Psychedelics Emerging into the Mainstream

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Over the last 20 years psychedelics – lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), psilocybin mushrooms, 3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine (MDMA), among others – have shifted from underground and counter-culture club drugs to medicines that are increasingly taken seriously by scientists.  A 2006 John Hopkins University study determined that “magic mushrooms” can create lasting “personal meaning and spiritual significance.” A steady stream of research indicates that LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, and MDMA have therapeutic potential in treating a multitude of mental illnesses, such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and addiction.

In the past year, Denver, Colorado, as well as Oakland and Santa Cruz, California, have decriminalized magic mushrooms, peyote, and ayahuasca, with similar efforts brewing in dozens of other municipalities. Social media – including Reddit forums and Joe Rogan’s podcast – openly discuss psychedelics. Netflix’s Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics features Sting, A$AP Rocky, Carrie Fisher, among other celebrities, speaking about their drug trips.   

A community of psychedelic seekers, The SF Psychedelic Club, was recently founded by Dr. Jennifer Price, a therapist, psychedelic coach, and San Francisco director for DecrimC, an initiative to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms in California. Price wants to build a group of open-minded psychedelic enthusiasts, cultivate mindfulness, and eventually meetup for physically distant hikes or events. 

Launched in April, more than 200 people have signed on to the club’s Nextdoor page. Some participants come to learn, others to teach. Information is offered about dosages, mindset, and setting for a “trip.” There’s a schedule for how to micro-dose – taking miniscule amounts of a psychedelic daily or every couple of days – which some believe can minimize anxiety and boost creativity. Newcomers can find can “trip sitters” to guide them.

Participants share their own trippy art, music and movie recommendations. One user, Mesila, created a live-streamed celebration for the 77th anniversary of “Bicycle Day” – on April 19th, 1943, Albert Hoffman, a Swiss scientist, took a bike ride after ingesting the first dose of LSD at his laboratory – that showcased acid history, art, and music. Ricky, who was friends with Timothy Leary in the 1980s, shared that Leary was “the life of any party, gracious, funny, extremely interested in computers and music and the good life.” 

Psychedelic experiences may also open minds during a particularly turbulent global period. Henry, a psychedelic veteran, said that although he hasn’t taken large dose LSD “journeys” during the pandemic, he’s experienced a few with lower amounts. He felt that acid “opened me up to feeling the sorrow of the world.” 

Henry said that he’s an empathic person, especially while tripping, feeling the heaviness of the biosphere’s problems. To stay positive during rough parts of the experience, he reminded himself, “This is a drug. It will pass.” He had kind friends to talk to during the trip’s dark part. Henry believes that those tripping should never fight a bad reflection but instead, “redirect a thought… Fighting it never works. It was kind of terrifying,” he claimed, “but also really cathartic.” The feeling that everything is connected, “stays with you.” 

Henry’s first trip was on mushrooms at Burning Man.  He feels as if he’s changed for the better since. His favorite medicine is LSD because it’s “instructional, though psychedelics “…don’t always have to be about huge cosmic issues, it can be extremely practical,” he laughed, “It can be as simple as learning to put your plates away.”

Gaia has only had a few psilocybin trips. Her most recent one helped her with her obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), which flared up during the pandemic. She said she took too much, five grams, because she mostly had “dud” experiences in the past. The effects were intense but fun, with “colors, time and distance distortions, tingly numbness all over, [and laughed] until I cried.” 

Gaia didn’t have bad thoughts about the current state of the world. Instead, she appreciated the Earth’s sublime beauty. During part of the trip she walked across a lush, green field which felt like the longest journey, but “in reality, I walked probably for about two minutes.” She also caught the beach at sunset when the sand glowed with a pink hue and gracefully rippled and morphed into itself.

The less enjoyable parts of the trip for Gaia was that she couldn’t sleep and felt paranoid towards the end, wondering, “what if I never stop tripping and then have to get carted off to an institution for the rest of my life?” It took a while, but she reassured herself and eventually managed to fall asleep. Post-trip, Gaia noted that her OCD calmed down considerably. She’s considering micro-dosing to manage the issue.

Garrick, an experienced seeker, and his roommates ate Magic Mushroom chocolates to celebrate the end of their college semester. He felt he was ready after his initial pandemic anxiety faded and he finished school. Garrick uses psychedelics as a spiritual tool. His intention was to let go of all the stress from the pandemic and online classes

He didn’t feel any paranoia, explaining that he turned his attention to his friends and tried to be more of an active listener. He stressed, “it should always be done with people that you trust.” When someone feels down while tripping, the group can lead them out of a bad mind state. “It’s also important for you to be able to guide your own thoughts to a good place if you don’t have a trip sitter…to have good coping mechanisms.” 

Garrick likes to enhance his trip by watching psychedelic visuals, movies, and listening to trippy music, “specifically Lenny Kravitz. It’s just the right kind of feeling.” Psychedelics “open up the possibility of new ways of thinking…instead of the same one that you have always been following.” 

Garrick believes there are positives to tripping during the pandemic. He pointed out that time is distorted, which prompts hope for the future and appreciation for the past. “It’s really just a moment.” 

Research suggests that psilocybin mushrooms can create new neural pathways in the brain, which opens the opportunity for positive associations with people, places, and things that were previously negative. This feature is why military veterans with PTSD may be healed, at least in part, with psychedelics.

An analysis by University of Cincinnati graduate student, Andrew Yockey, found that LSD use in the United States jumped by 56 percent since 2016. The rise was especially pronounced among people with college degrees, who saw a 70 percent increase; those aged 26 to 34, 59 percent; 35 to 49, 223 percent; and 50 or older, 45 percent. Young adults, 18 to 25, on the other hand, reduced their consumption by 24 percent.