August 18, 2019

Mushrooms and the Pursuit of Meaning

“In case you missed it, we are in the middle of a psychedelic renaissance, marked most notably by Michael Pollan’s sweeping 2018 book How to Change Your Mind. Regardless, legacy stigma around psychedelics remains, even in the context of clinical trials. That’s partially why I don’t tell many people what I experienced during the clinical trial. But mostly it’s because the journeys were profound, deeply personal, and filled with insights that evade simple description. People who haven’t done psychedelics don’t get it; and often even people who have done them for fun don’t get it. The reaction is always the same: “You tripped for science. So what?”

Like all trip stories, mine sound crazy at worst and clichéd at best. But I can tell you this much: at the peak of my experience, my sense of self dissolved and I unified with an abiding force that permeated all existence — something that felt conscious, vast, benevolent, eternal, peaceful, and furiously important. After sitting up on the couch six hours later, covered in snot and tears, I struggled to put words to an encounter that felt more real than everyday reality — a mind-bendy paradox characteristic of many mystical experiences.

Encountering what I feel most comfortable calling “Ultimate Reality” during an experimental depression trial sometimes feels like a profound spiritual bait-and-switch. Why couldn’t they just treat my illness without screwing with my worldview? But exploding one’s worldview is the whole point of these treatments; in fact, the trial protocol — the doses, a welcoming environment, guides, preparation, laying down with eyeshades while listening to a carefully-selected musical playlist — is optimized to increase the likelihood of profound experiences.”

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