Shrooms: Euphoric Escape or Manic Hell?

By Jessie Yang

Artistic rendition of hallucinogenic effects (Wikimedia Commons)

any of us want to escape the ordinary. Some of us seek a better understanding of who we are. Perhaps, we simply wish we could alter our minds to look at life a little differently.

Dylan Jenson, a sophomore at the University of California, Berkeley, said he achieved all of this within hours.

What did the trick was neither a radical life change nor a near-death experience. It was shrooms.

“They open you up intellectually and thoughtfully and make you curious of the world,” said Jenson. “I think they make you question how you perceive things a little bit more.”

Jenson is among 32 million people in the U.S. who have used LSD, psilocybin or mescaline sometime in their lives.

In a resolution passed on June 4, Oakland became the second U.S. city following Denver to decriminalize hallucinogenic fungi. Advocates argued that people should not be jailed for using shrooms to cope with mental illness.

Dried shrooms (shroomery.org)

Esther, an Oakland behavioral health specialist and psychiatric technician, is optimistic about decriminalization. Her last name has been removed for confidentiality.

“If shrooms can be shown to have lasting positive benefits, or even short-term and safe benefits in a controlled and experimental setting and are overall more accessible and convenient,” she said, “then they should be fair game in comparison to other treatments to mental illness.”

According to Healthline, young adults are more likely to use shrooms than any other age group.

Psychedelics are further being recognized as a part of teen culture by hit HBO drama series Euphoria, which premiered on June 16, 2019. Hallucination and psychosis are among the various drug-related experiences the show captures.

hen Ronin, a junior at UC Berkeley, whose last name has been removed for confidentiality, thinks about shrooms, he remembers a deeply bonding experience with his fraternity brothers.

Lounging in his room at the fraternity, Ronin reminisces going up to Fort Bragg for a retreat during his freshman year, where he tried shrooms for the first time:

“I was curious to try it, I tried other drugs before, and I wanted to be included and everything,” said Ronin.

But shrooms don’t always lead to positive experiences.

Things took a frightening turn for Ronin and his friends in the Santa Cruz forests when one friend took twice the normal dosage and “started going a little insane,” as Ronin put.

“He starts running at top speed and screaming and basically became manic — at a totally different level from everyone else. He took his shirt off and dunked his face in the nearby river for a long time. It seemed like he wanted to drown himself. Then he began to break down in tears.”

“For a good 15 minutes I was genuinely concerned for his safety,” said Ronin.

Jenson also cautions against the mental clarity shrooms can provide:

“I think that you can still really internalize whatever you’re emotionally or spiritually going through if you’re going through anything before you do psychedelics in general.”

Shrooms may be more commonplace among Berkeley students due to the fact that psychedelics and drugs like cannabis have a special spot in Northern Californian culture. In the sixties, the San Francisco Bay Area held author Ken Kesey’s Acid Tests, a series of parties centered on the use of LSD.

(Left) Man smokes cannabis joint inside UC Berkeley fraternity (Right) Psychedelic mushrooms art on Telegraph Avenue

Vince, a Berkeley native and shrooms dealer, whose last name has been omitted for anonymity, believes shrooms are an important part of Berkeley culture.

“I think a lot of people in Berkeley like to do them and go out into nature and stuff. It’s kind of a connecting experience,” he said. “It’s something me and my friends like to do a lot together.”

San Francisco, another city with a prevalent psychedelic culture, demonstrates interest in using psychedelic drugs to treat mental illness.

The San Francisco Psychedelic Society, organized on Meetup, is currently 5,456 members large and hosts events including support groups for psychedelic therapeutic use.

Within the group’s discussion section, several people were seeking advice on how to treat mental conditions including OCD, anxiety, depression and PTSD with psychedelics. Some members claimed that taking shrooms stopped their anxiety.

San Francisco Trips Festival poster from 1966 (woodstockwhisperer.info)

Within recent years there has also been a resurgence in research on psychedelic therapy.

The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies(MAPS), located in Santa Cruz, California, is currently sponsoring Food and Drug Administration(FDA) drug development research into MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for the treatment of PTSD.

owever, the efficacy of psychedelics in treating mental illnesses is still unclear.

According to Medical News Today, users may experience “fear, agitation, confusion, delirium, psychosis, and syndromes that resemble schizophrenia.” Physicians have also diagnosed a condition known as hallucinogen persisting perception disorder(HPPD), which causes flashbacks to a traumatic experience.

Alt-Right psychedelic mushrooms art (melmagazine.com)

Linda Meyerson, a sophomore at UC Berkeley who has never tried psychedelics, feels hesitant about shrooms being used for therapy.

“Honestly it gives me anxiety thinking about it,” she chuckled.

Esther thinks shrooms would be more reliable if they were more thoroughly and extensively clinically tested:

“I think that in my experience of seeing patients in clinics I’ve worked at, psychedelic drugs have a lot more risks than evidence-based medical treatments paired with regular psychotherapy,” she said. “More often than not, psychedelics are what cause people to come in to the clinics due to side effects.”

hether due to unfamiliarity or stigma, psychedelic drugs are still a ways off from becoming relevant in the medical field. Still, shrooms are recreationally used by young people to ease the struggles of everyday life rather than to treat serious mental conditions.

Many college students are still figuring out who they are and what they believe. For some, shrooms can be useful in achieving self-realization.

For Jenson, shrooms were helpful in tearing down the mental barriers raised by societal expectations, allowing him to clearly envision his long-term hopes and dreams. Ultimately, his experiences with shrooms have been satisfactory:

“I think that there is something really valuable about an out of body experience like that, like in an altered state of mind,” said Jenson. “I have never done psychedelics and regretted it.”

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