Written by Dr. Samuel Douglas
Edited by Tara Ruttenberg and the Mushroom Tao team
Psychedelic is the umbrella term for substances that cause non-ordinary states of consciousness, and includes psilocybin, LSD, mescaline, and ayahuasca. The term psychedelic comes from the Greek words psyche ("soul” or “mind") and deloun ("to manifest"). “Mind-manifesting” indicates that these substances can reveal and develop the mind’s hidden potential.
Non-ordinary states involve changes in what we see, hear, think and feel. These states can include hallucinatory or mystical experiences. Psychedelics shift the way we relate with others and the world around us. Most of these substances work by affecting particular serotonin receptors and neurotransmitters in the brain.
Psychedelics can be paired with therapy to produce rapid and long-lasting improvements to various mental health conditions. Psychedelic-assisted therapy usually consists of several one-on-one therapy sessions with a qualified mental health professional to prepare the journeyer for the experience, a supervised moderate or high dose psychedelic experience, followed by one or more integration sessions. During the psychedelic session, therapeutic teams generally do not interact with patients unless needed, primarily acting to help the patient feel safe. Some research has used a mix of individual and group therapy before and after the psychedelic experience.
There are two critical components of psychedelic preparation: Knowing what to expect, and being clear on why you are going on this journey. While some psychedelic effects can only be believed or understood once they are experienced, most journeyers feel more comfortable during their experiences if they have been thoroughly briefed by an expert on what is likely to happen for them.
Setting an intention before an experience is a core practice in both modern psychedelic-assisted therapy and the long traditions of Indigenous psychedelic use. Your intention aids focus and provides a psychological “anchor” when you’re feeling overwhelmed. But it’s essential to be flexible: what you think you need to work on may not be what your subconscious and the mushrooms decide to explore together.
Proper integration maximizes the benefits of your peak mushroom experiences. Integration is the process of weaving your realizations and visions into your everyday life. It can take time to make sense of some experiences. You may feel lost or confused at various moments for days, weeks, or months after your journey. Patience with and compassion for oneself and others are important qualities to cultivate.
It’s important to build a strong support network of people you trust and with whom you can share your innermost thoughts and most vulnerable feelings. What the mushrooms show is rarely a matter of literal interpretation, and opportunities to unpack your experiences with trusted allies are invaluable. Luckily, an increasing number of mental health professionals recognize the benefits of psychedelics, and integration services are available in many countries, even where psychedelics are still prohibited.
Set is short for ‘mindset,’ which is your mental and emotional state when you have a psychedelic experience. Are you excited, tense, scared, tired, sad or energized? Set can also include your intentions for undertaking an activity. Are you doing this for your mental health or spiritual growth? Perhaps you want to explore, connect, have fun or experiment.
Setting is the environment in which you have your psychedelic experience. Where are you and what is happening around you? Are you at a festival, in your bedroom, or in a forest? What do you hear? Who is with you, and how do you feel about them?
Set and setting greatly influence your experience. At Mushroom Tao, we’ve designed the retreat program to make sure your set and setting are optimal. For weeks or months, we help you prepare to ensure a positive mindset when coming on retreat. We provide loving staff and a peaceful environment so you feel safe and cared for before, during, and after your mushroom ceremony sessions.
Psychedelic experiences can induce rapid perceptual shifts, which can be shocking, confusing, overwhelming, or frightening for even the most seasoned psychonauts. Some who have an especially challenging journey may refer to it as a “bad trip.”
Others contend there is no “bad trip.” Many psychonauts, therapists, and guides now reframe a “bad trip” as a “challenging experience.” Psychedelic experiences can teach painful lessons and make us question our realities, expectations, and ideas. Seeing the truth can be difficult, especially when our pain is deeply rooted. Who determines what’s good and what’s bad?
What initially seems and feels like a “bad trip” may actually help the journeyer avoid misfortunes in the future. Psychedelics can show us how limited our perceptions are, so it’s important to train ourselves to see through and understand multiple perspectives so we can have a more holistic view of life.
With proper guidance and integration support, most people still rank these challenging journeys as being some of the most worthwhile experiences of their lives. We can go through a difficult experience and emerge more humble, grateful, and compassionate. This alone makes these challenging journeys worthwhile.