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What is a psilocybin experience like? After seeing the popularity of my recent post: What is an LSD experience like? I decided to do a follow up about psilocybin. Psilocybin is the psychedelic compound found in magic mushrooms and truffles, and although very similar to the LSD experience, it does have one or two differences.

As with the LSD post these were taken from a study which looked at aspects similar amongst people‘s psilocybin experiences. All of these findings were presented in a talk by Katrin Preller which you can view online:
How Psychedelics Can Help Us Understand Social Cognition and Self-Experience.

I think the list provides an excellent summary of common psilocybin experiences.

Subjective Effects of Psilocybin

  • Elementary visual alterations
  • Vivid imagery
  • Audio-visual synesthaesia
  • Changed meaning of percepts
  • Experience of unity
  • Blissful state
  • Disembodiment
  • Impaired control and cognition
  • Insightfulness
  • Religious experience
  • Anxiety

The diagram below shows us which of the subjective effects were felt most strongly under the influence of psilocybin. I have ordered the list above in order. As you can see, elementary visual alterations scores highest, and anxiety lowest.

Subjective effects of psilocybin. From Vollenheider & Kometer, 2010.

Course of Subjective Effects of Psilocybin

This chart shows the course of a psilocybin journey including the intensity of the effects over a timeline. As you can see the peak is around 1 hour in with ‘transient peaks of self transcendence’.

Course of subjective effects of psilocybin. From Preller & Vollenweider, 2017.

What is an LSD experience like? This is a question I often get asked by people who are curious about the psychedelic experience and who just want to know: what is it actually like?

One word that is often used when trying to describe the experience is ineffable. Which means that it cannot be put into words. However this kind of relegates language and is also, dare I say it, a little lazy. That said, I do understand that it is an extremely difficult experience to describe.

subjective effects of lsd katrin preller

Psychedelic researcher Katrin Preller

Last year I went to a series of talks put on by the MIND foundation at their Betahaus hub in Berlin. One of these talks was by Katrin Preller on the topic of social cognition and self experience. As part of her presentation Katrin presented the subjective effects of LSD as reported by study participants. This is an excellent summary and I think answers the question very well, with a nice succinct list of aspects of the experience.

Subjective effects of LSD

  • Audio-visual synesthesia
  • Elemental imagery
  • Changed meaning of percepts
  • Blissful state
  • Complex imagery
  • Experience of unity
  • Insightfulness
  • Disembodiment
  • Impaired control and cognition
  • Spiritual experience
  • Anxiety

The diagram below shows us how strongly each of the effects were felt. As you can see, audio-visual synesthesia scored highest, and anxiety lowest.
subjective effects lsd schmidt et al 2015

Subjective effects of LSD. Schmidt et al. 2015

You can see Katrin’s whole talk here:

One thing that it is worth noting is that a psychedelic experience depends largely on three factors; set, setting and dose. The variance between these factors can totally change the experience, as well as the type of person who has the experience. For example, if a low-doses was taken at a party I don’t think spiritual experience or disembodiment would come up so much. Still, I think the list holds up as an excellent summary of the effects.

lsd acid tabs psychedelic

lsd acid tabs psychedelic

Flashbacks & After-Shocks

On a slightly lighter topic, I’d like to talk about some physical/mental after effects I’ve felt from acid. These could best be described as flash-backs, very brief, almost instantaneous thought. Also bear in mind that this has only happened a few times and most of those seem to have been helped along by smoking weed, it seems to be a catalyst for me. I’ll start with the coolest…

One dark night I was walking home, I’d smoked a few joints with some friends and was quite high. In the distance, tall lights lined the park and heavy dark grey clouds hung overhead. Just for a second the clouds seemed to flash purple, not bright, but perceptible and physically it felt like a little shiver and I just thought of the trip. Now it wasn’t the colour purple that took me back to the acid trip, I just felt it.

Thought is a very subtle process so I may sound crazy, but it felt like I was taken back just for a second to the trip, like the trip had punctured my reality briefly. It wasn’t a mystical vision or anything like that, if anything it felt mechanical, like a little twitch; I perceived it all at once. I didn’t see anything specific like the room we were in at the time, but that split second flash of purple just felt tripish. I’m no scientist, clearly, but I would be interested to know more about the relationship between weed and acid. For me, it seems like weed is a less potent stepping stone (once you’ve taken acid) for reminding your mind where it was when it was on acid, like it opens the door ajar again for a second. This could also be something physical like muscle memory, the acid just bubbles up in your system every now and then.

Other noticeable effects weed has had is perceptible morphing and contortion of vision. Looking at colourful geometric patterns- on curtains flowing in a breeze in my case- have seemed to provide some visuals and again memories of the trip. Another time I was watching someone fill a balloon with air on the television and I felt once more, a slight spasm as I was reminded of the laughing gas balloons we did on our trip and therefore the trip itself. More clearly, that particular flash was triggered by seeing something connected to the general trip, rather than randomly like the first I described. Also, that time the feeling was like a slight shiver through my face and a bleeding feeling at the back of the head, like the feeling you get when your heads congested and you swallow. It wasn’t a horrible feeling, I didn’t feel crazy or like I wasn’t in control, just slightly strange. Further to this, a similar flashback happened when someone said something specific that reminded of the trip, I can’t remember what now, but again implying it is akin to a physical response; it is so instantaneous.

I see things from different angles and have a wider range of perceptions more now also, I’ve seen a tree in the dark that made me think of a piece of black barrier reef; like the way we muse on what clouds look like, because they are less solid in form, more open to perception, that is how I now see other, sometimes solid objects, but more often nature. ‘But you know a tree still looks like a tree?!’ I hear you ask in consternation; yes, but it depends what I’m thinking about when I look at it is all I’m saying. Again, I was high when I felt this, but it felt tripish. I’ve also had slight feelings of paranoia whilst high on weed that have taken me back to when I felt scared on acid on the hard come-up. A still from a TV show we were watching when my trip hit a peak has briefly flashed back into my head whilst feeling paranoid on weed. The still is not properly perceptible; it’s a man sitting on a game-show style chair, it could be nothing like what we were actually watching at the time, but I know it references when I felt bad so that’s why it flashed into my brain. I find analysing this kind of thing fascinating because it may turn out I’m just remembering the acid trip now and again like you would remember any random happening and I’m making myself believe it is something more. I can only go on my perception however, and the examples I have given, did feel different to say, remembering the time you ate a McDonalds any time you see a Big Mac, or just thinking of a Big Mac randomly. There was a jolt, like the feeling was transient, physical and mental. I would be interested to know what others have felt on this matter; indeed some people, often musicians, have been driven mad by more vivid flashbacks!

Part of me feels acid has left an imprint on me that will possibly prove troublesome, but I see any after-effects just as delineations of one particular path, and every path has its pitfalls.