- Drugs like LSD and psilocybin mushrooms can suppress the effects of our egos, allowing us to “get out of our own heads.”
- For decades I’d been taught (and certainly believed) that “drugs are bad.” Full stop, no room for nuance.
- However, the first time I tried psychedelics led to feelings of wonderful connectedness, considering alternate perspectives, and new friendships.
Estimated reading time: 7-14 minutes
Last week, we discussed alcohol as Western society’s drug of choice. We also dissected the truth of the phrase, “Drunken words are sober thoughts,” and talked about the inhibition-suppressing, ego-enhancing nature of beer, wine, and hard liquor. This week, we’ll focus on drugs that do the exact opposite–“ego-suppressors,” like magic mushrooms. And it’s my very first experience with those that I’d like to share.
An Unorthodox but Unforgettable Bachelor Party
As I mentioned in part one of this three-part series, for most of my teens and twenties, my experience with mind-altering substances was limited to alcohol. I’d smoked weed a handful of times and didn’t really enjoy it, but that was the extent of my recreational drug usage. I had a couple friends who dabbled in cocaine and Adderall, but neither of those ever appealed to me. Nope, alcohol was it, and at the time, I didn’t even really think of it as a drug. Regularly getting drunk with friends was just something that everyone did, right?
Well, in late 2017, a friend of mine decided he wanted to do something a little out of the ordinary for his bachelor party.
We’d be spending the entire weekend at a mountain cabin owned by one of his good friends, removed from any and all stereotypical bachelor party activities. No bars, steakhouses, strip clubs, casinos, or sports stadiums in sight. This struck me as a somewhat odd choice, but I was excited to spend some time with good friends and meet some new ones.
Upon arriving at the “cabin,” I immediately saw that this term didn’t do it justice. While it was indeed made of wood, it was also probably over 4,000 square feet in size. It featured an incredible back deck, an unbelievable view of the local mountains and lakes, and everything from ATV’s to fishing gear to crossbows. The first night there went off without a hitch, unless of course you count me puking my guts out, forgetting that 8,000 feet of elevation makes the effects of alcohol way stronger. During the second day, we all enjoyed spending time in nature, gently talking trash over the beer pong table, and connecting with friends, old and new.
It wasn’t until that evening when I was informed of what would be the “main event” for this gathering.
The bachelor had procured LSD, and a lot of it. He hoped that everyone would partake.
LSD, huh? That’s one of the “big ones.”
As I mentioned, at this point in my life, I don’t think I particularly judged others for drug use, but I had certainly created the identity of “someone who doesn’t do them.” Alcohol didn’t count, remember?
So, I was initially quite hesitant to try a substance I considered one of the major, ultra-taboo drugs, but I ultimately changed my mind.
Only one of the roughly dozen of us had tried hallucinogenic drugs before, and the one who had would serve as our “sherpa,” if you will. He routinely played this role in his business, and he gave us a “Psychedelics 101” orientation that afternoon. He said that our brains would make unusual connections, in that parts of it that don’t usually interact or communicate would start to do so. For example, A+B=C might become A+Fish=Purple.
He also said that it was perfectly normal to oscillate between wanting to be inside and then outside, alone, or with people. On that note, you might be mid-conversation with someone and they would abruptly but calmly say, “I think I’m ready to be done with this conversation. Talk to you later!” He wanted to make it clear that something like this wasn’t personal; it was all part of the experience. There was no “wrong” way to go about your first trip, though he did recommend avoiding cell phone usage. He also encouraged us to set an intention, which would serve as a lighthouse, guiding what we hoped to take away from the experience.
He also made it clear that we needed to drink lots of water, to avoid doing anything stupid like driving the ATV, and to stay on the property.
He also reassured us that LSD was non-toxic, and that it would be damn near impossible to take a lethal overdose of the drug. In fact, there have been recorded cases of people surviving (with no ill effects) doses of over 1,000 hits. We would all only be taking one or two hits apiece.
So, with both apprehension and excitement, we gathered around a small vial.
Using a dropper, we doled out the liquid doses, with two individuals serving as “canaries in the coal mine,” and taking their portions about two hours before everyone else. I was one of the last to participate, and I waited expectantly for what I might be about to experience.
One hour passed, and I felt…
Two hours…still nothing.
After three hours, I disappointedly asked our “drug sherpa” what was going on. I had taken about as much as everyone else, many of whom seemed to be, to use the technical term, “tripping balls.” He told me that if I wasn’t feeling any different by now, I probably wasn’t going to.
“Well that’s lame,” I thought to myself. “I guess drugs just don’t really work that well on me.” My lone piece of evidence for this claim was that I’d only gotten properly high from marijuana once, which I now know is because I was (and still am) pretty terrible at smoking “properly.”
Anyway, three of the other guys also weren’t feeling any effects of the acid, so the four of us commiserated over feeling a bit let down.
It was then I learned someone had brought “magic mushrooms.”
At this point, I thought to myself, “I don’t do drugs, but I just took one of the ‘hard ones.’ Screw it, I want to see some stuff move!” So, the three other “non-responders” and I weighed some psilocybin mushrooms, grabbed two to three grams each, and shoved them down the hatch.
And I must say, they tasted disgusting. I don’t know what I expected, but choking them down was a battle that required tons of water and suppressing my gag reflex. However, forty-five minutes later, one thing became very obvious…
Drugs did, in fact, work on me.
I was standing in the kitchen when I noticed that the wooden framing on the cabinet doors was lazily moving in a jagged, counterclockwise pattern. I immediately started laughing, because I knew that this couldn’t actually be happening (could it?). And yet, I saw it with my own eyes, clear as day. The only way my brain could process this conflicting visual and cognitive information was to chuckle at the absurdity of it all.
It was then I realized that the plastic cup I was holding felt weirdly…amazing. And so did everything else. This was the first time I’d experienced a full body high, and I can only describe it as the post-massage sensation where everything is still tingling and it just sort of feels great to be in your own skin. I shared some of these observations with our drug sherpa, who replied with a knowing smile, “Congratulations, you’re officially tripping.”
When I came across the other three guys with whom I’d taken mushrooms, we all immediately burst out laughing. It was like we were sharing each other’s thoughts, wordlessly communicating how incredible this experience was after the initial LSD letdown. We weren’t the only ones who felt that way, however. Everyone stayed inside for a while, enjoying watching the house’s beautiful wooden walls and gigantic rocky hearth lazily “breathe” in gentle expansions and contractions.
At this point, someone burst in through the back door and yelled, “Guys, come look outside!”
Now, even while completely sober, I would describe the view of the stars from this house as mesmerizingly exquisite, especially on a crystal clear night. I had realized this the previous evening. But while tripping, it was nearly indescribable. Not that I won’t do my best to try.
The sky was lit up with millions of bright pinpricks that flashed from white to blue to red to green, rotating in a kaleidoscopic fashion while also seeming to alternate between moving closer and further away in a rhythmic, pulsating manner. The purple haze of the Milky Way galaxy stood out clearly as a giant cosmic fissure, and every few minutes, shooting stars silently screamed across the night sky.
Everyone stared at this unbelievable scene with reverent awe before the frigid November air made the fire inside seem much more appealing. At this point, I looked at my watch, sure that two or three hours must have passed since I first saw the cabinets making a mockery of the laws of physics. To my shock, it had barely been 20 minutes. My brain simply did not process time “normally” while in this state.
Some unknown amount of time later, I decided to go back outside and look at the stars once more. I took noise-canceling headphones with me, loaded up a favorite playlist, and climbed onto a wooden, single-rope swing anchored to a majestic tree in the backyard. I gathered speed, flying back and forth, effortlessly weightless, feeling the music vibrate through my very being. As I watched the stars glitter and dance in the pitch black sky above, feelings of joy utterly overcame me.
It remains one of the most vivid and memorable experiences of my entire life, and I couldn’t resist shouting into the void, “I LOVE THIS!!!” at the top of my lungs. At that moment, I heard laughter coming from the deck and realized I wasn’t alone like I had initially thought. Every single other person was present to witness this “private” moment.
But here’s the thing. I didn’t care one bit. And neither did they.
Psilocybin mushrooms and LSD inhibit the parts of our brain that are worried about such petty things as needing to uphold a particular image of ourselves in the minds of others. They do the same for the parts responsible for casting judgment. So, in stark contrast to how defensively I might have reacted in my default state, I didn’t for one second perceive the laughter as mean-spirited. Instead, it came across as a knowing, shared delight. Like, “Yup, this is pretty damn great, huh?”
In keeping with this theme, the night ended with me and the three other guys who initially didn’t feel the effects of the LSD all huddled in the same hammock, staring at the stars. The temperature outside had dropped below 20 degrees, so we needed every little bit of body heat we could muster. Going inside wasn’t an option, because the view of the night sky was simply too breathtaking. So, we all wrapped up in a single blanket. I can’t think of too many other situations in which I would have felt completely comfortable cuddling in the freezing cold with three dudes I barely knew, but it didn’t feel weird at all. We didn’t even move when we rocked back too far and slammed the hammock into the ground, all landing ass first on the hard floor. We simply laughed our frozen butts off.
And, it’s impossible to go through an experience like that and not end up as lifelong friends. I’m still in regular contact with all three of these guys today. Even if it’s been weeks since we’ve talked or months since we’ve seen each other, whenever life allows our paths to cross, it’s like no time at all has passed.
So, what did I learn?
In the end, my first mushroom trip lasted about 12 hours, which is much longer than normal. After the fact, I deduced that while I hadn’t taken enough LSD to trip (the liquid form I took was highly diluted since I was one of the last people to take some), it did end up prolonging the effects of the mushrooms. And I’m so glad it did.
I previously held a fairly simplistic, almost elementary school-level, D.A.R.E.-inspired perception that, “drugs are bad.” And yet, mushrooms and LSD combined to give me one of the all-time best nights I’d ever had. In fact, it was instantly obvious to me why these substances are starting to be approved to help treat depression and anxiety. Such feelings would have been utterly impossible the previous evening. So, I was forced to admit that, “Maybe I don’t actually know everything at the ripe old age of 27.” Hilarious, right? But anyway, realizing I could be so wrong about something I’d believed for so long opened my mind. “What else might I be wrong about?” I wondered. A great many things, it turns out.
And in my opinion, it’s ideal to regularly seek out experiences that challenge your assumptions and shift your perspectives, or at least allow you to consider different ones. Certain drugs can absolutely accomplish this, but I don’t want to create the impression that I take their use lightly. That’s why next week, we’ll talk about how to cultivate a “healthy” relationship with substance use, and whether doing so is even possible.
Before you go, I’d love to hear from you. Have you ever tried psychedelics? If so, what was it like? If not, are you open to it, or against it? Reply to this email and let me know!