Just over two weeks ago, I took a large dose of psilocybin-containing ‘magic’ mushrooms with the intent to stop a 15-year smoking habit.
It was one of the most intense and uncomfortable experiences of my life.
However, it was also one of the most profound and rewarding.
While it’s only been 16 days since I lay down on that cosy mattress with an eye mask and noise-cancelling headphones on before gobbling down 5 grams of shrooms, I’m super optimistic that I will not smoke again.
Before I explain why this time feels different to all the other times I’ve tried to quit, let’s go back to the beginning of the story…
My history with smoking
I started smoking as a teenager. Most of my family smoked when I was young and by the age of about 15 I was regularly stealing cigarettes from the many packets lying around the house.
Around 17, I had also started smoking cannabis. It was occasional at first, but soon became more regular until it became a daily habit by the age of 19.
Since then (I’m now 34), I’ve smoked something (weed or tobacco) pretty much every day. Sure, I’ve had a few breaks - I stopped smoking tobacco for four years (before stupidly starting again) and have a number of weeks-long breaks from weed - but I’ve never been able to make it stick.
It’s weird because when it comes to other drugs (I’ve tried most of them), food and exercise, I’m pretty damned disciplined.
I just had some sort of emotional attachment to smoking, for whatever reasons.
For the last few years, I’ve been smoking about one or two joints (tobacco and weed mixed) most evenings, which is much less than it used to be.
This pattern of usage seemed to minimise the negative effects of both weed and tobacco - I could still engage in focused work during the day (I built a couple of businesses during this time), worked out regularly (got in great shape, if I do say so myself), and had positive relationships (got a great girlfriend and made friends easily).
But I didn’t like the idea of needing a substance. I felt like I was still a slave to my addiction, which didn’t fly with my number one value in life, which is freedom.
So while I really wanted to quit smoking and be free from my addiction, I found it very daunting to consider giving this habit up.
In fact, I couldn’t really picture my life without at least one small joint at the end of each day to unwind from the day’s stresses and send me off to sleep.
About three years ago, I started learning about mushrooms.
I became fascinated with psilocybin (the psychedelic compound in magic mushrooms) and particularly its astounding ability to help the brain to grow and rewire itself - processes known as neurogenesis and neuroplasticity.
The fact that a mushroom could open up a window of opportunity for the brain to change long-engrained neural pathways still amazes me.
After all, humans are creatures of habit, and we all know how hard it can be to change well-established habits.
Perhaps so-called “magic” mushrooms were the tool I needed to finally free myself from my smoking habit.
For the next few years, I researched psilocybin further, reading with curiosity every study that came out about the miraculous compound. And my conviction grew.
As I learned more and more, it was clear to me that this was the best chance I’ll have to change.
However, I was scared.
I had tried magic mushrooms in my early twenties before I knew anything about them, and while I had some fun experiences, the thought of taking a large dose and surrendering the drug frightened the pants off me.
What if I cried, or did something weird, or pooed myself, I thought.
I mean, Ayahuasca, a psychedelic drug used traditionally by tribes in the Amazon, was known to cause purging from both ends, so I guess that’s where that fear came from.
Because of these fears, I was reluctant to do it with a friend or in a group setting, and I didn’t feel comfortable doing it alone in an airbnb in case something happened, like a fire alarm going off or someone knocking at the door.
And then, a couple of months ago, Mushies received an email from a fella called John Robertson.
John said he was a UK-based psychedelic educator and facilitator with experience leading psychedelic sessions privately and on retreat since 2017. He even founded one of the first legal psychedelic retreats in the world.
I emailed back and told him of my desire to quit smoking using shrooms, and asked him if he could be my tripsitter.
Over the next few weeks, John and I had a number of chats over ZOOM, where he led me though a program modelled on a nicotine cessation study conducted at Johns Hopkins university.
Although we had a shorter time frame than that used in the study (about five weeks rather than 15 weeks), we tried to emulate it as much as possible.
- Signing a contract, with a witness, vowing to quit smoking on the date of the psilocybin session
- Weekly preparation calls
- Daily mindfulness meditation
- 2 x weekly guided visualisation
- Keeping a smoke diary (where, when, what)
- Learning about dealing with urges after quitting
- Learning about the health benefits of quitting smoking
- Reading negative association cards every time I smoked
- Writing a goodbye letter to weed and tobacco the night before the session
- Bi-monthly integration calls after the session
After setting a date and going through our preparation, I was ready to take the leap of faith.
While I had done my homework and was well aware of the nature of the experience I was about to undertake, I was still nervous.
On the morning of the experience, I considered backing out a number of times. However, I remained strong and, while walking to the apartment where I would have the experience, In the cold and drizzling rain, I threw all my weed, tobacco, rolling papers and any other paraphernalia in a bin.
As I let go of the things I had held so dear for so long, I felt ready to cross the threshold into a new life.
The session itself would consist of:
- 5 grams psilocybin mushrooms (we pre-decided on this dose in advance)
- A comfortable and controlled indoor setting
- Preselected playlist of music that lasts the duration of the experience
- Headphones and eye mask worn during the experience to help direct attention to the inner experience
- Interpersonal support from John, who is present the whole time
At midday, after a cup of ginger tea with John (ginger is meant to be good at reducing the nausea that mushrooms can cause), I settled onto a mattress, wrapped myself in a blanket, and downed five grams of ground mushrooms which had been steeping in lemon juice for the last 20 minutes.
For the next five-or-so hours, I lay on that mattress (with two or three wobbly toilet breaks), and let the experience unfold behind my eyelids.
It took less than an hour for me to forget where I was and to find my breath as the only anchor to the “real world” where I had lived for the last 34 years.
Combined with my breath, the music I was listening to led me through waves of emotions and feelings. Awe, fear, wonder, anxiety, and everything in between were felt intensely.
I felt a connection to my primal self, like I was one of the first humans, roaming an archaic landscape long before civilisation.
It felt like being one of those big blue dudes from Avatar, cruising through the trees of Pandora, intimately connected to the natural environment and my fellow beings.
Writing this, it sounds lovely. But in truth, most of the time I was very uncomfortable.
At times I would ask myself questions, like ‘why am I addicted’, ‘what am I meant to be doing with my life?’, and ‘how do I deal with a significant traumatic event that I went through as a child?’.
And each time I would get the message, or rather the feeling, that those answers were not important and it was a waste of time looking for them.
In fact, the overarching message I got from the entire experience was that I need to stop looking for answers, to stop trying to analyse everything, and to just act.
I should trust myself and act on instincts. It didn’t really matter whether I was right or wrong, I just needed to do what I thought was right rather than keep trying to think everything through.
As the effects of the psilocybin began to wear off, after about four or five hours, I felt much more relaxed and comfortable.
It was then that I started to contemplate my life a bit more.
I felt immense gratitude for my family, my friends, and my girlfriend.
It became obvious that people are what’s important. My possessions, my bank balance, my businesses - these did not appear significant at all.
In fact, all that stuff was only worth anything if it helped people or if I could share it with my loved ones.
What’s the point of building anything, if it’s not going to help the people I love? This realisation put a lot of things into perspective for me.
That night, as I lay in bed trying to go to sleep sober for the first time in a long time, I was worried that nothing would change.
I felt the same as before.
I’ll try to meditate, I thought.
The next thing I know, I’m waking up after a decent night’s sleep. No dreams, no night sweats (which I always get if I don’t go to bed stoned), and a sense of calm.
I got up, had breakfast, and made my way home.
Over the next few days, I didn’t feel any different. Well, actually, I felt irritable and even a bit angry, which isn’t really like me and I didn’t know what to make of it.
A few more days went by. I would have the odd craving, usually at night, but didn’t really consider giving in to them.
I was also speaking my mind more often. If there was something I didn’t like, I would say so. This caused a few confrontations, but I stood strong and kept true to my feelings.
My thought process was like this: I don’t like that thing you’re doing. I'm not saying it’s wrong or that you should stop, I'm just saying that I don’t like it. Do with that info as you please.
And guess what? The other person would usually take my preference on board and, eventually, would either agree with me or understand where I was coming from.
I soon realised that, since my psychedelic experience, I had much less tolerance for bullshit. I saw that I was being passive before, perhaps enabled by the weed, and I was not expressing my true thoughts.
It’s been empowering and I feel like people in my life now have more respect for me.
This has been the biggest change I’ve noticed since my experience. After journaling about it to try and understand it, I think this new behaviour is part of a bigger change that I’m undergoing - a change from passivity to assertiveness. From follower to leader. From boy to man.
I’m reluctant to say I’m cured of my addiction because that would be naive.
However, I haven’t smoked anything in over two weeks now (I know, that’s not very long at all).
Most importantly, though, I’ve had minimal cravings, hardly any withdrawal symptoms, and a growing confidence that I can continue to choose not to smoke.
The science says that during the first two weeks after a high dose of psilocybin has been administered is when neuroplasticity is the greatest.
This is why I’ve made an effort to continue my daily meditations, weekly visualisation, and journaling in order to cement in new neural pathways and to reduce the influence of old ones.
My understanding of this process fills me with confidence that change can be permanent.
I’ve also been taking lion’s mane mushroom capsules daily, as lion’s mane has also been shown to promote neurogenesis and neuroplasticity, like psilocybin, but without the psychedelic effects (it’s also 100% legal).
Change yourself, change the world?
The implications of psychedelics and their power to influence neural pathways has profound implications for a world that seems stuck in old, unhelpful ways of thinking and acting.
From addiction and anxiety to depression and ADHD, psychedelics can help us change our brains, our habits, and to act on priorities like long-term health rather than short term highs.
In individuals, this can lead to better health, more happiness, and greater compassion. On a broader scale, I believe this can lead to a reduction in greed, violence and poverty.
It may seem idealistic and naive, however, there aren’t many other tools at our disposal that can produce such profound changes.
I think it would be naive to dismiss psychedelics.
If you’re interested in reading more about psychedelics, mushrooms and mindfulness, check out our blog here.
If you’re interested in learning more about psychedelic-assisted therapy, you can read John’s blog and contact him here. I highly recommend his services, which are professional, comprehensive and highly effective.