“The journey of the hero is about the courage to seek the depths; the image of creative rebirth; the eternal cycle of change within us; the uncanny discovery that the seeker is the mystery which the seeker seeks to know.”
There’s no doubt that psilocybin mushrooms can inspire powerful, unique, and transformative experiences. Research suggests that these psychedelic fungi can occasion lasting changes in personality, as well as reduce depression and anxiety, particularly for those facing end-of-life distress. In a clinical setting, many of these outcomes are inspired by high doses of psilocybin—but dosing is different from person to person, and the effects of psilocybin can vary quite drastically between different dosage brackets.
Ethnobotanist Terence McKenna popularized the term “heroic dose” in the 1980s, referring to five grams of dried Psilocybe cubensis mushrooms—an extra high dose. Unlike high doses—which hover at around 3.5 grams or so—heroic doses are strong enough to take you out of your present reality. Some cultural traditions and dedicated individuals find meaning in such powerful experiences.
Yet, before proceeding, it’s vital to mention: heroic dosing isn’t always fun and games, and psychedelics are not for everyone. Magic mushrooms can be challenging and deeply confusing, and there are no guarantees of any specific outcome. It can be difficult to care for yourself during a heroic dose. As such, journeying in a safe and supportive environment is essential. Because these journeys can bring up strong emotions, it’s important also to leave time to process the experience aftward. Some may find it helpful to reach out to a coach, guide, therapist, or friend to help you “integrate” your psychedelic journey—especially if it was frightening or challenging.
What is a Heroic Dose?
According to McKenna, the term “heroic dose,” means five grams of dried Psilocybe cubensis mushrooms taken alone in the dark with closed eyes. The purpose of the darkness is to explore one’s own mind free from distractions—though the concept has been adapted to include journeys under the guidance of a facilitator, as taking such a dose alone can be dangerous.
A heroic dose is generally one that is sufficient for experiencing a breakthrough, says Shane Norte, founder, leader of the Church Of The People For Creator and Mother Earth and board member of Decriminalize Nature National, who has guided people on journeys with heroic doses of mushrooms. “It’s transformative, reconnecting, scary, ego-shattering, life-changing, horrible, and beautiful all in one dose,” he says, adding that people may feel led to take a heroic dose due to difficult times in their life (such as the death of a loved one), mental health or addiction issues, or the desire for self-discovery.
How Much Is a Heroic Dose of Mushrooms?
The threshold for how high a dose is needed to experience a heroic effect varies from person to person. However, Norte and James Giordano, professor of neurology and biochemistry at Georgetown University Medical Center, agree that a heroic dose of mushrooms is usually five grams or more taken in one sitting. But it can be up to 15 grams or more, which Norte calls a “Wamkish dose.” The more experience you have with mushrooms, the more you will need to take to get a strong effect, Giordano says.
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If you do not have a lot of experience with mushrooms, Giordano recommends gradually working your way up rather than trying to go from a small dose to a heroic dose. For instance, someone who has taken two grams of mushrooms before might try four grams next to see how that affects them. “There’s no set absolute limit as to what constitutes ‘well, you’re not a tripping hero unless you do X,’” he says.
How Long Does a Heroic Dose Last?
Mushrooms tend to last for 5 to 6 hours but can last longer at high doses, says Giordano. A heroic dose contains three phases, he explains: the “blast off,” which usually happens within two hours; the strongest or peak experience, which occurs from around 3 to 5 hours into the trip; and the comedown and reflection period at the end.
Why Do They Call It A Heroic Dose?
The term “heroic dose” is a reference to the “hero’s journey”—a journey undertaken in mythology that involves deep transformation, working through a crisis, and returning home, says Giordano. It is thought that when someone takes a heroic dose, they go on a hero’s journey into their own mind, potentially resolving long-standing conflicts and emerging with a stronger sense of who they are.
Safe Heroic Dosing
“Heroism is not the same as recklessness, nor is it the same as fearlessness,” says Giordano. In other words, being cautious doesn’t take away from a heroic dose and is, in fact, essential.
“Many describe their experiences of high-dose psychedelics as beautiful and life-changing, but far too commonly, people report traumatic experiences that set them into an anxious pattern,” says psychiatrist Sam Zand, founder of the Anywhere Clinic and co-founder and chief medical officer for Better U. “The key is having proper guidance.”
Giordano urges heroic dosers to make sure someone else is with them, or at least easily reachable, in case they have a bad trip and start to spiral. Even if someone wants to honor McKenna’s original prescription to journey alone, “‘alone’ doesn’t mean you’re not without rescue,” says Giordano. “It could be you’re in a room and someone is in the next room, so if you feel the trip is going badly, you have someone who has access to you fairly quickly.”
Call the Fireside Psychedelic Support Hotline at 62-FIRESIDE (623-473-7433) for assistance during a heroic journey.
This sentiment is shared by Hanifa Nayo Washington, co-founder of the Fireside Project, a non-profit psychedelic peer support line that provides emotional support during and after psychedelic experiences. “If I had to only pick one safety practice with large doses of psilocybin in mind it would be Don’t Go Solo,” she says.
“When taking larger doses of mushrooms, even if you are the most experienced explorer it is highly reccomended to have a sitter or other sober supporter near by or at the very least aware of where you are with the Psychedelic Peer Support Line already saved in their phone.”
The Fireside Project Hotline (62-FIRESIDE or 623-473-7433) can be a vital resource for both you and a sitter should the need arise. It’s recommended that both you and your sitter have the number saved before journeying.
Giordano warns against mixing the mushrooms with other drugs or medications. Tell your facilitator about any medications you are on or substances you have recently taken so that they can let you know if there are contraindications.
Read: Set and Setting: Why Preparation Matters
What To Expect from a Heroic Dose
A heroic dose creates “a psychedelic experience that draws us closer to our subconscious and unconscious thoughts,” says Zand. “We see ourselves often from an outside perspective and can find enlightenment where there were previous blind spots. With proper therapeutic preparation and post-session integration, we can use this experience to enact new patterns of thinking and feeling in our future.”
If you have taken a smaller dose of mushrooms before, you can expect a heroic dose to involve the same effects you experienced—both positive and negative—but more strongly, says Giordano. Negative effects may include nausea, agitation, restlessness, and anxiety.
The positive effects of taking a heroic dose can include “traveling to different dimensions, losing sense of time and space, rekindling the relationship to nature, accepting things that are beyond oneself or others, and knowing you have a beautiful part within creation—and that you have the power to change in a good way,” says Norte. You should know it can get difficult, he says, but remember that a professional facilitator is trained to support you through difficult moments.
Matt Zemon, author of Psychedelics for Everyone, remembers becoming “aware of my grandparents, great-grandparents, and all of the people I was connected to in this world” during a heroic dose. He elaborates, “I felt connected to the Earth, trees, and sky in a way I had never felt before. And I felt loved. Unconditionally loved. And I realized I was safe.”
Read: How To Take Shrooms
How To Prepare for A Psilocybin Experience
Before doing something as significant as taking a heroic dose of mushrooms, Norte recommends getting clear on why you want to do it and what you hope to get out of it.
Zand recommends breathwork, meditation, and journaling as ways to relax and set intentions for a psychedelic experience. Nayo Washington encourages you to “take time for mindful preparation with safety and comfort in mind.”
Dennis McKenna, brother of the late Terence McKenna, explains the importance of set and setting in an interview: “Do it in a place where no one is going to bother you—no one, at least, that you don’t want to bother you.”
He recommends a significant other be present, perhaps, and encourages travelers to remain mindful of their mental state before the trip. “The set is everything you bring to it: who you are, what your expectation is, it’s everything. It’s you. It’s your mindset.”
To create a calming environment and lessen the chances of a bad trip, Giordano recommends selecting relaxing music that you can play during the trip. It’s also a good idea to be in a cool room or have a fan or cold water with you since some people feel very hot when they trip, he adds.
How Long Should You Wait Between Mushroom Doses?
Since there isn’t any research indicating how often it is safe to experience a heroic dose, Zand recommends being conservative about this. Norte urges waiting at least two or three weeks between heroic doses in order to rest and rejuvenate yourself.
Terence McKenna also advocated for infrequent doses. “Sometimes people are disappointed because they ask: ‘Well, how often do you do it?’ he said in an old recorded interview. “The answer is not very often. I mean if I can get it in a couple to three times a year, I feel like I’m hitting it very hard.”
“The more successful it is, the less often you have to do it,” he says.
Integrating After a Heroic Experience
There are many ways to integrate a heroic dose of mushrooms, or any plant medicine experience. In the Church Of The People For Creator and Mother Earth, people go into sweat lodges to reflect on their experiences, says Norte. (You will want to make sure you are well-hydrated before entering a sweat lodge, though.)
A more common way to integrate is by jotting down insights from your experience in a journal, says Zand. If you journaled beforehand, you can revisit your intentions or questions and see what came to you in your trip that is relevant.
Lastly, you will get more out of the journey if you speak with a therapist or psychedelic integration specialist about it afterward. “It is important to do this work with a professional who can guide the medicine and coach you through the integration,” Zand says.