Fantastic benefits have been touted in recent clinical studies, but there are reasons why your weekend trip won’t bring you those benefits…and what to do about it.
Doubtless, you’ve heard the mainstream hype around psychedelic and psychedelic-adjacent therapies and microdosing being used to treat anything from smoking to PTSD, alcoholism, depression and obsessive compulsive disorders (surprisingly little difference between all of those). It may also seem like the hype has passed, but I assure you it is only getting started.
I recently had a truly impactful interoceptive psilocybin trip (where stimuli come primarily from inside you, rather than outside you), without a therapist and completely alone. And it worked, just like the literature said it would. The results are still with me and actually building every day as I notice plasticity developing and changing the way I interpret and react to things.
But I am NOT a doctor, and I am not giving you any medical advice. If you have any psychotic disorder, do not use psychedelics without professional consultation. Please. Also, you don’t know who I am, so be curious, but skeptical of everything I say here.
Be curious first
If you’re like me (which you both are because we share nearly identical genes and are not because the small differences can be profound in different environments), then the Michael Pollan documentary How to Change Your Mind on Netflix may have been your first epiphanic brush with the subject. You may have gone on to read his book by the same name. If, like me, you were already turned onto Andrew Huberman’s podcast (he’s adding deep dives into psychedelic therapies as we speak, but has fantastic content on sleep, stress, learning and more), and read Physics in Mind (if you haven’t, you should stop everything you are doing now, and spend a month digesting it), then you may have started incessantly googling topics like the default mode network, posterior cingulate cortex, anterior cingulate cortex, nucleus accumbens, salience network, along with work and writings by Robin Carhart-Harris, Sam Harris, Antonio Damasio, Anil Seth and James Fadiman among others.
And if you’re like me, you may have struggled with ADHD, depression and anxiety for a lifetime, spent more than a decade in therapy and on SSRIs before finally deciding to try ketamine assisted therapy, and found it to be the first thing that had any lasting effect — surprisingly quickly.
If you aren’t like me, hopefully that gives you a good jumping off point, and possibly gives you the added bonus of being less scared that AI will become conscious and destroy us, and more scared that we’ll destroy ourselves with it way before that happens — but that’s a topic for a different post. Do Huberman first. He has a wide range of topics in a very approachable format.
But tbh, you probably aren’t like me which is part of the reason psilocybin won’t work for you unless you find a really good underground therapist or Oregon gets its shit together. Even then, there will be a lot of ineffective quacks to weed through.
As I said, I recently had a truly impactful interoceptive psilocybin trip (where stimuli come primarily from inside you, rather than outside you), without a therapist and completely alone. And it worked, just like the literature said it would. The results are still with me and building every day as I notice plasticity developing and changing the way I interpret and react to things.
Doing it alone goes against the nascent prevailing wisdom in psychedelic therapy circles, but I have a great deal of contradictory hubris to go with my self-consciousness. The reason it did work for me is because I followed the wisdom in some key areas that mattered, while the parts I ignored were less impactful to the experience and its outcomes.
But, I easily could have disregarded all of the rules and had a bad experience or even worse…a neutral experience. Even a bad experience would open up new neuroplastic avenues in the brain, but a nothing burger will do nothing for you except leave you disappointed.
Why it won’t work for you.
While the jury is out on exactly what the effectiveness of microdosing might be (personally, I think it could be an adequate replacement for SSRIs in some cases, but I’m not a doctor or researcher), it certainly will not create the kind of profound, lasting effects of true psilocybin therapy. I know. I tried that first.
You’re taking SSRIs.
SSRIs inhibit the effects of psilocin (the compound that psilocybin creates in your gut when you eat mushrooms) because SSRIs also work on serotonin systems, albeit in a far less targeted way. I tried a trip once before and gobbled a pretty high dose of mushrooms, and very little happened (not nothing, but not enough to get “over the hump”). This time around, I tapered off of SSRIs about 3 weeks before the trip, and it worked like a charm, though still required a high dose.
You don’t have the right music, or you’re trying to play DJ during your trip.
I recommend one of the playlists used by Johns Hopkins in their psilocybin studies. And spring for a Spotify subscription. C’mon, ads during your trip?
You keep your eyes open.
Just use eye shades. A therapeutic psilocybin trip works because you’re focused on the stuff going on inside you, not outside. Music really should be the only external stimulus. If you keep your eyes open, you may have a perfectly enjoyable time, but you won’t get a 6 month+ reprieve from depression, anxiety or any other issue which you may be looking for. It’s OK to open your eyes every now and then during the trip, but definitely, during the really intense part, leave them closed. Once you get to that part, you probably will.
Your mindset isn’t right.
This is a big one, and the hardest one to get right. Here are my recommendations:
- Set intentions courageously. Why are you doing this? What are you hoping to get from it? Intentions won’t play a role in the experience itself as you will do better not focusing on anything with your attention, but they are key for priming your mind for which paths to explore. To create impactful intentions, try to strip away the bullshit most of us distract ourselves with to hide the real, deep fears and issues. You may not really know what lurks under the bullshit, but get yourself to a place where you’re willing to find out.
- Prepare with mindful meditation. Meditation practice for a few weeks prior to your trip can help you step outside the boundaries of the thought patterns that make up your self identity during the trip.
- Have some form of psychotherapeutic outlet to discuss your intentions before the session. I used group therapy to get the real struggles out in the open, in front of me.
- Do a medium dose a week before your full dose. I honestly don’t know if this had any effect, but it is how Dr. Carhart-Harris set up his study here.
- Have some form of psychotherapeutic outlet to discuss integrating your experience into your life. Letting other people into your experience makes it more real and lasting.
- Start a journal. You won’t remember every part of the trip and you don’t need to. But to record intentions, and as the ideas begin to morph and group during the days and weeks after your experience, it helps to jot down the main points and the wonders you experience during integration.
Your setting isn’t right.
Your phone is ringing, the doorbell is ringing, Slack is chirping at you. In general, you should be wearing an eyeshade, so the actual setting is more about removing distractions than lighting fancy candles or hanging the right art on the wall. A comfortable bed or couch, easy access to a bathroom (you will probably have to pee at some point) and a quiet space without distractions are the key factors to get right. If you want other items to make it feel like a ritual or something like a golden goblet with your mushrooms or capsules, go for it, but it’s absolutely not necessary. I personally think trying to inject too much mysticism into the experience robs us of appreciating how our incredible brains actually work.
You don’t participate in the integration.
This is not a passive process to treat symptoms like most Big Pharma products — take pill, feel better, take pill tomorrow, endlessly lucrative. As I touched on before, the experience itself is only the beginning of the healing process. Allow yourself to wonder at the changes in your thinking after the fact, and allow yourself to be curious about what they mean to you. The most profound changes I’ve noticed in the weeks following happen when I am faced with some stimulus that previously would have elicited only one path of action or pattern of thought, and all of a sudden I have multiple options for response. The old option will be there along with a variety of other options, and I’m now free to choose which of those responses I want to proceed with rather than being driven by past patterns. And it doesn’t feel hard to make a different choice. This, to me, is the single most powerful result, and the root of psychedelic therapy effectiveness, I suspect. So be watchful for those moments because you can easily opt for old patterns simply because you aren’t paying attention, and reduce your opportunity for lasting benefits.
Always go forward. Weird things will happen on your trip, but move toward them. You may feel like you’re going to die (or kill, but that’s a story for another time), but you won’t. Nothing bad will happen to you in there. It’s literally all in your head, and there are no long term side effects from psilocybin (I have to caveat this with “that we know of”). Do not shy away from any experience. If you’re going to die, then do it, and see what happens. It’s not real, but it can unlock things later on. In fact, ego dissolution in a trip is one of the highest indicators of therapeutic success with psilocybin.
You think of it like a drug.
If you treat it like cannabis or anything else you may have used recreationally, you absolutely 100% won’t get the benefits. You may have a nice time, but you won’t be doing any healing or really unlocking anything. Similarly, for government or law enforcement to consider psilocybin akin to fentanyl, cocaine or methamphetamine is beyond ridiculous.
Don’t do it without a therapist.
I know…hypocrite. If you do want to attempt it without a therapist, spend months diving into the literature with healthy skepticism. Blogs are not literature. This post is not literature. It’s only intended to direct you toward learning, not exist instead of learning.
I did a few guided therapeutic sessions of ketamine a few months ago. I’ve been studying pretty hardcore on psychedelic literature and neuroscience in general. These contributed to the effectiveness of my trip. Psilocybin helps your mind heal itself, but your mind and body actually do the work. So if you’re not ready (and you’re not), don’t do it. Don’t do it alone. Don’t do what I did. In fact, forget about it. But, in the event that you can’t forget about it, I hope this post gets you started down the right path.
What I’ve discussed here is illegal in most places. If you’re not in a region where it has been legalized in some way or decriminalized like where I live, don’t worry. Psychedelics and psychedelic-adjacent medicines are in various states of trials with the FDA for therapeutic legalization over the next few years.
Be curious. Be skeptical.