Mushrooms in the Misty MountainsReading Time: 12 minutes
I’ve been to Misty Mountains.
How did I travel to the epic land of Middle Earth you might ask?
Short answer: Magic Mushrooms.
Long answer: As a teenager, I spent copious amounts of time letting my mind wander in J.R.R. Tolkien’s enchanting fantasy realm as an escape from my dull existence on shitty, regular Earth. Then, a few weeks ago, my brother and I went on a journey to backpack and camp in the mountains of California. Namely, Yosemite National Park. It was an entrancingly misty and foggy day, so naturally, we decided to eat a gram of Magic Mushrooms and head off on a trail to the unknown. Cut to 1 hour later, and there I was- Misty Fucking Mountains.
As we traversed through the woods of Yosemite, I felt slightly uncomfortable and anxious as the mushrooms began kicking in. I knew the “come up” on mushrooms could include slight nausea, so I made sure to take deep breaths as we walked. The unsettling feeling passed with some inhalations and a few good burps (mushrooms make me burpy.) Then the “magic” of the mushrooms began to take over, and the world transformed around me.
I was staring around the forest with childlike wonder. How had I not seen before? This place was so fantastically beautiful. All I could do was laugh and smile to myself as I trekked deeper through the tall, daunting pines. It didn’t feel as though I was hallucinating, but instead, it felt as though I was noticing what I had been missing all along. The shrouded mist, the vibrant green moss, and the towering trees had all been there the whole time, but now I truly saw them. Each tree now seemed to be an elder with a story of some ancient wisdom that I couldn’t quite grasp. The mist and fog were so thick that I could barely see 50 feet in front of me. There was no trace of the sun in the sky, as everything was masked in a grey haze that seemed to be lulling us to sleep. The moss and fungi appeared to cover everything, decomposing and recycling any dead growth.
As we traveled deeper through the forest, I seemed to venture deeper into myself. The beauty of the wild seemed to cause introspection and thoughts of my journey through life. I contemplated my existence in the universe, my family and relationships, and the direction of my path in life now. The mountains were quiet, calming, and somehow granting me clarity. Maybe the trees were sharing some of that ancient wisdom they had kept secret for so long.
My brother and I wandered through the mist for a couple more hours, conversing about deeply personal topics and sharing our thoughts about life. It felt as though we were on some novel adventure together, and mushrooms gave us no cause to hold back our thoughts and feelings. The ties of brotherhood grew stronger as we navigated through the Misty Mountains of Middle Earth, and I thought to myself- this is an adventure that elves might one day sing about.
What are Magic Mushrooms?
One thing that struck me during my wizard walk through the Misty Mountains was the magnitude that fungi like mushrooms have on the ecosystem. I could see fungi growing on the side of trees, sprouting up from the forest floor, and slowly decomposing everything that had died. Something about being on magic mushrooms in the woods makes you see these fungi in a new light. They seemed much more formidable and significant. Experiencing this sparked some curiosity in me, and I decided to dig deeper and research them when I got back from my journey. What I found blew my mind.
Magic mushrooms are any species of fungus that contain the compound psilocybin or psilocin. When consumed, the effects magic mushrooms have on the brain is neat, to say the least. Psilocybin primarily affects the serotonin neurotransmitters in the brain causing one to undergo a vast array of new experience that I’ll dive into a bit later. Experiences like embarking on an epic journey and leaving the mundane world for something a bit more Middle Earthy-y.
When consumed, psilocybin makes it’s way up to the brain, and serotonin receptors start throwing a fucking party. During ordinary waking consciousness, the default mode network (DMN) in the brain is usually running the show. Think of it as the parents of the house. It’s the system that acts as a middleman between different areas of the brain and also acts as our tool for self-reflection. Always checking Instagram like Gollum to see if you got another preeeeeecious notification? DMN. Caught in a shitstorm negative feedback loop of self-loathing and despair? Fucking DMN. High activity in the DMN is linked to states of anxiety and depression. However, mushrooms kick down the door and tell the DMN to eat a bag of dicks. When the brain is on psilocybin, the different centers of the brain can communicate with each other outside the confines of the DMN. It becomes inactive. The middleman is gone. The parents are out of the house. Time to party.
With these changes to serotonin levels and the DMN, there is an explosion of activity. New neuropathways form throughout the brain that didn’t exist before. Thanks to some awesome nerds, we got some insightful fMRI scanner data showing the brain on psilocybin vs a normal placebo brain. Discover magazine has a fascinating article about this that you can check out here for more info on what’s going on in the brain during a psilocybin trip. A takeaway from the article:
“The findings seem to explain some of the psychological experiences of a psilocybin trip. Linear thinking and planning become extremely difficult, but nonlinear “out of the box” thinking explodes in all directions. By the same token, it can become difficult to tell fantasy apart from reality during a psilocybin trip; but focusing on a certain thought or image — real or imagined — often greatly amplifies that thought’s intensity and vividness.”
Below is an image depicting the fMRI data they collected from the different brains being studied.
Some fun facts about mushrooms: (we’ll talk about the magic variety more in a minute)
- 30% of all soil on earth is fungal mass, meaning fungi literally make up 1/3 of the Earth we walk on.
- The oldest mycelium (the vegetative part of a fungus) know to us is estimated to be 2.4 billion years old.
- Fungus on Earth outnumber all plants by an astounding 8 to 1. 8 to fucking 1.
- Animals evolved from fungi, and we have our last common ancestor with mushrooms about 650 million years ago.
- Animals and fungi both breath in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide.
- The largest living organism on Earth that we know of is a fungal mass in Washington that is estimated to span over 2200 acres.
- Mycelium networks are unbelievably vast and are strangely similar to human neural networks as well as the internet.
So to put that into perspective, mushrooms have been chilling here on Earth before plants or animals of any kind. They were laying down the foundation for more complex life for over a BILLION YEARS before animals came along. EVERY ANIMAL ON EARTH evolved from a fungi ancestor. The evolutionary progression goes something like this: Fungi-Animals-Deuterostomes-Vertebrates-Tetrapods-Eutherians-Primates-Apes-Homo Sapiens. 650 million years ago we were mushrooms; now we’re telling our kids that Jesus can see when you masturbate. Don’t Masturbate.
Life probably never would have made it out of the oceans and onto land without fungi. Mushrooms recycle dead life so the cycle can continue, and are extremely resilient. They also have impressive effects on humans including incredible antibacterial properties (penicillin anyone?) They have helped us stand a chance in the war with harmful bacteria and are the source for many of our antibiotics. Many different species of mushrooms have a profound impact on our brain, causing neurogenesis in the hippocampus as well as other areas. Also, 23 different species of primates have mushrooms as a significant part of their diet (Humans are primates).
So why am I bringing all this shit up? Well for one, the nerd in me finds it fascinating. Primarily though, I want to show that mushrooms are kind of a big deal. They’ve been around longer than anyone, and they essentially act as the immune system of the Earth. So why do people seize up when you mention eating a mushroom that causes a mystical or psychedelic experience to occur? This idea makes people so insecure that America banned psilocybin mushrooms back in 1971 and they’ve had a schedule one status ever since. As a reminder, schedule one means it’s likened to heroin, with no medical benefits at all. AKA, don’t fuck with it.
Somehow society has sold us the mainstream belief that the act of eating mushrooms is a terrible and heinous act punishable by fines and imprisonment. We’ve been told myths like shrooms will scramble your brain, cause schizophrenia, cause kidney failure, and are poisonous to your body. These are straight up myths, without a shred of scientific research or backing whatsoever to support them. It’s pure propaganda and lies. In fact, toxicology and liver function seemed to be unaffected by magic mushrooms.
You would have to eat your fucking body weight in mushrooms before you could hit a lethal dose. It might be the safest “drug” on Earth. I couldn’t find one single documented case of someone dying from poisoning of magic mushroom. Compare that to the current bloodbath we are witnessing with sugar, alcohol, and opioids… but that’s none of my business.
Uses and Effects
What you experience on magic mushrooms is going to be heavily contingent on the dose you take, the set, and the setting. If you are considering trying any psychedelics, I strongly recommend doing your research and approaching it safely and responsibly. Here is a great article on set and setting, which plays a pivotal role in any psychedelic trip, but especially so with mushrooms. There are many different reasons to take a psychedelic like magic mushrooms, but all of them should be thought out, researched, and done with intention and safety. The effects of mushrooms range from increasing productivity, creativity, and social awareness, to facing your inner shadow, communicating with other entities, and becoming one with everything. That means you need to set an intention, be in the right setting, and take a dose with which you are comfortable. Here is an extensive resource on magic mushrooms if you want to dig deeper into the effects.
A microdose refers to taking a tiny dose of psilocybin mushrooms to gain numerous benefits without experiencing any psychoactive effects. It’s usually a dose of 0.1 grams of mushrooms which won’t cause you to “trip” at all. However, you will experience the benefits of neurogenesis, increased brain activity, increased creativity, heightened emotional awareness, and many others. You might think of this as a supplement such as a nootropic. A microdosing protocol could be very effective in the treatment of depression as well. This dosage won’t inhibit you from functioning normally in society. In fact, you might find yourself acting more social and confident than ever before. Here is an excellent resource for microdosing if you are interested.
Consuming 1-3 grams of mushrooms will provide lift-off. This range is standard dosage for a typical trip. You will experience hypersensitivity to senses and increased introspection. Emotions will intensify, and your perception of reality around you will begin to change. This state is commonly described as wakeful dreaming, as your brain behaves similarly when you are in a dream state. Keep in mind, the range of experience from 1 gram to 3 grams is dramatic. 1 gram is going to be more relaxed and recreational, 3 grams begins to approach profound and spiritual. With 1 gram I was skipping through the Misty Mountains like a giddy hobbit. On 3 grams I confronted my inner shadow and had one of the hardest nights of my life (but that’s a story for another day.)
5 grams and beyond. Here be dragons. 5-10 grams is when shit starts to get weird. Stories about speaking to God, communicating with alien life, and interdimensional travel, all live here. Terrence McKenna coined the term “Heroic dose,” and it’s also associated with Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” monomyth. According to people who have done this dose, the purpose of all other smaller doses is merely to prepare you for the heroic stage. Supposedly, this is where the full trip takes place, and the real growth happens. More on this here. I’ll let you know more when I grow the balls to try it.
Therapy and Personal Growth
Magic mushrooms have been integrated into shamanic practices for millennia, and evidence of these human traditions may be as old as 9000 years. Some even speculate that the images depicted in early cave art (as early as 40,000 CE) may be renderings of visions brought on by plant medicines like psilocybin mushrooms. Mesoamerican natives have been using magic mushrooms ritualistically for healing, divination, and religious or spiritual communion since before writing. These fungi and other plant medicines have been an integral part of shamanism practicing cultures all over the world. In fact, it’s only relatively recently that God-fearing Christian missionaries waged war against these traditions in the 1500’s. After the Spanish conquest of the Americas, this longstanding tradition was all but stamped out, due to the view that these practices were hedonistic and idolatrous. Mushrooms where said to allow one to commune with devils and the Christians stamped out the practice along with much of the native’s culture. It’s only been in recent centuries of human history that we have strayed from the path of plant medicines and shamanistic traditions that incorporate psychedelics. It wasn’t until LSD was synthesized in the 1950’s that people in the west began to take another look magic mushrooms and other psychedelics.
Promising research began taking place in the 1960’s, but we shut that shit down because- fuck letting people have sovereignty over their own conscious experience, right? Despite handicapping ourselves with nearly five decades of prohibition, the views on magic mushrooms seem to be shifting finally. The US government has finally started to allow small controlled studies to be performed to find potential medical and therapeutic benefits of psilocybin mushrooms. In 2011, a study was done on terminal cancer patients to treat end of life anxiety disorder. To be clear, these were people who knew they were dying with no cure to save them. After receiving treatment with magic mushrooms, their end of life anxiety was significantly reduced and stayed that way past the six months follow up mark. The study is now in phase 2.
In a modern society riddled with anxiety, depression, ADHD, and suicide, optimistic research about therapeutic mushroom treatment couldn’t be coming at a better time. Well, it could have occurred in the 70’s, but humans suck sometimes. But you get my point. We NEED magic mushrooms and therapeutic psychedelic treatment more than ever. We are a sick society. We need to heal mentally, physically, and spiritually. We need to expel the silly fucking taboo against magic mushrooms from society for good. It seems like the list of us that have lost someone to suicide is proliferating, and these treatments could be a big part of the answer to that problem. Psychedelics like mushrooms might not be for everyone, but they certainly are for some of us, and I believe every sovereign adult should have the free will to choose for themselves.
It’s been over a year since my first experience with magic mushrooms, and the domino effect and impact in my life has been significant. I’ll write a more detailed post about my experience with a higher dose of mushrooms and the profound effects it had on me another day, but the growth and perspective have been tremendous. Mushrooms have helped me sort myself out and see past the limitations of my ego and into who I really am. New neural pathways in my brain have formed resulting in breaking old toxic habits, developing new uplifting interests, and ultimately creating a new me. Mushrooms, like all psychedelics, will shine a light in your mind, illuminating new possibilities and allowing you to see beyond the fog of your own biases, paradigms, and prejudices. Sometimes this isn’t pretty. Sometimes you need to smell your own shit. Mushrooms have helped me see the flaws, insecurities, and darkness in myself that I need to correct.
Before I wrap this bitch up, I want to share a mind-bending hypothesis with you that was posited by Terrence McKenna in his book: Food of the Gods. This Stoned Ape Theory suggests that psilocybin mushrooms would have played a significant role in the evolution of humankind. Just consider this for a second. As early hunter-gatherer hominoids were leaving the treetops of Africa and migrating out onto the savannas, they would have been foraging and hunting for food. Magic mushrooms grow on every continent and have for millions of years. They would have been a staple of their diet, as Psilocybe Cubensis (psilocybin mushroom) grows primarily on scat and dung heaps, something they would be searching for while tracking prey.
Also, eating the mushrooms would have provided an evolutionary advantage to the consumer. Heightened vision and hearing would lead to finding more food and avoiding more predators. Psilocybin mushrooms also contribute to an increase in confidence, courage, and empathy. These are leadership traits that would benefit any “stoned ape” that partook and would have better odds of procreating, not to mention the benefits of neurogenesis, increased cognition, and better memory. Finally, this transformative experience with the magic mushrooms would have taken place millions and millions of times over thousands of generations. Is this the answer to the mystery of why the human brain has grown so much compared to our Ape ancestors?
This short animated video not only depicts the theory well but also has some fascinating data about fungi cellular intelligence and mushrooms in general. It’s from one of my favorite Joe Rogan Experience podcasts ever, with Paul Staments. Warning: this video might fuck your brain hole. Enjoy.