Writer Meghan Loneragan journeyed through a guided psychedelic psilocybin - magic mushrooms - healing experience. Here's everything that happened during those six hours.
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About four months into a pandemic and 45 minutes after - what I’m told - is a truly ‘athletic’ amount of psyclocybe cumensis (a strain of magic mushrooms, commonly referred to as ‘Golden Teacher’), I found myself apologising… profusely.
To myself, to my past, to my future, and to an ornamental crystal by the bed of the rented Airbnb I found myself in. All arranged by Emily*, my guide and therapist, for the next six hours.
Emily had just travelled to me after hosting a session for a former police detective dealing with PTSD.
A risky endeavour, but this is what she does - journeying up and down the east coast, offering guided one-on-one psilocybin experiences to the growing number of Australians looking for answers in a place they never thought they would look.
Plant medicine: You don’t find it; it finds you.
I describe Emily’s service as ‘therapy’. Some call it ‘medicine’. I say both within inverted commas because this practice is entirely off-the-books.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not a hugely popular, albeit underground, practice.
Mind Medicine Australia is one of a growing number of organisations dedicated to advocating for evidence-based psychedelic therapies, with their clinical trials involving terminally ill patients suffering from depression and anxiety seeing a 60% reported drop in these symptoms following a session.
This is the good news.
The bad news? It’s still hard to access, although Mind Medicine representative and international human rights attorney Scott Leckie confirms, “trials are underway in Australia and the demand for these therapies is accelerating rapidly. As ever more legal jurisdictions legalise, decriminalise or otherwise tolerate these substances – Oregon, Washington DC, Jamaica, Canada, the Netherlands and elsewhere – support will grow further.”
But for now, let’s put it this way, you definitely can’t claim this stuff on Medicare.
I wasn’t fearful, though. A well-lived decade in my 20s meant I was somewhat familiar with small doses of experimentation (if you know what I mean).
And this wasn’t exactly trusting the word of a sweaty stranger in the back room of a Kings Cross nightclub.
Emily came with more recommendations than some of the psychologists I’d ever visited - having battled anxiety on and off, I’ve been to a few.
I should flag here that Emily’s service didn’t come to me via some patchouli-scented bead-wearing Russel Brand type. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
At the time, I’d paid a large sum of money to be part of an elite business community. The kind that Fortune 500 founders are part of.
Every quarter we’d come together to workshop our business goals and challenges, and at the start of the pandemic, my biggest issue was keeping my cortisol levels from exploding.
One afternoon I received a private message from a trusted member - the jet-set kind - offering a side-dish solution to therapy, meditation, and medication.
It came in the form of Emily, and 2 weeks and $AUD600 later, here I was lying on a bed in a cabin by the coast, staring into a ceiling fan, wondering what would happen next.
“The unbearable weight of massive lightness” … is one way to describe it. Despite the dose, it comes on subtly.
One minute I’m staring at the roof; the next, I say aloud, “what is a roof?”
And then I laugh because I realise what a cliche I’m being. Emily, who is in the corner holding space, chuckles with me.
We both agree ceilings are great metaphors for man-made limitations, and then self-awareness at the oddity of the moment makes us both laugh again. Deep belly ones.
Suddenly I’m called to close my eyes, and the journey within begins.
Who I’m referring to, I don’t know, but I keep repeating in a relieved tone, “oh, it’s actually… kind.”
I’m being shown my brain synapses, watching a cartoon-like connection formed from one string to another.
For some reason, it seems simultaneously absurd AND incredibly sensical.
When the epiphany hits that I’m being shown ‘connectivity’, I chuckle again.
Because it’s one thing to have a minister, rabbi, priest, or therapist say that our connection to people and the planet is real. It’s another thing to genuinely feel it.
Then the tears begin to flow, and the apologies fall out of my mouth like a mantra.
“I’m so sorry…I’m so sorry. I’msosorryI’msosorryI’msosorryI’msosorryI’msosorryI’msosorry.”
I say it to myself, friends, family, parents, the planet, to anyone I’ve cut off in traffic.
I’m releasing a lifetime of regrets all at once.
At the same time as this floodgate of atonement flows out, there’s an overwhelming feeling of love being given back to me. And then I, of course, apologise for being disconnected from the love of ‘the universe’.
And here I permit you to roll your eyes. Don’t worry; I get it.
About 3 hours of this continues. Emily patiently allows every tear and admission to circulate in the room. And then I feel that old familiar feeling of self-awareness float back, and despite having not moved more than from one side of the bed to the other, I’m exhausted.
I’m also peaceful, and I smile widely.
Emily and I share a block of chocolate (which tastes unbelievable on my newly ‘baptised’ tastebuds), and we do some scrapbooking.
I ask Emily if she’s ever concerned about giving scissors to someone fresh out of a ‘session’, and she laughs. She’s never thought about it. Clearly, my anxiety still lingers. It’s blanketed, though, and I feel lighter than I have for months.
I go home and tell my husband all about the apologies, the synapses, and the feeling of connection and love from the universe.
We joke, “well, they’re called cliches for a reason.” But maybe in an unexplainable world, we need a few familiar tropes to help ground something so enormous as existential realisations.
All I know is I still have bouts of anxiety about - oh, just the weight of existence - but there’s also a lot more acceptance. And a lot fewer apologies.
“I try to stay out of the way and leave room for peoples’ inner healers to show them the path rather than talking them through an experience.
I serve medicine to people ready to dive deep into themselves and have a transformative experience. I make sure they stay safe during their journey and help them debrief and land again after the experience.”
“I came to the mushrooms after suffering severe depression for 15 years. I had done over 10 years of solid therapy to bring myself to a functional state and had been on antidepressants for 5 years.
The antidepressants had stopped being effective 1 year after I began taking them, but I never thought to stop. I had spiralled into a very dark place where I would go to bed every night, hoping I wouldn’t wake up. I saw very few reasons to keep on living.
A friend suggested trying mushrooms because he had read studies explaining how helpful they could be for depression. I gave it a go. I worked with small doses for 6 months and then, when I felt ready, had a 5g ‘heroic’ dose.
I woke up the day following that journey and realised my depression had been lifted. I felt hope, lightness, and joy I hadn’t experienced in years—I felt like a kid again.
The mushrooms gave me my life back and my hope back. I want nothing more than to give other people who feel stuck and despondent an opportunity to shift their lives with the help of mushrooms.
They have taught me more about the world and myself than anyone or anything else I have encountered.”
“There’s a thorough screening process before I agree to work with someone. This work is not suitable for everyone, and my number one priority is to not do harm.
Prior to a session, I meet with the journeyer to explain some experiences they may encounter in a session and to give them some pointers on how to navigate those experiences.
These tips are simple but effective: come back to the breath if you are overwhelmed, remember that all experiences flow in cycles and will culminate and then pass on. We discuss their goals for the session, unpack any fears they may have, and answer any questions they have.”
“Most sessions last between 4 - 6hrs. I will set up the space to be comfortable and safe, offer prayers of thanks to the land, the ancestors, and the more than the human world for supporting this work, and then serve the medicine to the journeyer.
Within 10 mins to 30 mins most people feel the medicine come on. The mushrooms are strongest for the first hour and then plateau for the remainder of the journey, eventually weakening as the journey goes on. It’s kind of like a plane taking off and then coasting and eventually landing.
Everyone’s experience is different, and everyone’s process is different. Some people experience really strong bodily sensations; some people have very visual experiences, some people experience intense emotions, some people are chatty, others silent.
All experiences are welcome as long as the journeyer is not hurting themselves or anyone else. When someone lands, I offer them something to eat and drink to ground them and then allow them space to either journal, draw, or contemplate. I always follow up a few days after their session to make sure they are okay.”
“I’m constantly surprised by the people I work with - they’re so diverse.
I’ve worked with 70-year-old retirees who had never tried plant medicine before, with mothers who sacrificed their careers for their children and now don’t know what to do since the kids have grown up and left home, with people who work for the government and law enforcement, with artists, tradies, models, people who are seeking to heal deep trauma and people who are looking for inspiration.”
“People often claim they feel unstuck after a session - that a situation or a feeling that was causing them suffering before has lost its hold on them. They respond.
The mushrooms have opened up new perspectives and ways of being in the world that the person didn’t previously have access to. Some people feel more connected to everyone and everything around them and don’t feel so alone anymore. Others find purpose and meaning lacking from their lives before the session.”
“Absolutely. Mushrooms and other plant medicines are powerful disruptors—sometimes, people aren’t ready for the changes that can come with a strong journey.
If you are not prepared to look at the darkest depths of not only your psyche but also the world around you, I wouldn’t recommend doing this work. You can never predict what will come up in a journey.
Once it begins, you have no option but to ride it out, and it can be very uncomfortable and scary. Some of the most terrifying and difficult experiences of my life have been during journeys, but every single one of those was more valuable than I can articulate with words alone.
Plant medicines are still very mysterious to us - there’s so much we don’t know.
What are we opening ourselves up to when we go on these high dose journeys? How can we protect ourselves when we are so open and vulnerable? That is one of the reasons it’s important to treat the medicine with respect and make sure you are with people you trust and who care for you. Journeying is not a game to be taken lightly.
*Names have been changed to protect Emily’s identity.