Psilocybin mushrooms or, “Magic Mushrooms”, have long had a nefarious reputation among western society. This is largely due to the Convention on Psychotropic Substances act passed in 1971 as a knee-jerk reaction to the increased drug use and counterculture of the 60’s. Psilocybin mushrooms were lumped in with opioids and amphetamines in the most highly controlled category. Thankfully, due to increased understanding and research in recent years, the tide of public opinion is turning. Psilocybin mushrooms are now inching their way towards widespread decriminalisation.
Another stigma the Psilocybin mushroom has to contend with is the fear of the “bad trip”. This comes from anecdotal horror stories of experimenters trapped in nightmarish hallucinations, or injuring themselves through panic. An experience such as this can be a consequence of misuse of psilocybin, particularly mixing with other drugs or alcohol. In the right “set and setting” psilocybin can be a truly amazing tool for mind expansion, personal growth, and dealing with trauma*.
‘SET’ – refers to the mindset a person brings to the experience. Mental state is very important as any thoughts, feelings or preconceived notions may be amplified during the experience. Budding Psychonauts should be relaxed, well informed, and free from any other substances such as alcohol.
‘SETTING’ – refers to the physical and social environment in which the experience takes place. It should be somewhere safe and calm, with people you know and trust. Psychedelics often enhance emotions, so an uncontrollable hectic environment is likely to cause stress. It is also a good idea to turn off phones and get rid of any other distractions.
*(This is not to say the experience will neccessarily be pleasant with right set & setting, but more on that later).
Here are 5 potentially life changing benefits of a Psilocybin experience:
1. Dissolution of ego
One amazing effect of a Psilocybin trip is the unleashing of the mind to break away from the constraints of the ego. The ego can be thought of as the conscious decision making aspect of our minds – the concept of ‘self’ built up by years of learnt behaviour. The ego is inherently self-interested, which is a useful quality for survival and self propagation. The problem comes with being unable to step outside the perspective of the ego, which is often clouded by subconscious emotions and reactions. Psilocybin dissolves the ego, allowing us to see with extreme clarity the issues and emotions clouding our thought processes. It also allows us to step outside of our own perspective and see the bigger picture and the view of other people. If focused properly it allows for a deep exploration of the subconscious.
2. Breaking negative thought patterns
We all follow certain thought patterns or habits of thinking. These are like pathways engrained in our minds through learned responses to familiar stimuli. They’re formed much in the same way as a physical habit, by repetition, but can be much harder to break as they’re less visible. Positive thought patterns can often be beneficial. The problem arises when we develop negative or faulty thought patterns, which lead us to a downward spiral. Such prolonged negative patterns can often lead to depression. There may have been an event or trauma to initiate negative thoughts, then the pattern of negative thinking becomes engrained and very hard to break.
Psilocybin can be an amazing tool for breaking negative thought patterns and allowing for a clean sheet. The best analogy I have heard describes our minds as a ski slope with deep paths ingrained by constant skiing. Psilocybin is like a snowplough flattening the piste, allowing skiers to move around in whichever direction they please. In recent years research groups such as Johns Hopkins and Kings Collage London have begun trials to support their hypothesis that psilocybin may be useful in treating treatment resistant depression, addiction, and PTSD, after some encouraging research. Even for the relatively healthy mind the breaking and re-examining of thought patterns can be extremely beneficial. After all, we do not advise exercise only for those who are morbidly obese.
3. Dealing with buried memories & trauma
Our minds have ways of protecting us from emotional trauma, often burying traumatic experiences deep down in our subconscious. This allows us to go about our daily life with normality, but often has negative consequences. Buried trauma can fester away in the depths of our mind like a rotten apple at the bottom of a barrel. Eventually the effects will begin to show themselves in our behaviour and emotions, sometimes manifesting in depression or addiction.
Much in the same way psilocybin allows us to dissolve the ego and change our thought patterns, it allows us to break through our minds defensive barriers and confront these negative memories. This can often be a painful and scary experience, as any confrontation is. The lasting effects of dealing with these issues head on however can be life changing. Psilocybin and other psychedelic therapy has been described as having as much beneficial effect as 5 years of regular therapy. Between 70 and 100% of participants in some studies have described psilocybin-assisted therapy as among the most “personally meaningful and spiritually significant experiences of their lives”. An excellent documentary which highlights this potential use for psilocybin and other psychedelics is ‘Dosed’. It follows the journey of a long time addict as she seeks to find the route of her problems and overcome her addiction.
4. Increased compassion & empathy
Those who take psilocybin often become aware of significantly increased compassion and ability to empathise. This is linked to the ability to step outside our own egos and see things through the eyes of others. The effect increased empathy can have on relationships with others and conflict resolution is absolutely invaluable. If a person is able to empathise well they are likely to have more friends and healthier relationships.
Studies have shown psilocybin to greatly increase empathy whilst leaving our moral decision making ability unchanged. This suggests it doesn’t cloud our judgement, but shows us other perspectives, resulting in better reactions & decision making. Lack of empathy is linked with a wide variety of mental disorders, including Narcissistic personality disorder, Psychopathy, and Borderline personality disorder. It is yet to be seen what effects psilocybin can have on treating disorders such as these. Studies such as this one however have had success in showing increased empathy in participants as well as increased well-being 7 days after a psilocybin experience. This hints at the potential for treatment for a wide range of conditions.
5. Increased connectivity with Nature and The World
Another effect of breaking down of “the self” is a feeling of connectivity to nature and the rest of creation. In our 21st Century lives we’ve become so disconnected from nature it’s becomes easy to pretend we’re somehow separate to the world, the plants, and the animals. We lord over other animals and take the resources of the world as we wish, treating it like our personal supermarket. When barriers put up by the ego are broken, the Psychonaut becomes aware of the oh-so-obvious fact that we are the world, we are nature. We are nothing but intelligent apes with godlike technological power.
One trick of the collective human ego is to convince us we’re special; that nature exists only to please us. One hero’s journey with some suitably potent Psilocybin mushrooms is enough to lay bare the absurdity of this illusion. All that then remains is the glaring truth that we as a species have been abusing and destroying our only home, and our brothers and sisters. I am convinced if each of the world leaders were to commit to a triannual dose of psilocybin we would see the tide turn on the climate crisis we find ourselves in. Priorities would surely be better aligned with our planet, its inhabitants, and the long-term wellbeing of our species. One can only dream…
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