What do you need for a trip and when do you do it? Quarterly psilocybin journeys has emerged as my perfect interval because that’s about how long it takes for an idea to itch so bad that I want to explore it. 2 months of integration and 1 month of organically emerging ideation.
The first time
When I was 19, I took mushrooms for the first time in a Carl’s Jr parking lot. I didn’t do it to explore ideas, exactly. I did it partly out of peer pressure, and partly out of a youthful sense of fuck it, let’s see what this does. At the time, I had heard that they made the brain bleed, but I was young and immortal.
It was a cold night, and I remember piling into a friend’s tiny pickup truck cab bound for San Francisco. We turned on the heat, and it felt magical on my skin. Is this it, or does heat always feel good when I’m cold? We mused about what might be or what might not be an effect of the mushrooms until we had parked and wandered into Golden Gate Park.
Sitting on a sidewalk in front of what looked like the biggest tree I had ever seen, I finally stopped wondering “is this it?”. It was.
The tree bark began to move. In it, were little people, climbing each other, stepping on shoulders and noses of those beneath them, struggling to reach the top. There seemed to be an endless stream of them writhing to ascend this tree. I instantly recognized the scene as “human history”. Humans standing on, trampling on and using others to get to some unreachable “top”. Using the existence of the generations before to get a little higher, but unable to overtake the generations to come. Lots of struggle, not much actual upward movement. I narrated the scene to my two companions. It was my first therapeutic journey, and it would be more than two decades until my next.
That mental…thing… stuck with me for more than 25 years, standing out as pure magic. So when I started reading about the real history of psychedelics, I was gripped. I’ve seen this before. My cells know it already.
My 19 year old self saw that as rebellion. Doing drugs. Being bad. He never would have guessed that 27 years later, I would be taking quarterly psilocybin journeys as a way of healing, rather than destruction.
Why do I take journeys and how do I prepare?
The logistics are simple. Get idea, get medicine, get playlist, set aside time and space. Go all in.
I’ll go through them in reverse because the first one is by far the most intricate.
Go all in (with my personal preferred dosage).
I know what all in means now. My first trip, I didn’t. It was full of uncertainty and trepidation about dosage, expectations, time required, etc. For me, about 4.25 grams of Vibrant Minds A.P.E. mushroom capsules is a good dose and it includes Lion’s Mane mushrooms to settle the stomach. That’s the physical part of going all in. The mental part is simply a mantra of moving toward the experience, no matter where it goes.
Set aside time and space.
I’m lucky because my significant other is as rational as she is beautiful. She is a bit scared of psychedelics herself, but has joined me in learning about them, and has seen the positive progression of my case study. Having her on board makes it much easier to set aside the time and space. It’s usually a Saturday, starting around 9:30 and being up and about around 1:30, still coming back into focus for another couple of hours. The older of our two dogs sometimes joins me because she can’t be bothered to get out of bed.
Get playlist (structure and link to research playlists).
This article explains how the Johns Hopkins psilocybin research playlist is structured. On the surface, it is simple. Beginning — calming music to listen to while you wait that builds as you get closer to the start of the experience. Middle — when you’re in the thick of it, the music is “unfolding and has a dependable structure”. It has enough force and energy to keep you going, but it doesn’t have any surprises. End — bringing you back to earth. This is the only portion where the music may have intelligible words and can include more recognizable music to ease you back into the real world. Music has never been an outsized part of my life, so I won’t suggest songs, but psilocybin trips are definitely increasing my musical appreciation. Someday I may be able to create my own playlists, but until then, I’ll use the playlists the pros use.
If you’re in SF or Oakland, go to Zide Door. Nuff said.
I take quarterly trips because anything more frequent would step on the toes of the integration of my previous trip. For me, it takes about 2 months to fully integrate what I’ve experienced, and the last month is where the next idea takes hold. It is not something I tried to make happen, which is why I trust it as a process far more than a process I forced consciously. It’s just the rhythm of my own processing. The trip itself is a connecting of dots that might not otherwise be connected. The integration is the question “what is life like with these dots connected”. Some of those connections will be discarded. There may be reasons why those dots never got connected in the first place, and the connections will prune naturally. Some of the connections will become new pathways, new ways to process life data and lead to improved behavior. I suppose they could also lead to degraded behavior if poor connections get strengthened during integration. But I haven’t experienced that, and I couldn’t tell you for certain why.
Without going into too much detail about things that mean more to me than to you, but as a concrete example, during my last trip, I became one of billions of bacteria cells in my gut. I went through a continuous cycle of dying, being born as a new cell and passing on just a slightly altered blueprint for how to optimally interact with the host to the next cell through the process. With so many cells, dying and being born, the tiny alterations of those blueprints became very big changes in a short amount of time. Much like the human story in the tree of my first experience, the generations built on each other. The tension between fixed and growth mindset, the pathways to rapid change in multicellular organisms and the importance of what can only be described as alien organisms in that process were all on display. But great, you can learn about growth mindset on any self-help podcast. True, but can you believe it on a cellular level in such a way that it creates an actual change in your behavior? The integration period after a trip is that path. Most people know many things they should do to improve their lives. But we are a tangle of unconscious paths of least resistance, of learned strategies that outlive their usefulness, and they are not so easy to untangle or discard simply because our conscious minds want to. There is an infrastructure built in our brains and bodies to use those paths and those strategies, and the conscious mind is not aware of or adequately equipped to make the necessary changes.
Bolstered by this visceral imagery about the speed and process of change, it’s not surprising that over the next 2 months, things began to change rapidly. I got out of a rut. Began engaging with people in novel ways, moved house, doubled my physical activity, lost weight, etc. The deep set resistance of a fixed mindset began to relax. Things became easier. Better.
Then the next itch began. The itch of boredom. As things that previously took up space in my mind began change and become smaller, there was more space. As I became healthier, I could do more. Previously, I would have attempted to fill that boredom with tasks. With hobbies. I would have used up the metabolic surplus with inane activities that left me more depleted. But this time, I don’t want to find “the thing” that will fill the boredom. I embrace the boredom. As my last trip was a battle between fixed and growth mindset and yielded not one thing or strategy, but the ability to effect change itself, the next trip will be about letting go of finding specific things that give purpose or fill gaping holes of boredom. It will be about developing the ability to produce fulfillment from what is already around me, without the mental baggage that gets in the way — the ability to create fulfillment rather than find it. I am consciously aware of the concept now — that alleviating boredom is not about finding just the right wonderfully fulfilling things, but about injecting fulfillment into the world around me— but I don’t understand it yet, in my cells. I don’t believe it. So, I’ll get my mushrooms and my gut bacteria and together, we’ll look for a way.
That is the most efficient way I can explain the role of psilocybin in fostering learning and change. It helps to rewire what your conscious mind alone cannot.
Lisa Feldman-Barrett uttered a sentence in a recent Huberman Lab podcast episode that has stuck with me. Depression is a metabolic disease. That tracks so perfectly with my experience of depression. It seems to sap energy, sap will. And that statement also engenders a different approach (or an additional approach?) to treatment, how to live with it, and the link between depression and anxiety. Anxiety uses energy, and much of that use is wasted. It stands to reason that if anxiety is stealing energy, it’s only a matter of time before that metabolic deficit is felt as depression. But it also offers hope in that we already know that diet and exercise can enhance our metabolic efficiency. In addition, I know (maybe you do, too) that psilocybin can be used in a way that leads to reduced anxiety. I’m pretty excited about the potential for healing by both increasing energy efficiency while decreasing energy waste. This idea might just make into the next trip, too.