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In case you were unaware, the psilocybin mushroom has a rich and important history. We know that the indigenous cultures of Central and South America used the mushroom for thousands of years as a medicine for healing psychological and emotional illnesses. It has been further suggested that entheogen use has been common in many other cultures since the dawn of humankind. Did the ancient Christian Gnostics use it to encourage communion with God? Did the Vedic tradition deem the psychoactive mushroom the elusive Soma?

And what of the vast archaeological evidence contained in prehistoric human’s cave wall paintings and ornaments depicting mushroom-like deities? Is there a level of truth to the stoned ape theory presented by Terrence McKenna in the 1990s? Did humankind develop language and self-reflexive consciousness through the accidental ingestion of psilocybin-containing mushrooms on the ancient plains of the African continent?

While our knowledge is limited as to whether or not entheogen use was common, it certainly doesn’t help that we are indoctrinated as children into an extremely closed view of human history– one which is as narrow in its scope as trying to look at the world through my six-gauge septum tunnel. To say that our knowledge of human history is an accurate and complete understanding is as ignorant as saying that the four gospels in the New Testament tell the complete story of Jesus Christ.

Even with such a rich history, so-called magic mushrooms are still condemned by most people to the conceptual category of “drug”– I mean illicit drugs, you know, the bad kind, like heroin, crack, lysergic acid diethylamide; not the good kind like Prozac, alcohol, caffeine, sugar, shopping and television. Since psychedelics hit the scene in the 1950s, there has been a rise in powerful anecdotes of transformational experiences and personal growth emerging from the newly formed and diverse cultures that have been using them. But the growth of life’s vital essence was marred by the rise of a stigmatizing echo of repression from official institutions. Entheogens such as the mushroom went from being psychiatry’s equivalent of an astronomical telescope to being an object of complete mockery in only a few years. But why?

To me, the point is obvious. The idea of a substance that consistently dissolves one’s cultural indoctrination, simultaneously bringing them closer to an illuminated expression of what the truth of being alive might mean, is a threatening proposition to the existing order. Psilocybin– the primary psychoactive agent in mushrooms– has been shown to cause what can be described as a “mystical experience,” and these experiences have long-lasting positive effects. Psilocybin can dramatically benefit those suffering from depression by releasing the restraints of one’s mind and, in addition, can create a long-term change in one’s personality, enhancing the openness of an adult after just a single session. It has also been shown that psilocybin can effectively and safely improve the moods of people suffering from the anxiety of advanced-stage cancer. It’s a vicious lie to say that psilocybin is a destructive drug that ruins all lives.

Unfortunately, it seems that, despite the evidence of psilocybin’s benefits, the common understanding is that this “magic” medicine is still no more than a party drug.

One of the most important lessons the psilocybin mushroom has taught me is to surrender to the reality of my direct experience– of what it is– instead of fighting to uphold what I was taught to believe. Psilocybin mushrooms could be one of the most powerful tools we have as a species for the advancement of our self-understanding. Through an unrestrained cognitive investigation of selves and our intelligence through the cultivation of neuro-plasticity, creative innovation through activating the long-dormant imagination and psychosocial evolution through the direct experience of our interconnected oneness with nature, and with each other. But all that is assuming we pull our heads out of the ass of our indoctrinated worldview

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Image obtained through Ti Ara: Encyclopedia of New Zealand
This article was originally printed in The Gauntlet newspaper in Calgary Alberta, April 12, 2012.

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