The first time Loumir*, a 29-year-old graphic designer living in London, took psilocybin, or magic mushrooms, the drug was mixed into chocolate and shaped like a KitKat bar. The man who made and sold them at an east London converted warehouse, where about 70 people live and work, had put in a lot of effort. “There was the KitKat stamp on the chocolate and realistic packaging, with the foil and everything. It was quite impressive.”
Other enthusiasts drink teas, eat dried mushrooms or cook them into food, or chew up truffles that arrive vacuum sealed for freshness. Others blitz mushrooms to powder and press them into pills, not unlike other chemical party drugs such as MDMA, though supposedly with less of the negative after effects.
Luke*, a 36-year-old screenwriter living in Mayfair, says he has outgrown the booze and chemical drugs that he enjoyed when he was younger. “If I drink and take MDMA now, it knocks me out for about three days afterwards. In my thirties I started having insane hangovers and it stopped being worth it. With mushrooms, I feel social, I have a laugh, but I can wake up the next day and go for a run, no problem.” He started experimenting with psilocybin by buying truffles online, which a few years back were part of a legal loophole that meant they could be bought and sold online in the UK. But then a friend got him into cooking with mushrooms.
“He made a banging lasagna, with a small dose in it, just enough to get giggly. Truffles taste pretty heinous to be honest, so I got more into cooking with shrooms and hosting mini-shroom dinner parties.”
Although some enthusiasts describe magic mushrooms (and other psychedelics) as being a more introverted experience than other kinds of drugs, there’s definitely a community around magic mushrooms and many people, like Loumir and Luke, see them as a great drug for socialising.
My first time taking mushrooms was one of the most powerful experiences of my life. It’s completely different to drinking, it’s more intentional.
June, an art teacher from Battersea.
In a cosy pub in Shoreditch, a group of “psychonauts” (those interested in exploring psychedelic drugs) meet up regularly to share their experiences. The group is diverse in terms of ages and backgrounds, but noticeably includes a lot of young professionals on middle to upper incomes. It would be fair to describe this as a somewhat boujee crowd — these are people with Soho House memberships and Lulu Lemon yoga gear. They all claim the experience of taking psychedelics has changed their lives for the better. “My first time taking mushrooms was one of the most powerful experiences of my life,” says June*, an art teacher based in Battersea. “It’s a completely different thing to drinking, it’s more intentional. Psychedelic drugs are more introverted, it’s a completely different experience to just mindlessly necking eight pints.”
“It just has a really nice effect on you,” says Loumir, who took the drug recreationally with friends, in a warehouse living room filled with plants. “If you do it in the right amount, it’s a subtle change about how good you feel. And you become more open. Not necessarily more creative, just more open to thinking about things.” She also noticed that alcohol would induce anxiety and depression and made her “a horrible person”. For Loumir, mushrooms have none of these ill effects and even after tripping, she says a feeling of positivity will sometimes linger for days.
According to a YouGov poll, 55 per cent of Britons support relaxing restrictions on psilocybin.
Psychedelics have undergone a massive PR boom in recent years, in part due to the very promising results of clinical trials that have looked into the potential of these drugs to treat mental illnesses. In one study, a third of people suffering from drug-resistant depression went into rapid remission after a single high-dose of psilocybin alongside therapy sessions. Other studies into psilocybin for the treatment of PTSD have had similarly positive outcomes. According to a YouGov poll, 55 per cent of Britons support relaxing restrictions on psilocybin. However, outside of specific clinical settings, magic mushrooms are still illegal in the UK, classified as a Class-A drug (the same as heroin and crack cocaine).
Despite this, there is a common belief that psychedelics, and magic mushrooms in particular, are harmless with some experts even claiming these drugs have no negative after effects.
Jules Evans, is the founder of The Challenging Psychedelics Experiences Project, which invites people to report psychedelic experiences that they feel were difficult or negative. Evans feels there’s a reluctance to confront the possible dangers because researchers and proponents of psychedelics are anxious of provoking a knee-jerk response that will undo a lot of the positive shift in attitude, but he hopes the industry is now well established enough to withstand this. His survey of more than 600 people has found that some do report negative effects, sometimes lasting months or even years. “Psychedelics are a drug and all drugs carry risk,” he says.
Some enthusiasts refer to them as “drugs for grown ups” and talk about the experience as being deeply personal and individual, almost a polar opposite to a drinking culture that’s all about forgetting your problems for the night — the experience of taking psilocybin can be, some claim, life-changing, and goes far beyond just having a good time. For some, magic mushrooms have allowed them to get over alcohol dependency and avoid relapsing.
This was true for interior designer Katie*, who recalls getting a sniff of a glass of wine after attending a psilocybin retreat in Spain and feeling sick, as though the drug had somehow rewired her brain. “The experience itself was hellish,” she explains, before going on to say it was one of the most transformative experiences of her life. Katie has dabbled with mushrooms since the retreat, but prefers the deep-dive approach of large doses.
“It’s such a powerful drug, I feel like it needs to be treated with respect. A lot of my friends use it recreationally and love it, they can be social on it, they can function. For me, and my brain, it didn’t quite work that way.”
Many enthusiasts describe the drug as being fun, funny and sociable. They report seeing colours in a heightened form, of giggling at the silliest things. But Loumir explained how it can also teach us about the power of our own minds. “A friend had described an experience where they went into the bathroom during a psilocybin trip and just kind of freaked out, got claustrophobic, felt sick,” she explains. “I decided I didn’t want that to happen so I told myself the bathroom was a safe place. I just tried to really strongly embed that thought in my head. Then, when I went in there, I felt suddenly sober. Like a switch had been flipped and I was back to normal. Then I’d leave and be high again. It was wild. It really shows you what your brain is capable of.”
Katie points out that the groups like the one that meets in the pub are important as a way of processing experiences on mushrooms. Psychedelics, almost by definition, can be unpredictable and all the enthusiasts we spoke to did their research and took a careful and gradual approach. “It’s about how you go into the experience,” says Katie. “It’s a wholly different thing, a different approach altogether.”
Names have been changed.