War on Drugs

How To Take Shrooms

A concise guide to experimenting with psilocybin


So let's say psilocybin mushrooms are newly decriminalized where you live, and you are now open to having your first psychedelic experience. Allow me to share some of the practical knowledge I have gleaned from talking to experts and old heads, reading books and articles, and consuming various amounts of magic mushrooms in various settings.

Begin by trying very hard to find a reason why you should not consume shrooms. What exactly are the laws where you live? Are you on parole or probation? Do you take any prescription drugs? Google your medication's name and "shrooms." Do you have epilepsy? Search drug forums to find out how other epilepsy sufferers have fared on psilocybin. Do you need to monitor your glucose throughout the day? Search drug forums for the experiences of diabetics.

Avoid rehab websites and focus instead on forums where people talk about their own use, such as shroomery.org and erowid.org, both of which contain countless "trip reports." You will find more anecdotes than hard research, but you can still learn a lot. If a self-assessment does not put you at ease, you can also tell your doctor or therapist that you are considering taking shrooms and ask for his or her informed opinion. Be honest and fair with yourself. Not all drugs are for everyone, and there are other ways to open the doors of perception. While psilocybin is not poisonous to your organs, it does leave you vulnerable to external dangers. Anyone taking a prescription drug for depression or anxiety should do extra research, as some drugs mute the effects of the tryptamines in psilocybin, while other drugs amplify the effects.

(Michal Moravcik/Alamy)

Once you have conducted a clear-eyed risk assessment, it's time to find some fungi. I recommend dried mushrooms (the standard method of preservation), because they are easy to measure and they keep for a while. You can grow a personal stash and dry them discreetly at home (turn again to that internet browser and search for "PF Tek" for instructions), or you can buy one-eighth of an ounce, likely for $25–$40. If you have adventurous adult children, ask them to help you find a trustworthy source. The marijuana user in your life probably knows someone who knows someone, and he will not think you are weird for asking him. It is unwise to purchase shrooms from Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace or from a stranger without an introduction. Foraging for wild shrooms is also an option, but please seek help from someone who's done it before. It can take hours to feel the effects of eating the wrong kind of wild mushroom, by which point it will likely have damaged your kidneys and liver.

Shrooms in hand, pull up your calendar and pick out a Saturday. You only need one day for your experience, but you'll want to set aside all of it. If you take a dose at 10 a.m., you will begin to feel the effects by 10:45. The "peak" will arrive between 11:30 and noon and last for two or three hours. By 4 p.m. you will feel close enough to normal to know that your trip is completed. But again, it's a good idea to give yourself an entire day in case you want to take the shrooms earlier or later, or in case your own experience does not quite match up with the time windows above. Once you have taken the shrooms, I strongly advise you not to operate a vehicle again until you've had a good night's sleep.

This brings us to the "setting" component of the famous psychedelic shorthand "set and setting." Choose a space you can occupy for the day and where you feel comfortable, safe, and secure. Depending on how much you take your first time, you could experience profound emotions that make you laugh and cry. Some folks prefer the privacy and comfort of their own homes. Others like a secluded spot in nature. Know how you'll get to and from that place and who will be with you. I recommend first-timers have someone around whom they trust. This "trip sitter" doesn't need to be an experienced psychedelic user; he just needs to be kind, level-headed, positive, and empathetic. (To learn more about supporting someone else who is tripping, you can freely read Mark Haden's Psychedelic Guide Manual on the website of the Zendo Project, a nonprofit that provides lay-friendly psychedelics education.)

"Set," which is short for "mindset," is also important. Sometimes I approach a mushroom trip with a sense of mission. If I feel like I'm in a rut or need an attitude adjustment, then I go in knowing that I will think about those problems. Many people describe such trips as work. You can also approach shrooms with a sense of adventure, curiosity, and excitement. In that case, you might spend your trip looking at cool art, marveling at nature, or listening to music. Just remember that shrooms increase activity in your amygdala, which is the part of your brain that tells you when it's time to haul ass. Be kind to yourself and avoid media content that's meant to frighten, anger, or otherwise evoke strong negative emotions.

How you consume the shrooms is a matter of personal preference. Maya priests of the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave, in what is now Belize, used deer bladders attached to hollowed-out bones to deliver psilocybin rectally. I prefer pouring a cup of boiling water over ground shrooms, letting the tea cool to room temperature, and then drinking it down—pulp and all—as quickly as I can. Some folks put dried shrooms on a piece of peanut butter toast. They taste terrible, but you're not eating them for the flavor.

(Michal Moravcik/Alamy)

If you are very nervous about using shrooms, I recommend you start with 1 gram dried. Ingesting this amount will feel mostly like a new kind of buzz that simply lasts a long time. Up to around 1.5 grams will feel like an even stronger buzz, but with no perceptible change in your vision or hearing or in how well you speak and follow normal conversation. Exceeding 1.5 grams will likely cause you to think and speak differently. People who take between 2.5 and 3.5 grams report perceptible visual effects (seeing faint geometric patterns where there are none, for instance) and a very active, stream-of-consciousness mental state. The "heroic dose" popularized by psychonaut Terence McKenna is 5 grams. People who have taken this amount say the trip is very psychologically taxing but also provides the longest-lasting increase in emotional well-being. (Clinical trials do not use dried mushrooms, but the largest doses of psilocybin they administer are roughly in this range.) For more on the experience of the "heroic dose," read "The Mushroom Moment Manifesto," page 20.

But don't feel the need to be a hero. Start with the smallest dose that makes you comfortable. If the resulting experience is insufficiently trippy, get out your calendar, find another Saturday, and take a larger dose. Keep in mind that weighing out dried plant material is not the most exact way to take any drug, which is why cardiologists administer the cardiac drug digitalis, not dried foxglove flower, for congestive heart failure. And since you can't untake shrooms, err on the side of underdoing it.

A little nausea is normal in the first 45 minutes. Try to ride it out! Shrooms are not ayahuasca, and puking is not necessary. Stay hydrated even if you don't feel thirsty.

Once you are under the influence, what then? Shrooms can be a useful tool for testing connections between ideas. Many of us believe things about ourselves and the world that make our lives harder than they have to be. Shrooms can evaporate those beliefs and render superior ideas stickier and more influential. If you have ever wanted to believe what seemingly happy people believe but found their worldview both irritatingly saccharine and maddeningly out of reach, shrooms can help their Hallmark truisms wedge themselves in your brain and illuminate your outlook for months afterward.

I believe shrooms have increased my baseline sense of gratitude and helped tame my desire to control things I cannot and should not (such as the behavior of others). They have also made me reluctant to escalate interpersonal conflicts. I like these changes, although I don't know how replicable they are for anyone else. The faultiest mental connections can elude even the most dogged psychic excavator, and it is too much to ask of any drug that it undo decades of neurological wiring.

What if your exploration of the inside of your head, or just some random external stimulus, leads to the proverbial "bad trip"? Then you have a bad trip. Remind yourself that you are on a drug and that it will eventually wear off. If you plan to take a larger dose, consider obtaining a benzodiazepine and entrusting it to your trip sitter. If you have a panic attack or feel overwhelmed in a way that does not subside as your trip progresses, a single Valium or Xanax will level you out for the remainder of your psilocybin experience.

Despite the pitfalls, it's worth trying to push through whatever negative emotions overwhelm you, especially if you have a trip sitter present. Everyone's got something eating at them, and shrooms are a good tool for facing those things with a new and conciliatory attitude. It doesn't always feel that way when it's happening, but that's part of the shrooms paradox: Even a "bad" trip can produce great results.