Like most people, I had no idea what mushrooms would be like before trying them. In the intro to my book, Your Psilocybin Mushroom Companion, I detail my first shroom trip at the age of 17 and how disastrously unprepared I was for the “magnitude of the experience.” It’s what inspired me to write a nearly 200-page book on how to safely take psilocybin-containing mushrooms in a way that reduces the potential for harm, increases mindfulness, and maximizes benefits. Because taking magic mushrooms is serious business, if you prepare yourself and your surroundings with intentionality, take a safe dose, and have proper support, it can be a transcendental experience that can open up your mind to a new way of being.
What are Shrooms?
“Shrooms” is slang for psilocybin-containing mushrooms, which are consumed for a distinct and often profound psychedelic experience. The most popular magic mushroom is Psilocybe cubensis, but there are over 180 different species that contain psilocybin. Although naturally occurring, psilocybin is a Schedule I substance in the US, but activists in cities across the country are working tirelessly to decriminalize magic mushrooms (among other entheogens)—and succeeding.
Psilocybin mushrooms have been used ceremonially for likely thousands of years, and sacred mushroom ceremonies still exist in certain indigenous communities. The Mazatec people of the Sierra Mazateca mountain range of Oaxaca, Mexico, are considered the most knowledgeable on ceremonial mushroom use. They continue to take the “little saints” in ceremony for healing, divination, and other revered purposes.
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Magic mushrooms are having a comeback since 2006 when Johns Hopkins University released the first study since psilocybin’s prohibition in 1968—an odd scientific paper that proved psilocybin could elicit profound “mystical experiences” that had great potential for mental health. Today, the mushroom compound is being used in clinical trials for end-of-life anxiety, treatment-resistant depression, addiction, eating disorders and other conditions with unprecedented success, and psilocybin-assisted therapy has been given FDA “breakthrough therapy” status as a treatment for depression.
Shroom Effects: What’s a Mushroom Trip Like?
In moderate to high doses (we’ll get to exact numbers later on in the story), mushrooms bring journeyers on a psychedelic trip that can be gentle, fun, and even mystical in its profundity, but it can also be challenging, and full of shame or unresolved griefs. Psilocybin is certainly not an escape from reality, even though it occasions such an altered state of mind. But mushrooms do often offer dramatically new perspectives on one’s life or life in general that can help folks live more authentic and fulfilled lives moving forward.
Personally in my most meaningful mushroom trips, I get this feeling that all the little things that cause me so much stress and dread in everyday life are actually quite petty and not the life-or-death situations that I’m making them out to be in my head. I can see that there’s more to life than my own insecurities, fears, and stressors; that I have purpose and am part of something bigger than any one individual. Call it my ego rescinding or a sense of unity, but the truth is I come back feeling refreshed, motivated, and with more appreciation for the person who I’m the hardest on: myself.
Psilocybin is certainly not an escape from reality… But mushrooms do often offer dramatically new perspectives on [life] that can help folks live more authentic and fulfilled lives moving forward.
Although I’ve heard of many other people having similar experiences, what a mushroom trip will be like is very particular to the individual. How easily you can relax and accept the experience will in part depend on how comfortable you feel in your “set and setting” (which I’ll explain below), but also what the mushrooms think you need to see and feel in that moment. For this reason, no two mushroom trips are ever the same, and similarly this is what we mean when we talk about things “bubbling up” on psychedelics: that no matter what your intention is going in, sometimes your trip revolves around some deep rooted part of yourself you never even knew existed.
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The key is being willing to accept and surrender your control to all experiences the mushrooms may bring, mental and physical. It’s important to know that shrooms can make you feel your body in a new way. Sometimes the feeling resembles nausea or a sense of fatigue or heaviness in the limbs. I can have less coordination walking around on mushrooms, but I’m still pretty capable in moderate dose ranges.
Visual distortions are also possible, but it’s not totally weird if you don’t get them at all. However, many folks see things breath, sway, grow and move around, and your surroundings in general can seem bursting with significance. You can also become disoriented and confused, which is why a safe set and setting and trip sitter are so important for first time journeyers and high-dose trips—although it’s also pretty uncommon to hallucinate completely and not be able to distinguish between reality and your visual distortions. Closing your eyes and “going inward” can be its own deep and sometimes visionary experience, where folks report all kinds of vivid mental imagery that’s easier to recall than a dream.
Your other senses can be enhanced or altered as well, like touch and sound. And although it’s uncommon to have auditory hallucinations, you can hear and experience music in a whole new and powerful way.
How Long Do Shrooms Last?
The whole experience lasts somewhere between four and eight hours, averaging for most folks as a six-hour trip, but it can depend on the dose and the individual. Mushrooms take an average of about 30 to 45 minutes to start taking effect, but it could be anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours depending on how you consumed them, so don’t get antsy or take more if you don’t feel them coming on as quickly as you’d like.
Mushroom Trip Timeline
The arch of the experience is generally as such:
- Come up: First two hours
- Peak: Around three to four hours after ingesting
- Come down slowly: From hours four to six, generally
It’s important to note the mushroom experience comes on and off in waves. This is especially apparent toward the end of your trip. It may feel like your trip is totally over at hour five, especially compared to the intensity of your peak, but then another wave of the psychedelic experience can come over you. So be gentle with yourself toward the end and don’t rush to return to normality. Instead, let the mushrooms’ tide rescind naturally.
Lastly, even though a hangover isn’t likely, and in fact, a light and motivating afterglow is common following a trip, it’s highly recommended to stay in and relax the entire day after a mushroom journey. The reason is, you might be in a sensitive place. In my book I describe it as having one foot in each world, the mushroom one and the real one, so don’t push yourself. Instead, use that day to reflect on your trip, maybe through journaling, a walk in nature, or whatever speaks to you.
First Time Doing Shrooms? Know Some Safe Mushroom Use Basics
Your first time taking magic mushrooms is a big event, so the first thing you have to do is treat it like one. Meaning, you have to prepare, and with mushrooms, that looks like getting in a relaxed and open mindset and arranging a tranquil and comforting environment. Prepping these two things, known in the psychedelic community as “set and setting,” is the number one way to have a safer and more beneficial psychedelic journey. In my book I detail a ton of specific recommendations on ways to prepare the optimal setting and things to consider while you’re readying your set, but the best thing you can do is be intentional and never rush into such a powerful experience without giving the details some thought.
Why, you may ask? Because when we go into a deep inner journey, we want to make sure everything on the earthly plane is accounted for and taken care of, so we relax into the experience and release our control to the substance. It’s the main way to avoid an unnecessarily stressful trip, and the best way we can prepare ourselves to, “trust, let go, be open.” That’s a phrase coined by psychologist and longtime psychedelic researcher, Bill Richards, who helped to write the manual on facilitating psilocybin trips in clinical trials, and who also let me pick his brain for Your Psilocybin Mushroom Companion.
But essentially, the phrase encapsulates everything you need to know about tripping well. Trust: in yourself, in your environment, and in your tripping partners, trip sitter, or facilitator if you have one. Let Go: to the psychedelic experience and don’t try to control, resist or direct it. Be Open: to all experiences, thoughts, memories, visions, and sensations that may come, no matter if they’re weird or unpleasant. “If you feel like you’re dying, melting, dissolving, exploding, going crazy et cetera—go ahead, embrace it,” Richards writes in his Flight Instructions. The idea is, if you let go to these challenging feelings and accept them rather than fight them, there may be transcendence or big insight on the other side.
The last basic safe use tip you have to know is that having a “trip sitter” is an easy way to both reduce any potential risks and help you feel safe and secure enough to surrender to the mushrooms. Trip sitters don’t do much or need much training, but they “hold the space” of reality, keeping your physical body safe and sound, so you can let your mind freely wander the myco-plane for a few hours in peace. My book has a whole chapter on how to be a good trip sitter, which DoubleBlind has published an excerpt of here.
Properly dosing shrooms is also critical to having a safe experience. The first thing you want to decide is if you want to start with a sub perceptual “microdose” or a “tripping” low dose. A microdose experience is subtle and can be a great place to start if you’ve never tried psychedelics before, or if you’re nervous about altering your consciousness so intensely. It’ll likely make you feel just slightly different, possibly more open, in-tune, empathetic, productive and creative, but can also make some people emotional, distracted and nauseous.
However, if you’re looking for a slightly deeper experience, I think it’s safe to start with a low “tripping” dose (two grams or less), sometimes known as a “museum dose” for your first time. The Shulgins (i.e. Sasha and Ann Shulgin, known for popularizing MDMA and other psychedelics) referred to low doses as museum doses for their ability to shift one’s perception just enough, while still maintaining decent contact with reality. I, however, wouldn’t recommend first timers go to a museum (or anywhere public) for their first psychedelic journey, even on a low dose. That’s because doses in the one to two gram range can still be a powerful experience with distinct sensory changes, which can be disconcerting and uncomfortable if you’re not totally relaxed for your first time.
Shroom Dose Ranges
- Microdose: 0.1 – 0.5 grams
- Low Dose: 0.5 – 2 grams
- Moderate Dose: 2 – 3.5 grams
- High Dose: 3.5 – 5 grams and above
It’s important to note these doses are for dried Psilocybe cubensis. If you’re consuming fresh mushrooms, you’ll want to multiple by 10 to account for the water weight. If you’re consuming a different species of mushroom, safe doses may be even lower so try to get more information on the strength. But the safest way to take a new batch of mushrooms is to start low to get a feel for the way they make you feel, before diving into higher dose journeys.
Lastly, there’s a common dose misconception I address in my book: that you should take a full eighth (3.5 grams) for your first journey. After speaking with over 20 mushroom users during my research, I learned many of them did that for their first time and ended up having completely overwhelming experiences that they weren’t prepared for. So I recommend folks start low to get acquainted with how mushrooms feel for you and to practice your tripping navigation skills before taking high dose journeys. You’ll be more prepared and comfortable for big experiences if you work your way up to a high dose over the course of a few trips; you’ll be better able to ground yourself and process the material afterward if it doesn’t overcome you like a tidal wave.
Are Shrooms Safe? Shroom Side Effects and Contraindications
Despite what you were taught in D.A.R.E., psilocybin mushrooms are physiologically safe for healthy people. In fact, for the past few years mushrooms have ranked as the Global Drug Survey’s safest illicit substance—safer even than cannabis because they put the least amount of people in the hospital. But the creators of the international survey even note that this is likely partly due to the special care, preparation and general knowledge of harm reduction that many mushroom users adhere to.
Psilocybin mushrooms, and most psychedelics for that matter, are also not considered addictive because their experiences are generally too profound for compulsive use. That’s, in part, because mushrooms don’t tend to give users an escape like alcohol or opioids can, but rather, they often offer a deeper look at oneself that’s not always pretty. And so, this is where things get a little complicated, because mushrooms can give users very challenging experiences that can feel quite destabilizing to their whole world view. Plus, mushrooms can also disorient consumers, making them less aware of their surroundings and therefore possibly at risk for some kind of environmental accident or oversight. But with safe use practices, like enlisting a sober “trip sitter” and the other recommendations we described above, harm is highly unlikely for healthy individuals.
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However, for those of us with chronic mental or physical health conditions, tripping on mushrooms may be slightly riskier or at least require extra support before, during, and after your psychedelic experience. The main potential contraindications for psilocybin mushroom experiences include: heart condition, psychotic spectrum disorder, pregnancy and/or breastfeeding, and medications that interact with serotonin receptors, mainly SSRI and SNRI antidepressants. If this is you, or you have another chronic health condition, or you’re on any daily medication, you need to do more research or possibly speak with a doctor on whether psilocybin can aggravate your condition or interact with your meds.
All in all, a mushroom trip isn’t something to be taken lightly and you should prepare yourself and plan like you would with any other journey. And if you’re looking for more advice on best practices, how to navigate the mushroom space, deal with challenging material, and make meaning of or “integrate” your experience, consider picking up a copy of my book, Your Psilocybin Mushroom Companion.
Michelle Janikian is a journalist focused on drug policy, trends and education. She’s the author of “Your Psilocybin Mushroom Companion: An Informative, Easy-to-Use Guide to Understanding Magic Mushrooms”, writes a column for Playboy about psychedelics and cannabis and has also contributed to High Times, Herb, Rolling Stone and Teen Vogue.