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21 February 2024

A magic mushroom trip in Amsterdam triggers a revelation

“This isn’t traumatic,” I think smugly, as laughter gives way to visions. Perhaps I have no demons to confront?

By Pravina Rudra

I am lying on a sofa owned by a man I met yesterday in Amsterdam. Twenty minutes ago I drank a tea made from seven grams of magic mushroom truffles. I want to vomit and am shaking uncontrollably. Last night, I didn’t sleep: I’ve heard of people who never recovered after magic mushrooms induced psychosis.

Normally, I don’t even drink: a glass of wine gives me a three-day hangover. But I have a friend who saw life differently after taking ayahuasca, a psychoactive brew, and many people I know take mushrooms recreationally. Psilocybin, the psychedelic compound in magic mushrooms, decreases activity in your “default mode network”, a system in the brain that can lead us down well-worn, often unhelpful patterns of thinking. If you put on a blindfold after taking it, suppressed thoughts spring forth, and hallucinations are projected onto the black before your eyes. “I am uncomfortable with anything ‘woo-woo’,” I’d warned Nigel, whose company, Maguey, conducts one-on-one mushroom ceremonies: these don’t come cheap but, full disclosure, mine is a press freebie. “I won’t make you hug a tree,” he promises.

Suddenly, I am laughing. According to the recording Nigel made, this goes on for 20 minutes. Nothing is particularly funny – except everything. Eventually, the laughter gives way to vivid, kaleidoscope visions in pink and purple; then glittering palaces I once saw in Jaipur; a market in Mexico I had forgotten visiting. This isn’t traumatic, I think smugly; perhaps I have no demons to confront. “Am I allowed to have a nice time peering into all these different scenes?” I ask, pawing the air. “Just enjoy it,” Nigel replies, knowing what’s about to happen.

Sure enough, I soon feel a sense of dread. I moan, my head is aching, and then I’m crying out, writhing and tearing at my hair. I see two candles glowing; the faces of my mum and dad are shadowy sketches on the wax. Then they melt until they are only hot wax pooled at the ground. I believe my parents have died, and I weep. “They love me,” I say. “I don’t have anyone else.”

Next, the endless tunnels of a Star Trek spaceship open before me. I hear static and white noise blaring, and am convinced Nigel has abandoned his chakra and trance playlist and turned on the radio. “I can’t hear myself think,” I say. Maybe this is a metaphor for how I can let people’s opinions drown out my own?

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Later, my nausea worsens. I’m an atheist, but I cower before the Aztec gods I see atop pyramids. At one point Nigel gives me a ceramic bowl to “purge”. I reluctantly dry heave until I feel I’ve “got it out”. After, I tell him I feel full, and realise I feel satisfied having ejected a thought I often struggle with: that I am not enough.

After I have been tripping for six hours, Nigel rouses me. Walking along Amsterdam’s canals back to the studio apartment I’m staying in, I am filled with affection for nature, and put my arms around a mighty tree, the one thing Nigel promised me I wouldn’t have to do.

The next day, I’m surprised to feel less drawn out than I do after a unit of alcohol. But I’m not as radically enlightened as I had hoped. I ruminate over the vision of my parents, and realise that I use our disagreement over certain parts of my upbringing as a reason to keep them at a distance, avoiding the reality that they are by far the people I care about most in the world.

In the weeks after my trip, the revelations multiply. I treasure time spent with my parents rather than simply slotting in phone calls. When I injure my knee, I feel empathy for my leg rather than resenting it. I reflect on my reluctance to purge the thought I wasn’t enough, and realise I’ve been holding on to it out of fear that complacency might follow. I find I can weather that which uprooted me before, such as rejection in dating. There is less of a gap between the person I know I am deep down and the person I am to others.

This is not to say I think everyone should go and pluck some toadstools to find themselves. Taking psychedelics is a gamble, and not everyone responds in the same way. But two months later, I feel a little like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol: I experienced the terror of being visited by the ghosts of my past, present and future – then woke up with a second chance at life.  

[See also: Is Gen Z the most conservative generation in history?]

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This article appears in the 21 Feb 2024 issue of the New Statesman, Fractured Nation

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