As the years tick by in a cloud of weed smoke it gets harder and harder to recall my pre-California life, but ever since moving out here I’ve had a birthday tradition that I uphold with the highest reverence: an annual mushroom trip.
While preaching the wonders of psychedelic mushrooms makes for a wonderful gimmick that I can get a lot of mileage out of (and one, as I discovered after some research, had already been done by Dr. Timothy Leary, with much more of an emphasis on LSD, decades ago), the benefits of taking a mushroom trip every once in a while is something I truly believe in.
Although generally a happy guy, I don’t believe I’ve ever felt anything close to the sense of radiating self-love, acceptance and confidence that comes from looking at yourself in the mirror during one of these psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms for the lay person) journeys. Throw in a dissolution of the ever-problematic ego and a feeling of un-paralleled connection that makes you realize we’re all one, and you’ve got an experience that no human should ever go without trying at least once in their lifetime.
Usually, my personal preferences and the advice I give to anyone inquiring about the experience is that you should narrow it down to one of two locales: a natural setting, such as the woods or a beach, or a comfortable, safe, cozy apartment/house where there will be no distractions. Purists will tell you that nature is the way to go, the one true way to feel the message (and yes, it is amazing) but through my escapades I’ve learned to not underestimate the power of creating a homey environment that is both familiar and non-threatening (bonus points for covering the floor in soft blankets) to get the desired effect. Remember: setting is everything.
I’ve had some of the greatest times of my life spending an entire day shrooming at the beach, but I wanted to keep it simple for this trip, and retire to my apartment’s living room with some close friends, taking the mushrooms just before the stroke of midnight (the start of my birthday), and continuing on into the early hours of the morning.
This year I was lucky enough to have mushroom chocolates, little foil-wrapped goodies that resembled peanut butter cups and, to anyone familiar with the taste and smell of mushrooms (they bear a striking resemblance in both areas to dirty feet), treats that were blissfully free of tasting like anything but slightly sub-par chocolate.
Usually the most effective method is taking them down with gobs of raw peanut butter (which masks the taste incredibly well but does nothing to distract you from the fact that you’re shoving massive blobs of peanut butter into your mouth) or simply just manning up and eating them raw, but here the process is reduced to a deceptively simple one, something that will play a part in our story a little later on.
So we gobbled them down, the entire process taking under ten seconds, and headed outside to watch the skies, for, in a strange, beautiful twist of coincidence, that night just happened to be the night the Blood Moon was to appear. While it wasn’t the psychedelic level mind fuck a non-user might expect, glaring up at a purely red moon as the psilocybin creeped up on you was definitely a nice novelty.
The mushrooms began to kick in accompanied by the usual, brief, anticipatory feeling of anxiousness, but before long I was bouncing around the room, looking at objects ‘breathe’, watching the pattern on the ceiling of my apartment look like scattering pebbles, and, in a gesture appropriate of showing the childlike joy and enthusiasm this fine substance can bring on, pulled myself around on the carpet with just my forearms, dragging my knees behind me like some weird, tailed creature, and having a simplistic blast until I realized I’d immediately rug-burned the fuck out of my knees, leaving two perfect matching scabs on each cap.
None of that is really the meat of this story. As I mentioned, the chocolate version of mushrooms makes them incredibly easy to take, and so, in the midst of this fun trip, I decided to eat another little piece, and then another (and possibly another? It starts to blur). I remember a specific moment of my brother saying ‘That’s a lot of mushrooms, man’ and there was something genuine about the concern in his voice, something that belonged to the real world, not the one we were currently in, a sentence that made me feel subtly sad over the reality of how my brother would feel were his brother ever to go too far to the other side and fuck himself up over these kind of recreational activities. That sentiment is really at the heart of this story.
You see, as I mentioned, I do preach the use of these fungi quite often, believing in their potential for whomever may have the guts to try them. I’m the guy who’s never, ever had a bad trip (OK, once, but it was only after conjoining it with too much marijuana), the guy who can’t understand the knee-jerk trepidation that seems to fire out of human beings upon even name dropping mushrooms, and the one who turns into an enthusiastic golden retriever upon taking them. I embrace the role of the Pied Piper of psilocybin as gleefully as Dr. Leary did with acid back in the 60′s. So when my brother uttered his concern, I was left with a mashing of worlds, the one where I spout the gospel about these ‘harmless’ substances, and the one where my brother has to witness his sibling going all catatonic over delving too deep into his experience. An odd, sobering moment that was perhaps foreshadowing.
Now, for those you who don’t dabble in drugs, one of the interesting things about them is how different substances react in different ways. Let’s say, for example, you’ve just been dumped by your girlfriend and taken a bunch of pain killers, Oxycontin or Vicodin or some similar substance. When the thought of her enters your brain, it’s not going to fuck with your high. The pills bring on a pulsating body high, throbbing waves of pleasure, that will not be influenced by any bad thoughts. Sure you might not fully enjoy it because of how you feel, but that thought won’t tamper with the actual high. The ones you need to watch out for are drugs like LSD, mushrooms and ecstasy.
On these drugs, a single thought can snare your mentality like a fish hook and carry it off into another realm, a place you don’t want to be, and, because of the substance dancing through your system, now can’t escape from if you’re not properly experienced enough. One wrong moment of thinking about something unpleasant can completely redirect your trip.
I don’t remember if there was something specific that brought it on, but sometime after I ingested the second round, I started getting that effect: the insidious sensation that something was creeping around the corner that I didn’t want to see. I laid down on the floor, trying to relax, continued to joke with my friends in an attempt to stay normal and connected, rubbed various parts of my body in a stab at a self-massage, but none of these seemed to stand up against the inevitability of this feeling.
To make an attempt to explain: I have often enjoyed talking long walks while smoking a blunt, either listening to music or chatting with a friend along for the stroll. Because of the movement, and/or music and conversation, the high that the weed brings on is relegated to the background for the moment. When I stop walking for the first time, usually when I get back home, which is accompanied by me shutting off the music or stopping the conversation, the high that has been subdued washes over me like a tidal wave, suddenly increasing in intensity, and bringing on a feeling that is quite pleasant.
What I started to feel that night on the shrooms was that same impending tidal wave of increasing intensity, but, instead of being something pleasant, it felt like something that would be way too intense, something that I had to recreate an activity akin to walking or talking to distract myself from.
Any close friend knows of my odd predilection towards going into the bathroom while I’m high. Sometimes I take my headphones in there and make rap gestures to myself in the mirror, sometimes I bathe in detached, stoned vanity in the mirror, and sometimes I simply need to do some damage control in an environment that, for whatever reason, I feel truly comfortable in.
So into the bathroom I went, feeling like I needed isolation, a controlled environment, and a distance between myself and my friends. On that weed-mushroom combo platter bad trip I mentioned earlier, I ended up laying in bed next to my brother, repressing a desperate urge to ask him to hold his hand, as I felt I needed an anchor before I, like a balloon, started to float away farther and farther until I couldn’t be reached. When I told him of this later, he said I should have just been vocal about how bad it was getting, but I would’ve been appalled at myself for ruining someone else’s good trip, and had similar feelings here. Better to be alone in the bathroom, despite the fact that I felt a natural urge to ask someone to hold me.
I felt hot, overheated in fact, so I started splashing cold water all over my neck and arms. It helped, albeit it in a very momentary kind of way, and the overall feeling of something peculiar creeping up on me that I had to use cold water or anything else I could think of lest it overtake me left me wondering, with much curiosity, what it actually feels like to lose yourself on mushrooms. Had I given up and just let the tidal wave overcome me, what would that have been like (the pulsating instincts in my body told me it would be an undesirable effect, but perhaps succumbing to it over fighting it would cause some relaxation?)?
But continue to fight I did, choosing to indulge in one of my other old friends of a tactic: my blessed capacity for narcissism. At first I tore my shirt off so I could splash the same cold water all over my chest, and ditto for me letting my long hair out of its ties in all its glorious, unwashed magnificence, but soon all of these elements combined led to something else entirely: a new level of acceptance about my looks.
Staring at myself, my long, dark mane of hair let down and framing a handsome boyish face that looked magazine cover ready, combined with a body that definitely wasn’t fuck-me status yet, but, through regular gym trips, close enough to see the vision of it, I found myself admitting how gorgeous and fuckable I really was. I couldn’t deny it – I looked goddamn fantastic. Somewhere in the midst of this madness I told myself, ‘Just admit once and for all that this I-don’t-get-girls shtick is just that, shtick’ and something about that stuck with a new sense of finality.
A few times during my bathroom retreat my friends called me out and cracked up at the disheveled sight they saw before them. There I was, half naked and wet, with a look on my face desperately trying to indicate I was OK. I dared not speak a word of the fear to them.
Eventually, I brought myself back down to an acceptable place and felt calm enough to rejoin the guys for some holy-fuck-were-these-made-just-for-us eye candy visuals they found on the internet. Much more relaxed but not fully there yet, I allowed myself to rest my head on my friend’s shoulder so I had some form of human contact.
When I was sure I was back to an acceptable place, we rolled up blunts and put on old 70′s Batman cartoons in the wee hours of the morning, an activity that I love with the same blinding passion that those of you who are parents probably feel for your kids. I was able to enjoy myself again, but it seemed I’d been sent a message: respect the goddamn psilocybin, for even YOU, Mr. Shrooms-are-fantastic-for-everyone, are not exempt from its wondrous, and sometimes disturbing, powers.
I slept through most of the morning and woke up to a birthday where the biggest thought on my mind was going to the strip club at night and getting some mutually exploitative fun. That too would prove to be a breeding ground for a supremely deep analysis of my life…