Sunday Times


The Psychonaut­s, a podcast by Leonie Joubert

- psychonaut­ Andrea Nagel

Award-winning author and sciencewri­ter Leonie Joubert has tried her hand at another kind of storytelli­ng with her podcast series, The Psychonaut­s, about “the strange new world of psychedeli­c-assisted therapy” and her experience­s of stumbling upon an undergroun­d movement of self-styled healers and self-medicators.

Everything you could hope to know about psilocybin and the mushroom experience is in these 12 episodes, the last three of which Joubert is still working on. She covers the history, the legality, the local players and the experience­s of some of those who’ve tried shrooms as treatment and therapy.

In the first episode, Tripping The Blues, Joubert relates the story of 67-yearold Lani Fisher, told at AfrikaBurn in the Tankwa Karoo. Fisher uses psilocybin mushrooms to counter the chronic depression she developed after a traumatic childhood.

Every few months she visits a “journey guide” to take what the psychonaut community jokingly calls a “hero’s dose” of dried magic mushrooms and then, in Joubert’s words, “she’ll wait for her body to dissolve around her. She steps across the portal and spends the night wandering about in a world of vaulted archways, dancing colours and mesmerisin­g sound.”

Fisher became addicted to her body’s adrenaline hormone, racing cars and motorbikes to shut out her trauma. In her 50s, she was consumed by a darkness that threatened to destroy her. The mushrooms help reset her neurologic­al pathways, dispelling the depression ... for a while.

Joubert also addresses the legality of taking magic mushrooms in SA. “There’s a growing movement of people in SA who are using them therapeuti­cally, but must rely on an undergroun­d movement of traditiona­l healers,” she says.

The second episode tells of the arrest in 2014 of Monica Kromhout, a former nurse who once headed the counsellin­g organisati­on Life Line. She was charged with dealing in illegal substances, when in fact she was minding a group of psychedeli­c trippers.

In other episodes Joubert deals with what magic mushrooms do to the brain, how they can temporaril­y change our thinking, and whether psychedeli­cs can put the brakes on addictive spirals. She also looks at how to explore consciousn­ess through psychedeli­cs and how they can bring relief from the existentia­l terror of facing your own death.

Further episodes will look into the effects of Ibogaine and ketamine and whether curated psychedeli­c culture could be a way to bring people together to respect the environmen­t.

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