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One of the greatest pains to human nature is the pain of a new idea.

- Walter Bagehot

        Psychedelics: again the pilgrimage - current experience, high dose

              "To reach the other shore with each step of the crossing is the way of true living."    Shunryu Suzuki

            "My house having burnt down, nothing now impedes my bright vision of the moon."  Zen saying

Again the pilgrimage/What to bring?/Humility, innocence, curiosity ... /Respect, courage, love ... //   Dedication ... of course to/Something so much bigger/Except ... the me and bigger/Are maybe not so separate//   Empty-handed, receptive/Open to learn & to blessing./Then contracting again into this world/A pilgrim with wiser eyes.   Poem Before 

It makes good sense, when embarking on a high-dose psychedelic journey, to have a clear intention of why one is going on this pilgrimage.  The previous post in this sequence - "Psychedelics: again the pilgrimage - current experience, preparing" - explains how I'm trying to learn more about these high mountains of experience to act as a better guide & advisor for other potential travellers.  And for myself there's something here about learning more about love, beauty, gratitude & wonder ... as well as, quite possibly, getting dumped at times (and then probably learning a lot) in the basement of my subconscious.  As Marilyn Vos Savant put it - "To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe."  

Three months ago, I took two 44gm psilocybin truffle trips.  This is likely to be an unnecessarily high dose when initially exploring psychedelics, so on this Netherlands visit I aimed to take 30gm of truffles (a more classic high dose level to use).  I also worked with a different trip sitter (someone to accompany me on the journey and help keep me safe if I hit major problems), and designed my own playlist rather than using one from John Hopkins (as I did last time).  Finally, on this Netherlands visit, I wanted also to experience a low-dose trip as well (more on this further journey in the next post). 

So this time I took 30gm of truffles ... or more accurately, I took 15gm and then about 70 minutes later took another 15gm.  I was using the rather luridly named Cosmic Connectors brand on this occasion.  Last time I used the equally technicolour High Hawaiians.  The change of brand just went with the change of trip sitter ... I used what they recommended each time.  My suspicion is that there is probably more variation in psilocybin content from batch to batch within the same brand, than there is routinely variation between different brands.  As I wrote on dose in the post "Lessons from current personal experience - suggestions" - "What dose of psilocybin to take?  The way I currently see it is that there are at least three factors to keep an eye on when deciding dose.  The first is that if one takes the same weight of psilocybin truffles or mushrooms on a number of different occasions, it's very likely that there will be considerable variation in the amount of psilocybin one is ingesting each time.  So Pellegrini & colleagues, in their 2013 paper carefully analysing the psilocybin content of truffles, commented "The content of psilocybin was found to vary over a concentration range of 59.3 to 167.8 µg per 100 mg of fresh sclerotia."  This is equivalent to a large three-fold range from approximately 6 to 17mg of psilocybin in 10gm of truffle (average maybe 12mg/10gm).  Note that Roland Griffiths et al, from the research centre at John Hopkins, used a high dose of psilocybin in their 'mystical experiences' research - 30mg/70kg subject weight equating to an average of 25gm/70kg for truffles.  It's worth being aware as well that truffles & mushrooms may also contain other psychoactive substances like psilocin, baeocystin and norbaeocystin (in fact psilocybin acts on the body by being converted to psilocin)."    

Lots of variation.  So assuming the Pellegrini findings still apply to current truffles on sale in the Netherlands, at the low end of the concentration range the 44gm I took back in March might only have contained about 25mg of psilocybin, while at the high end my 30gm dose on this recent trip could have contained over 50mg.  I don't think it's likely that I was at the extremes of the Pellegrini range on either occasion, but it was noteworthy that I actually found my current 30gm of truffles trip more powerful than the 44gm in March.  And it's interesting to note that with the two 44gm trips in March, my scores on the Mystical Experiences Questionnaire (MEQ30) were both a high 83%, while with today's trip I actually went up to 89%.  I mentioned three factors to consider when deciding dose.  The other two are variation in how individuals metabolise psilocybin (which I suspect would be little different between my March & July trips) and variation in people's subjective reactions to the changes psilocybin produces in the body & brain (possibly I was more relaxed & open at this July visit, but again I don't think this was a particularly important variation).  As an aside, I wonder if reactivity might partly be predicted by sensitivity - see the recent paper "Dandelions, tulips and orchids: evidence for the existence of low-sensitive, medium-sensitive and high-sensitive individuals" - assessed with this HSP scale with additional background here

So I suspect there was a surprising difference in psilocybin content per gram of truffles between March & July.  That wasn't a big issue, but I was a bit ambushed an hour or so into the trip on a first 15gm dose to find I was in a good deal more turbulence than I had been on the first 22gm dose in March.  The turbulence involved strong feelings of pressure in my body and rapid-fire very complex visual images coming at me.  It felt a bit like running through thick underbrush with endless branches of leaves continually slapping into my face, or like being on a wild horse and only holding on by my fingertips.  If this had been my first attempt at high-dose experience, I really don't think I would have gone on to take the second 15gm.  I did though and I'm very glad I made that decision.  Quite quickly I came up into clear air and the trip became extraordinary and immense.  What was happening in the turbulence?  A metaphor that's been used with psychedelics is that it can be like a space rocket launch.  Coming up through the atmosphere may well be accompanied by much more juddering than when one is free in outer space.  Another metaphor is getting caught flying through the treetops rather than being up above them. 

A couple of days later when I took a single 15gm dose of the same Cosmic Connector brand (and my brain 5-HT2AR receptors additionally were down-regulated by the high dose I took today), I moved through a more low key version of this same turbulence.  With this second lower dose trip, I didn't take an additional further dose but once more by about 80 or 90 minutes I was settling into a much more level serene state.  So a likely explanation was simply that at roughly around the hour mark for me on this particular batch of truffles, I reacted a bit to the way my body-mind was being affected at that point in the truffle-absorption journey.  Interesting ... and helpful to note that, in this kind of situation, if I just hang in with the difficulty it's likely to change.  What I probably could have done 'better' is to have surrendered into the turbulence more, rather than feeling I somehow had to hang onto my sanity.  When the ocean tide comes in and lifts us ... float, go with it ... thrashing around typically causes us to swallow more water!

Another difference between the first 44gm trip three months ago and this 30gm trip was that on the first trip I ate all the truffles (and subsequently - post trip - had impressive diarrohea), while on this 30gm trip I took them as a tea (with my gut responding much more comfortably).  I think there's an understandable concern that taking truffles as a tea may mean one loses a good deal of their psychoactive effect compared with actually eating the same amount.  Again it was a good learning to experience, if anything, the reverse.  This suggests that maybe one loses very little psychoactivity by taking truffles as tea.  And actually, maybe the psilocybin is absorbed more quickly from truffle tea than truffle solids.  Ah ... this feels more art than science!  So to add even another layer of curiosity.  There is some suggestion that adding lemon to truffle tea speeds absorption still further ... and I had put a lemon & ginger teabag into my mix.

And what happened?  Well, one way that I help myself integrate these huge experiences is to record subsequent conversations I have about what happened ... at least in the initial few post-trip days.  Then listening back to these recordings helps me to re-connect to some of my impressions & insights.  One of the conversations I recorded was with my trip-sitter immediately after (partially) coming down from the trip.  I say 'partially' because the acute effects of the psilocybin don't fully clear one's system for quite a while - see the flow diagram in the next post.  So my first words on the recording are a slowly articulated "It was a deeply, deeply precious experience ... and there is something about 'why am I even talking about it?' ... some things I'll say ... that's the third high-dose psychedelic I've taken in the last few months ... they're like children in a way, you love them all ... and like teachers ... and like doorways.  This was profoundly interesting how it was individual and yet connected with the others.  So in the first hour or so, hour & a half, strange, strange, not like the other two trips and (laughing), I was thinking - 'F*ck 15gm can be pretty strong!  Are you really planning to double it?  Jesus you must be nuts.'"  And I did double the dose, taking a further 15gm ... and I suspect that whether I had doubled it or just stayed at 15gm I would probably have found that the trip moved up & out into a deeply calmer stage.

So, still with one foot in the trip and now one foot out, I go on to say in the recording (with long pauses & at times voice breaking with emotion) "So I think before I've had a yearning to go up ... and what this doorway opened was that it's not just up or down or any way, it's just how much do you go on beyond wherever you are ... so I said I wanted to learn more or be taught more about ... love, beauty, wonder, gratitude ... and they all felt like ... springboards or doorways to something beyond all four of them ... if you drop back, it's a good place to drop onto one of these springboards ... but what's wonderful is to go back out ... because gratitude, wonder are from a position of ... gratefulness ... and that's kind of a joke because who's being grateful for what ... and ... I go outside time, I go outside identification with this person ... so those were some new blessings, gifts, lessons ... that love, beauty, gratitude, wonder are doorways to something further out ... and it's not going somewhere ... (tears) ... it's opening to something that's already there ... it's good to be kind, it's good to be loving ... and a task I'd like to carry back with me, a challenge, an exploration ... is how much in any given situation ... can I be grounded in ... (tears) ... in a sense of ... (loses words) ... and I had a kind of a message that in any situation if I can ... if I can ... if I can be linked more broadly ... it changes everything ... and maybe I won't do anything different, but it will have a different context ... and if I ask 'How can I remember that love, beauty, wonder, gratitude are good, but they're doorways?' ... if I can remember as a I walk through the world ... how do I carry this? ... I don't have to carry it ... (long pause) ... one of the things that is so extraordinary is that as time and identity dissolve ... (laughs) ... there's gratitude to the person I was when I selected the playlist ... and looking ahead to my self later today, tomorrow, next week ... wishing ... that strange thing well."

" ... and it was so wonderful because, when I came back, for a long time ... even now ... I'm holding ... I'm not holding ... I'm in ... several levels at once ... it's a funny language, it's not very good language ... expressing my gratitude opens a door ... to a flow down the generations and between us all ... and on the 44gm trip, the first one ... I had a deep, deep sense of the mesh that we are, individuals and connected ... and going beyond that too ... and I was able to see that again ... that's not good language ... feel that again ... that's not good language ... (pause) ... dissolve into it ... (long pause) ... and holding again that extraordinary thing ... kind of between universality and uniqueness ... and just feeling that, being with that ... (long out breath) ... and I drop back into gratitude and then see that that's a doorway as well ... (laughs ... pause ... laughs) ... I was a sannyasin for a while with Rajneesh before he was Osho, and he said something rather special in one of his talks ... he said 'You have two blocks ... you have two blocks (to realisation) ... one, you ask how to get there ... and the second, you ask what to do with it ... (laughs) ... they're blocks.'"  And my tripsitter asks "And what is your reply to him?"  And simply, straightforwardly, I reply "I don't have to ask how to get there and I don't have to ask what to do with it."

And I have further recordings of conversations ... with my trip-sitter, from calls with my wife and with the Scottish therapist who knows me very well from years of working together, and from meeting up with a dear friend shortly after getting back home.  The great thing about trip-sitter conversations are that they can be had shortly after the trip (which the sitter was alongside).  However this advantage needs to be balanced by the even bigger advantages of talking one's experiences through with those we deeply know & trust.  Both have value.  The insight about experiences of love, beauty, wonder, gratitude ... and even pain & suffering ... as potential doorways to more profound connection/non-separation has been deeply precious.  And just as precious has been an awareness that the ego, the small self, can link/dissolve/wake up to immensity/non-separation at any moment ... not something to be achieved ... something to wake to.  And to experience this in one's being is of course a completely different universe from just having had this before mostly as head knowledge.

Eternity never was lost  //Sixty minutes into the trip/Flight turbulence/Body pressure, face-tightening visuals/Anxiety ... survival?//  And through/Open space/Barriers dissolve/Eternity never was lost//  It was hidden by clouds/Now ... nothing to do/Nowhere to go/Nobody to become//  Eternity never was lost/Here we are/Here is everything/And even the five doorways//   Love, wonder, gratitude/Beauty and pain/Even these resting places/Open out to everything if we can but see//   Gate, gate, paragate/Parasamgate, bodhi svaha/Voyager & journey/No longer separate//   Eternity never was lost.   Poem After

            "My house having burnt down, nothing now impedes my bright vision of the moon."  Zen saying

          "To reach the other shore with each step of the crossing is the way of true living."    Shunryu Suzuki

And a couple of days later I took a lower dose 15gm of truffle trip, described in this next post.

 

 

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