There are so many reasons why one would want to try, or not try, hallucinogens. Every single person considering having a psychedelic experience has a reason of their own. What draws you to mushrooms? And how valid are your reasons? How can you understand your own motivations then optimise Set & Setting to get the most out of your trip? And, after the fact, what can be gleaned from the experience? Today we’ll answer those questions with some practical, and hopefully useful, insights.
The so-called “hallucinogenic mushrooms”
Almost everyone knows them by this name: hallucinogenic mushrooms. However, the more neutral, though not necessarily more correct, definition would be psychoactive mushrooms. We’re talking about more than 200 different varieties of mushrooms spread throughout the world – excluding Antarctica – which share a common magical capacity to prompt our brains to function in a way that’s decidedly different from normal. There are two main families of psychoactive mushrooms: isoxazolyl (Amanita Muscaria being the most recognised of these) and psilocybin (the kind we’re talking about in this article). If you want to know more about Amanita Muscaria, you can find a long article on that topic here (in Italian!).
The psychoactive substance contained in each of these families is different, just as their effects are different too. Both act upon the brain and one’s perceptions, yes. However, isoxazolyl fungi are particularly unpredictable in terms of what effect they’ll have, while psilocybin mushrooms are normally a little more reliable. All mushrooms should be taken on with maximum respect of course, if one wants to avoid potentially terrifying results.
Ongoing scientific research is currently studying the effects of psilocybin and psilocin on the brain from all angles – from serotonin receptors involved in operating modes, to modes of operation through scans with functional magnetic resonance imaging (RMF or fMRI). The lab results are allowing a partial understanding of the mechanisms which form the foundation of what someone feels during a psychedelic experience, but the effects can’t be reduced to a simple biochemical cause. Or, to put it better, biochemistry only explains physiological effects rather than the experience in its totality.
In fact, effects one perceives after consuming magic mushrooms cover a wide scope of experiences, beginning with the physical body, reaching as far as the mystical, and encompassing everything between these two extremes. The consumed dose is important in determining the intensity of the experience, but there are exceptions. Indeed, some people end up experiencing surprisingly strong effects with moderate doses, and vice versa. But the general rule is that the more mushrooms you take, the deeper and more intense the inner plunge will be.
Taking them in a medical context
Consuming psilocybin in a medical context, i.e. research or therapy, follows a set of well-defined criteria. In this sense, it differs from taking mushrooms in the usual manner outside of institutes and research labs. Researchers follow precise protocol which is as follows: preparing the patient with one or more meetings prior to the experience, doses precise to the milligram – generally between 22 and 30mg of psilocybin – and finally a period of integration post-experience with interviews and data collection.
Even the trip itself follows a fairly standard protocol. After consuming the dose, the patient lies down on a bed or a sofa, puts a mask over their eyes and wears earphones which are playing a soundtrack specially created for the occasion.
In a medical context, the consumption of psychoactive substances has a clear and evident motive: the treatment of psychological pathologies and problems ranging from the more manageable (such as anxiety) to more serious disturbances in one’s personality (like those caused by PTSD or terminal illness). The consumption is assisted in this context, with an ever present professional on hand to accompany the patient and intervene if necessary.
Taking them in a freer context
In life outside of the medical sphere, things go very differently. You could say that every instance of mushroom taking is literally an isolated case, unique and different to any other. In contrast, a psychedelic experience in a medical context could seem a bit rigid and less subjective, but it does have an advantage which makes a difference, something that the other cases often lack: the rigorous understanding and application of Set & Setting. If you’re unfamiliar with this term, please read this article, as it’s a subject not to be brushed over!
What the law says
The “free” context differs from the medical context in the absence of any form of assistance but also in the illegality involved in taking psychedelics. While lab research is carried out in a controlled environment in some states, psychedelics-assisted therapy is still illegal almost everywhere – even if in the USA and Canada things seem to finally be changing.
Numerous stock market quotations are in progress for companies that handle psychedelic pharmaceuticals. Centres are being opened (for example in Jamaica, Costa Rica, Peru and Holland) where they organise retreats based on psychoactive substances (namely mushrooms and ayahuasca). In some cities, natural psychedelic substances have actually been decriminalised, and some states are making moves which will preclude future legislation.
In California, there are numerous clandestine therapists who use substances such as LSD and psilocybin mushrooms to help their patients. And legalisation should finally bring some clarity and security to this fiercely growing sector. Therapies assisted by psychedelics are on the up perhaps because more and more people are finding themselves in emotional and psychological difficulty – which is of course not aided by the consumption of pharmaceuticals – but also primarily because psychedelic substances work. They work at a success rate unheard of not only the world of allopathic remedies but also in the realm of traditional psychology.
We’ve witnessed a swift rise in scientific research and therapeutic use of psychedelics, two modes of use which some states are now authorising mainly within study programmes and data collection. Many are betting on the possibility that these research endeavours will form the foundation for the legalisation of psychoactive substances in medical and psychological contexts at least. Of course we want people to be completely free to use the, but a single first step in the right direction is objectively a good thing, and a necessary stage in arriving at complete legalisation for free personal use. We’ll have to wait years for this to happen – in Italy, unfortunately, it will take many years as we’re still fighting for Cannabis. That battle considered, just imagine the resistance and social stigma we’ll have to overcome to legitimise personal use of psychedelics.
Every article in this blog is written with this goal in mind: informing with the aim of reducing potential damage, and specifically demonstrating that these substances are very far removed from the perilous drugs in our society such as heroin and cocaine – different even from alcohol, tobacco and refined sugar, all of which are known to cause various problems which psychedelics do not pose in any way, shape or form.
Motivations for taking magic mushrooms
Everyone has their own personal motives for using magic mushrooms, but all cases can be put roughly into two main categories: exploration, and fun. Each person will have their own more specific reasons of course, but they all share a prerequisite outside of those already described – research and therapy – which involve being assisted by a non-participant who is trained and prepared for this specific kind of work. Psychedelic experiences with the aim of exploration and fun can be done alone or with others, but are never assisted by someone (excluding the help one can get from others, participants or otherwise, with more experience in cases of necessity).
The one exception would be mushroom Ceremonies, a subject which I dedicate a lengthy chapter to in my book, but unfortunately is little known. If you would like to know more, take a look here.
Exploration with magic mushrooms is possible through two paths: microdosing, or taking a psychoactive dose. Both of these methods will do a great job, honestly. While they are different, they’re both very effective. Read this article if you’d like to get acquainted with the fascinating practice of microdosing.
So what can one explore exactly? All that we are (outside of which there is nothing), and the fact that the reality we consider so external is only a projection of our own minds. When it comes down to it, we are made up of four parts: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. In these parts, our most diverse motivations can be found, so spiritual and psychological searching – leading to a better understanding of oneself – can lead to answers. And physically it can deepen not only one’s practice of things like meditation, or yoga, but also physical exercise in general. So let’s get into the physical side of things.
Magic mushrooms affect our general perceptions, and that includes how we experience the world physically. Many actually utilise microdosing to enhance their trips to the gym, their running exercises, or their yoga. And a lot of people who microdose claim to have achieved a sensation of energy from the practice that aided their physical activity, or have even found the motivation to start exercising for their wellbeing. On this subject, mushrooms helped me many months ago to finally decide to get up early everyday to do my 5 Tibetan Rites and a few stretches, a habit that’s proved very beneficial over time.
In case of physical issues, psychoactive doses can absolutely aid your introspective work, helping you know and understand the origins of anxieties or general issues. I know someone who solved a serious, decades-long problem with constipation during a rather intense experience with 3 grams of dry magic mushrooms. During the trip, a childhood memory of chronic intestinal laziness resurfaced. Reliving this forgotten episode actually led to the problem being resolved!
Back pain, for example, is often rooted in psychological issues – apart from the traumatic causes, which also won’t have happened by chance – and so in this case one can interrogate the mushrooms for signs which can help one understand just where, and what the problem is. I’d argue that any physical problem can be explored outside of ordinary states of consciousness. Indeed one can arrive at surprising new understandings through this practice.
Once again, I can testify to this, having experienced it, this thing that we can all experience. There’s no guarantee that you’ll find all the answers of course – and in fact, you might just be going through a period in your life that is supposed to be difficult. But how can a physical difficulty possibly have some sort of necessity for being there? To find an answer that’ll help us, let’s take a festive example: your horoscope (which in Italy is a festive practice as every Christmas it’s common to buy a special horoscope magazine even if you’re not into astrology). Obviously though, the analysis should be carried out by a competent astrologer. In your horoscope you’ll clearly see that those tooth problems are determined by some Saturn transit or other, as opposed to an incident that’d see Saturn still participating in an inharmonious aspect with Mars.
Astrology is also very useful for understanding these types of psychedelic experiences in advance and knowing what to expect, or for determining what the auspicious moments will be when you find yourself confronting certain problems. Analysing one’s horoscope and its transits can provide extremely precise results. If you think that it’s all just nonsense, it’s because you haven’t really tried to learn about it. I’m not talking about the funny horoscopes you see on TV. If you’re interested in knowing more, I implore you to read a couple of fundamental books on the subject: The Healing Power of Illness: Understanding What Your Symptoms Are Telling You by Thorwald Dethlefsen (a very precious resource you can find HERE), and the extraordinary text by Stanislav Grof When the Impossible Happens: Adventures in Non-Ordinary Realities, which you can find HERE.
Reading these books gives form and substance to that intuition which one almost always has during a sufficiently intense and profound psychedelic voyage: that reality is so much more than what we see and think we know.
The kingdom of emotions is a psychedelic experience’s favourite battleground! Nothing can fold you inside out quite like magic mushrooms, from the most all-encompassing fear to the sweetest emotion. In general, there are three types of fear people experience most frequently: fear of suffering, fear of death, and fear of insanity. These basic negative emotions are amplified by the perceptive state induced by the fungi, which in a way convinces you that what you’re experiencing is absolute reality.
But fear isn’t the only hurdle you might encounter. Often, people find themselves in contact with all kinds of intense emotions, even crying with the intensity of feeling they have for themselves and others. In the field of emotions, however intense, we’re not talking about true love – which is almost always simple sentimentalism – but seeing oneself and others in a new light (which ultimately helps us to understand and accept people for what they are). The energy of this emotion is capable of moving our point of view on others, and ourselves, in a direction of welcoming acceptance.
Emotions are actually the substance which constitutes the astral world, the reality which is little different to the physical one in which we’re living now. Consequently, that which is felt and understood there isn’t too far removed from what happens here, only with a “rose tinted glass”. In fact, the understandings one reaches in this emotional state tend to disappear when you then re-enter into a state of ordinary consciousness, or have little to no practical consequences.
But how can we explore our emotions without getting overwhelmed? How can we take home something useful from such a strong experience? The Bad Trip is born from and develops largely in the astral world of emotions. Even the eventual physical repercussions – such as tension, pain and palpitations – are the consequences of an emotionally agitated state. How does one get out of it?
There’s no simple answer to this as it really depends on the dose. Taking for granted that your Set & Setting is adequate I’d recommend three principal resources: self-observation, music, and the help of a friend you perhaps has experience.
The first resource is the most difficult to use. It requires one to: A) understand that one is in the midst of a psychedelic experience; and B) remember that what’s happening is caused by emotions and not by any physiological problem caused by the modest quantity of mushrooms consumed. Mushrooms are masterminds at making you believe that you’re going to die. In those moments, the only thing to do is to welcome what’s happening and cease any attempt at resistance. As always, the more you resist, the more you’ll suffer – a rule which goes not only for mushroom trips but for one’s general everyday life. It might be enough to just see these strong emotions for what they really are: a strong energy coursing through the body. It’s important to realise this properly, and really perceive it. The emotion is nothing but a powerful energy that we must take advantage of rather than doing what we usually do and let it work against us.
Using music is a much simpler feat. Having a pre-prepared playlist for the trip is almost always the solution that’ll draw your attention away from anxieties and fears to something external. Good quality music in particular, and music that’s inspired, can in those moments become a portal. Inspired music is especially good for allowing you to access otherwise nigh unreachable places.
Finally, the presence of a competent friend is necessary if you’re aware that you’re an emotional or unstable person, or if it’s one of your first times trying mushrooms with no prior experience with psychedelics. Your trip sitter need not do much. More times than not, their calming, reassuring presence will be more than enough. Take a look at this article to learn more about what a Trip Sitter needs to do exactly.
Like any other body that constitutes us, the mental body is composed of seven subplanes: the first four make up the lower mental body, while the three upper subplanes are also known as the causal body or the glorious body (in the Christian translation, this is the seat of the Soul). The first four subplanes are those of ideas with form (Rupa); the last three are those of ideas with no form (Arupa). There’s a lot more to be learned about this, so if you’re interested in human Subtle Bodies, you should absolutely read the works of Arthur E. Powell, all of which can be found HERE.
On the subject of this author, The Solar System – an old copy of which fell into my possession recently, which at the time cost 100 Lire – has finally been republished after many years, and I highly recommend it. If you want to get acquainted with the story of Man, Earth and the Solar System (and much more) you can find it HERE.
All this to say that psychedelic exploration can bring us to traverse these subplanes, and depending on where we end up finding ourselves we can have very different experiences. The three most fascinating realms are the three upper subplanes, though they’re very difficult to remember once you’ve returned to the “real world”. What happens in this space of pure ideas is literally indescribable.
Being in the mental body is a great opportunity to observe your own thoughts from a new perspective: that of the Witness. Some Eastern traditions – but also parts of Western Alchemy – describe the importance of discovering this part of ourselves which is not identified with the physical body, who knows they exist irrespective of any psychophysical apparatus that most people think of as themselves. In these magic moments, one can observe thoughts for what they are: “clouds passing over a blue sky”, the blue sky being our consciousness, a state of being which is the culmination of human Awakening. The phase after this is the identification with the blue sky, the Self, which is illumination, but first must come the Awakening which is temporarily available in these moments thanks to psychedelics. I myself have had a taste of the Awakening. The illumination on the other hand isn’t something I’ve experienced, and in fact I believe it’s something that anyone would find difficult to hold on to and impossible to recount.
This is a useful and interesting exploration that should be the goal of everyone as it’s the real gift that psychedelic mushrooms can give us.
What problems might we encounter here? They certainly have a lot to do with losing control over everything produced mentally – i.e. ideas and thoughts – which leads to things like uncontrollably repeating thought loops. And this might not even be a problem if you just wait for it to pass. Even if the sensation of these crazy thoughts feels like too much to handle, it’s not as impossible as it might seem. The real problem is when this mental state is compounded with one’s emotions on an astral level. The combination of mind and emotions together can take a real toll. Usually in these cases, the support of a trip sitter is necessary. From the outside, it might look like a psychotic episode and it’s important to avoid the person doing any harm to themselves. With low doses however, this only happens extremely rarely. Only the most unstable and emotive of subjects have to be wary of this outcome.
Other than the exploration of one’s mental state, there is of course the spiritual side of things. There’s not much to say on this, as direct experience of the Divine is ineffable. It is completely unspeakable and unexplainable. After experiencing this state of Unity, you come back a changed person. Even if you perhaps can’t explain what’s happened, a part of you understands that something has radically changed and your relationship with Life and with yourself will never be the same.
It’s hard to pinpoint any problems with this. It’s a spiritual (rather than a religious) experience, so there’s no chance it’ll turn you into a fanatic or a fundamentalist. Entering that plane is a gift – like receiving a grace – and while it’s true that it’s only a temporary state, it’s strong enough to change the very foundation of our perception of what’s real and what isn’t.
I’ve had glimpses of this higher realm, and hope to go back there someday. I hope that you too can experience it at some point as it’ll be a turning point you’re sure to remember forever.
Recreational purposes is the most common reason people use magic mushrooms, and it’s almost always the reason for someone’s first contact with this natural substance. Even on this topic, there isn’t a whole lot to say. Everyone can have fun as they please. However, there are a few things to take into consideration.
The psychedelic experience produces a perceptive and sensorial amplification. Therefore, excessive environmentally stimuli could prove overwhelming.
It’s well known that if you take mushrooms at a disco or a rave that you’ll probably find yourself in great difficulty. Social interactions become much trickier. This is due to the difficulty that arises when communicating with people who are in an ordinary state of consciousness, but also because your sensitivity to the expressions of others, for what they say, and for how you feel being looked at. Paranoia can kick in in an instant, and from that moment everything can easily start to crumble.
Even when doing it to have fun, the rules of Set & Setting aren’t any less important. It is fundamental to know that you feel well, that you’re in good company, and that you know the people around you. The dose is also important of course. If you’re in the company of others, it’s advisable not to overdo it and above all not to mix the mushrooms with alcohol and other substances.
Being surrounded by nature is often the best solution. Under the shadow of a tree in summertime in the company of friends (with some nice music playing in the background) is always better than an environment that’s too intense. The sea and the beach for instance are intense and stimulating in ordinary conditions, so whether or not that environment is good for you depends on how you feel and how you’re predisposed to feeling at the beach – if you tend to be nervous, be careful. That being said, bathing in the sea is an utterly priceless experience – just exercise prudence!
Your energy level
Mushrooms can produce very different effects at the same dose – certainly at an emotional and mental level, but especially at a physical level. Low doses of around one and a half dry grams tend to have an anxiety-inducing effect on me personally, much more in fact than higher doses of 3.5 grams and up. It’s not always like this, but it’s a fairly reliable rule for me.
So what happens exactly? Namely low energy, wanting to just stay sitting or lying down – or I can feel the exact opposite and be too full of energy, a state in which I can actually stay “lying down upright” (which I’ll explain shortly). But what happens to you? Discovering how your body generally reacts can be useful in understanding what to do, and what not to do, when taking magic mushrooms.
During one particular trip surrounded by nature, I was with a friend who happens to be a Tai Chi master. On that occasion, I’d taken 5g and was feeling particularly pleasant, continuing to move around and take in what was around me. Suddenly, this friend told me that I was moving like I’d been practicing Tai Chi for years, when in fact I know nothing about the discipline. He showed me how my movements started from Tan Tien, an energetic centre in the lower abdomen, and how this determined harmony and balance in everything I did. And it was true: I was moving with no effort, as if I was accompanying the movement rather than acting upon it.
For the first time, I’d experienced “lying down upright”, a truly magical sensation. I was standing up observing the lawn and the trees around me, seeing the flowing colours which snaked around the grass and joined the sky to the treetops; the sun was behind me and I could feel it warming my shoulders, a gentle pressure that seemed to be supporting me. I let myself go, leaning into this pressure completely, and turned my head to the sky with my eyes shut. I was lying on my feet, really and truly, thanks to the support of the sun at my shoulders. The sensation was completely indistinguishable from lying flat on the ground.
This example facilitates in saying what state will be best to enjoy oneself in – i.e. when one can move easily, and feels full of energy and in harmony with everything in the environment, whatever the environment may be.
What about Doing Mushrooms Just for Fun?
Magic mushrooms are not a recreational substance. I’ll say that again here, though it’s not strictly true in every case. Just how the Tao symbol contains a little white in the black, and vice versa, the same principle applies here. The first few times I tried mushrooms, I was very intrigued by the effects, and waited impatiently for the beautiful visuals to arrive. All in all, I was most intrigued by the marvellous sensations I was feeling… and what was that if not fun? Today, there is still a part of me that searches for beauty, a part that enjoys the company of friends along with the extraordinary effects induced by the music, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
And so why do I maintain that mushrooms aren’t recreational tools? If by recreational we mean the search for pleasure via escape and distraction, I’d agree that mushrooms fit the bill. It makes me sad to think of how so many of us sit in front of the television or the computer to distract ourselves – a widespread mode of being for many who want to “kill the time” because they’d be bored otherwise. This search for fun as a way to escape oneself is, in my opinion, not good. Sooner or later, the mushrooms will make you face yourself and that probably won’t be pretty.
A healthy kind of fun would be dancing. A club might prove difficult, so I’d advise against that – it’s difficult to manage all the thought patterns going on in there – but in a less crowded environment, dancing can be an experience which makes you perceive the life flowing within you. With the right music you can even come to understandings and learn to heal certain emotional or physical problems.
“Things in themselves are never simply right or wrong. It’s one’s attitude that makes them such”, so said Epictatus nearly 2000 years ago, and this is true even for psychedelics. Be soft, because rigidity is the quality which mushrooms will inevitably force you to confront.
Explore, play, have fun, but do it with heart and everything will be fine!
Finally, here’s a summary of all the references in this article.
Always read the WARNINGS!