Several years ago, a dude who looks a lot like me picked up a bag of psilocybin mushrooms from a trusted source. That source told that dude who looks a lot like me that the seven grams of caps and stems should equate to ten or fifteen solid trips – half an eighth of these powerful psychedelics at a time, max, he warned.
With the house to himself for four days, that dude proceeded to grind up all seven grams, pile it all on a slice of peanut butter slathered toast, and pound it all down.
The next eight hours were an epic roller coaster of the highest highs and the lowest lows that began with neat visuals like watching music swirl into the ceiling fan then disperse around the room but devolved into what felt like an hours-long desperate, slippery grasp on sanity.
The dude who looks a lot like me eventually fell asleep and awoke the next morning dazed but not crazy but the hours of fear that he experienced had him wondering, “Can you go crazy from using psychedelics?”
You might be surprised at what that dude found out.
TIME (AND SCIENCE) IS ON YOUR SIDE
As it turns out, that experience described above is exceedingly common, even at a “heroic dose” like that, and even with other psychedelics like LSD, and especially with DMT.
Studies done on psychedelics in the 1950s and 1960s were laughably biased and crudely administered without properly sourcing their hallucinogens, without making use of placebos, without care for a thoughtful set and setting for their test subjects, and on and on. What life stresses were each test subject under at that time? What was their childhood like? Were they taking any other drugs at the time? We don’t know.
In the past decade, however, more legit research has been completed, giving the medical community and society at large a much different view of psychedelics.
First and foremost, it needs to be said that much like cannabis, psychedelics can affect different people in different ways and if you have a predisposition for mental health issues – whether you know it or not – the use of psychedelics can trigger that inevitable onset in rare cases. Hell… that pretty much answers the question posed in the headline, but let’s keep digging.
We can use a word like ‘rare’ when describing these instances because in 2013, for example, just 0.005% of emergency room visits in the U.S. involved LSD or psilocybin.
Once that sliver of a percentage of people does see a doctor, they are most likely shit out of luck anyway. Even today, misdiagnoses are incredibly common as these docs deal with mental health patients all day long but ever so rarely see a person with good mental health who just so happened to have a bit too much magic mushroom on his peanut butter toast. So, when someone does come in still trippin’, it’s way easier to add them to the mental health list than to figure out what’s really going on.
We can thank that bullshit research that came out of our parents’ era that led the entire world – doctors included – to believe that hallucinogens like LSD or psilocybin mushrooms were nothing but trouble, and a surefire way to go nuts.
Again, the parallels to the cannabis reform movement are uncanny, as that plant is also still being blamed for mental health problems by prohibitionists who refuse to tell the whole story.
The reality is, most people who are predisposed to eventually have to deal with mental health problems like anxiety, depression, psychosis, etc. will naturally experience the onset of those symptoms in late adolescence and early adulthood… right around the time a lot of them will be experimenting with mushrooms or weed for the first time.
This is why so many kids get bounced out of college for anxiety, depression, and other mental problems.
It is their genetics, or their upbringing, or a combination of the two and more.
We don’t blame the college, but for decades society has found it easy to blame things like LSD, or shrooms, or even cannabis.
As was the case in the anecdote that led off this article, the vast majority of psychedelic experiences (or “trips”) last eight hours or less, regardless of the type of substance consumed. What most people would consider to be “serious” psychological issues associated with their trip could linger for 24 hours after consumption, but again it’s rare and it wears off.
The number of case reports of mental health “problems” following an intense psychedelic experience is comparable to the number of reports of mental health “problems” you’d see after a trip to a holy site, or after viewing beautiful art, or after a deep meditation session.
WHAT ABOUT FLASHBACKS?
Sometimes days, weeks, months, or even years after an impactful psychedelic trip, a person might experience what is commonly referred to as a ‘flashback’. Vibrant auras may form around bright lights, patterns in wall texture or carpeting may appear to shift or swirl ever so slightly… and then, just as quickly as it came, it’s gone.
Personally, I love it when it happens.
I always felt like maybe just a little bit of that tab or sugar cube got stuck in a spot where it could slowly release its trippiness for years to come.
Yeah…. I was dead wrong on that.
The fact is, science hasn’t really come up with a satisfactory explanation for flashbacks any more than they have for déjà vu.
Researchers have determined, however, that LSD simply cannot stay “in your system” (serotonin receptors) for more than six or seven hours after your trip has subsided.
Because science likes acronyms, the fancy new terminology for flashbacks is HPPD or Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder. The lab coats will say the two are not the same, that HPPD is more visually intense, but they are both incredibly rare and are not a sign of insanity or a risk to mental health.
Too many doctors will try to combat perceived HPPD with dangerously addictive drugs like Clonazepam, a benzo that can lead to respiratory failure, coma, and death – three things never associated with acid or shrooms.
THE BOTTOM LINE ON PSYCHEDELIC SAFETY
There are endless anecdotal stories of people hurting or killing themselves while trying to fly or do other stupid shit while hallucinating but actual news stories are few and far between. When there is an actual report to reference, the substance to blame is almost always “LSD” and is almost never backed up by a toxicology report.
There are so many chemically concocted, manmade designer drugs on the streets, the stories of people “admitting” to LSD use only to have something totally different, and far more dangerous, in their system far outweigh any credible stories of people soaring off of cliffs futilely flapping their arms.
However, things like balance, depth perception, and your overall grasp on reality can be impacted by substances like acid or shrooms so maybe just stay away from that cliff, yeah? And certainly do not get behind the wheel of a vehicle.
In his award-winning book Drugs – Without the Hot Air, author David Nutt writes that psychedelics are “among the safest drugs we know of.”
Specifically, on LSD and psilocybin mushrooms, he expands, writing, “It’s virtually impossible to die from an overdose of them; they cause no physical harm; and if anything they are anti-addictive, as they cause a sudden tolerance which means that if you immediately take another dose it will probably have very little effect.”
Contrary to prohibitionist propaganda, recent large-scale studies spanning hundreds of thousands of U.S. residents suggest that people who have previously used psychedelics could actually be less likely to have serious mental health problems, or experience suicidal thoughts, than people who haven’t.
The bottom line is for most of us, psychedelics are safe.
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