This essay was written in a period of 11 hours—the day before it was due—as the final essay of a freshman Writing and Rhetoric class at CU Boulder.
Apparently my teacher was Mr. Zizzi. He was a really great guy, from what I remember, into the Grateful Dead—(He tought me how to use the em dash [one way, there are many, I have learned] and also how important a peer edit can be [we had a rotation])—, and he allowed me to write almost every single piece that semester either about some kind of illicit substance, or naps.
Shrooms, as you see it titled here, was our final project. I distinctly remember railing lines of adderall off of my desk, while listening to “Stay High” by Tove Lo, filling plastic bottles with dip spit, throughout the duration of its creation. Honestly, it was a sad state of affairs. I probably had 4 weeks of preparation time to complete a well-researched essay, but instead I decided to do it all the night before.
(I don’t do that shit anymore. But I did what I had to get where I am: writing 4+ hours a day, 700+ words, reading 2+ hours, podcasting, and writing blog posts avidly.)
At any rate, I never received the final grade for this essay; I just turned it in and walked away, never to check my grades for the second semester of freshman year. Or return at all.
So why don’t you let me know what grade I should have gotten?
Here’s the rubric. Put your scores or insights in the comments below!
Psilocybin – a gift from God, or an alien from another planet? Under either circumstance, psilocybin-containing fungi, more commonly known as “magic mushrooms”, are here to stay. At least 144 different species of these mushrooms live around the globe and many more are sure to be discovered in the future (Pappas, 2014).These hallucinogenic fungi have been a part of human culture since ancient times and could have much to do with our development as a race today. In modern society we associate magic mushrooms with hippie counterculture and drug use, but recent research developments could point in another direction. Some studies include reports of psilocybin mushroom use take both obsessive compulsive disorder, and clinical depression (both are widespread socially harmful mental diseases) into complete remission, while current pharmaceutical medications aren’t completely efficient and carry various unpleasant side effects (Pappas, 2014). Research in this line of science has been frozen for decades due to its placement on the schedule 1 drug list by the federal government, meaning they have classified the fungus as having no medical benefit. As well as having potential medical benefits in the future, compounds of psilocybin actually boost brain connectivity and function. This increased brain synchronicity could explain why users experience such vivid hallucinations and inspirational oracalesc thoughts as well as apparent medical health improvement with many mental diseases and disorders (Webb, 2013). Historic human interaction and current findings related to psychedelic mushrooms warrant a “trip” into the truth and future of these mysterious life forms.
Central Americans were consuming psychedelic mushrooms since before Europeans landed on the shores of North America, but how far back were humans living among hallucinogenic mushrooms? The fungus grows well in tropical climates, which could place their origin somewhere in the Caribbean; however, these plants are able to grow in almost any condition, even cow dung. Their natural, almost supernatural, ability to grow pretty much anywhere explains why so many cultures in history show distinct signs of interaction and use. Hallucinogenic species of the fungus have a history of use among the native peoples of Mesoamerica for religious communion, divination, and healing, from pre-Columbian times to the present day (Supprian et. al, 2001). More findings show that hallucinogenic mushrooms were known to the Aztecs as teonanácatl (literally “divinemushroom”) meaning they believed the fungus was a godly substance. Archeological searches have found stones and motifs resembling mushrooms in Mayan temple ruins in Guatemala. Clearly, for these ancient civilizations to include psilocybin mushrooms in their religious rituals and worship, they must have made a very significant impact on their culture and individual lives. If history exemplifies positive experiences in the past, don’t magic mushrooms deserve a second look?
Luckily, scientists and experts in consciousness believe there is much to be learned about these fantastical fungi. In a study conducted by the Journal of Royal Society Interface, psilocybin has been found to interfere with normal brain connectivity, causing it to function in novel ways (McKay, 2014). The chemical temporarily blinds serotonin receptors in the brain allowing information to travel more freely. When these regions of the brain that normally don’t connect with each other cross signals, the result is a trip (McKay, 2014). Understanding why and how trips can have such profound and transformative results on humans could carry future implications in psychiatry and psychedelic therapy.
In regards to psychological medical benefit, studies are beginning to unravel the truth despite federal illegality. “We know that a number of mental illnesses, such as OCD and depression, are associated with excessive connectivity of the brain, and the default mode network becomes over-connected,” says David Nutt, British professor of neuropsychopharmacology at the University of Cambridge. Using knowledge about psilocybin and its ability to rearrange brain connectivity, Nutt and his team at the Imperial College London believe “magic mushrooms” do indeed have profound medical benefit (Senthilingram, 2014). Depression is estimated to affect more than 350 million people around the world, according to the World Health Organization (WHO, 2014). The current pharmaceutical approach to treatment is with selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as Prozac, which increase levels of serotonin in the brain to improve moods. But SSRIs are not effective in everyone, take time to show an effect and are generally prescribed for long periods of time to maintain their effect (Mayo, 2014). Nutt, while upholding his beliefs that psilocybin could be the cure to depression and obsessive compulsive disorder, stresses that the drug should be administered with professional support as part of medical therapy (Senthilingram, 2014). We have barely scratched the surface of the possibly innumerable implications one natural chemical could have on human existence.
Consciousness and the human brain could perhaps be the most complex aspects of our universe. “The brain is about organizing information and predicting the external world and we think psilocybin disrupts that and makes it more chaotic,” says Nutt. “People have hallucinations because instead of seeing the world as the brain expects it to be, you see what the brain is doing.” (Nutt, 2014). The “chaos” brought about while experiencing a mushroom trip potentially carries even more medical benefits, beyond depression and OCD. In the 1950’s and 60’s, before psychedelic mushrooms were placed on the schedule 1 drug list, substances such as tobacco and alcohol were subject to research regarding their addictive attributes and psilocybin treatment. “With psilocybin people feel reorganized [after therapy] and the nature of the reorganization is such that there are effects on attitudes towards addiction,” explains professor Roland Griffiths from the Johns Hopkins School of medicine. In other words, taking controlled doses of magic mushrooms can actually cure addiction. The Centers for Disease Control estimates there are 42 million smokers in the United States and the habit accounts for one in five deaths each year (CDC, 2014). Initial studies by Griffiths and his team to treat smoking addiction have found 80% success rates in people quitting the habit up to six months after their treatment. Their studies indicate that psilocybin-based therapy could potentially be quicker and more effective than long-term therapies such as nicotine replacement (Grifiths et. al, 2011). Even after many conclusive studies, widespread acceptance of psilocybin as a medical treatment isn’t a reality. More research and many trials on a larger scale must be conducted before the federal government will accept clinical prescription. The potential for medical benefit exists, but do we exist?
Questions like this and other profound thoughts are commonly encountered by people experiencing a hallucinogenic trip. Stepping away from the scientific and historical aspects of psilocybin mushrooms, we find a much more spiritual facet. After personally interviewing a confirmed psychedelic mushroom user, and listening to a radio podcast from Joe Rogan describing a psychedelic trip, I believe I have an acceptable understanding of what occurs during one of these experiences. Although data collected from my personal interview with the mushroom user cannot be supported with citations, the information proved to be quite interesting and unique. When I asked the user (whom shall remain unnamed) how he would describe his experience, he replied, “It’s like walking under a waterfall into the cave behind, and realizing that you were the one living in a cave and a different universe was on the other side.” The brain activity that was inhibited by serotonin receptors previous to use, could flow freely throughout his brain making him feel like he could “see the world through a different lens.” As well as undergoing a shift in his perception of the world, he stated, “Objects in my surroundings became more beautiful, and colors more vivid. Everything contained some profound symbolism that I couldn’t explain.” The user admits he does not suffer from any mental disease, but feels the use of hallucinogenic mushrooms is a human right. From a more professional standpoint, open-minded skeptic and podcast host of “The Joe Rogan Experience,” Joe Rogan, believes magic mushrooms could be the explanation for organized religion and many other unusual social theories such as Santa Clause. Rogan often quotes an American philosopher and ethno botanist named Terence McKenna. McKenna provides a scientific theory to explain the doubling of the size of the human brain within two million years, one of the most controversial anomalies in the entire fossil record. This mysterious, extremely rapid period of growth produced many theories from scientists around the world. Mckenna believes a group of primates began consuming hallucinogenic mushrooms in an effort to adapt after the rain forests receded into grasslands. The primates then began experimenting with other diets, which resulted in them eating psilocybin containing mushrooms. Using what we know today, McKenna believes the primates became more self-aware and acquired the ability to think in a more complex manner. His theory also introduces the idea that while under the influence of psilocybin, the primates experienced increased visual acuity making them more productive hunters; therefore, making the “tripping” primates dominant and better suited to survive (Horgan, 2004).
If McKenna’s theory is correct and the key to mental expansion was brought about when a monkey ate a random mushroom from under a log, then what could we accomplish with modern technology? Mckenna said, “You are an explorer, and you represent our species, and the greatest good you can do is to bring back a new idea, because our world is endangered by the absence of good ideas. Our world is in crisis because of the absence of consciousness.” In theory, psilocybin mushrooms allow us to understand consciousness to a point of controlling mental illnesses. Although controversial, magic mushrooms provide humans with the ability to think from a different perspective; perhaps, from the perspective we need to evolve. Scientific research has only just begun and the “good ideas” that McKenna describes should transpire. Based on artifacts, theories, and scientific studies, psilocybin mushrooms obviously contributed greatly to the way humans that walk the earth today; where will we walk tomorrow?
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Stay wild folks,
A.C.E. the Theorist