Citation: Anonymous. "My Panoply of Song: An Experience with Mushrooms (exp100681)". Erowid.org. Oct 22, 2020. erowid.org/exp/100681
(Disclaimer – All names have been changed to first initials. Sorry, I know it’s annoying to read and probably hard to keep everyone straight, but privacy is an underrated amenity.)
I’m a pretty adventurous person in some respects, and while I haven’t tried all the drugs in the world, I’m open to trying many things (dare I say most things?) at least once. I’ve always been particularly cautious about hallucinogens because I had an uncle who had a bad trip on acid and dealt with flashbacks for the rest of his life. He had a lot of psychological problems that probably contributed to the bad reaction, but my mother still warned me consistently about hallucinogens from a young age. In some ways, I think they’re as dangerous as drugs that are physically addicting because they can do such powerful things to the psyche.
There is something so alluring and enchanting about the concept of a psychedelic trip, though, and even knowing my uncle’s story, hallucinogens were very seductive to me, so I approached the idea of trying them with respect and caution. It’s not something you just jump into or play by ear. I did extensive research on both mushrooms and acid (over the course of a year or more before trying either), knew in theory exactly what to expect from each, all of the risks, how prepare for a trip and how to handle a bad one. My boyfriend R is a very experienced tripper and is pretty experimental with drugs, so he was an excellent information source as well. I’d been dating him for about six months at the time of this experience, though we’d talked about tripping together for longer than that. To give even more background, my sister and I had tried acid for the first time one year before the experience I’m about to describe. Her friend had bought it at a music festival and we were really excited to try it together. It gave us a pretty nice buzz and lasted a solid five hours, but it was ultimately really weak acid, so we had barely any visual effects. It was comparable to being high on really potent weed, but afterwards I didn’t feel like I’d actually experienced a psychedelic trip at all, just the slaphappiness that comes with being reasonably fucked up on something with a best friend (which is still a blast, of course).
R and I went camping together in June of 2012. We went to this private remote campsite in northwest Wisconsin, a place where he goes every June with some of his really close friends. In our immediate circle of tents, there were maybe ten of us, but in the entire campground, there were about eighty people total. We were there for a weekend, and on Saturday he told me that his friend “D” had brought some mushrooms from home for us to try if we wanted to. Both R and D said the mushrooms were really old and hadn’t been stored 100% correctly, so they probably wouldn’t work at all. There were enough mushrooms for about six people, but all of us agreed to keep our expectations low since it was likely they’d lost their potency.
I was really excited, but started to get slightly nervous as the agreed-upon time to take the mushrooms got closer. R’s friend “K” (who wasn’t going to trip with us) started talking about how mushrooms taste so bad that most people vomit them up immediately after eating them (in retrospect, I’m not sure how true this is) and how they always make her so nauseated that she ends up puking through the first thirty minutes of her trip. I’m terrified of throwing up and have been for many years, so this really hit a nerve with me. I also started getting concerned about my “set and setting” not being completely ideal. I’d been having a great time all weekend, but I’d never been camping before, so the setting was relatively unfamiliar, plus I’d been dealing with a lot of serious depression and anxiety the past few months and I didn’t want them to be magnified during my first trip. Regardless, though, I nervously (and perhaps, one could argue, irresponsibly) went through with the plan to eat the mushrooms because I’d wanted to try them for so long. I figured that if I didn’t like them, I just wouldn’t do them again. My predominant emotion going into the trip was still overwhelming excitement. I was also feeling very bored with my life and burned out at the time, so I was really craving adventure.
At 10:30 p.m., we gathered under the canopy in the center of our circle of tents and we split the mushrooms into six equal piles, one for R and one for me, as well as one for D, R’s college roommate and close friend “J”, J’s husband “F” and their friend “C”. We each ended up taking, I believe (but am not sure), a little less than a quarter of an ounce. We’d been smoking weed and drinking pretty much since the start of the camping trip, so there was probably both weed and booze in my system. I didn’t feel high or drunk at all, but technically they were in my system and could’ve affected my experience.
I didn’t feel high or drunk at all, but technically they were in my system and could’ve affected my experience.
Also, shortly into my trip, I took a couple of hits from somebody’s bowl because they told me it would help mellow out any potential nausea, which I was trying at all costs to avoid. Throughout my trip, I would have a slightly upset stomach, but it was muted background noise and no vomiting was involved. The physical act of eating the mushrooms was not remotely unpleasant to me, which was a huge relief. They were a little tough to chew, but I was able to eat my mushrooms faster than anybody else, which actually made me feel uneasy because I didn’t want to start tripping before they did. My underlying nerves about the trip made me a little clingy. I wanted R to be with me the whole time because he knew what he was doing and he’s very comforting. I also didn’t want to be higher than everyone else, though at the same time I didn’t want to take a smaller dose than everyone else because I wanted to get the full experience.
Because everyone kept reassuring me that the mushrooms probably wouldn’t start working for thirty minutes (if at all) it was pretty unsettling when I started to feel “weird” after only about ten minutes. I felt distinctly light-headed, almost like my body was rippling or thrumming, and I got this weird numbness in my mouth. It freaked me out a bit because I’d never felt this way before. R told me that it was probably just the placebo effect since the mushrooms hadn’t been in my system very long, but then D told me that he always know his trips are starting because “I can feel it in my teeth.” I think that was his way of describing the tingly numbness I felt in my mouth, almost like I had an invisible hair tangled around my tongue. I told R that I definitely “felt it in my teeth” and that my trip was definitely starting.
I got really cold and started to feel a bit panicky. R walked with me back to our tent so that I could change into jeans. He talked to me calmly, told me that the trip was going to be great and that all I need to do was ride with it and let it take me where it wanted me to go. Obviously, this was just a poetic personification, but I found it helpful to think of the mushrooms as conscious friends taking us all on an adventure with them. R also explained to me how the mushrooms were working, what they were doing in my brain and how the strange body sensations and perceptions were just the result of my neural pathways firing in a slightly different way. He continued to remind me that the psilocin in my body would work its way through my system and wasn’t permanent, that it would peak in about an hour, the effects would plateau for a few more hours and then it would die off . He actually calmed me down a ton, so I sat back down in the center of our campsite with everyone else and I allowed myself to feel relaxed and calm. “N”, R’s friend and current roommate, didn’t take any mushrooms but did smoke enough weed to be decently fucked up with us. N is very calming and I’ve always liked him a lot. He reassured me that nobody would leave me anywhere and that everyone would have my back if I started to freak out at all. That calmed me down even more. Through the rest of the night, N continued to check in with me and ask me how I was doing. Side note: My main advice to future first-time trippers includes having at least one person with you who will constantly check in with you through the night, and who is prepared to calm you down if you freak out.
As I sat under our canopy in the center of our campsite with everybody else, I started to feel slightly punchy, almost exactly the way I’d felt the summer before tripping on acid with my sister. R was standing next to me, and next to him was the cooler he’d brought, filled with booze. C asked R if he could have a beer, R opened up the cooler and C mumbled, “Jesus, what is this? Some sort of plethora?” I burst into a fit of laughter at this comment.
By the time thirty minutes had passed, I started to get see some visual effects. This was really exciting to me because they were the aspect of the trip I most wanted to experience. Things seemed to “move weird”. For example, F threw his backpack onto the ground, and out of the corner of my eye it appeared to fall from the sky instead of from his hand. I began to see little flashing speckles of light in the air around me, like tiny fireflies in every color. The tree trunks were physically still, but they looked oddly bright, squiggly and worm-like. Their leaves writhed and curled in place, swelling and then deflating like little lungs, blooming into fractal-like patterns. R kept pointing out the leaves to me, asking me if I could see what they were doing. R had talked about mushroom leaves to me before. They’re one of his favorite visual effects. The faces of the people around me began to crawl with intricate paisley patterns, and when I closed my eyes I could see colored fractals and phosphenes exploding across my field of vision. J has this obsession with darkness when she’s tripping, so as soon as she started to feel the mushrooms, she began turning off all the lights in the campsite. The sun was almost done setting and the sky was apparently beautiful for even the non-tripping sober people. The clouds formed this bizarre cross-hatching with each other and the sun kind of bled through the air behind them, so the sky looked like this pink and orange roughly-sewn quilt lying over the woods and swaddling us all with infinity. It was beautiful. The other six trippers and I stared at it in awe for about ten minutes without talking. Then, J and I made eye contact and burst into uncontrollable giggles, to the point where we could no longer breathe and our chests hurt. From this point forward, almost everything that happened was irresistibly funny. I’ve never laughed so hard in my life. The world was both ravishing and hysterical to me, both at the same time, in a way that’s really hard to describe.
As J and I continued to cackle uncontrollably, the others decided that they wanted to go for a nighttime walk in the woods. The campground where we were staying is small and it’s owned by an older couple. They have a cabin in the center of the campground, and the area immediately around their cabin serves as a communal gathering point for the eighty or so campers who stay there every year during the yearly camping weekend. There’s a fire pit, a kitchen, a never-used shower and a ton of metal sculptures that the two owners builds themselves. Our little sub-campsite with our circle of tents, like most of the other sub-campsites, was within about a one-minute walk from this central area. At night, the central area is filled with people playing music and drinking and sitting around the fire. When we got there, it was so overstimulating that I almost couldn’t handle it. I became very self-conscious of how high I was, the fact that I couldn’t walk easily and kept stumbling and weaving, the fact that my speech was slurred and the fact that I kept laughing loudly at inappropriate times. I felt like everyone was judging me personally for being so high. A group of people who we knew came up to talk with J and F, and even though there were only five of them at most, the mushrooms magnified their figures in the dark, so it looked to me as though I was surrounded by this mass of shadowy black silhouettes, all of them talking and crowding me in. It was really unsettling. I also lost the ability to distinguish between different people easily. For example, D was standing next to me, talking to me, and I kept thinking he was N. J announced, simply, “Too many people,” turned around and walked away toward the border of the woods. Thankful that she’d taken action, I followed her, as did R, N and D.
Out of the crowd, we all felt much better. There’s this trail through the woods away from the center of camp. It’s unofficially called Mushroom Trail because it’s circular, so it’s possible to walk it while you’re tripping without getting lost in the woods. As we walked along Mushroom Trail, I became increasingly euphoric and increasingly at peace. Everything was hysterically funny to us, from the random metal sculptures in the trees to the things we’d think and say. One thing I noticed at this point was the perception of a shared consciousness between the five of us. I know that this experience is characteristic of hallucinogens, but it really did feel to me that everyone else understood the thoughts behind everything I said, that we all “got each other” in a way we hadn’t before and nobody else could. It was indescribably unifying and a wonderful bonding experience, in my opinion. To laugh so hard with other people is in itself is a bonding experience, but on mushrooms you really do feel like you can communicate with your fellow trippers just through your laughing alone. Another thing I noticed was how suggestible we all became. For example, R mentioned to the rest of us that the lighting in the woods made them look snowy, and immediately we all perceived the trees and ground as being covered in snow. N pointed out a tree stump that looked to him like the face of a bear, and right away it looked so bear-like to the rest of us that we were afraid to touch it. It was exhilarating, almost like we were changing reality with our minds.
At some point, the rest of our group, including the other two trippers and a few people who were just really stoned, found us along the trail, and we all sat down together on the ground. F began to play his guitar quietly, I sat with R, J, D and N and we talked for what seemed like all night (even though it was actually only an hour or two). We laughed uncontrollably through all of our conversations, but we also talked about weird philosophical shit that seemed so important and deep at the time. Somebody proposed the idea of using one leg for half of your life and the other leg for the other half to prevent normal leg wear-and-tear. We pondered whether or not it was theoretically possible to talk about the trees so much so that they’d all became conscious, develop identities and start judging us for tripping so hard. We called it “putting faces on the trees”. We tossed around the concept of eliminating unnecessary organs from our bodies to make room for “more important things”. It’s all fucking crazy, of course. The people who hadn’t taken mushrooms kept sarcastically asking whether or not they were working at all.
As my distortion of time got more pronounced I began to feel a little uneasy. It occurred to me that we’d been in the woods “for ages” and none of us were coming down. Also, my inability to correctly perceive space started to bother me. I had trouble mentally placing myself relative to other people. It’s really hard to explain now because my mind felt so fuzzy while I was experiencing it, but it was almost as though my mind was unable to fully connect with the ground, so I kept losing track of where I was. The trail where we were sitting seemed to weave and curl, sloping up and down, even though I’m pretty sure it was straight in real life. R could tell I was starting to feel anxious, so he laid next to me and put his arms around me, but I couldn’t really tell where his body was relative to mine, where his voice was coming from or where against his body my head was resting. He told me my head was on his stomach, but his stomach felt so strange to me, rubbery and dynamic, like a bag made of skin and filled with a jumbled up pile of disconnected bones. I kept accusing him of “contorting around me” because it seemed like he was shifting and warping against me even though he wasn’t.
I started wigging out a bit because it occurred to me that the trip might never end. This fear is apparently really common, especially in first-time trippers, and I’d read about it countless times before so even as I was freaking out, I knew in the back of my head that it was a predictable reaction to mushrooms and one I had mentally prepared myself for beforehand. It felt really strange to intellectually understand that my fears were unoriginal and temporary while at the same time feeling emotionally terrified.
It felt really strange to intellectually understand that my fears were unoriginal and temporary while at the same time feeling emotionally terrified.
Also, I was apparently slurring my words a lot while I was talking and laughing really hard too (despite the panic), to the point where nobody could understand what I was saying. J told me, “I can only understand about every eighteenth word you say”. This was really funny, but also really upsetting, so I started laughing while simultaneously freaking out about my inability to communicate with the people around me.
R started talking quietly to me, reassured me that my sense of time was distorted and that we’d only been in the woods for about an hour. He started hugging me and stroking my shoulder to try and calm me down. F began to play a song on his guitar, “June Hymn” by the Decemberists, and J began to sing the harmony. J and F have their own band and they play in bars on weekend nights; they’re really damn good. I love acoustic guitar (cliché, I know) and J and F have great harmony. R told me to take deep breaths and listen to the music, so I did.
Holy shit, I’ve never heard music sound that way before. It was beautiful. The melody took on this distinct rolling movement. It brought to mind the wheels on a tank, loosely circling around and around, no beginning or end, like the melody had just arisen from nature long ago, like it was passing us by in the woods and would continue wandering off into the woods long after we’d lost the ability to hear it. It was bizarre, but awakening. I was hearing music in an entirely new way, and it was chilling and frightening, but breathtaking and elegant at the same time. It occurred to me that maybe music is always this way and I just don’t listen hard enough to hear it right. So maybe from now on, I needed to listen to music right so that I could hear how wild and self-aware it really is, how it comes from humans but kind of lives separately from humans at the same time. I still feel this way, actually. I have this weird new respect for music that I didn’t have before tripping. After the song was over, everyone sat in silence, then J said, “I feel like that song could’ve just kept going forever.” It was like we’d found the song in the woods and it had played itself for us through J and F.
We headed back to our campsite shortly after that. Between the beauty of J and F’s music and R talking me through my panic, I calmed down and was able to continue enjoying the trip without feeling excessively anxious. We returned to our little circle of tents, under the canopy where we’d first started our trip, and we began the process of coming down. Everyone was pretty tired. C passed around a bottle of Jack Daniels and everyone took a few swigs, then somebody else passed around a bowl and we each took a hit or two. C, D and N continued to talk nonsensically with each other and I joined in occasionally, but for the most part retreated into my head. Right before I started to fully come down, I remember staring at one of the tents, maybe 100 feet from us, and watching the rainfly blow in the breeze. For me, it became two iridescent stick figures dancing with one another, bending and swaying in the darkness. It was the most graceful dance. As they danced, they shifted into different shapes and formed various strange trippy scenes, a dog boiling up out of the steam over a pot of water on an old-fashioned stove, stick children jumping rope and melting into the ground between jumps, waves of color crashing into the air and then absorbing into the wind as little glowing paisley swirls. All the while, the shapes would reform occasionally into the two dancing stick figures, as though all of the other images were just a part of their dance. It was stunning, because I knew it was coming from my own mind the entire time. I asked if anyone else could see it. They couldn’t. I sat and stared in awe. It was my mind making the world beautiful for me.
Finally, the visions tapered off and I became aware that I was coming down faster. I checked the time and it had only been about four hours since the start of our trip. It was 2:30. R had fallen asleep in his chair, so I woke him up and we moved to our tent. The next morning was like a reverse hangover, like Hangover’s good twin. I felt amazing, strong and rejuvenated, refreshed and cleansed and so happy to be alive. Breakfast was the most delicious breakfast I’ve ever had in my life. Everyone was in a wonderful mood and I felt this new sense of calm with the world and with nature. We all went on a six-hour canoeing trip and recounted our experiences together as we floated down the river. It was a sense of content and belonging that I haven’t felt in a really, really long time.
Even with my mini-freak-out in the middle of my trip, my first experience with mushrooms was exhilarating and eye-opening and I don’t regret it one bit. I researched mushrooms thoroughly beforehand and made sure I was around people who I trust to calm me down if I started feeling uneasy. Discussing the trip with the people who I planned to trip with and making sure they were prepared to talk me down if I flipped out, knowing what I was getting into and reading about other peoples’ experiences really helped me, because when I started freaking out about certain things, I could at least rationally remember that I’d read about other people freaking out about the exact same things, which was comforting. I prepared myself as much as possible.
I did have a few subtle flashbacks the next night, some wiggling shadows out of the corners of my eyes and a few rippling surfaces, but they were minimal, not too bothersome and were gone after 48 hours.
It was the type of experience that my hypothetical dying 100-year-old self will be glad to have had, and also the type of experience that the small adventurous and uncensored child in me would’ve excitedly chosen as a part of her future.
And “June Hymn” by the Decemberists will now always be my jam.
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