Psilocybin can cure depression.
In 1965 my father flew helicopter medivac missions in Viet Nam while the rest of the family battened down in Ft. Rucker, Alabama. Five army brats out swam venomous water moccasins, lost sneakers in the red clay and learned to say, ya’ll. But we were foreigners. When mom asked our black maid, Annie, to lunch, the woman stared back at her, open-mouthed.
The Army would demand two tours of our Dad, and though he made it home our family was never the same. In the base library, I discovered a book called, The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet. I was eight—it took me away.
Last night I made coq du vin to celebrate mushrooms. I am 62 and have realized, once again, that I can be quite mistaken about something. Mushrooms, for instance. Not the the civilians, but ones that contain a compound called Psilocybin. I had believed “shrooms” were a sort of feral party drug, but Psilocybin is showing itself to be an effective answer to depression.
My wife was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and went down hard over the span of twelve months. One morning, her loyal standard poodle went to her bedside and coughed up blood.
I heard the big dog whisper, “You’re not going anywhere without me.”
On the floor of the animal hospital, our dog watched me with the same trusting eyes she’d locked-on when I’d picked her out from a squirm of puppies. I sat on the floor with her. The nurse turned the IV on her paw.
I said, “She’s right behind you, pal.”
My hip blew out like the fifty-seven old wheel it was, and I went in for a new one. I arrived home to my dear wife—who passed three days later. Our daughters were in their mid-teens. Half a year went by and my best friend, a prince of a man, died of a brain tumor he’d battled for ten years. My other hip blew out.
The anesthesia for the operation sent me into a full blown nervous breakdown. Reality warped—sharp tacks raining down from the shower head and wood floors threatening to scorch my feet if I dared leave my room. Driving home from church, a Glock-26 I hadn’t looked at in years, began to float like a hologram between my ears. This was, to say the least, a new experience.
I went to a restaurant and called my nearest brother, “I’m not okay,” I said, “I am seriously not okay.” I told him about the undulating pistol and asked him to retrieve it from my home, which he did. I didn’t want to end my life, but if an archived gun could set up shop inside my head—what else could happen?
I developed “catastrophic-thinking,” a not-uncommon phenomena that can occur during this sort of episode. I would run out of money. I’d be on the street. I’d lose my kids. The event lasted six months. I lost forty pounds.
I grew up hearing war stories and have sometimes re-watched Saving Private Ryan to remind myself what others have endured.
The young man is working a John Deere Model “H” in searing Nebraska heat. And then he’s twenty, it’s 59-degrees and Normandy Beach is full in his sights. The landing-craft door drops, the air reeking of salt. He charges, disregarding the machine guns, the blood. The Nebraska kid makes it, but treks through inconceivable misery. Later, back home, he passes slices of his pain to his wife and kids.
It courses down through generations.
But as Arlo Guthrie once said, that’s not what I’m here to tell you about.
I’ve come to tell you about mushrooms. Those magic mushrooms. And sure, go there a moment—the sixties and rainbow-painted school buses. But the fungi was a rare, serious character in a season of clowns.
I could not beat that post-operative depression, so I paid close attention to remedies that went beyond pills. They began to pop through the soil when my brother in law gave me Michael Pollan’s book, How To Change Your Mind. Why did he give me this book? What does any of this have to do with me?
I knew Pollan as a sort of Gonzo food writer but this work was about psychedelic medicine. I read it, pursued the subject wherever I could, and arrived at the belief that I was an ideal candidate for Psilocybin..
I was interviewed by a top-drawer psychiatrist who is conducting a clinical trial. I fit the parameters, but couldn’t get into his study due to high blood pressure. He had no idea I’d try this on my own.
* I have planned my own, personal, Psilocybin trip.
* I am doing this for my girls and me.
* I am apprehensive of the hallucinations.
* I bombed out of the clinical trial, so for me this is folk medicine.
* There is a pragmatic protocol. Set. Setting. Substance. Sitter.
* Music is important. It’s part of “setting.”
* I don’t have a “sitter.” Crap.
I intended to use a Spotify music list: Psilocybin Research: Johns Hopkins, Sacred Knowledge, but I wound up making my own. (I considered this to be a daring move.)
5:30 AM. I secured earphones, music tracks (Brahms and Paul Horn, Enya, Earl Klugh and Phil Keaggy—others who’ve gained my trust).
I put on sweat pants and running shoes, just in case I had a bad trip and needed to get out of there fast.
My daughter was sleeping down the hall. If things went well, I’d be on Alpha Centauri before she woke for school.
Thanks to preceding travelers, my attitude was laden with placebo. I could swallow my key fob and something good was going to happen. Still, I crawled into bed with some trepidation.
A Trip and a Half
The previous night, at the weigh-in, I’d sat at my desk and watched 3.35 grahams of Psilocybe Cubensis step boldly onto the scale. Self-contained, confident—they stood tall and ignored the reporters. I pulled out the kitchen knife and the shrooms didn’t wince. Intrepid voyagers, they knew they’d be back, in some form, doing their magic.
I cut them up in little pieces.
I hadn’t taken any pills for five days. I hadn’t eaten.
I stood at a mirror and a cold draft brushed my face. Come on, dude, nobody’s asking you dive bomb a Japanese destroyer, raise six kids in the ghetto, survive a loved one’s suicide.
I went back upstairs and stuffed the fungi in my mouth.
I crawled into bed, prayed. I put on the earphones, a little nervous about Phill Keaggy. I hadn’t thought of the guy or listened to this album since 1988. I’d been writing and producing music in Los Angeles and we’d stolen a few licks from this record…Sorry Phill!
But something told me I needed these particular songs; esoteric, spiritual pieces written and performed by this monster guitarist. Like me, Keaggy’s a Christian. I paired that wine with the psilocybin and used my tongue to locate lost shroom pieces in my mouth.
I stepped off the ledge.
First up was Vivaldi’s Concerto for Two Mandolins.
Forty-minutes of eyes closed. Thinking, listening, praying.
Then came a distortion.
When the “high” descended, I felt as though the music brought the visions. As reality morphed, I was overwhelmed by the fact that Keaggy’s Master & The Musician LP had been waiting years for me to arrive at this event. But when I asked, “What took me so long?” That question was swallowed by a tidal wave of electric guitar, the ocean crashing over me, holding me under. I was tumbling and a molecule said, “So kid? You wanted to surf—me?
I understand now, what psychedelic travelers (psychonauts) have related about “losing your ego.” Although it was my trip, nothing in it caused me to question my life. No one along the way was interested in engaging in a conversation about me. This was the antithesis of the shrink’s sofa.
As the trip increased in intensity, the word “fabulous,” burst into my head. I have reflected much on the Adam and Eve story, this ill-fated couple causing the human race to be buried in sin, disease, death and destruction.
The snake told the two rookies they were fabulous.
As “fabulous” began to dominate the dreamscape I mentioned to no one in particular, that, “I never thought I was fabulous!”
Instantly I was face to face with God, who let me know that this was a falsehood. I had, indeed, believed I was fabulous—no more than any other human, it’s a condition that manifests in us all. We assume our existence is all about us.
From this self-centered conviction, we develop the mental aliments; depression, anxiety, PTSD…The mushrooms show us that we’re a part of the whole, not the center. The pressure of “being” is lessened.
And pressure is what hurts us.
Where I went. Who I met. What I saw
I went to the middle earth.
I met, funky, red-earth-tiny-dudes, squarish in form, with sparklers for noses and starburst eyes. They had no agenda, didn’t speak, but just looked back at me, jovial and non-judgmental. The elfin repose is like that of a human who is coming down from a hilarious joke, shoulders slightly trembling and face glowing. I think they liked the Phill Keaggy music.
I wondered how there could be such goings-on under the earth and the answer came. When God creates so much as a teaspoon of dirt, that dirt will convulse with entire worlds. There will be creatures, music, love, healing. Infinity.
The colors were a rich dark red and a sort of gray-black. The landscape looked like a three-dimensional middle-earth map from Lord of the Rings.
I’d been fearful of the promised hallucinations, anticipating jagged pieces of sky and mountains dissolving into glass—but it was just me and the dudes.
Two hours later, I opened my eyes to the normalcy of my room, aware, though, that I could return again into the rich red earth where the levels are set off like tree rings in a cross-section of giant redwood.
Where a delightful chaos reigns.
I closed my eyes.
Descending once more, I came upon an elfin friend whose shimmering eyes had become two quiet candle flames. When I tried to chat him up, he waved me off in a friendly manner, his bearing still welcoming, conscious, knowing.
It wasn’t about talking.
It wasn’t about me.
This was a deep-forest kind of grace. Tribal and mysterious, it was an offering I received with humility.
And in that, I was healed.
Disclaimer – Please keep in mind that Psilocybin is a Schedule 1 drug which means it is illegal in most of the US.