Mundane and mystical psychedelic experiences
Text and Image: Harriet Smith
There are many trips which tourists could choose to embark on in Amsterdam, including those induced by psychedelics. Psilocybin truffles are legally available in ’smart shops’ throughout Amsterdam and typically provide around six hours of otherworldly experience or simply a heightened enjoyment of nature. Amidst the growth of capitalist and healing interests in psychedelics, three friends* living in Amsterdam have shared their personal experiences with psilocybin, whether for art, self-acceptance, or pleasure.
*Due to the stigmatisation attached to drug use, pseudonyms have been used.
I want to begin by confessing I have taken psilocybin truffles annually around my birthday for the past five years. During trips, I have found that many culturally ingrained beliefs melt away, making the world feel more vibrant, expansive, and free. Psychedelics allowed me to see more potential in myself, leading towards art, anthropology, and eventually these interviews. Many people who have experienced psychedelic trips state that it cannot be fully explained with words. Thankfully, Javier, Alec, and James do their best to describe some of their psychedelic trips. In doing so they hope to contribute towards the destigmatisation of drug usage and share memorable psychedelic experiences.
Javier, 23, he/him
Javier’s first experience with psilocybin was disappointing, eating truffles in Amsterdam that had no noticeable effect. His psychedelic experiences since have typically occurred in a recreational group setting, often at a party. Javier has a deep interest in using psilocybin for healing purposes. He grows his own psilocybin mushrooms, enjoying the ‘personalisation of the process.’ He mainly uses them for microdosing, including while writing his thesis, which was related to the criminalisation of drugs. He described an initial hesitancy, stating that: ‘this could be like a really cathartic and healing experience, but I also need to be prepared for any trauma in my life ‘cause it might come up, and set me back for a long time.’ This awareness that psychedelics can act ‘like a slap in the face,’ is why the mindset and setting are so important.
During a depressed period last year, he experienced his most powerful trip yet.
‘I remember laying down and feeling like my consciousness was leaving my body. This time was quite significant for me because I kind of was forced out of it and I even felt awesome, like it wasn’t scary at all. I just clicked out, and this is so corny, but I felt the third eye opening at the back of my head, like I have a light that opens up and maybe that’s when I leave. It felt like a room, or in my mind was a room and in theory it had four walls or a certain constraint, but I couldn’t actually see it. It was at the same time as infinite as the universe and endless, but I remember knowing, or someone telling me that it was the point in time and space where people and things are born, let’s say where the soul goes to the body. And I have been brought back here to where my breath-moment happened, where my soul left this room-like space. I’m lying there naked, and I remember seeing my body and I have no tattoos. It’s still my adult grown-up body but there were no tattoos. It was and wasn’t me. I am me because of the constructs and the choices I’ve made, and the other things that have been inflicted on me and the things that I’ve done because of my name. I am Javier. I have this identity that has been created in this current world. Even though I don’t personally believe in a soul, it felt very real. I see this naked South American woman and she tells me in a South American accent in Spanish “This is your body. Take care of it” And this was the end of the trip. At the time I was going through all these different things related to my health. That was probably the best experience I’ve ever had in psychedelics or on any drugs really. I felt content with just being, not having to have an ultimate purpose and I felt grateful for the little things’
When he has described his psychedelic experiences to his therapist, they describe it as ‘activating the observer.’ During these moments, he has experienced a peeling back of layers, confronting him at times with heartbreaks, physical insecurities, his relationship with his father and his own body. However, it is important to state that this has not been a replacement for medication and consistent mental health treatment.
‘I had that process of looking in the mirror and hating the person you’re seeing and the psychedelics definitely started the process. But the problem for me personally, is I would need to take them consistently for that to persist. I learned a lot of valuable lessons and I still plan to keep taking psychedelics. But for me, what I actually did to get out of that self-hatred was really taking meds for the first time’
While there have been benefits to Javier’s psilocybin experiences, he acknowledges that it is more important to take his medication, which means he cannot currently take psychoactive substances, prompting a roughly year-long break from psychedelics.
Alec, 22, they/them
Alec has a handful of psychedelic experiences, leading towards a similar recognition of a lack of self-love, and beginning a longer journey of healing.
‘The first time I tripped on psilocybin, I realised how much I didn’t love myself, like how much I thought that I loved myself, but I realised it was very hollow. It was very surface level, like I wasn’t really loving myself. I went back to my room to get some stuff and I just sat on my sofa and let myself be with myself and feeling the feelings and I burst out crying and I cried so hard, and I felt like every pain in my body. I’m very used to feeling overwhelmed, but it made it overwhelming in a way that was perfect. It wasn’t the type of “overwhelm” that escapes you. It felt like my inner child was the most vulnerable, but most protected at the same time. I didn’t realise how much I was hiding from myself, so that exposed certain things I’d been suppressing for a really long time and also I didn’t realise how much it was affecting me until I heard myself crying hysterically and then I went back and I expressed my feelings and everyone hugged me and it was really beautiful and we were all there for each other. It’s something I’ve carried through with me every day’
Alec found psilocybin created a space for recognition, forgiveness, and acceptance. Trips may cause rushing thoughts, mirroring an experience common among neurodiverse people, such as Alec. They stated that during a trip it was much easier to accept the rush of information in an open and loving way.
‘The funny thing is that I feel rushing thoughts every day. and sometimes they go so fast I can’t take it in. When this happens on a daily basis it’s exhausting, and I feel like I have so much potential, and it puts me in a bad place sometimes. but when I was on ‘shrooms and this happened it was a much more positive experience. It’s like I have all these things happening in my mind, I’m capable of thinking all these things. That’s a beautiful thing and part of the process of letting it go is magical. I think it’s easy to get overwhelmed with emotion of so many thoughts passing through me when I’m sober’
Alongside Alec’s still and introspective trips, they have also been climbing, skinny dipping and have formed an even deeper appreciation of jazz music.
‘I remember listening to jazz and thinking about the incredibility of that type of music and the history that it has, the power behind it, and the thinking when people play. They’re literally opening up their souls to the world, and they’re letting people into that through music, and I imagined people’s souls reverberating out of their body with the music to touch people’s hearts and that’s amazing. That’s what art is.’
James, 33, he/him
In contrast to Javier and Alec’s desire for a deep introspective healing experience, James’ experiences with psilocybin have been more hedonistic. While his last trip was over five years ago, James has embarked on approximately forty trips since he was a teenager. These all occurred in group recreational settings, including festivals, house parties, and camping trips. James is from Arizona and due to an older drinking age in the United States, he believes it increases the usage of illegal drugs such as cannabis and psilocybin mushrooms among teenagers. Being able to drive at sixteen made psilocybin camping trips a popular activity among his friends. Cannabis and psilocybin appealed as cost-effective. ‘It was cheaper than going to the movies with six people.’ His mother was also open to ‘natural’ substances, stating ‘no pills, no powders’ due to their unpredictability. Instead, she advised ‘be safe, don’t drive, call me if you need to call.’ This parental support created a safe environment for exploration, and James practised careful limits to dosage, always ‘taking less than they thought they wanted.’ His first experience was spontaneous and joyful.
‘We were going to a Primus concert and we’re in line and my friend goes: I have a big bag of mushrooms and we have to eat them all before we get to the front because we can’t bring them in. So, I was like what are mushrooms like? And nobody has ever done them, but everyone is game, so the first time you eat mushrooms it’s a horrible experience because it’s disgusting. It’s the most vile tasting thing I’ve ever had. You definitely get a lot of nausea at the start. Typically within 30 minutes it passes and then you are high. So I was at that concert, aged like sixteen, seventeen, a big outdoor amphitheatre thing. So, we get to the front and Primus is also a very psychedelic show. I got sucked into this whole whirlwind of music and intensity and I’m smashed up against the railing so much that I could lift my feet. I didn’t realise I was nowhere near my friends. I enjoyed the feeling of not knowing what was going on, pretty much in any sense. The music combined with the concert lighting and the costumes they were wearing just went into a full overload of sensations and trance and I just enjoyed it. I saw a lot of fractals and visuals coming off the laser light and the shine from the instruments, the vibrations from the drums. I couldn’t see anything but the stage and really lost my mind and just kind of let go and enjoyed it. I didn’t notice anybody around me, didn’t notice that I couldn’t put my feet down. I was just sitting there floating at the front.’
James’ other stories centre around music events and camping trips with friends. He camped in both desert and forest locations in Arizona, forming striking natural backdrops for psychedelic experiences. Although he has not experienced any ‘bad trips’, he has witnessed a friend strip off and run naked through a town centre leading to a night in a local jail. He has also trip-sat for multiple friends and stated that mashed potatoes are a great comfort food for calming people down who are struggling with the loss of control. While not seeking any introspective or healing experiences, James has been changed by some of his experiences. On one trip, aged around nineteen, he describes watching himself interact with other people.
‘I floated spectrally above and watched the entertainment unfold. I realised that the way I interact with people is different than how I think and what one person is experiencing is different than the person next to them. I think about everybody with a bit more empathy.’
The shift inwards (or outside oneself) initiated by psilocybin has the potential to shake off our societal preconceptions and re-experience the world anew, without ego.
Taking a trip
Javier made a beautiful comparison between tripping and his favourite passiflora flower, which only opens for several hours a day and blooms for a brief time.
‘It’s such a human conception to try to keep this beautiful thing the same, whereas it’s also even more beautiful, in the fact that it opens up. It’s a nice analogy to when you’re tripping, and you want to hold onto this thought that you really like. Yet you have a better experience if you’re really open’
Through sharing experiences, we recognise that puritanical closed views on drug usage ignore not only the potential mental health benefits, but the relative safety of non-toxic and non-addictive substances such as psilocybin, which have been taken by humans for centuries. Sharing openly is a first step towards drug destigmatisation. This is necessary to create judgement-free support networks, and to improve our awareness of both the potential and risks, through education and research. While none of those interviewed have experienced ‘bad trips’, there is still a risk of paranoia, psychosis, and frightening visualisations. Mindset and setting are essential considerations for preparation, including an openness to ‘losing control’ of one’s mind, albeit temporarily. James shared that he would never trip if he had plans on the following day, as it impacted his sleep and eating habits. During psychedelic retreats they often suggest preparing up to four weeks in advance by setting intentions, and then to make time for integration through talking and journaling afterwards to receive the most benefits from this potentially deeply meaningful trip.