You can easily sense changes in temperature and will be particularly sensitive to cold. Therefore, an open air trip during the winter is far from advised. The solution of course is organisation: with a low dose you can have peace of mind that everything will be alright.
And it goes without saying that you should not drive any kind of vehicle.
Do you need music?
Advised? Yes. But necessary? No. For the first few times, if you’re at home you won’t need it because the dose is low, but I would certainly advise some music because feeling music while under the effects of mushrooms is a special thing. And as you increase the doses over time, it is highly recommended.
Music is a portal which allows you to access dimensions which change with every song, and alternating tracks permit your trip to become a varied and diverse experience. If you find yourself in difficulty, the difficulty is more likely to be short lived as a change in the music interrupts that “mood”, steering you towards a different emotion. Furthermore, having the right music on makes it hard to even begin having a bad trip – or rather, if one tries to start, it gets interrupted.
Tripping in nature is a little different as the ambient sounds of the natural world can be even better than music.
Entering a psychedelic voyage with no music at all is an experience reserved for more seasoned psychonauts, who want no distractions or “loopholes” through which they can hide from what the mushrooms are trying to tell them. One requires experience not to lose themselves or fall into a loop or a paranoid crisis when consuming these high, high doses. I’m not saying that high doses always cause problems, but if problems arrive with high doses it’s much more challenging to keep your head.
Alone or in company?
There are pros and cons to both options here. And you can read my Trip Sitter article if you’d like to know more on this subject if you haven’t already. In this article though I just want to repeat that respecting the rules allows one to trip completely safely, so the presence of someone who can come to your aid is not completely necessary – even if it is better to have a friend available nearby who can help if you find yourself in a tricky spot. Remember that crises that can arise with low doses are very manageable, and you’ll find some user-friendly practical suggestions in the resources I linked earlier.
I personally prefer to trip solo. That being said, I’ve found that engaging with others has many benefits – we are on this planet, after all, to relate to each other. In this experience with the fungi, one finds an amplified and concentrated metaphor for the life we live every day, so embarking on experiences with others is definitely worth it.
Do avoid having intense experiences with people who you know very little or not at all. Discovering that someone isn’t as “pleasant” as you thought while in the midst of a trip can be quite nasty. Or perhaps you find yourself having to deal with someone you’ve never seen having a psychotic crisis when you’re really feeling the effects yourself. Definitely avoid.
One’s first trips must be those which cause the least fear. Indeed, fear largely stems from the unknown, so if you manage your doses well, as well as Set & Setting, you won’t have to deal with any trauma or difficult situations. As the unknown becomes more and more familiar, you can up the quantity, and in doing so you’ll discover that a trip is not merely a question of intensity, but an access point to other realities, like a staircase in which every step brings you to a level different to the last.
Don’t be disappointed at starting with a gram, or even less, and seeing somewhat bland effects. Instead, think of how taking even a little more could lead to a very intense and off-putting experience. It’s best to start well and discover everything before you bit by bit. Don’t rush – it’s not like there’s anyone running behind you.
Read the WARNINGS always!
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