psilocybin shrooms

Hey, I’m back. September has been jam-packed. What have I been doing? Well for one I spent a week in Copenhagen. Here’s what I got up to in Denmark’s capital.

copenhagen

Freetown Christiania

On my first day I visited Copenhagen’s counterculture haven: Freetown Christiania – a self-proclaimed autonomous anarchist district in the borough of Christianshavn. An abandoned military base that was taken over by squatting hippies in the 70’s, around 1000 people live in the area making up a community that has its own rules and where decisions are made through meetings.

christiania

It was my second time to visit and on arriving at ‘pusher street’ I was taken back to my first visit, 5 years ago, by the pungent smell of hash that fills the air there. Yes, weed and hash are openly sold and smoked there. It reminded me of Uruguay with people freely toking in public. Pretty cool.

smoke christiania

See no evil, hear no evil…

I love the ideas and values that Christiania represents so it was great to be in that environment. I walked by the canal, got some green from a friendly seller, smoked a little too much weed and then walked around Neuhavn slightly paranoid before returning to Christiania to meet a friend for a veggie dinner. The food was great, paranoia less so. Ha. All good in the end.

neuhavn copenhagen

Neuhavn

On the Friday I attended a tripsitting workshop (yes, that’s a thing now), spent Saturday and Sunday at the Psychedelic Symposium, and on Monday I went to see Daniel Pinchbeck talk about Social Ecology at a gallery in Christiania. These were all awesome and warrant their own posts – more to come.

Kierkegaard & Existentialism

Kierkegaard

On Tuesday I visited the graveyard of Søren Kierkegaard. Born in Copenhagen, Kierkegaard was the founder of the philosophical school of existentialism and I took the opportunity to explore some of his ideas whilst there. I’m really glad I did, taking time for philosophy is always rewarding. Very briefly, here are some ideas from him I enjoyed that I thought would be fun to share.

“Truth Is Subjectivity”
Kierkegaard didn’t believe in the utmost importance of objective absolute Truth, but rather of personal truth – how one relates oneself to Truth – and what you experience subjectively: feelings and emotions. 4+4=8 may be an objective truth, but is it as important to your existence and experience of life as how you feel today? Maybe you’re nervous for a first date, or pissed because someone cut in front of you in line. These feelings are crucial to how we experience life, and are what make up our existence – they are ‘existential’. They are our lived truth.

soren Kierkegaard grave

Kierkegaard’s grave

“The Crowd Is Untruth”
At odds with the prevailing intellectual norms of his time, Kierkegaard was a loner and what we would now call a non-conformist. As a social critic he challenged many widely held beliefs of his time and told us that just because an idea is broadly accepted does not give it a sense of credibility – it actually points to the probability that it is an untruth. The individual should never defer one’s personal responsibility to the crowd – he must think for himself.

crowd untruth kierkegaard

The Individual
Naturally then, Søren emphasised the importance of the individual. He proposed that each individual—not society or religion—is solely responsible for giving meaning to life and living it passionately and sincerely, or “authentically”. He highlighted the importance of personal choice and commitment. Here are a couple of quotes I enjoy that this brought to mind:

“A sensitive and honest-minded man, if he’s concerned about evil and injustice in the world, will naturally begin his campaign against them by eliminating them at their nearest source: his own person. This task will take his entire life.” – Fernando Pessoa
“There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self” – Aldous Huxley

Yes, I love quotes. Here’s one more from Kierkegaard himself which I think is totally relevant today:

“Most men pursue pleasure with such breathless haste that they hurry past it.”

Yep. Think about that for a minute.

9/20: Psilocybin & Hash

My last day in Copenhagen was Wednesday 20th September, or 9/20 – Psilocybin mushroom day. Not as celebrated as 4/20 or bicycle day yet but of course, I was down.

shrooms psilocybin

I tried ‘Lemon Tek’ – mixing dried ground shrooms with fresh lemon juice and letting them soak for 30 minutes before knocking it back. Lemon Tek is supposed to intensify the trip but the shrooms I had were quite weak so I can’t really comment on that. I will say that it was a nice way to consume them though.

3g and a hash joint sent me into a spacious, thoughtful, and analytical headspace as I lay in bed listening to ragas by Ravi Shankar. My stream of thoughts was moving quickly and I used the time to think some things through that have been on my mind recently – related to my personal life and my life’s direction – with a nice level of insight and novelty. I didn’t plan on this type of session going into the trip but it naturally went there so I went with it. This main part of the trip was very mentally stimulating and felt productive, though there has since been a level of amnesia that I suspect came from the hash.

hash

Tasty chunk of hash

There were too, of course, ventures into some broader themes. ‘One must be capable of standing alone’ is a note I have scrawled in my pad from the session – Kierkegaard’s emphasis on the individual and how it relates to independence clearly came through. I love when an idea really hits home like this, it’s so satisfying.

As the thought-spurring effects of the hash faded off, I tuned in more to the music. Some of Ravi’s sitar lines just seemed to embody the essence of ‘play’. I could almost see the music as a child dancing. Very fun.

Three takeaways from the trip:

  1. When taken with a low dose, hash is good fuel for a thinking, analytical trip. Probably good for a problem solving session or making a plan of action.
  2. Noise cancelling headphones are the shit.
  3. Ravi Shankar’s The Spirit Of India is awesome.

shankar spirit india

Celebrating Mushroom Day – A 9:20 Event

After coming down I had a cup of tea with a couple of friends and we cycled to a massive old shipyard-warehouse for an event celebrating International Mushroom day. Outside of the city to the East, we pulled up to the container leaking flashing lights and pumping music. Upon entering I was greeted by a friendly Norwegian guy who straight up told me he had some mushrooms I could eat for free. Ha. I told him thanks and that maybe I’d find him later.

The warehouse was a huge indoor skatepark that had been separated into different areas. In the main area was a DJ and dancefloor, psychedelic visuals projected onto a wall, and an organic smoothie and tea bar. The event was alcohol-free and I guess this might have played a part in the nicely balanced ratio of guys and girls. The atmosphere was chilled and friendly though I can’t say much for the Danish climate at that time of night – a little too chilled.

psilocybin shrooms

The event was in celebration of these treasures

There was a foam pool (the kind that skaters can practice tricks into) that people were swinging from a rope into, another area showing documentaries on psychedelics with mattresses for people to lie down on, and an outside area with a fire for people to sit around and chat whilst passing doobs. Having not yet truly partaken in mushroom day, my friends got into the spirit of the event and we ended up staying for a while and settling by the fire before finally heading home in the early hours. Overall it was a fun event and I hope to go to more like it in the future.

The cycle home was littered with stops to ‘appreciate the beauty’ and by the time we’d arrived home and said our goodbyes I had just enough time to pack my bag and have a coffee before heading to the airport for my morning flight home.

What a week. Copenhagen, thank you!

spinning lights

Salvia Divonorum. The freaky batshit cousin of the psychoactive family.

If I had to describe salvia as a character it’d be the cosmic joker. He’ll flip you upside down inside out, pull your pants down and then whizz you on a merry-go round tour of the freakshow corners of the cosmos. He’ll suck you through a swirly straw to his lair, scream in your face, lick your ass crack and then spit you back out whilst he cackles in the background.

Sound weird? It is.

Amongst my experiences, the only things that have matched salvia in terms of brute intensity and weirdness are DMT, and nitrous oxide when combined with LSD and MDMA.

Salvia divinorum Herba de Maria

The salvia plant

Not Fun

I’ve smoked salvia a few times in my life, and like 99% of people who try it, did not find it a fun or enjoyable experience. As such its not one that most people really feel drawn back to. This is also true for myself yet I’ve returned a few times purely for reasons of psychonautic curiosity. Here I’m going to recount my first and most intense experience, now many years ago, which was also my first ever truly powerful drug experience (whilst salvia is a hallucinogen, its not a psychedelic – it’s a dissociative).

Background

I was in my final year of university, some of my housemates had bought an at-the-time legal drug called salvia from a local head shop. I had no idea what salvia was or what it would do. None of us did. But I thought sure, why not? I’m curious and like new experiences. A couple of friends had smoked it before me up in one of their rooms, taken small hits and felt a slight head high. They came down and one of them told me I should take as big a hit as possible. Two factors led me to the freaky ass experience that would totally kick my ass; the first was that I listened to my friend’s advice, the second was that being in the prime stoner era of my life, I was completely fluent in bong use and had the lung capacity for huge hits (a skill that would serve me well years later for breaking through on DMT). So with a few friends sat around my room watching, I filled my lungs, and held it in ’til I could hold no more.

spinning lights

Hysteria —> Reality Shattered

As I exhaled I felt reality caving in at the sides. I lifted my right hand up in front of me and my fingers grew out long like Mr. Stretch, extending and flopping about. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! I started laughing, I was amazed that this was possible.

Then it happened; I got the baseball bat in the face that salvia will knock you out with.

The room collapsed in on itself, the walls merged and I went to some dark place with white lights spinning around me – this place wasn’t governed by any of the same laws or principles of physics or gravity that I was accustomed to, I saw lines of light in shapes that were inverting like the double rotations of a tesseract –  it was totally weird. I felt like my brain had been turned inside out and I’d been spun around a million miles an hour. My perception became hazy and confused, scattered all over the place – I was fucked. I don’t really remember more of what happened here but my friends told me that after my initial giggles I began to laugh hysterically like a total madman. Apparently I was laughing so hard that it didn’t even sound like someone laughing anymore – I was shout-laughing ‘HA-HA-HA-HA-HA!’. Then in a split-second, I stopped laughing, and a look of panic came onto my face.

lights circle spinning

Total Confusion

Salvia had smashed me so hard that at this point I’d completely forgotten that I’d even smoked anything. I wasn’t even really aware of who or where I was. Salvia had stripped me of my identity and memory and then tossed me back into the room dazed and confused. Salvia will do this – it will let you have your memories and identity back, but not immediately, only slowly- gradually filling in the blanks over a few minutes. Spat back out from Salvia’s whirlwind I was aware that I was a guy with some friends in a room, but not much else. Instinctively I was trying to make make sense of my situation, to fill in the blanks and find some context. Sweating a little, I felt paranoid – they all knew something that I didn’t (which was true, they all knew what was actually going on). These guys were all sat down and looking at me. I realised that I was the only one standing up.
‘You guys are all sitting down’ I said, recognizing a pattern. ‘Can I sit down too?’
They told me I could and I took a seat. Then it came back to me that the room we were in was my bedroom. ‘Actually this is my room, isn’t it? Yeah, this is my room. Get out, this is my room, get out!’
And as my confused friends started leaving the room I added…

‘….except for Paul, cause he’s recording guitars’. Around that time I was recording songs on my laptop with Paul, and by some weird quirk that knowledge had vaguely re-entered the back of my mind.

I sat down again and over the next few minutes everything came back to me – who I was, where I was, and most importantly, the missing piece of the puzzle that made everything else make sense – that I’d smoked some crazy ass drug that had completely fucked me over. If someone had told me that earlier I think the whole experience would’ve been less confusing. I went back out and invited my friends back into my room and we all had a laugh over the ridiculous episode.

Back To Earth

earth in space

After the relief of knowing what the hell was going on again and calming down, I was still totally blown away by the whole experience. This was my entry into extreme non-ordinary forms of consciousness and I had well and truly jumped in at the deep end. While the trip wasn’t enjoyable in itself, it was still mind blowing. I couldn’t believe how smoking an obscure plant could alter my perception of reality so much. For the next hour I was hyped up and couldn’t stop talking about it.

Notes on Salvia

My subsequent smokes of salvia, whilst not matching my original in terms of intensity, do share a few common attributes.
– Being so caned that I forget that I’ve even taken a drug
Confusion – very foggy and unclear perception, unsure of what’s actually going on
Distorted sense of gravity (& other fundamental laws of physics)
– Salvia signature – there is a weird ‘salvia-ness’ to the feeling. Inexplicable, but I think the strong distinctive (and horrible) taste of salvia adds to this, its like the backdrop to the whole thing.
– Did I mention, freaky? (Great strange trip report on reddit here)

Parting Advice

If you are smoking salvia, be prepared, it’s pretty full on. It you want your return to be a little more comfortable, I suggest having a friend there to remind you that you’ve taken salvia, reassure you that you’ll be fine and return to normal, and so in the meantime – dive into the experience and see what you see.

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Have you smoked salvia? Let us know your thoughts on this bizarre herb in the comments below.

colour universe

Smoking DMT was one of the single most intense and insane experiences of my life. Going in I figured that it would be bigger than I could possibly imagine and boy was I right. Here I will attempt the impossible: to describe the experience in words.

To summarize, it was:

  • Overwhelming – Monumental scale
  • Utterly bizarre – As I said during the trip – ‘just fucking absolutely insane’
  • Unimaginably complex – Mind. Blown.
  • Interdimensional travel – I didn’t get ‘high’, ‘fucked up’, or ‘wasted’. It was as if I was zapped through a wormhole to a different universe.

Preparation

I approached the experience with great curiosity and respect. I wanted a full breakthrough experience and did my homework on the technique. I had a friend sit for me in a quiet, empty apartment and spoke with him about my expectations beforehand. I meditated directly before. And I filmed the whole thing, so I could get a sense of timeline, see myself through the experience, and so I could start talking about the experience as soon as possible and have my thoughts captured – it is well known that the experience slips away very quickly and becomes hard to recall, like a dream. It worked, so I’ve written this with the aid of notes and the video footage.

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Smoking

smoke universe

I took the first huge hit, things started feeling wobbly. I took the second and my vision started becoming warped and I could tell it was really kicking off. I handed the bong to my friend because I could tell it would be difficult to hold for much longer. McKenna’s advice ran through my mind, that even though it really doesn’t feel like you need anymore, you need to push for the third hit to fully break through. My friend held the bong and lit for the third hit while I inhaled. I lay back and closed my eyes.

Blank

At this point I can’t remember what happened. Total blank. Here there is a period of 3 minutes that are unaccounted for and missing from my memory. The video shows me lying with my eyes closed and still breathing just as if I were asleep. The next thing I became aware of was an uncomfortable sensation. I wasn’t sure what it was or where it came from and it took me an eternity to think of what I needed, and then as I opened my eyes, the word that I was looking for came to me. With much struggle I faintly mumbled the word ‘water’ – my throat was dry as hell. My friend jumped up and handed me a glass of squash, at which point I threw up into my mouth, but I was still on another plane – brilliant streams of luminous colour shot out like lightning as I vomited. My buddy grabbed a bowl and held it in front of me while I spewed. It was quick and I lay back again. It was from this point that I again became aware that I had taken DMT. As I lay back and closed my eyes, I entered another universe.

Weird, Intense, Beyond Comprehension

Completely insane. Utterly alien. Wholly bizarre. So far removed from any other type of experience I’ve ever had. Next level freaky. This was interdimensional travel to a parallel universe, another tunnel of reality. Everything was of colours I’ve never seen before and at an unfathomable level of complexity and detail. I was entirely overwhelmed by the scale of what I was experiencing. It was information overload and then some. This wasn’t a human experience, humans aren’t capable of perceiving this much information.

I’ll try to explain it by way of analogy. Imagine your brain is plugged in to a machine that feeds you every single living person’s experience of the world, at the same time. So you are plugged in to 7 billion pairs of eyes and ears, every thought, emotion and feeling – receiving all that information as it is happening in real time. As well, you get a live feed of every single computer that is running, plus a direct download of the entire contents of the internet- every page, video, photo- every last piece and byte of information. You then make connections between all of this information and how it all relates to build a real time, continually shifting picture of reality in an immersive experience. DMT is on that level in the informational sense, and more bizarre than I can think of a way to describe.

Getting past the initial shock I began to come to terms with the experience and drew long deep breaths. I lay there and admired the DMTverse in awe.

colour universe

The DMTverse

It was a grand expansive space – dark but shot through with brilliant colours. The fabric of everything was made up of incredible and perfectly mathematical patterns. I had a panoramic view of some kind of organic factory, I saw massive cogs made of an earth-like substance churning. The whole scene was forever subtly shifting, metamorphosing and with absolute synergy between all things – everything moved in accordance with everything else and energy seemed to be flowing symbiotically between all things. Everything was overflowing with life and energy. I saw inscriptions of letters from an alien alphabet that seemed to have been made by intelligent life. And then I was in a…

City Of The Future

Everything was so advanced. I’m not talking flying cars or impressive gadgetry or any technology that we might imagine humanity might ever possess. I’m not even talking how it might be if we were to time travel and show a smartphone to a caveman. The jump in the level of complexity was like the gap between the first formations of atoms in the earliest stages of the formation of the universe, through the birth of stars and the formation of solar systems, to when molecules combined to create living organisms. Entropy over 9 billion years, then. It’s hard to fathom how anyone could even experience this, but that’s the mystery of DMT.

“It may be that DMT makes us able to perceive what physicists call “dark matter” – the 95 per cent of the universe’s mass that is known to exist but that at present remains invisible to our senses and instruments.”
– Graham Hancock

Somehow Sober

What’s interesting is that I maintained a sober cognition and consciousness throughout the experience. It was unique to other drugs in this regard. For example, when I drink alchohol I get inebriated and my cognition gets sloppy, with MDMA I feel euphoria and more loved up, when I smoke weed I get stoned or high and sometimes anxious, with salvia I’ll get confusion. However, with DMT, there was no ‘druggy’ effect, not dazed, confused, fucked up – it was just like I had been zapped through a portal into a parallel universe. Like my consciousness had just been picked up by a cosmic deity and thrown out into a world that was wholly other. Whereas other drugs enhance our existing reality – dulling it, numbing us to certain sensations, or amplifying it, making colours more vivid or lines more wavy – this was just transition to a different reality.

If you’ve ever seen the 90’s movie Contact, that’s a great analogy. You really do go through the wormhole on that inter-dimensional journey that Jodie Foster goes on. In fact I felt so much that that part of the movie was the perfect analogy for the experience that I googled it after to see if anyone else had made the same connection, and sure enough, loads of other people had commented the exact same thing.

Real?

Is the experience real? I don’t think anyone can really answer that question but I can say how it felt. It felt absolutely real. It felt more real than anything else I’ve ever experienced – including my experience of typing this at my computer right now. This is where you start to go down the rabbit hole. I’ve had hallucinations from other drugs, like mind-movies, but this was nothing like that. Like I said before, it was as if I were just in another place. It wasn’t as if I was observing pictures or patterns, but that I was IN another universe, which is actually a deeper level of reality – deeper in the sense that it’s truer than the one we normally inhabit.

Plato’s Allegory Of The Cave

 plato allegory dmt

If it really is a deeper level of reality, Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is the perfect analogy. The world as we understand it in a normal waking consciousness is the cave, a normal person is the prisoner, and DMT is what drags the prisoner upwards and out of of the cave. I see the part of my trip which is blank in my memory as the part in which the prisoner is blinded by the radiant light of the sun and is unable to see even one of the things now said to be true.

This fits in with the DMT experience being far richer and more detailed than our everyday experience.

No Contact

People often report contact with other entities and beings. To be clear, nothing like that happened to me. Everything seemed to be teeming with life and energy but I didn’t have any communication or contact with beings of any kind.

Ineffable, Unimaginable

DMT is the definition of ineffable. Trying to describe it seems akin to trying to describe colours to a blind person. That’s why I’ve used so many analogies and said things that don’t totally make sense here. That’s DMT for you. There is simply no imagining what it’s like. If you want a peek behind the cosmic curtain you’ll just have to go see for yourself.

Had your DMT trip, but can’t remember shit?
Read more: How to Integrate a Difficult-to-Remember DMT Experience

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changa art lily peyote desert

This was originally written for The Mainland Trading Post.

With the sun overhead Pedro exhales a lungful of smoke, passes the pipe on, and goes back to checking the group’s food supplies in his bag. “I’m so high” Molly says amused as she gazes around at the empty village street we’re sat on the side of. I take the pipe on its way through, the sweet taste of Mexican ganja fills my lungs and I get excited about our imminent adventure; we’re heading into the desert in search of peyote – the small, spineless mescaline containing cactus that grows in this part of Mexico.

peyote hikuri heads cactus

There’s six of us in total, I met the others the day before, and they are exactly the sort you might expect to be making this journey; Pollo and Lalo, a pair of Mexican gypsy punks – complete with mandala face tattoos, mohawks and bongo; Molly and Lily, two young blonde English girls who’ve been hitchhiking around North America for the last 18 months, and whose main interests include astrology and beat literature; and Pedro, a long-haired pothead from Mexico City, half-hippy-half-city boy, and our crew’s desert guide.

We’ve actually already eaten some peyote for breakfast that morning – I’d acquired six heads from a Jewish priest in town the day before (another story) – and we now finish off the last of the disgustingly bitter green flesh. We haven’t eaten a whole lot, but already I begin to feel a giddy and energetic wakefulness as we set off.

We walk past the last small houses and out the edge of town, following a dust track that leads us out into the desert, literally walking out of civilization and straight into nature.

The panorama is undeniable; the landscape is flat for what must be hundreds of miles ahead of us before our view is eventually cut off by mountains that are probably months away on foot. The earth is pale and dry but there is life in small single shrubs that are scattered around everywhere. We see hanging clouds showering an area way off to our right, and looking back I see the huge shadows and outlines of another set of clouds hanging over the mountains we left behind this morning. It’s hard to fathom what the distances might be, but the vast wilderness has a calming effect. It’s peaceful in a humbling way.

The area of desert close to town has practically no peyote – already ravaged dry from decades of visits by seekers and peyoteros – so Pedro is leading us to what he calls the ‘hikuri zone’, an area he knows of that’s deep into the desert and rich with the cactus.

desert peyote cactus

Desert Hysteria

Stepping through a gap between shrubs Pedro turns to us; “Remember that we are in nature, so just watch where you step” he says, apparently referring to snakes. The area we’re headed to is a good few hours away so Pedro sets a steady pace and the group splits by native language; Pedro leading the way with the punks up ahead whilst I fall behind with the girls.

My 5 liter water bottle swings by my side and sweat trickles down my brow. The further we go into the desert, the more different I feel; disentangled from the world and society’s trappings, somehow elevated from it, and still giddy. The girls are getting silly and Lily is giggling at the fact that “everything looks so green on peyote”.

With Pedro’s warning in mind we begin discussing about what to do if we encounter a snake and the girls agree that Lily will pretend to be a snake so that Molly can demonstrate to us the appropriate response. Lily crouches and makes a hissing winding path towards Molly, who standing her ground just looks at Lily and says, totally deadpan, “fuck off”. Somehow the scene is absolutely hilarious and I slam the water bottle to the ground as I double over cracking up; I’ve hit a hysterical level somewhere between the peyote, the heat and the pipe.

Something’s Out There

After a short but welcome water break a couple hours in – in which it’s clear that everyone is a bit spaced out and weary from walking in the heat – Pedro leads us on. The town is now a distant memory and the silence and isolation of the desert amplified. Molly and I fall to the back of the group and she asks me if I believe in aliens – the area is a hot spot for appearances and other strange occurrences. I think for a moment – I don’t really know my own answer – and she warns me “Be careful what you say… because they are listening to you” Her response makes me uneasy and I tell her “I don’t really know”. “Ooh, he’s on the fence, get him!” she says as though she is actually speaking to the aliens herself, and the possibility that they are out there and will now be on their way to visit me out in the desert tonight suddenly seems very real. Something about the boundless open landscape makes palpable the feeling that anything – including an encounter – is possible, because it shows me how unfathomably massive the world really is; that exist huge swathes of the earth’s surface that I’ve never seen and never will, whole fields of experience that are so far removed from my own and will forever elude me. It all reminds me of how little I really, truly know. Awe and mystery of the unknown are in fact the reason I’m there trampling through the desert – what drives that innate and irrepressible urge to discover, explore, and experience – and Molly’s hint at a potential encounter leaves me unnerved in a weirdly thrilling way.

Little Green Jewels

Spotting a pair of yuca trees which mark our turn, Pedro leads us on a new course and we’re told to keep our eyes peeled as we enter peyote territory. One of the girls spots one, poking its small head above the earth with its leathery green skin. I can tell Pedro wants to pull it out to start building our stash, but being our first find its not to be picked – its our guide – and he observes the ritual of making an offering to maintain some authenticity as our Mexican desert guide. Bending down he sprinkles a few lentils by the plant and we split off as the search begins.

Lalo pumps his bongo as he goes and his beat provides the soundtrack for what is like a bizarre psychedelic easter egg hunt. I wander gazing around the desert floor. I walk past Pollo sitting on the ground in front of a find, ‘gracias pachamama’ he says, offering thanks to the spirit of the earth, kissing his hand and placing it on the earth, kissing it again and placing it on his forehead. Lalo’s beat suddenly stops and he lets off a squeal of excitement; he’s found his first one too.

peyote desert

I spot one, and bending down I’m taken back by its appearance. The skin glows, its shade of green shifts; its somehow radiating life. The soft small head seems unnatural here amongst the dry earth, something about it is alien and mysterious. It has a rare beauty, so I leave this one be. I stand back up and walking away see another, then another. They all seem incredibly precious, like elegant jewels hidden scattered around the desert, and gazing at their beauty I don’t really want to take them out from the earth. It seems wrong, as though its killing something special and sacred and pure. I walk over to some of the others and before I’ve said anything Molly gushes the exact same sentiment “but they’re so beauuutiful”. “Yes, but remember, they are here to help us” Pedro insists, probably annoyed that we’re wasting time when we should be picking for the evening ahead. He does however, have a point, and I didn’t walk for hours through the desert just to admire their appearance, so I start collecting heads.

Night Falls

With about 20 heads collected between us, we meet by a tree to set up the tents. We get a fire going just as the sun’s setting and sit round. Snacking on more heads as the surrounding desert fades into darkness, we hear coyotes howling off in the distance. The altered space peyote has taken me to is different to what I expected; it has left me feeling wired but somehow zoned out. Despite eating more, my trip plateaus and I lie restless yet exhausted. The view overhead is pristine, and looking up at millions of stars, I reflect on what has been a long, hot, bizarre day.

When I’d first read about peyote about 7 years before, it seemed almost mythological; an exotic psychoactive plant that grows in the North American desert, consumed by natives and indigenous peoples over thousands of years for ceremonial and spiritual purposes. To my younger self it was a fairy tale, something of another world, some exciting legend that you come across in obscure books and cult films. It sparked my imagination and curiosity of the world, gave me a hunger for experience – but I never seriously considered it would be part of a journey that I’d actually undertake. To be lying there, many years later, under the stars out in the desert, is something surreal and life affirming. Even without an alien encounter, the desert trip has shown me something; anything is possible.

But the night isn’t quite over, there’s one more surprise.

One Last Journey

Pedro pulls out the pipe and loads it up again. “You should know, there is changa in there” he says with a mischievous smirk on his face. Changa is a smoking blend that contains DMT – “the spirit molecule” – possibly the most powerful psychedelic known to man. In other words, a complete mind-blower.

What happens next seems to happen very quickly; the pipe makes its way round the circle; Pedro, Pollo – who offers thanks to pachamama again- Lalo, Lily… everyone taking a deep hit from the pipe and passing it on, closing their eyes and sitting silently, off in whatever universe they’ve gone to. Before I know it the pipe is passed and in my hand. Really I’m nowhere like as mentally prepared as I’d like to be – five minutes before I wasn’t even considering that I’d be smoking changa – but at the same time there’s no way I’m going to pass up on this. Holding the pipe in front of me I pause to take a deep breath. I see Molly – who’s opted out of the multi-verse roulette due to a traumatic changa experience days prior – crouched behind Pollo, peering at me over his shoulder, and I can see the fear in her eyes at what I’m about to do. I light the end and the mix glows orange as I pull. It tastes horrible as I feel the smoke make its way down my throat and into my lungs where I hold it in.

I exhale, and my vision begins to morph, the small stones in the circle around the fire become warped, growing to the size of boulders and shrinking back again, my vision zooms in strange ways as I’m being pulled in. I look around and see the others around the fire. They all have their eyes closed. Of course, that’s what I need to do. I close my eyes and enter a spectrum of flowing colours. Luminous oranges and pinks meld into bizzare multi-layered forms as they fly through me, or I’m flying through them – I have no idea. The colours I see are from outside the spectrum of usually visible light, they are dazzling and the forms they carry approach from in front and pass through my eyes, flowing through and out the back of my head. I anchor to my breath for a reference point, some ground amidst the chaos, and I’m able to sit back passive to the kaleidoscopic whirlwind. The flight is intense, but as quick as it came on, the experience fades away. The brilliant colours gradually fade and I’m left in darkness, with a weird empty feeling – like something inside me has been wiped clean.

Last to smoke, I’m last to come round, and as I reopen my eyes everyone is just sitting quietly round the fire in their own space – apart from Pedro who has already got up and has his hand on Lily’s shoulder in what looks like an inappropriate attempt to forge a bond.

‘Man, that changa is something else’ I say finally, looking over at him. He rips into laughter. He’s laughing at the truth of what I say, the ridiculousness and outrageousness of it all.  Sometimes things are just so inconceivable or so weird that you can’t help but laugh. And this was one of those times.

changa art peyote desert

Sketch by ‘Lily’ (Lucy Porter) depicting the changa trip round the fire.

trees woods pisac

sacred valley pisac peru

It’s eight o’clock in the morning and the panorama of a bend in the Peruvian sacred valley of the Incas is majestic under the days early rays. From the patch of grass outside our mountainside room I can see Pisac off in the distance down below: a Peruvian village an hour or so from Cusco and situated on the Willkanuta river, now something of a draw for spiritual seekers due to the local plant medicine scene. The thick bitty lime green liquid I’m choking down for breakfast is bitter as hell, but then I’m not drinking it for the taste. The mixture has two ingredients; water, and powdered San Pedro – a hallucinogenic cactus native to the Andes and the chemical key to my adventure today.

I force down the mix in the company of two friends; Chris, an old school buddy with me for the Peru leg of my American tour, and our host, Vik, a Danish friend who I’d met in Buenos Aires a couple months earlier who’d introduced himself by telling me he was in the continent to drink ayahuasca- we subsequently hit it off and became good friends, exploring the cultured capital together amidst discussions of all things psychedelic.

My mix contains 33g of the mescaline containing cactus, one full dose, and I’ll take that again in an hour or so once I reach the eucalyptus trees down below. Vik seems to obtain a perverse pleasure from watching me struggle to get it down – he’s had his share in the weeks prior and despite being a fan of the cactus’ psychoactive effects and therapeutic qualities, knew just how bitter and stomach wrenching it was. So much is his aversion to the taste he’s actually trying to figure out a different way of ingesting the substance for future journeys.

san pedro wachuma cactus powder

Three bagged doses

My venture today is a solo one, so after finally getting the mix down as fast as my gag reflex will allow- a good 15 minutes of interspersed gulps- I say adios to the boys, heading down the rugged mountainside on a jagged path to the base of the valley, across a small road, away from town and into nature, through a field towards the river and the woods of eucalyptus trees.

pisac

As I make my way upstream I pass an old gringo with a white whispy beard in full Bolivian patterned wear. He merely looks grumpy in response to my cheery greeting and it throws me off, his bad vibes make me feel a little uneasy. I second guess my decision and consider that its maybe not the perfect situation and surrounding for me to be undertaking this journey, but then I also think that if you’re continually waiting for the ‘perfect’ opportunity to do something, it may never come. Sometimes you just have to take the chance and go for it. Today will be a good judge. Anyway, I’ve already choked down a full dose, so its a bit late for second guesses now.

Settling In

After a few minutes of walking through the woods I veer off the path and settle down in what seems to be a good spot; a flat area just set back from where the river is noisily crashing over rocks in a mini-waterfall. I set down my stuff, unroll my sleeping mat, and pull out another 33g bagged dose of the powdered cactus, mixing it in a bottle of water and chugging it down.

Within ten minutes the nausea starts setting in. I’m prepared for this and pull out the joint I’ve pre-rolled that morning. It works a treat and the nausea disappears as I slip into a more dazed feeling. I lie on my mat and begin writing in my pad which eases my nerves and soon I feel pretty good – I’m in the Sacred Valley! Feeling settled by writing, I set a timer for a 5 minute meditation, and lie back, closing my eyes.

Visual Distortions

The meditation relaxes me further and I roll on to my front, gazing up at the mountain across the river. The rocky surface is luminescent orange under the sun’s unchecked rays and as I’m gazing up the whole thing gently shimmers. It’s as if the image of the mountain is being projected onto a huge sheet and something has just shaken the top, making the the whole thing and all of its details ripple. ‘It’s starting’ I excitedly think to myself as I lie back to enjoy the view.

About an hour and a half after the joint, the nausea creeps back. I can’t believe I don’t have another J ready to go- by now I really should know to have a handful pre-rolled and ready for my convenience- but due to slack preparation I’ve failed to show up with any more so, mustering focus and steady hands, I craft another. It works wonders and the nausea disappears again, this time for the remainder of the trip, giving me the all clear to strap myself in for what’s to come.

The Spirit Arrives

Lying on my back, gazing up at the trees and sky, I slip into a more contemplative state and start questioning why I am actually there, drinking ground up hallucinogenic cactus on my own in the woods of a third world country… what am I searching for?! Thoughts begin to build steam and I feel like a receiver rather than originator of thoughts that appear in my mind.

The contemplation leads to thoughts of my life, I see it as if it were complete in that moment with nothing more to add. Thoughts of death come to me, about dying there that day, that very spot in the valley where I lie. The morbid thoughts become dark and intensify and I feel increasingly fearful. I sense this episode as a kind of game of thoughts; I perceive it as a playful action from somewhere outside me – as if some demonic spirit is messing with me and sending me these thoughts to spook me. I consider that perhaps this is what others have called the spirit of Wachuma and in that very moment I see it in the top reaches of the tree growing up beside me, in the faintest but seemingly deliberate movements of the uppermost leaves and branches. They twinkle lightly, playfully, as they’re tickled delicately by the breeze. My sense of gravity has flipped and its as if I’m staring down rather than up, the trees and plants around me hanging by their roots, the top branches reaching as if out and down to a sky below. Loosened and open, I’m struck by the beauty of what I see before me, my attention drawn to the top of the tree which has its roots closest to me.

trees woods pisac

Ineffable Beauty

The scene is rich in texture and colour, layer upon layer of detail is revealed in the magnificent tree and its surroundings. I observe in awe as the tree bobs and weaves with the breeze, gently making circles in my view. I become aware of the most utterly minuscule movements – of every pore of every leaf of every branch – of an intense and unspeakable subtlety.

Utterly majestic.

The movements of the tree are the epitome of effortless grace, the embodiment of the Taoist principle of wu-wei – what we admire in world class performers, whether musicians, sportsmen, or dancers; in the zone with zero contrivance, totally tuned in, in the moment. Overcome by awesome beauty, euphoria sweeps over me.

A simple reflection comes to me; nature is incredible. When you simply watch it as it is, not just seeing, but actually watching – just pure simple nature is magic.

The scene subtly begins to transform, the details merging and forming intricate patterns within a vast multitude of colours above. I lie spellbound, I can hardly believe that I’m looking at a tree. Inside the patterns are small shifting movements that appear like alien insects crawling around a fluorescent ants nest. The subtle shifts in the scene are flowing and smooth, but – also like an ants nest – mechanical in some way. The colourful movements are slow and continuous. The whole thing appears otherworldly. The range of what I’ve seen within the tree is so ridiculous that I genuinely begin to wonder if its going to show me my life.

Writing Resistance

I’m compelled to roll over and write some notes in an attempt to document and bring some of this magic back with me. This proves to be fairly challenging as the act of holding the pen steady requires a serious effort of concentration and composure but, though a little tricky, I’m able to hold the experience at arm’s length sufficiently to get some words down. It’s like when trying to stay awake despite being so tired that you could fall asleep in a second- you can resist, but only for so long before the inevitable pulls you under – the inevitable here as altered and surreal as the land of dreams. I feel the action of mental resistance mirrored within my body, a tense tightness throughout, as if every cell is waiting and willing me to release myself back into the experience – the cactus gently tugging at me, pulling me back in. With some notes scribbled, I drop the pen with relief and roll back over onto my back.

Surrendering myself to the experience, my consciousness continues to shift and I fall deeper into an increasingly immersive trip, continually spellbound, rolling through ever novel experience and widened perception.

From time to time I’m struck by the incredulity of what I’m experiencing and decide I must make more notes – it seems crucial that I document such an experience. Each time I do this the physical feeling of my body synchronises with my mental action; resistance – heavy and burdensome, or surrender – light and relaxed. Each time I roll over and pick up the pen, I feel like that same heaviness pulling me back, as if telling me that I’m not allowed to leave mescaline land for too long.

Time increasingly dilates and experience is fairly intense throughout, even when I ‘pull myself out’ to make notes. Anticipating how much deeper I’m going to be pulled under, I wonder whether that double dose was a good idea – I might be in for more than I bargained for! I take it in good spirits and smile to myself, relishing the adventure that I’ve undertaken. I know the best thing to do is to relax, and again I consciously surrender, once more losing myself in the utter beauty of the trees and the clouds and the sky. I’m falling, falling, just floating in endless beauty.

Dropping Physical Worries

A high pitched whistling sound pulls me out of my beatific awe, it’s some cheery trekker in the vicinity making a tune with their lips. It triggers a touch of paranoia and some niggling worries resurface. Who is it? What if they come over and start speaking to me? What will they think of me here sprawled on my back? I catch myself worrying, made aware of it by the accompanying physical discomfort. This constant mirroring of the physical and mental is making a point – the two are inextricably intertwined. Science has proven this, but now I’m not reading about some research study, I’m comprehending the truth through direct experience and see that expressions like ‘just drop it’ and ‘mental baggage’ aren’t simply metaphorical. Resistance, clinging, craving, worrying – all can be understood as physical sickness too.

I realise there is no use in me carrying the worry about the stranger and compose myself to willingly drop it. But even with the knowledge that it doesn’t serve me, I feel a reluctance to let go – a strange resistance to let go of resistance – now aware of the usually subconscious urge to cling to what I know, feeling it as physical weight. If I can just stop worrying I can be totally light, but I hesitate. It’s like so many things in life – like ending an amicable but ultimately unsuitable relationship, or jumping into water on a hot day – the transition is what unnerves us even when we know the change needs to be made.

Telling myself to let go, it’s like I’m hanging on to the edge of a cliff, bracing myself to drop into the unknown. I forcefully peel my own fingers off the ridge, finally dropping myself off to fall…

Lightness… I’m falling, falling, falling, and then… still falling. There is no bottom – no crush, no death, no oblivion – the experience is just continuous falling, ever unfolding experience without grasping. I sense a wonderful liberation. I’ve dropped myself off only to find that I’m still there. That weight, those worries and stress – I carry it all in an unconscious effort to retain my sense of self, out of fear of losing myself – but it’s not who I am, and when it’s all dropped, the awareness continues, without the physical weight. Perpetual, changing, naked existence.

What I’ve released was a part of the sense of a separate self – ego, role, identity – all a great trick. Both science and Buddhism are right – it’s no more than illusion and hallucination. I am the universe. ‘I’ is consciousness. I think how strange a physical sense of self is, how bizarre bodies are! I feel as if I’m undergoing purification, floating weightless with all excess parts stripped away.

Humbling

Feelings of humility arrive to fill the void I’ve opened up, and I lie awed and humbled to my very core. I see myself from above, my body lying there on the ground, and then I float up and away from myself, up over the valley. As I go up into the clouds I lose sight of myself beneath the trees. My vision of myself shrinks, I see myself and place as the trees and river. It’s a visual representation to what I’m feeling – my ego and self-importance shrinking away as I see the bigger picture and my place in the universe. I understand that the significance of my existence is nothing, and with that I experience a deep and unstirring peace.

Waves Of Gratitude

The calm humility morphs, and I feel sweeping waves of energy flowing and crashing through me, rinsing my insides with an essence of gratitude. I see detailed kaleidoscopic close-eyed visuals, but they are only a symptom and sideshow of the experience; the significance is in the the sense of total and utter gratitude, in the deep and resonant waves reverberating throughout my being. The waves are blissful and euphoric, the antithesis to every feeling of heaviness or worry. I am truly, profoundly, and utterly grateful.

There’s nothing in particular that I feel grateful for; I don’t think about family, friends, my health or anything else. It’s a bizarre sense of gratitude, gratitude with no object, just for it’s own sake. I am not a receiver of it; simply, I am gratitude.

Be grateful. This is the teaching of today, learnt from experience, direct from the source. I’m again reminded why psychedelic experiences are so esoteric, words could never explain this.

I lie, bathing in feelings of gratitude, euphoria and bliss, coated and entirely submerged in them, soaking them in.

Return To Reality

Some time later, my alarm rings. Its signifying that I should be making my return trip out of the woods. I’ve set the alarm for roughly an hour before sunset to give myself a decent amount of time to make it back in daylight and avoid a tricky and likely very confusing walk back through the woods in darkness. The problem is that I’m still exceptionally high and hardly feel in my body. Of course euphoria and beauty wouldn’t typically be considered a problem, but I’m conscious of the real world responsibility to look after myself and get back to town, and this is hardly the ideal frame of mind to be organising my stuff and figuring out the route. I know I’m inappropriately high to be making the journey, but compose myself; one step at a time, I tell myself. Easily, gently, one step at a time.

Rising to my feet, I stagger around as I gather my things, pack my bag, and roll up my sleeping mat. Everything stuffed inside and ready, the zip decides to break in that moment. Perfect. I laugh to myself at the timing of this. I sling it round to my front and hold it closed with my hand, looking up to assess my surroundings and figure my way back out of the woods. As I look around, every direction looks exactly the same, of course it does – it’s the woods. My flights through consciousness have done nothing for my sense of direction, I don’t recognise anything and a few steps in any direction makes me worry I’m going the wrong way and I’ll only have to backtrack later, losing what are now precious minutes of daylight.

I remember something Vik said to me on the mountainside that morning: ‘Stay by the river’. Now I know exactly why. Following the sound of running water, I find my way back to the mini-water fall and regain my sense of direction. I can’t walk alongside the river as there is no path and the terrain is clustered rocks and trees, so I head away, but with an idea of the direction I should be going and aim to stay as close as I can whilst still heading downstream.

Nothing looks familiar, of course, even though I must’ve come this way in the morning. ‘Trust your gut’ – a nice expression but right now my gut doesn’t trust anything. In every direction, it tells me ‘this doesn’t seem familiar, it can’t be the right way’. I stick to logic, a trusty friend that’s gotten me out of a few tight spots in altered states, and cling to the knowledge of where I’ve just seen the river, and steadily push on on the basis of that. I come upon some houses, half expecting some local to come out yelling something to the tune of ‘get out of my garden’ in Quechua, and walk quickly on, heading back towards where I calculate the river should be.

Sure enough, I see running water and recognize where I am from my walk in the morning – I’m less than five minutes from the road. I have just enough time to breathe a sigh of relief before I hear a faint call just about audible over the gushing water. I turn around and recognize Vik and his friend Kelsey a way back up the path. It’s a welcome and charming surprise, and they head over, having been meditating in the woods. ‘I am really high’ I confess, and they take me under their wing and back into town where we spend the remainder of the evening. Though lingering effects from the cactus are with me late into the evening – experiencing Pisac lit by night as a world of wonder – the real trip and adventure ended as I left the woods, and no more stark revelations or powerful sensations will come. At least until the next time.