I’m taking a little break from the dry, science-based articles. This one is going to be a personal article about my experience developing enhanced sensitivity to psilocybin.
Psilocybin and other psychedelics are strange substances. They are unique in that they can produce both tolerance and hypersensitivity. If you consume them too often over a short period of time, you might find that the effects are dulled. But if you consume them relatively often over an extended period of time, you may find that the effects are incredibly enhanced even with just small amounts.
When you take doses too close together, the receptors will not react the way you may expect. This is referred to as tolerance and can result in a muted experience. I think this is desirable for someone who is using psilocybin for medical reasons. They don’t necessarily want a wild ride, and dosing regularly keeps the effects more predictable. The flip side of this is that use over an extended period of time can build sensitivity.
What happens in your brain during a psychedelic experience is not really “produced” by the psilocybin. It comes from you, from your brain. The colors, the synesthesia, the emotions and sensations all originate from you. Just like riding a bike, you become more adapted and better the more you practice. You may not be aware that you are acquiring these skills while tripping, but this is what is happening. It will take less effort and less of the substance to send your mind skipping down this path. Some master meditators can achieve a psychedelic state or at least something that resembles it on a fMRI machine through meditation and breathwork alone.
The first time I took five grams of mushrooms, it was incredibly pleasant. There were some visual effects, I found patterns mesmerizing, and I experienced my first pain free five hours in over a year. I could close my eyes and just feel this indescribable swirling flow of consciousness. I could visualize thoughts, and I experienced synesthesia that manifested itself as music in the form of physical sensations and colors. There was ego death, but it was a gentle “this is where you belong in the substrate of existence” kind of ego death. It was devastating, but also comforting. One of my favorite accounts of a five gram mushroom trip is from Sam Harris, and you can hear it here.
Now, two years and several dozens of trips later, two grams of dried mushroom produces a feeling very similar to what five grams initially did. Even one gram can achieve a feeling close to that level if I accompany it with some breathing exercises and mindfulness practice. The difference between my current two gram experience and my previous five gram trips is that I can probably shake it off and choose to return to some form of lucidity at will.
So, what does five grams feel like now? It feels closer to what a ten gram mushroom experience has felt like in the past. It does not just involve standard visuals, it involves opening my eyes and having nothing I am seeing there be related to what is truly in front of me, just a kaleidoscope of colors and shapes. It’s an awful experience, involving an ego death that feels like losing a part of you that makes you human and leaves you a desolate quaking shell.
Why on earth have I tried ten grams of mushrooms? Well, why does any adventurer climb Everest? The mushrooms were there, I was there, and to be honest it is significantly safer than something like climbing Everest. It is equal parts an awful, horrifying experience and astoundingly beautiful. It’s devastating and cathartic. It defies words. Do I want to experience it again? Absolutely not, but it does still carry a fascinating mystique. I sometimes wonder if I could muster a little more poise and grace next time if faced with staring into that void again. Perhaps I’ll throw my hat in that ring again one day, but I’m in no hurry. For now, I have adjusted my dose to produce the gentle ecstatic ego death I am comfortable with.