Understanding the Magic of the Mushrooms

People who know the true meaning of “psychedelic” are still few and far between. In all likelihood, most think of it as that time in the ‘60s when so many young people enjoyed consuming hallucinogens, and the social phenomenon which influenced art music and culture for so many years – the so-called “Psychedelic Movement”. “Flower Children”, hallucinogenic drugs, Woodstock, garish colours, “Peace and Love”… these stereotypes are still very much linked with psilocybin mushrooms and LSD, and this is what lies behind these beliefs that consuming such substances essentially means “having hallucinations and acting strange”.

Understanding the magic of the mushrooms

Table of Contents - Do we use the right words when talking about magic mushrooms?

Words are Important

Words are important. Understanding their true meaning is vital if one wants to understand these natural products which have been woven into our lives since the dawn of human history. Western society’s recent rediscovery of psychoactive mushrooms – thanks to amateur mycologist Robert Gordon Wasson’s famous article published in Life magazine in 1957 – has been but the reemergence of something that humanity has known well for eons: there are cave paintings over 10,000 years old which attest to this, and one can also find numerous images and representations in religious traditions all over the world.

Bee shaman cave drawing
Bee shaman2 cave drawing

Not hallucinogenic mushrooms

Defining mushrooms as “hallucinogenic” is literally incorrect, and this error becomes especially evident when we come to understand the etymology of this word, i.e. its origin. As stated on Wikipedia: ‘The word hallucinogen is derived from the word hallucination. The term hallucinate dates back to around 1595–1605, and is derived from the Latin hallūcinātus, the past participle of (h)allūcināri, meaning “to wander in the mind.”’ Therefore, hallucinogen refers to a substance which “causes trickery and ramblings”, but this absolutely does not describe the psilocybin mushroom experience.

While psilocybin does amplify and distort our perceptions, the most evident effect is that our brains begin to function in a very unusual manner. It is impossible to describe to people who have never had psychedelic experiences themselves, but however unusual the functioning of our mind can become, you’ll never find yourself perceiving something which does not exist as one would when experiencing an actual hallucination. It is hard to put into words this very special effect, in which you know that what you’re seeing exists in its own right but is also profoundly entangled with your own subjectivity. A hallucination, on the other hand, is pure subjectivity with not the slightest link to our so-called “shared reality”.

Words aren’t quite sufficient to express these perceptive mechanisms on the border of comprehension, so let’s get back to solid ground and start with you taking the mushrooms.

Mushrooms have a certain “magic power” which allows them to sincerely demonstrate to you – without deceit – everything about yourself. Why? We can understand this yet again through etymology. The term “psychedelic” – derived from the Greek ψυχή (psyche) and δηλόω (deloo), “to manifest” – was coined in 1956 by Humphry Osmond in a letter to Aldous Huxley and means “manifestation of the psyche”. This is precisely what our mushroom friends do.

We don’t have “hallucinations” during a mushroom trip, but rather see manifestations of our psyche, i.e. we project our interior workings outward, and they are amplified, distorted, in the way that psychedelic substances know how to all too well. Imagine two people in the same space and time who have both consumed the exact same quantity of a psychedelic substance: one may experience Heaven, the other Hell. This is illustrative of how psychedelics manifest outward what lies within – as is said in esotericism: “the internal is external”.


Are magic mushrooms safe?

There are exceptions to every rule of course, and that also holds true here: yes, mushrooms can cause hallucinations, but only in people who are predisposed to them. (In other words, the very people who should be actively avoiding consuming psychedelic substances in the first place). Any substance has its contraindications, even fresh water in certain cases, and mushrooms should not be consumed by people who have certain physical and psychological disorders, or who are pregnant for example. In this latter case, it is not the substance itself which is dangerous – always given that there aren’t general contraindications which we’ll go into later – but the intensity and the quality of the future mother’s emotional and mental reactions: it has been demonstrated that the development of the fetus is greatly influenced by the emotional states of the mother during pregnancy, and as such it is best to avoid any chance of having a bad trip or an emotionally taxing experience.

I have given the example of pregnancy to say that the substance is physically safe: its toxicity levels are so low that you would need to eat impossible quantities to even run the risk of death (around a couple of kilograms of well-dried Psilocybe Cubensis, or 20 kilograms of it fresh). These quantities dwindle drastically however when talking about risks of an emotional or mental nature – as little as a few grams could cause very intense experiences which might be tricky to handle.

The lancet dangerous drugs

We have seen that these mushrooms are physiologically safe. Comparison tables with other substances confirm this: magic mushrooms are the safest of all these kinds of substances, being safer even than cannabis. Indeed a table published in The Lancet journal is a clear demonstration of this. Nevertheless, mushrooms cannot simply be consumed by just anyone as even they have contraindications which make taking them out of the question.

One should avoid taking psilocybin mushrooms if one:

  • suffers from epilepsy
  • has a heart condition
  • suffers from liver problems
  • takes medications (not all medications have contraindications, but in general if you are on regular medication, it is best to avoid consuming them in conjunction with other substances.) This is particularly true for Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).
  • has problems with alcohol (alcohol and psilocybin being natural enemies)
  • struggles with drug dependency of any kind
  • suffers from psychiatric disorders
  • has been diagnosed with a personality disorder – eg. Borderline Personality Disorder – or more serious clinical issues
  • is emotionally unstable
  • is genetically predisposed to psychological disturbances
  • is pregnant

Each of these conditions – excluding pregnancy – render mushrooms objectively dangerous. That is to say, the active ingredient can cause grave collateral damage, or even death.

Therefore, in order to take mushrooms in a completely safe manner, it is necessary to be sure that no psychophysical contraindications are present. It is also necessary to be familiar with the rules of Set & Setting. But what is Set & Setting exactly..?

About Set and Setting

Set & Setting is a set of essential rules regarding ones psychophysical state (“Set”), and who one is with at the time (“Setting”), but also entails details about the substance, the dose, the presence of a Sitter, one’s knowledge of the experience one is about to embark on (knowing what effects are awaiting you and how they are likely to develop), and finally the integration which takes place after the fact and allows one to bring the teachings from the experience forth into one’s everyday life and find one’s balance again if the trip has perhaps been a difficult one. It’s hard to sum up in a few words something which, in reality, requires some serious preparation. Diving into oneself can be a wonderful thing if done with a good baseline of knowledge. However, in the same way, it has the potential to be the “worst experience of your life”, or so say most people who happen to have experienced a “bad trip” (people who have taken psychedelics while paying no heed to contraindications and/or ignoring the rules of Set & Setting).

It’s important to educate oneself before one’s first encounter with psilocybin mushrooms. This is an unmissable preliminary condition one must meet in order to commence safely, after which it is the subsequent psychedelic experiences themselves which come to support you as you voyage within yourself. One cannot learn experience – the only way to gain it is through unrushed practice.

The right words for approaching magic mushrooms are few but important. Remember that they are not hallucinogens, there is never some non-existent outside threat coming to harm you – the mushrooms are in fact psychedelics because they manifest our very psyche, i.e. our thoughts and above all our emotions, even those we never knew we had. One fundamental word to remember here is ‘contraindications’. Indeed, an interior voyage can be a great adventure, but it doesn’t have to be a dangerous one. Set & Setting is a safety belt of sorts. If we have strapped ourselves in well, it will act as a shield against any potential damage. Therefore, in order to stay safe, take time to learn these few rules.

Don't Resist, Trust.

Now, a key phrase, and finally a key word, which will prove very useful during a magic mushroom trip… The phrase is don’t resist! Never seek to control the experience due to being driven by fear or the simple desire for control. If you resist, you are almost certain to find yourself in the complete opposite situation to the one you want to be in. If you get the feeling that something isn’t right, don’t fight it. Instead, steer your attention towards something else: concentrate on the music, or something beautiful, but never oppose the psychedelic flux. Your resistance will do little else but worsen the intensity of the very thing you’re trying to escape from.

Psilocybin fungi are among the most represented of all the organisms in the Mushroom Kingdom, a great intelligent and benevolent consciousness which sits between the Plant and Animal Kingdoms. Therefore, they are more than just a chemical key which allows one’s brain to function in abnormal ways.

Mushrooms are without a doubt the biggest of all living things. Indeed, there exists a single mycelium the same size as hundreds of whales. The number of interconnections between its many parts is dizzyingly high. The idea that consciousness and even intelligence exists there is hardly far-fetched, and one can come into contact with this consciousness after consuming just a few grams of magic mushrooms.

The key word is trust. Magic mushrooms are a safe substance (and a benevolent spirit, which you will come to understand one day even if you aren’t aware of it now). The few grams that you’ve eaten are a harmless amount – in over 60 years and across the tens of millions of people who have consumed mushrooms, no one has ever died as a result of the active ingredient. Trust in that you’ll experience something useful, rather than simply something that you want; trust that if you have respected the contraindications and the rules of Set & Setting, you’re well protected – nothing bad can happen to you. If you decide to let music assist you in your trip, especially music that has been specially selected beforehand, you will discover dimensions you never could have imagined without the help of these little magical creatures.

A Reconnection

If I could choose just one word to describe and sum up mushrooms, I’d use the term reconnection! Mushrooms reconnect us with who we really are, what really matters, with that most vast spiritual reality in which we are immersed. The real magic of mushrooms is the Reawakening, i.e. the Presence in the here and now and an Opening of the Heart. Sometimes it can be a state of grace with which we are granted direct experience, albeit only temporarily – it doesn’t always happen, but knowing what it is allows us to recognize it, the reawakening which is described in all the ancient traditional wisdoms. From time to time mushrooms give us a little taste of this in order to encourage us to keep going with our personal and spiritual journey in our daily lives.

If you want to take mushrooms yourself, do it to find happiness! They can help you find it in the only place possible: your heart, in the here and now.

-DM Tripson, author of The Magic Mushroom User’s Guide