It’s difficult to describe, to someone who’s never tried it, what happens inside your head when you’ve taken an entheogen. A few people I know recently attempted — both the experience and the description — with varying degrees of success. Coming out of the novel experience (for most people) of lockdown, there were many who felt compelled to expand their horizons — in a mostly metaphysical sense. It was while we were walking in the magnificent Blouberg mountains, in the far north of Limpopo, that the subject of psilocybins — and their use in resetting our mental landscape — came up. In the group of 10 who’d set out on the camping weekend, three had tried a macro dose and five had experimented with micro-dosing shrooms.
Each had a story to tell: one fabulously eccentric gentleman, a bush guide from Botswana, had tried a macro dose of 10g of psilocybin shrooms (anyone who knows anything about taking hallucinogens will tell you that this is a whopping amount). He spoke of communing with the universe, becoming one with humankind, loss of ego — and all the other stuff you read about when surfing the internet for descriptions of the “mushie state of mind”. But the best part, he said, was hallucinating his best friend (also on the camping trip) accompanying him into a dusty salt pan and turning into an enormous animal who entertained him for the rest of his trip while the two of them flew like Lois Lane and Superman in a firmament of stars.
Another macro-doser described the rather modern approach of being accompanied (in Joburg) by his guide (in Cape Town) on WhatsApp, while the third spoke of a terrifying, though ultimately enlightening, experience made bearable by the presence of a friend to comfort him on the other side of the “journey”.
To me, one of the most intriguing elements of the psilocybin “treatment” is the use of the substance to aid in the experience of death. Not only can these remarkable organisms be life-changing, they can also be death-changing, used as a tool to address existential distress. Along with all the other wonderful things mushrooms can do (see our feature story this week), they can help us die without fear. Dr John Halpern, a psychiatrist who aims to ease end-of-life anxieties in patients with stage 4 cancer, says: “Perhaps we need not understand precisely how and why psilocybin works, but when you combine the chemical, the corporeal and the spiritual, you get a spark. You get magic.”
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