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Natural High

Getting psily over psychedelic mushrooms

By Gretchen Giles

IN AN INTERVIEW published in the June 1993 issue of New History magazine, Marin author and LSD pioneer Terence McKenna (True Hallucinations) posits that because the human race sprang from the Psilocybe-rich grasslands of Africa, eating the psychedelic mushrooms appearing on dunghills and in the savanna was an early way of life.

They were a foodstuff, not just some leathery dreck to be choked down by college students. The resulting and continuous acts of mental alteration, McKenna asserts, brought a depth of understanding to our early ancestors that allowed them to create a society based on orgiastic mating--preventing fathers from claiming any particular baby as their own, thus creating a community family--an absence of gender domination, and an opportunity to create such far-seeing human attributes as ethics, morals, aesthetic values, language, and altruism.

The Ice Age put a chill on all of that, he notes, changing the ecosystems that supported the mycological magic, and evolving darkly into what McKenna terms "a very neurotic and repressive social style . . . which is typical of Western civilization."

And oh lucky us, we're stuck with it. But with a well-informed eye and some free Sunday afternoon time, it is possible to find a bit of that earth-connected wonder right at home without killing yourself in the picking process.

Noting that psychedelic mushrooms are difficult to find in the wild, Washington state mycological specialist Paul Stamets suggests in his philosophical field guide Psilocybin Mushrooms of the World (Ten Speed Press, $29.95) that they are actually more readily found growing right outside the condo door.

As hardy and adaptive as cockroaches, fungi containing psilocybin have reacted through the ages with a "can't beat 'em join 'em" response to the human desecration of former habitats. Stamets recommends nosing around in decorative garden bark, pawing through the ground coverings surrounding electrical substations, and discreetly peering through the plantings outside the town courthouse and police department (spores drop off arrested "psychonauts," as Stamets terms them)--all excellent places to find psilocybin mushrooms.

But don't put anything in your mouth yet. Part polemic (according to Stamets, he once correctly predicted a flood while high and believes that psilocybin ingestion connects one to the fibers of the organic universe), part tips for trippers, and big part standard field guide, Psilocybin Mushrooms of the World reminds the gentle reader that possession and ingestion of the fungi are illegal (and Ten Speed Press devotes an entire page to tiptoeing away with its attorneys) and that misidentifying one can be deadly. Stamets then proceeds to detail exactly how to find, identify, store, ingest, and enjoy this ritualistic
substance.

Writing with the verve of a geeky-cool biology student--genus and phylum play a dizzying role here, though a complete layperson's glossary is provided--Stamets admits to using magic mushrooms only once or twice a year for psychically purgative effects and nicely offers his wife's recipe for brewing up a heady, fungus-infused tea.

Safety plays a large role in this book's focus, with Stamets reserving an entire chapter to the discussion of such deadly caps as those in the Galerina genus, which possess many of the same physical characteristics of potentially hallucinogenic mushrooms but bark much bigger for the bite. The presence of psilocybin in a safe mushroom, he explains, is often indicated by the stem acquiring a bluish stain upon being pressed and by the dark purplish color left when the cap is pressed against white paper.

Stressing that this natural drug is not to be taken lightly, Stamets offers dosage suggestions based on weight and such extenuating circumstances as mood, diet, and life problems. One to two grams of dried mushrooms are a good beginning, he says, and more can be taken after an hour or so for a deepened effect. Other tips for tripping include being in a safe environment with those whom you trust, informing an experienced mushroom lover who is not joining you about your plans--and, if you have dogs, include them.

"Dogs seem to know when you are tripping," he writes with the assurance of one who knows his audience. One caveat: If you think you hear Rover telling you so, then you've taken too much.

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From the March 13-19, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent

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