Updated: Mar 2
In short, yes, I believe they can. At the age of forty (where I find myself looking young enough to require an ID to buy alcohol, but too old to avoid the ‘when are you settling down and having kids?’ questions), you can probably deduce that I was a teenager during the 90s, when acid was a common treat over the weekend and baggy jeans reigned supreme.
I’ve always been quite partial to LSD, although it’s not always been an enjoyable experience. I once had some Strawberries one weekend back in 1994 (the acid obviously, not the summer fruit) and had a bloody marvellous time. The following weekend, I attempted to achieve the same buzz, but unfortunately, Strawberries were not available; it was White Lightning that were on the menu. So, like the naive teenager I was, I purchased the same amount and retired to my then boyfriend’s house with friends for an afternoon of what I thought would be fits of giggles and an over appreciation of colour.
What actually happened was that on the come-up, everything was fine, but that was only the beginning. The different trip brought with it a more intense, less hallucinogenic buzz and by the time the acid had reached it’s peak, I couldn’t actually see properly. I also couldn’t walk without audibly telling myself to do so, and for a while, also forgot how to breathe.
The house we were in had been decorated according to the gaudy Laura Ashley tastes of the ex-boyfriend’s mother, so soon the flowery wallpaper (which was busy at the best of times) made me wince to look at it, and it took me around five hours before I could finally operate without supervision as a human being again. There were no monsters crawling out of the walls and I didn’t feel abject terror, as I’ve read about in the case of many other people’s bad trips - mine was simply the result of taking way too much. Thankfully I was well supervised and my friends had to look after me whilst I peaked and the acid wore down.
When I got older, towards the back end of the 90s, my then housemate and his friend returned to the house in the wee small hours one morning. I was still awake, and trotted downstairs to have a cup of tea with them. They produced a plastic bag of magic mushrooms and asked if I wanted some. Of course I did! I’m a teenager who happened to have a day off the following day and my parents were away on holiday.
We made up the mushroom juice, mixed it with hot chocolate and retired to my attic bedroom to await the jollities. I expected the same kind of buzz I’d had from the paper acids that were so common then, but this was something completely different. It was the most magical experience I’ve ever had in my life.
For around six hours, as the sun came up outside, we sat and giggled and laughed and talked and I felt amazing. Not particularly high, just…light. The best way I can think of describing this is to imagine for a second that you are seven years old again. When you’re seven (especially if you were a child of the 80s), your world consists of toys, cartoons, hanging out with your friends and family. Your priorities are dinner, sweets and TV. Saturday mornings you get up early to get a bowl of cereal and to sit uninterrupted in front of the TV to start watching the good cartoons that start at half seven.
Then you get older, and you inherit stress and worries. As a teenager, you’re rife with them; am I too fat/thin/ugly/loud/weird? Does so-and-so like/love/hate me? Am I cool/popular/trendy enough? When you get older, these worries increase and include things like bills, relationships, money, politics, your annoying neighbours, family stress, maybe even kids. As you get older, your shoulders get heavier with all the stress.
When you take magic mushrooms - and I mean the proper ones, not the ‘truffles’ you get from the head shops in Amsterdam - that weight is gone from your shoulders for at least six hours. And it’s fucking marvellous.
I could see the world again as I had done as a child with a very over active imagination, and any stresses I had at the time floated away. The white painted bedroom transformed into a beautiful garden full of gorgeous flowers (that thinking about it, looked very Yellow Submarine, before Pepper Land goes blue), and we spent our time laughing and telling each other what beautiful souls we were.
There are two characteristics I found on the comedown however. The first and the most positive, is that when you’re coming down, any existing stresses you have can be thought about; tossed over in your mind and examined. Because you see them in a different light, as if you’re a stranger to your own problems, it’s easier to work out a solution, or if it’s a problem that won’t go away overnight, work out how to reframe it and deal with it being there in the long term. Mushrooms are very beneficial in that sense and way cheaper than therapy.
The second characteristic is the farting. Logically, I did drink a goop of Cadbury’s finest drinking chocolate mixed with a couple of handfuls of dirty mushrooms freshly picked by a couple of stoners at 2am on a Tuesday morning, so cleanliness was clearly not high on the list of quality control for that batch. It’s understandable that one can get a little ‘gassy’ after consuming such concoctions, but my word, I farted more in three hours coming down than I had in the last three years combined and as a fat bird with a penchant for junk food, that was quite surprising.
Anyway, I’ve not had either acid or mushrooms for years - but I still romantically pine for that experience every now and then. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve read up on magic mushrooms, LSD and other similar hallucinogens as the effects and usage fascinated me.
For example, the Algonquin tribes of North American Indians fed their tween boys a powerful hallucinogenic plant mixture that served effective memory loss (so they would forget about their childhood) and sent them off to survive with nothing more than a knife alone in the wilderness. When the boys returned, wide-eyed (and probably farting like a punctured bouncy castle) they were considered men, having fought with their own demons and survived.
I’ve also read the fantastic Elephants On Acid, where you can read about experiments with hallucinogens performed on not just people, but sadly, animals too. Psychedelic drugs were made illegal in America in 1968, due to moral panics, rising popularity and presumably to control crowds of bearded hippies communing with nature and finger painting into the wee small hours. This was part of the movement that ended a lot of the research into the effects of LSD and other hallucinogens, and it’s only in the last decade or two where this research is being continued, albeit on a smaller scale.
John Hopkins University in America reported that psilocybin (which is the bit of mushrooms that makes them trippy) reduced depression in 80% of their subjects, patients with life-threatening cancer. They also realised that psilocybin was also more effective as an anti-smoking aid than the standard CBT techniques.
In 2009, Dr Carhart-Harris was the first scientist from the UK in more than forty years to study the effects of psychedelics, and the results of one of his studies in 2017 confirmed that psilocybin can ‘reset’ the brains of those with untreatable depression. That’s a big discovery, and I reckon it holds true. As I said above, coming down from mushrooms allows you to examine your issues through a stranger’s eyes. It’s nothing you have to force, it just happens, and you can process things as simply as buttering a crumpet.
Back to myself in Lancashire, in my usual position of half falling asleep, drooling on my laptop and clutching at a precariously balanced cup of tea, in the midst of my research I discovered something I’d not seen before. This article on Vice is all about an island a stone’s throw from Bali. It’s a predominantly muslim place, so alcohol is scarce, but despite this, magic mushrooms are in full force. Unlike the standard boozy excursions offered by Club 18-30, here you can purchase your mushrooms (weirdly mixed with Sprite, of all things) and get off your box in a tropical paradise for the day.
Now I’ll warn you now, as tempting as this sounds, to reach the island has to be done by boat from Bali so you need to fly there first, and it ain’t cheap. That said, if you check out Bali and surrounding areas on AirBnB, there’s some gorgeous properties that are reasonably priced. I’ve added this to my ‘Places I’ll Go When I’ve Retired’ bucket list.
In the meantime, please don’t think I’m advocating getting off your nipples for shits and giggles. What I’m saying is if you find hallucinogens fascinating, go and research the studies being done and how the results may help us in the future. There’s lots of interesting stuff online and in the long run, this could help sufferers of an array of illnesses. And in the meantime, maybe save up for your flights.
Written by EJ, who clearly had no willpower during the 1990s.