Psychedelic Truffles: Are You Experienced? The weekend ended exactly the way it should: slicing tomatoes, cooking spinach and spreading hummus on bread. Making sandwiches for others.

And greetings from an armchair overlooking the ink black sea, where I’m listening (as I almost always do) to Le Pas du Chat Noir, an album of delicately thoughtful music written and performed by Tunisian ‘oud player Anouar Brahem, accompanied by piano and accordion.

According to my music player of choice, I’ve spent over 200 hours listening to this album since 2017, almost always while writing. Shout out to T (👋) for first sharing Le Pas du Chat Noir with me, way way back in 2007.

Isn’t music amazing, how it stays with us?

This post is a little different: a reprint (and minor update) of a story I wrote in 2016 about a guided psychedelic experience I took in Amsterdam that year.

I want to share this with you — for most of you I’m sure for the first time — because, like the music, this psychedelic experience has stayed with me through life. Earlier today, in fact, I brought one of my 2016 hallucinations as a starting point for a particularly insightful and moving session with my therapist.

I hope you enjoy the story. I’d love to hear from you: your experiences, your insights. It’s powerful stuff, this.

Are You Experienced?

Imagine the scene. You’re on holiday with a big group of people you don’t know too well. The twelve of you hired a huge house in the countryside, sharing rooms to split the cost. You’ve been sunbathing on cushions in the garden, enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of summer, drifting away in a meditation on beauty.

At some point, somebody brought you a glass of water and a hummus, avocado, spinach and tomato sandwich on continental dark bread. You weren’t too hungry at the time, so only ate half the sandwich, leaving the remainder on the plate to dry in the hot sun. You drained the glass of water, grateful because you’d left your water bottle upstairs.

An hour or so later, you decide to return to the attic bedroom you share, for a lie down in the shade. As you poke your head through the attic trapdoor, you see the following, in series: a collection of cushions arranged around the sun-trap window overlooking the garden you’ve just left; a plate bearing a half finished hummus, avocado, spinach and tomato sandwich on continental dark bread; and a half full bottle of water – your bottle of water.

You can’t help but be overtaken by the odd sensation that you’ve just entered a scene you only recently vacated: the same meditative garden view, the same sandwich, and your bottle of water.

Life is full of leaping gaps. In this case, the leap is across the gap between the evidence before your eyes and the indisputable knowledge that you did not in fact recently vacate this room. So you make a leap and reconstruct the most likely story.

The cushions were most probably arranged there by your room-mate who, just like you, wanted to look out over the beautiful summer garden. Just like you, he became thirsty in the hot sun and, not wanting to leave his meditative perch, cast around for water. Then he saw your water bottle. You imagine him in that moment, twisted in his sitting position, caught in a deliberation: would you mind his drinking from your bottle? No, he decides: you’d understand.

You’re surprised, as you stand there in the trapdoor taking in the scene, that you’re grateful to your room-mate. You’re grateful that your water bottle could be there for him in his moment of thirst and that you could share with him the fundamental gift of water. But most of all you’re grateful that, despite only meeting the evening before, he showed faith in your generosity of spirit.

You walk up the last remaining steps and lie down on the bed, still looking at the scene: the arrangement of cushions, the sandwich and the water. A peace descends and you find yourself switching easily between the two perspectives on the scene. There’s yourself, unwittingly generous giver of water, and your room-mate, grateful receiver of water. Then it strikes you that both of you have been generous, for there is no gift without gracious acceptance. That’s why we ‘give’ thanks, you think to yourself: gratitude is itself a gift.

But you realise that there is a third perspective. Just as they had with you in the garden, someone, presumably the same someone, had thoughtfully prepared and delivered to your meditative room-mate an identical hummus, avocado, spinach and tomato sandwich on continental dark bread.

As your heart begins to beat in a revelation of loving connectedness, you feel an urge to complete this circle of gratitude. Your clamorous stomach awakes and you get to your feet, walk to the cushions and fall upon the half-finished sandwich in glorious appreciation. The gift is completely consumed and the third perspective, the selfless sandwich maker, acknowledged in full.

The closing image of this scene is of you gratefully polishing off someone else’s sandwich. It’s an act infused with symbolism and indicates that, perhaps for the first time in your life, you fully comprehend exactly how much love goes into leaping the gaps that separate us as independent human beings. Next time, you promise the universe, you will be the one making the sandwich.


For me, the preceding scene sums up the enduring psychedelic experience, far more than tessellating visions of geometry, wise faces in wind-blown trees and melting roundabout rides. The psychedelic experience was one of connectedness, a dissolution of the narrative voice that we hear in our heads that seeks to separate our shared encounters with this world, to divide the I from the Us, the Mine from the Ours.


Psychedelics are illegal in the UK, and throughout most of the world.1 Psychedelic mushrooms are Class A drugs, a classification reserved for pharmaceuticals deemed to be of no known medical or therapeutic value and bearing a high risk of abuse. The crime of possession carries a maximum sentence of seven years in prison. The 2016 Psychoactive Substances Act extends that threat to cover the possession of anything that ‘affects the person’s mental functioning or emotional state’. In its current form, the Act could be used to outlaw incense, perfume and flowers. Alcohol, caffeine and tobacco are exempted, while our prisons prepare for a vast influx of florists.

What we need are not more fear-provoked and fear-provoking legal bans, but mature, informed encounters with drugs, therapies and medicines that have such potential to create profound, mystical-type experiences of the world. Encounters such as the one extended to me by The Psychedelic Society: one timeless weekend in a rented house in Amsterdam.


We stood in a circle in the garden, sun shining on our faces, feet bare in the grass. Nine of us were there for the ‘experience’ and for most it was to be our first psychedelic trip. Guiding us through the encounter were three experienced sitters from The Psychedelic Society. Their job was to stay sober and use their wisdom and love to support us through whatever might arise: hunger, thirst, trauma and ecstasy.

In turn around the circle, each of us shared our emotions, fears and intentions for the trip. Some expressed nervous anxiety, others were thrilling with anticipation. I felt ready to accept whatever was to come with an open mind. Not too open, though. I was keen to explore the sensations of ego-dissolution that I had read about, but I was not prepared to go deep into trauma therapy and I wanted to trip alone, feeling my own way through the experience.

Besides the dose, there are two important factors in determining your variety of psychedelic trip: set and setting. Set is what we shared in that circle: our internal psychological environment prior to the trip. Setting is the external physical environment you will be tripping in.

The house where we stayed felt like a four-storey mansion squeezed into a cosy bungalow, sitting in pleasant grounds by the side of a canal in a commuter satellite of Amsterdam. It had been chosen for its comfort and the double-height downstairs living area was scattered with sofas, armchairs, pillows and cushions. Off to one side was a Japanese style dining chamber, to the other a jacuzzi. The hosts were clearly used to having tourists coming here to take advantage of the psychedelic loopholes for which Amsterdam is famous.

A sound system bathed the whole space with music designed for an Imperial College medical trial exploring the therapeutic uses of psychedelics for people with depression.

After a sage blessing, we enter the house in thoughtful silence and, one by one, brew a lemon, ginger and honey tea. When the water has cooled, we add 22g of strong Psilocybe Hollandia truffles. This will contain enough psilocybin to trip, but the exact quantity isn’t verifiable. The Dutch legal loophole that permits the sale of truffles doesn’t extend to extracting the psychoactive psilocybin compound, so we can’t dose precisely. Some of the more experienced, or adventurous, members of the group also take a capsule of Syrian Rue, an enzyme inhibitor that prevents the breakdown of tryptamines, including the psilocin that makes us trip, thereby deepening and extending the experience.

I drain the first infusion. Some people experience stomach cramps: that’s why we make the tea with ginger. I feel the first tinglings of a high, but it’s no more than a strong cup of coffee.2 I prepare a second infusion. I try to suppress my laughter, like I’m in a library, watching a bunch of strangers trying to keep it together, while everything dissolves around us. As my vision begins to fragment and my fingers lose their precision, I dig the truffle fragments from the bottom of my glass and chew them down. Then I lie back.

The first indication that anything might be amiss is when I see how the wind in the trees becomes a woodsman with a moustache talking to me through the window. I can’t hear his words, and it’s no more remarkable than an optical illusion or imagining the man in the moon. I’m still able to switch between reality and dream. It feels as though my blood is flowing engorged through my veins, somehow closer to the skin surface that usual. My heart seems to centre itself in my throat while a dull ache ties itself into my stomach. At precisely the right moment, I stand up and make my way into the garden, just about holding it together. I lie down in the grass, put on my eye mask and immediately disintegrate.


My upbringing was most definitely drug-negative. I went to a school where ‘drugs’ were for drop-outs, all illegal pharmaceuticals trawled and dumped in the same drag-net of mystery and fear. I never knew for sure whether my friends and family had taken psychedelics, and I had certainly never been in a situation where I could have taken any — and I’m fairly certain I would have refused if I had been offered.

Fear began to mutate into curiosity when, in my thirties, I first met people who were both well-adjusted and regular psychedelic users. Indeed, these people weren’t just well-adjusted, they were in many ways better-adjusted than I. Through them, I learnt that behind the fearful media image of psychedelics there was both science and history, which could, if we allowed, contribute to a much more mature and complete awareness of psychoactive compounds. Psychedelics have been used as both medicine and spiritual guide by humans for thousands of years and to dismiss such compounds as of ‘no known medical or therapeutic value and bearing a high risk of abuse’ seems to me at best an act of gross arrogance, at worst gross negligence.

After the hysteria of the 1971 global shut-down on scientific psychedelic experimentation, the doors are once again creeping open. Recent academic studies have found that responsible psychedelic treatment can help war veterans recover from post-traumatic stress disorder, patients with advanced cancer diagnoses face death, and addicts overcome their drug, tobacco and alcohol dependencies in cases where years of conventional treatment have failed.3

For those of us mercifully free of serious addiction or severe trauma, Roland Griffiths at Johns Hopkins University led a 2008 study into the power of psychedelics to occasion mystical-type experiences. More than half of the 36 people involved in the study, none of whom had ever taken psychedelics before, found that just one session with psilocybin was enough to rank inside their top five most personally meaningful experiences of their entire lives. This remained true fourteen months after the psychedelic was taken. Almost two-thirds concluded that this one psilocybin session had increased their sense of well-being moderately or very much, again with the results undimmed over a year later.

If this is news to you, then imagine my astonishment when I learnt that as long ago as 1991, psychologist Rick Doblin found that seven theological seminary students reported similar results — deeply felt positive mood and persisting positive changes in attitude and behaviour — twenty-five years after their only encounter with psilocybin.


In 2008 I was diagnosed with an under active thyroid and my doctor told me that I’d have to take synthetic hormones every day for the rest of my life. Over the first few months of taking these drugs, what I’d call my personality changed dramatically. I went from being comatose calm, cold even beside the radiator, sleepy-headed and slothful, to being energetic, carefree and ready to devour the life that had gone missing with my dying thyroid.

As the absurdity of our gaoled florists shows, all substances have psychoactive effects: everyone buzzes after strawberries and cream, and crashes with the sugar come-down. The only question is whether the balance of psychoactive effects make the drug valuable to the user. Thyroxine, for me, unequivocally answers the question in the positive; but if you, dear reader, took my dose, you’d probably shit yourself (and lose your hair and your sex drive, have trouble sleeping and climbing stairs, besides the heart palpitations and arrhythmias, nausea and vomiting).

In 2015, I became a vegetarian. My energy levels dropped through the floor: I just couldn’t eat enough. On day five I felt on the verge of dizzy collapse and had to roam the streets at night begging for vitamin pills. I gradually recovered, but over the following six months I lost four kilograms in weight. This caused a knock-on effect to my medication, flipping my thyroid into over activity. This imbalance led to anxiety, irritability, sensitivity to heat, fatigue and insomnia.

Whether we are aware or not, our biological and psychological well-being is in lock-step with all the stuff we ingest: food, drug, drink. The unnatural dichotomy between legal and illegal drugs is a distinction that I see as increasingly arbitrary and untenable. In my opinion, it would be shocking negligence indeed to dismiss the exploration of entheogens that human beings have used for millennia to explore the buried riches of our psyche and the furthest dimensions of the universe.


Don’t Panic. There is no established scientific link between taking psychedelic drugs and either physical or psychological health problems. Psychedelics are extremely low in toxicity: it is far easier to overdose on paracetamol, which is deadly in quantities you can pick up in any supermarket. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, there has never been a recorded overdose of psychedelics and, in a comprehensive review of the literature in 1984, psychiatrist Rick Strassman found that “well controlled studies of neuropsychological function have generally failed to discern significant differences between groups of LSD users and controls”.

Two 2015 surveys with a combined population of over 300,000 people found that users of psychedelics were no more likely to suffer from mental health problems than anyone else. Quite the opposite, in fact: one of the surveys, of 190,000 people, found that “[l]ifetime classic psychedelic use was associated with a significantly reduced odds of past month psychological distress”, suicidal thinking and planning, and suicide attempt. One team of researchers conclude that “it is difficult to see how prohibition of psychedelics can be justified as a public health measure.” In other words: if you are a healthy adult, you have nothing to fear from responsible psychedelic drug use.4


It would be easy to screw up. We are entering a delicate phase in our cultural appreciation of psychedelics. As the scientific community is finally permitted to resume sober examination of the potentially remarkable therapeutic and personal development uses of psychedelic drugs, there is a responsibility on all of us to educate ourselves and re-awaken a mature awareness of this precious treasure from our more enlightened past. We must remember that it was only in 2008 that the Netherlands made magic mushrooms illegal. The psychedelic truffles we ingested are only legally available in so-called Smart Shops (€25 per trip) because they were (probably by accident) left off the schedule of banned substances. Politicians very rarely lead; they react.

During this delicate phase, the work of organisations like The Psychedelic Society is vital to connect the strengths of the scientific academy with individual experiential knowledge and us. Only when we have taken personal responsibility and shown our courage, knowledge and maturity will politicians be able to find the courage, knowledge and maturity to change the laws we live by. The signs are promising, but — as the enduring 1971 global ban shows — it would be easy to screw up.


One of the beauties of the psychedelic experience is that you are entirely lucid throughout: everything you see, feel and do, you can remember and bring back to earth afterwards. That’s what makes psychedelics so useful for therapists treating anxiety, post-traumatic stress, addiction or depression: the patient can face their pathologies in a very physical and experiential way. There is no sense that my visions are unreal or that my thoughts and imaginings are fantasies: I can reach out and touch them and return home with them if I choose.

The first hour or so of my trip is spent rolling around on the grass, watching the light play with kaleidoscopic colours and geometry. I laugh at the absurdity of my internal narrative voice and watch as ‘I’ play whack-a-mole with the different voices of ‘myself’, squashing each one, only for another to arise. ‘Outside of this eternity,’ I write, ‘there is a me to wake up to. And who do I want that to be?’ There’s a lot of underlining in my notebook, as the words land with weight on the page.

At some point, one of the facilitators brings me out a sandwich. ‘Are you hungry?’ the voice says. ‘I’ve made you a sandwich. I’ll leave it here for when you’re ready to eat.’ I thank him distantly. Time and space has lost its meaning. Audio turns to visuals. The sound of a rustling in the shrubbery behind me turns into a family of rabbits, or a squirrel who snuggles to me for warmth. The harder I close my eyes, the more the universe turns purple. Later (whatever that means), I notice the sandwich beside me and eat half, leaving the remainder on the plate to dry in the hot sun. I gulp down the water someone has left for me.

Gripping my notebook like a life-buoy as the world swirls around me, I try writing down some of the realisations that arrive as I overhear other people talking. ‘Everyone’s on their own trip, but we’re all together,’ I note. ‘It’s frustrating because we’re not all as connected as we are.’ Then: ‘We share a memory.’ And: ‘Understanding each other is hard. So just listen.’ It feels like the veil of what we call reality has fallen away: I see that we are a unified, mysterious us — an us that includes each soul in its human body, but also each thread of consciousness in the plants and the planets — and we are all, in every moment, co-creating the universe.


After this peak experience of visionary revelation is over, I manage to stand up. I make my way slowly up the stairs to the attic room I share. As I poke my head through the trapdoor, I see the following, in series: a collection of cushions arranged around the sun-trap window overlooking the garden I’ve just left; a plate bearing a half finished hummus, avocado, spinach and tomato sandwich on continental dark bread; and a half full bottle of water — my bottle of water. I can’t help but be overtaken by the odd sensation that I’ve just entered a scene I only recently vacated: the same meditative garden view, the same sandwich, and my bottle of water. Finally, I understand the depth of gratitude we feel towards each other for sharing the bounty of consciousness with all of us.

The weekend ended exactly the way it should: slicing tomatoes, cooking spinach and spreading hummus on bread. Making sandwiches for others.



While still a true statement, it’s worth nothing that, since I wrote this story back in 2016, psychedelics have been legalised, decriminalised or made low priority for criminal conviction in numerous countries around the world, with the USA, Portugal, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK joining the traditional heartlands of psychedelic use in Central and South America and Africa — and, of course, good ol’ Amsterdam.


I don’t drink coffee, so maybe imagine how it felt when you drank your first ever strong cup of coffee. Or a cup of really really strong tea.


The following are a selection of studies available at the time I wrote this story in 2016. Much much further research has been done since then, including systematic reviews and meta analyses that find in favour of guided psychedelic use as a safe breakthrough therapy for a variety of psychiatric disorders.

Oehen, Peter, Rafael Traber, Verena Widmer, and Ulrich Schnyder. “A randomized, controlled pilot study of MDMA (±3, 4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine)-assisted psychotherapy for treatment of resistant, chronic Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).” Journal of Psychopharmacology 27, no. 1 (2013): 40-52.

Gasser, Peter, Katharina Kirchner, and Torsten Passie. “LSD-assisted psychotherapy for anxiety associated with a life-threatening disease: A qualitative study of acute and sustained subjective effects.” Journal of Psychopharmacology (2014): 0269881114555249.

Bogenschutz, Michael P., Alyssa A. Forcehimes, Jessica A. Pommy, Claire E. Wilcox, P. C. R. Barbosa, and Rick J. Strassman. “Psilocybin-assisted treatment for alcohol dependence: A proof-of-concept study.” Journal of Psychopharmacology 29, no. 3 (2015): 289-299.

Johnson, Matthew W., Albert Garcia-Romeu, Mary P. Cosimano, and Roland R. Griffiths. “Pilot study of the 5-HT2AR agonist psilocybin in the treatment of tobacco addiction.” Journal of Psychopharmacology (2014): 0269881114548296.


Strassman, Rick J (1984) Adverse Reactions to Psychedelic Drugs: A Review of the Literature The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease Vol. 172, No. 10 October 1984 Serial No. 1223 p591

Hendricks, P. S., Thorne, C. B., Clark, C. B., Coombs, D. W. & Johnson, M. W. Classic psychedelic use is associated with reduced psychological distress and suicidality in the United States adult population Journal of Psychopharmacology March 2015 vol. 29 no. 3 280-288

Johansen, P-Ø. & Krebs, T. S. Psychedelics not linked to mental health problems or suicidal behavior: A population study Journal of Psychopharmacology March 2015 vol. 29 no. 3 270-279 (2015)

See also: Krebs TS, Johansen P-Ø (2013) Psychedelics and Mental Health: A Population Study. PLoS ONE 8(8): e63972. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0063972

These studies used data from the US National Survey on Drug Use and Health. 130,152 respondents, of whom 21,967 (13.4% weighted) reported lifetime psychedelic use. “[I]n several cases psychedelic use was associated with lower rate of mental health problems”.

Britain: Dope Capital of the World

Possession of cannabis for personal use is illegal in the United Kingdom—OBVIOUSLY. Our doctors can’t even prescribe it for proven medical use—OBVIOUSLY.

So it’s perhaps surprising to learn that the UK is the world’s biggest producer and exporter of legal cannabis. Say whaat!

Oh yes: we’re not messing around. We are the big boys.

According to the 2020 International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) technical report, the UK produces no less than three quarters of the world’s legal cannabis—289.5 tonnes in 2018, the last year for which we have data. Dopey old Netherlands, by contrast, produced a measly 10.2 tonnes.

We are Steppenwolf’s poetic vision:

You know the dealer, the dealer is a man
With the love grass in his hand

That’s us. We’re dealing a whopping 75 percent of the love grass.

If you’re wondering why Britain grows so much cannabis when we have one of the most restrictive legal structures on its use in the world, then all I can tell you is that, apparently, cannabis seed makes good bird feed.

In 2018, the UK also produced 2.3kg of psilocin—the active compound found in magic mushrooms. The INCB called this ‘the largest quantity of the substance ever manufactured in a given year’.

Needless to say, psilocin—along with all the other psychedelic compounds, including ones that grow in our fields around this time of year—is stupidly illegal. Picking and sharing the wrong kind of mushrooms with your friends is the most illegal thing you can do in this country, short of murder.

If you’re starting to get annoyed that our government is saying one thing to its citizens and then doing the complete opposite behind our backs, well, hold up, soldier. Maybe that’s a good thing.

There are some things that for some reason (I’m looking at you, Daily Mail readers) are ‘politically impossible’ for our governments to achieve. The decriminalisation of cannabis is one such.

The most popular illegal drug in the country was briefly downgraded in illegality from Class B to Class C under a Labour government in 2004—a decision that was labelled a ‘mistake’ and reversed by the same politicians in 2009. This despite the fact that the science and hospital admissions show that, as a compound, cannabis is much less dangerous than alcohol.

So it’s kind of nice to know that, behind the headlines, politicians are secretly doing the ‘politically impossible’ anyway. It’s just a shame that, for a taste of Great British dope, we have to go abroad.

P.S. This week Future Crunch pulled this story out of The New York Times, which illustrates a parallel point. Governments, no matter what they say or feel it is politically expedient to say, are as much in thrall to the tide of history as anyone:

During the first term of the most coal-friendly president in American history, 145 coal-burning units at 75 power plants have been shut down, eliminating 15% percent of the country’s coal-generated capacity. This is the fastest decline in coal capacity in any single presidential term, far greater than the rate during either of President Barack Obama’s terms. #MAGA

Happy Bicycle Day!

Today might be Good Friday, but it’s also Bicycle Day – the celebration of the first deliberate acid trip.

On 19 April 1943, intrigued by ‘a peculiar presentiment’ and ‘excercising extreme caution’, chemist Albert Hofmann ingested 0.25 mg of lysergic acid diethylamide tartrate – ‘the smallest quantity that could be expected to produce some effect’. Or so he thought.

Hofmann recorded the details of his experiment in that day’s lab journal:

16:20: 0.5 cc of 1/2 promil aqueous solution of diethylamide tartrate orally = 0.25 mg tartrate. Taken diluted with about 10 cc water. Tasteless.
17:00: Beginning dizziness, feeling of anxiety, visual distortions, symptoms of paralysis, desire to laugh. Supplement of 4/21: Home by bicycle.

What followed was a remarkable descent into horror and beauty, confronting demons and angels, and finally an experience of death and rebirth. 0.25mg of LSD, it turned out, was a pretty big dose.

The next day, Hofmann writes:

A sensation of well-being and renewed life flowed through me. Breakfast tasted delicious and gave me extraordinary pleasure. When I later walked out into the garden, in which the sun shone now after a spring rain, everything glistened and sparkled in a fresh light. The world was as if newly created.

For more about the discovery of this remarkable compound, read Hofmann’s autobiography, LSD – My Problem Child, available online, for free. The story of his first self-experiment begins on page 11.

Happy Bicycle Day!

This is not the only Universe

In 17th century Europe, ‘a black swan’ was a by-word for an impossibility. But it took only a single observation of such swans in Australia to undo the presumption forever.

Today, Black Swan theory uses the metaphor to describe any argument or system of thought that can be undone at a single stroke

A psychedelic experience has the potential to be a Black Swan event for the individual.

Brain scans of individuals high on the drug revealed that the chemical allows parts of the cortex to become flooded with signals that are normally filtered out to prevent information overload.

Study shows how LSD interferes with brain’s signalling (The Guardian)

By ‘switching off’ the filtering mechanism of the thalamus, psychedelic compounds can, at a single stroke, help us overturn entire systems of thought that we once presumed not only true for us, but ‘real’ and inviolable.

This might explain the seemingly paradoxical subjective effects often reported in psychedelic-induced altered states of consciousness that are characterized by increased arousal as well as a dreamlike experience, impaired cognition but at the same time reported perceived mental clarity, and psychosis-like effects combined with blissful experiences.

Effective connectivity changes in LSD-induced altered states of consciousness in humans (PNAS)

As Aldous Huxley wrote after his experience with the psychedelic mescaline:

It’s a very salutary thing to realise that the rather dull universe in which most of us spend most of our time is not the only universe there is.

Moksha: Writings on Psychedelics & the Visionary Experience

Thanks to DRL for the inspiration for this little piece.

I believe in Psychedelics

1. Psychedelics on the NHS?

Last Friday I was at the Cube cinema in Bristol to watch a documentary about the first clinical trials involving classical psychedelics in decades.

In case you missed it, in 2016 Robin Carhart-Harris led a team at Imperial College London that trialled the psychedelic treatment of 20 depressed patients, 18 of whom had ‘severe, unipolar, treatment-resistant major depression’.

The trial gave promising results, with all 19 patients who completed the follow-up showing significantly reduced symptoms of depression for at least 5 weeks after the two psilocybin sessions.

18 of these patients did not seek any further treatment (medication or psychotherapy) for their depression until after the 5-week mark.

This is remarkable for a cohort that had, on average, a history of 4 previous failed medications.

Subtitled ‘Can Magic Mushrooms Cure Depression?’, it is to the credit of director Monty Wates that his film Magic Medicine is more about the illness than it is about the controversial compound that could hold the key to its treatment.

Indeed, I would argue that the only controversy is that it took Robin Carhart-Harris and his team more than 3 years just to secure government and ethics approval to use the psilocybin.

The Class A / Schedule 1 classification of psychedelics means that scientific research, and future medical treatment, is bureaucratically arduous and expensive.

Now that this therapy has been shown to be safe, it is time we reclassified psilocybin and let the scientific community spend their time and money where it belongs: on the treatment of disease.

The focus of Magic Medicine is quite rightly not on the profound psychedelic experiences of its participants, but on the shocking symptoms and consequences of living with depression.

Psilocybin offers hope to these people and we owe it to them to do what we can to realign the law with the science.

Four separate trials have reported improvements in depressive symptoms after psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy (Griffiths et al. 2016; Ross et al. 2016; Grob et al. 2011; Carhart-Harris et al. 2016), including one in which ‘treatment-resistant depression’ was the primary criterion for inclusion (Carhart-Harris et al. 2016).

Psilocybin has shown promise in the treatment of obsessive compulsive disorder (Moreno et al. 2006), alcohol (Bogenschutz et al. 2015) and tobacco addiction (Johnson et al. 2014) and anxiety related to terminal diagnoses (Griffiths et al. 2016; Ross et al. 2016; Grob et al. 2011).

Unfortunately, of course, the treatment is currently illegal in the UK.

One thing we can all do is sign this government petition to reschedule psychedelics so that researchers like Robin Carhart-Harris can redouble their efforts to find treatments for the greatest mental health diseases of our age.

2. Psychedelics and Society

Along with most humans, I am captivated by experiences of awe, moments in which my self seems to dissolve into nature, where time and space have little relevance, and which seem to unveil to me the meaning of my puny existence.

Psychedelics are by no means the only route to such experiences – look out from a mountain top, have sex, ride a roller-coaster – but, once experienced, it would be foolish to argue that they are not one of the most direct.

Such a direct experience of awe is, I believe, the birth-right of all humans. Psychedelics change lives for the good, and not just those of people who have a diagnosable mental disease.

Psychedelic experiences are associated with measurable changes of personality in the direction of greater openness.

What does that mean?

In a pilot study, Taylor Lyons and Robin Carhart-Harris found that after two doses of psilocybin the participants’ measures of nature-relatedness were significantly increased, and that their political authoritarianism was significantly decreased. [CITATION]

Not only that, but these personality changes persisted 7-12 months after the psychedelic session.

For someone who would really rather like to live in a society that is more connected to nature and less politically authoritarian, this is a good news story.

3. Psychedelics and Mundane Wonder

Psychedelics can be used as a remarkable treatment for some of the most stubborn illnesses of the 21st century.

They can be used to explore the outer limits of consciousness, experience awe and transcendence, and perhaps change society for the better.

But they can also be used in the mundane, as an extraordinary part of ordinary daily life.

Microdosing is the way that I am very glad I was introduced to LSD. I am by nature cautious and was brought up in a drug-negative society that taught me to fear altered states of consciousness.

It doesn’t help that almost everything we think we know about psychedelics is wrong.

I can scarcely believe that I would have ever had the courage to take a large dose of a psychedelic had I not learnt the small way that these compounds would not – as I had been led to understand – send me insane.

But taking miniscule amounts of a psychedelic like LSD can have a surprisingly profound effect on your day.

In my experience, I find myself more open to social interaction with strangers, more appreciative of the beauty of the world, more able to focus on creative work, and more content with life.

In the words of pioneering researcher Jim Fadiman, more often than not microdosing helps people have ‘a really good day’.

Psychedelics for a Better Future?

In our hyper-rationalist culture, psychedelics are reminding us that there is another way of seeing the world.

Perhaps it’s just the re-emergence of a tradition that has been squashed in this country ever since the Romans banished the druids to Anglesey.

With the work of scientists like Robin Carhart-Harris at Imperial College London, psychedelics are showing us that transcendence can have a measurable and positive impact on our lives.

We have to be careful not to screw this up, but the time has come to support scientific psychedelic research, to support the right of individuals to explore their own consciousness through altered states, and to believe in the potential of psychedelics to change our future for the better.

Further Reading

  1. The Science of Psychedelics and Exceptional Human Experience (11 minute read) Start here for an introduction to everything I have learned about psychedelics over the last 2 years.
  2. A Really Good Day by Ayelet Waldman (16 minute read) My review of Ayelet Waldman’s book on microdosing LSD is, on the one hand, nothing more than a non-fiction book review. On the other, it is a fully-featured 3,000 word guide to psychedelic microdosing.

“No one ever died while breathing.” Psychedelic Breathwork with Alchemy of Breath

“No one ever died while breathing.” Anthony Abbagnano’s words are only somewhat comforting, as I settle down on my girlfriend’s yoga mat for an hour of hyperventilation.

Last night I spent the evening with about a hundred other yoga-matted breathers in the vast domed sanctuary of the Round Chapel in Clapton. The event was called Psychedelic Breathwork, and jointly organised by the excellent Psychedelic Society and Anthony’s organisation Alchemy of Breath. I had no idea what to expect – but at least now I could be optimistic that death would play no part in it.
Continue reading “No one ever died while breathing.” Psychedelic Breathwork with Alchemy of Breath

Counselling, Meditation and Psychedelics

Some of you probably know that, over the past 10 weeks, I’ve been studying person-centred counselling at the CityLit in London.

Some of you are perhaps also aware that I’ve recently (re)turned to mindfulness meditation to manage stress levels, as part of a concerted campaign against elevated Thyroid Peroxidase antibodies in my bloodstream.

And probably all of you know that over the last couple of years I’ve been investigating the transpersonal potential of psychedelics.

What I am slowly realising, however, is how tightly these three areas are woven together. Continue reading Counselling, Meditation and Psychedelics

The Science of Psychedelics and Exceptional Human Experience

“I don’t take reality for granted.”

Weird stuff happens. People really do experience telepathy, alien abduction and pre-cognition.

In the UK, we usually push such stories to one side and either forget about them, or (worse) medicate them. David Luke, Senior Lecturer for Psychology at the University of Greenwich tries to understand them. Continue reading The Science of Psychedelics and Exceptional Human Experience

A Really Good Day Psychedelic Microdosing with Ayelet Waldman

This article is ambidextrous. On the one hand, it is nothing more than a non-fiction book review. On the other, it is a fully-featured 3,000 word guide to psychedelic microdosing.

The book in question is A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage and My Life by Ayelet Waldman. The title is a little coy – presumably so she can slip under society’s anti-drugs radar. Waldman is talking specifically about psychedelic microdosing, the habit of taking a very small dose of a psychedelic drug in the same way you’d take a microdose of caffeine with your morning coffee.

Waldman’s experiment lasted a month and follows the advice of Dr Jim Fadiman, who has been collecting informal reports from psychedelic microdosers for the last ten years or so. Once in every three days, Waldman would start her morning with a drop or two of diluted LSD, then continue her day as normal, recording observations on her mood, relationships and productivity at work. This book is her lab report.

Are you ready for this? So we begin, in conventional book review fashion. Continue reading A Really Good Day Psychedelic Microdosing with Ayelet Waldman

Are you experienced?

Imagine the scene. You’re on holiday with a big group of people you don’t know too well. The twelve of you hired a huge house in the countryside, sharing rooms to split the cost. You’ve been sunbathing on cushions in the garden, enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of summer, drifting away in a meditation on beauty.

At some point, somebody brought you a glass of water and a hummus, avocado, spinach and tomato sandwich on continental dark bread. You weren’t too hungry at the time, so only ate half the sandwich, leaving the remainder on the plate to dry in the hot sun. You drained the glass of water, grateful because you’d left your water bottle upstairs.

An hour or so later, you decide to return to the attic bedroom you share, for a lie down in the shade. As you poke your head through the attic trapdoor, you see the following, in series: a collection of cushions arranged around the sun-trap window overlooking the garden you’ve just left; a plate bearing a half finished hummus, avocado, spinach and tomato sandwich on continental dark bread; and a half full bottle of water – your bottle of water. You can’t help but be overtaken by the odd sensation that you’ve just entered a scene you only recently vacated: the same meditative garden view, the same sandwich, and your bottle of water. Continue reading Are you experienced?