With interest in psilocybin mushrooms reaching the mainstream thanks to what some people refer to as the “Joe Rogan effect,” it’s easy to think of mushroom use as a new trend. In reality, humans across cultures have been using psilocybin mushrooms for thousands of years as part of spiritual, mental and physical medicine.
When exploring mushrooms today, people seeking healing are simply walking through doors to the mind that everyone from the ancient Druids to the Mayans opened thousands of years ago.
In Mesoamerica, evidence of psilocybin being consumed during ritualistic ceremonies dates back 3,000 years. Local shamans and healers continue the tradition to this day.
In fact, wellness seekers from around the world shed their corporate titles, societal roles and worldly duties for weeks at a time to trek deep into the mountains of central and south America for “mushroom retreats” where they evict darkness from their hearts and minds through mystical, transpersonal journeys. These retreats have become so popular that they are now hosted everywhere from Amsterdam to Jamaica to make it easier for more people to enjoy healing experiences.
For most people, the first introduction to the “magic mushroom” came during the countercultural era of the 1960s by way of psychedelic advocates like Timothy Leary. However, this movement didn’t quite swing open the doors to the mind-altering hallways of psilocybin for the mainstream masses. The work of using magic mushrooms to broaden consciousness is still being done today.
Once considered taboo, psilocybin use has boomed due to a growing understanding of the emotional benefits offered when mushrooms are safely and prudently used as wellness aids to help people overcome emotional blockages.
What’s more, advanced technologies like brain-imaging tools have allowed researchers to discover that the “magic” part of magic mushrooms is actually deeply rooted in the neurochemistry of the brain.
It turns out that the healers and shamans who were once considered naïve and superstitious practitioners were more like chemists than polite society ever realized.
Of course, the fact that we can observe the way that mushrooms influence brain activity in real time doesn’t reduce their spiritual and supernatural benefits. The experiences people have after consuming mushrooms have long-term, life-changing effects that can make anyone a believer in the healing arts.
Far from just offering a “strange trip,” mushrooms hold the potential to heal and enlighten. In fact, modern-day researchers are looking at mushrooms in a whole new light due to promising findings regarding psilocybin’s potential ability to treat depression, anxiety and other psychological disorders. Most promising is the evidence that psilocybin may be an efficacious treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In studies, researchers have found that psilocybin may stimulate nerve regrowth in the parts of the brain connected to emotion and memory.
In one specific study out of the University of South Florida from 2013, researchers were actually able to observe that psilocybin stimulates neurogenesis that repairs brain cells in the hippocampus. This is significant because mice that were dosed with psilocybin were able to overcome fear conditioning better than the placebo group.
For humans suffering from PTSD, the use of “magic mushrooms” may aid in getting over the fear response. While this may sound like a cutting-edge discovery, the fact of the matter is that humans have instinctually been using mushrooms to heal for eons. Civilizations have quite literally “gone to the soil” to heal mind, body and soul using these naturally occurring entheogens.
The Mystical Experience of Psilocybin
Not everyone is interested in the deep science behind the effects of magic mushrooms on neurotransmitters. Many people simple want to get outside of themselves for deep, vivid healing experiences. The reason why a mushroom experience is called “a trip” is because perceptions shift so drastically that mushroom takers feel as though they have been transported to a new, strange world.
To understand the interconnected, spiritual nature of mushrooms, one must only understand how they grow in masses of thin threads called mycelium that link up in elegant, outstretched webs resembling networks of human blood vessels. In fact, the imagery of mycelium looks like millions of underground networks that operate like a sort of “underground Internet.” Connection is a common theme with mushrooms.
During a 2014 study conducted by King’s College London, researchers asked participants to undergo brain scanning after taking either magic mushrooms or a placebo. Among the participants who took the mushrooms, the brain imaging revealed brain-synchronizing activities among areas of the brain that do not normally occur. In other words, parts of the brain that don’t normally connect began to connect.
These findings are very consistent with the experiences that people report after ingesting psilocybin. For many people, there is an immense connection to nature after consuming mushrooms. It is as through the entire structure of nature and the cosmos suddenly makes sense.
Many find that hidden truths are revealed to them. Others have profound, life-changing experiences where they are able to see all things from a new, enlightened perspective. In many cases, it feels like supernatural understandings that their brains were unable to access up until a “mushroom trip” come spilling into their consciousness.
A psilocybin journey is an experience that can impact both the physical and “invisible” senses. For many, there are perceptual changes related to how they see geometric patterns and lights. Reality deconstructs before reconstructing into a truer, crisper reality.
Many people also experience shifting perceptions of time. One of the most common experiences is the sense of being able to observe the world “breathing all around you with pulsations and vibrations.” This can be a very comforting experience for many people who feel disconnected from the world in their daily lives.
In many cases, everything is heightened by vivid colors and halos appearing around objects. Vivid closed-eye visualizations, feelings of euphoria, supercharged introspection and ultra-heightened conceptual thinking are all hallmarks of a mushroom experience.
Psilocybin users also experience huge emotional shifts. For many, this is a cathartic experience that allows them to experience openness to the thoughts and feelings that they “stuff down” in daily life. Their minds are finally able to get enough peace and connection to be able to look at the issues that they have been avoiding.
Dread and shame are replaced with a true sense of wonder and appreciation for the world. With this lens, they are able to finally look hard truths in the eye. For some, the emotions can be overwhelming. This is especially true when people resist “the ride” by not allowing feelings to come and go.
In a responsible setting, a mushroom guide will instruct you on the importance of giving up resistance to avoid any potential negative or stressful experiences while you’re under the influence of mushrooms.
What the Shaman Knows: The Use of Psilocybin Mushrooms in Shamanic Practice
First, it helps to know what a shaman is. The easiest answer is to call a shaman a healer with a spiritual medicine kit. A shaman is a person with the ability to pass into spiritual realms to communicate with plant spirits, animal sprits and the spirits of ancestors.
During these travels, they are imbibed with knowledge regarding how to cure and treat diseases. However, getting to this spiritual realm requires a trip. To reach spiritual planes where answers can be found, the shaman enters into a trance state using various chants, patterns and rhythms. Many are also aided into these healing planes with the use of psilocybin mushrooms.
Historically, pre-Columbian Mayans, Aztecs, Huastec, Totonac, Mazatec and Mixtec communities all consumed hallucinogenic mushrooms in various forms. They also left behind relics of the sacred substances. In parts of Central America, carved mushroom stones have been found.
Many ancient gods were depicted with mushrooms. For instance, depictions have been found of the Mixtec god referred to as Seven Flowers holding mushrooms in his hands. Depictions of an Aztec god of flowers called Xochipilli among hallucinogenic plants and fungi were also discovered on the slopes of Popocatepetl in Mexico.
“The Druids trained for 20 years in subjects such as law, astronomy, philosophy, poetry, medicine, music, geometry divination, and magic. It is probable that specific substances were used to induce high trance states to receive poetic inspiration and messages from the gods,” shares an international speaker on shamanic medicine named Shonagh Home.
There is also evidence to suggest that Greeks, Egyptians and Celts have all cultivated mushroom cults throughout history. It is also believed that early Germanic, Norse and Siberian peoples spiked meads and ales with psychoactive substances.
Losing Yourself to Find Yourself: Psilocybin and Ego Dissolution
One of the biggest motivators for working with psilocybin mushrooms is something called ego dissolution. Sometimes called “ego death,” the experience is described as allowing people to access reality directly without any mental barriers or learned mental habits that drag them away from the present moment.
The normal subjective experience evaporates. In this state, they are able to be stripped of all pretenses in order to get the answers they seek. Researchers have grown interested in finding out exactly what happens during the widely reported ego dissolution that occurs during mushroom trips. Is there any physiological basis for this phenomenon?
It turns out there is. Researchers suspect that a neurotransmitter in the brain known as glutamate is connected to the hallucinogenic effects of mushrooms and other psychedelic substances.
While researchers are still working to pinpoint exactly what happens in the brain during a trip to stimulate a “loss of self,” many people who have been set free through ego dissolution don’t need lab results to tell them that this is something very powerful.
Many people find that this “ego death” experience is the key to personal growth because it allows them to get over the blockages that have kept them trapped in specific habits and mindsets.
What’s more, some people only become aware of the habits and patterns that they have been conditioned to follow during a trip. Breaking from limiting or self-destructive self-beliefs allows them to “wake up” for the first time.
The benefits don’t end when the trip does. There’s plenty of anecdotal and research-based evidence to suggest that the “awakenings” of an acid trip produce long-term benefits.
In research conducted at the John Hopkins School of Medicine using 18 adults who participated in eight-hour drug sessions with either psilocybin or placebo, participants were still seeing the effects of the experience 14 months after the fact.
What’s more, 39 percent of participants who received the drug during the study still considered it to be the most meaningful experience of their life 14 months out. Additionally, 94 percent said it made their list of the top five most meaningful experiences. Many of the study participants reported long-term experiences of greater compassion and patience.
Psilocybin Mushrooms: A Trip Around the Universe From Within
An initiation into a higher state of consciousness that has probably been practiced for as long as humans have existed, a mushroom experience offers strong potential for spiritual and therapeutic breakthroughs.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that a relaxed stance should be taken in regards to psilocybin use. People should be prepared for the fact that there is the potential to have a very strong experience. If not handled properly, this can be a very negative and overwhelming thing.
It’s important to take a very scientific, disciplined approach to mushroom use. In many cases, priming the mind and body for the experience through meditation and relaxation can help to foster a positive trip.
Someone who goes in unprepared could potentially experience a bad trip resulting from the ego’s resistance to being dissolved. This can lead to frightening hallucinations that could ultimately cause you to accidentally injure yourself.
It’s also wise to participate in psilocybin experiences with people who have experience. In addition to providing supervision and guidance, they can use known techniques to help you come out of a bad trip.
It’s also advised to be in a pleasant, natural place when embarking on a mushroom journey, so that you can experience the full connection to nature that is often reported with these experiences.
It’s also important to check the legal status of psilocybin mushrooms in your area before consuming any substances.
Lastly, the world has changed enough that it’s perfectly acceptable to seek out the advice of a medical professional. Get some responsible insights and advice from a doctor if you’re considering using psilocybin mushrooms for healing, medicinal or therapeutic purposes.
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