Photo: Beat Küng

Psilocybe, or “magic mushrooms,” as they’re commonly known, are a mild hallucinogen. Follow the author as she experiences them for the first time.

[This article is provided for informational purposes only. Please use your own judgment in deciding what to do with it. Be aware that magic mushrooms are illegal to possess in many countries.]

AN ORANGE SLICE was sitting on the kitchen counter, hidden just behind the light. My head was throbbing mercilessly, the mushrooms just beginning to kick in.

A quarter of an orange — plump, juicy, veined. I began to laugh. In fact, I began to laugh hysterically and couldn’t stop for the next three minutes.

I couldn’t help it — the orange slices reminded me of a vagina.

At their best, magic mushrooms reduce you to a blubbering mess of giggles and bellyache laughter. At their worst, they make you feel like you just walked out of a harrowing rollercoaster ride: nauseous, dizzy, and bilious.

Prior to my recent foray into the hallucinogenic world, I was what one would consider the uncommon phenomenon of a drug-free, 20-something writer living in New York City.

I suppose my biggest hesitation with the idea of taking magic mushrooms — or any drug, for that matter — was losing self-control and putting into question the ideas I had about myself. But then again, maybe that was the point: discovering the unknown part of you, the alter ego lurking just behind the surface.

One day I had too much time, too few obligations, and access to a stash of magic mushrooms. That’s when I began to discover the complexities beyond what I thought I knew, and more importantly, who I thought I was.

Part 1 – Prepping for shrooms

Psilocybe, or “magic mushrooms” as they’re more commonly called, are a mild hallucinogen. They affect each person differently, and unless taken in large amounts, most people don’t actually hallucinate or have “visions” or “flashbacks.”

They’re organic, accessible (not much more difficult than scoring weed), and though it does come with its hazards, there’s the reassuring thought that if you don’t like it, your body will simply metabolize the drug and you can get back to normal again.

“Mostly it’s just glowing colors, distortions, details popping out…good vibes,” I was reassured. “You’ll like it.” This was followed up with some practical tips:

  • “They taste absolutely disgusting,” experienced shroom-takers all agree. “Take them with M&Ms,” was one suggestion. “They’ll go down easier.”
  • “Stay in a safe, comfortable environment.” The setting, I learned, determines largely whether you’ll have an enjoyable or excruciating trip. One friend highly recommends taking them on the beach, where the ocean looks like a pulsating blue glow.
  • “Make sure you’re taking them with someone who’s had them before,” I was told again and again. Dave, my boyfriend and experienced shroom buddy, insisted we clean our apartment. “You’ll find that everything clean will look dirty, and everything dirty will look disgusting,” he said.

“Good luck,” a friend of mine wrote before the experiment. “You’re going to learn so much about yourself, others, the world…”

Part 2 – Is it just me or is the world throbbing?

Twenty minutes into our first serving of shrooms, I was complaining of their non-effect on me. “I feel completely normal! They probably don’t even work on me,” I declared. “Let’s take the rest then,” Dave said. We licked the plate clean of mushroom dust.

Within minutes, Dave was bouncing around the room, laughing at every little thing and marveling at colors. I, on the other hand, was spiraling down a dark cave.

My limbs couldn’t decide if they wanted to shift restlessly, as they were beginning to do, or lay inert in bed. My head felt like someone was kneading it, and my stomach kept threatening to launch a revolution. The mushrooms were not sitting well with my body.

Getting past the initial, debilitating effect of the mushrooms was the most challenging part of my experience. But once I was outside, navigating traffic and negotiating the New York characters, it became easier to forget how horrible my body felt and how light my mind actually was.

My head wasn’t cloudy (the way one’s thoughts can be muddled when drunk), and with the city an explosion of stimuli, my mind zipped through so many connections. I was aware of all of them, if only briefly. Occasionally I would burst out laughing. At what, I didn’t know or remember, but I just laughed and snorted and wheezed until I was out of breath, stopping mid-giggle to convey how I had no idea what was so funny.

Part 3 – Did I just say that?

In our heightened state, Dave and I decided to walk to a nearby park. I still knew how to put one leg in front of the other, but not much else. Nausea was still invading my body in sporadic bursts, and though I hid behind large sunglasses, I felt everyone in the world could tell I was high.

We found a grassy mound where we lay down and stared at the sky and the trees. I’ve heard colors appear to glow when on shrooms, but I wasn’t convinced the greens and blues of the park were any more vibrant that day. Dave noticed every little detail: “Did you realize all the trees on our block are of the same species?”

After studying some puzzling elements around the park — a stuffed pig on roller skates, tourists who asked for directions but never moved, people running to and from a tree with bright, fluttering balloons — he figured out that all these strange, disparate characters were planted by a Disney-sponsored Bingo game. “Now it makes sense,” he said.

I had settled into a mental acuteness unfamiliar to me. There was a distinct remove between what I was saying and what I was doing, and who the person was behind it all. It felt like I was observing myself as I was being, and though I’d lived in New York City for two years, everything felt new again.

Part 4 – An altered perspective

My mind was opening up connections I wouldn’t normally make. On our way home, we stopped by a deli and Dave said, “Let’s take a bottle of water.” I instantly responded, “But we have to pay for it first!” He looked at me strangely.

I realized I was paranoid about doing something wrong. My subconscious, I figured out, is more uptight than my conscious self.

Soon, in the comfort of an air-conditioned bedroom, I was waxing existential and listening to music, which is famous for sounding better on hallucinogens. Lyrics turned into epiphanies.

Sometimes I’d catch myself mid-sentence, and wonder — do I actually live with this person (meaning me), and do I even like this person? It was a strange back-and-forth of ruminations, which I could sometimes convey verbally, sometimes not. I reveled in this strange but satisfying sentience, and when the drugs wore off less than three hours later, I was left with a lingering curiosity about myself and the world.

Would I take magic mushrooms again? Sure, but next time I’ll do it outside NYC — even when I’m sober and completely cognizant, the city’s still a lot to take in.

What do you think of magic mushrooms and their ability to “open” the mind? Share your thoughts in the comments.