Medicine for the Soul: The San Pedro cactus and the Psilocybe mushroom

Heavenly Grass

My feet took a walk in heavenly grass.
All day while the sky shone clear as glass.
My feet took a walk in heavenly grass,
All night while the lonesome stars rolled past.
Then my feet come down to walk on earth,
And my mother cried when she give me birth.
Now my feet walk far and my feet walk fast,
But they still got an itch for heavenly grass.
But they still got an itch for heavenly grass.

Tennessee Williams

Yesterday I carried out an experiment I’ve been eager to try for quite some time now. I think it would be beneficial for a lot of people to try. To keep a long story short, I combined Psilocybe mushrooms and the San Pedro cactus. You may have heard people say that you shouldn’t combine different psychoactive substances. The thing to understand is that you shouldn’t do it if you’re inexperienced and not well aware of what you’re doing. In my own experience, yesterday was one of the best days of my life. I want to explain how I carried this out and what to keep in mind. Afterwards, I’m going to explain why this would be very beneficial for a lot of people. If you’re eager to become happier, more confident, less anxious, more optimistic, more extraverted, more creative and more proactive, this is something you have to look into. I will show you some of the scientific evidence backing up my assertion.

The ritual

Important: Be careful when you’re taking this psychedelic combination to avoid foods high in tyramine. Tyramine raises you blood pressure and these psychedelics already mildly raise your blood pressure on their own. The main foods high in tyramine are beans, fermented foods, cheese and meat.

To start with, set and setting are important for psychedelics. If you’re taking psychedelics around people you’re not really comfortable with, you’ll have a bad time. If you’re trying to squeeze the experience into a few hours, you’re going to have a bad time too. The mushrooms on their own don’t demand a lot of time, but the cactus is best taken in the morning or early afternoon, with a day afterwards to contemplate. Most importantly, you want to experience this combination outside, in nature. The Psilocybe mushroom can work well in your own home in a dark room or in nature, but the San Pedro cactus has a definitive preference for the outside world.

It’s probably best if you’re experienced with both teachers independently. You want to know what a high dose of Psilocybe mushrooms is for you and you want to know what a high (ego death inducing) dose of San Pedro cactus is for you. I am relatively sensitive to psychedelics. In my experience, most of my friends need more than I do. For me, a high dose of Psilocybin is fifteen gram of fresh Psilocybe Atlantis truffles. A high dose of the San Pedro cactus for me amounts to a 25-30 cm long piece of fresh San Pedro cactus.

To have a nice experience at a desirable intensity, I reduce the dose of both by half, leaving me with a 10-15 cm piece of San Pedro and 7.5 gram of Psilocybe truffels. The San Pedro cactus is a struggle to consume. I am not sure if it’s better to take the cactus in a dried or baked form, there is ongoing discussion about this subject. There is strong reason to believe one should accept the organism in its original state. We can derive mescaline from the cactus, but the cactus contains other substances besides mescaline. The San Pedro and Peyote cactus contain a number of other psychoactive substances that are believed to have effects similar to Ecstasy. In addition, there are thought to be substances within the cactuses, that interact with mescaline to strengthen the effects of mescaline. Some are metabolized by the same enzymes as mescaline, thus allowing mescaline to stay active for longer, others like hordenine have a subtle stimulating effect on our nervous system.

The cactus is a bit of a struggle to consume properly. We can compare it to alcohol: Alcohol is initially pleasant, but there is a bad hangover. The cactus is the opposite. Consuming the cactus initially makes you feel sick, but once you’ve taken the cactus, you find that the experience itself is pleasurable and leaves a positive afterglow in the subsequent days.

It’s important for me to note that the nausea induced by the cactus can be greatly diminished. Many people end up vomiting from the cactus, but I never have. My opinion is that it’s wasteful to vomit. The reason people vomit is because mescaline binds to the serotonin receptors in your gut, which make you nauseous when they’re activated. This can be prevented with ginger tea. Ginger tea binds to the same receptors, but doesn’t activate them, it functions as an antagonist. Thus, when you take some strong ginger tea about half an hour before consuming the cactus, you greatly reduce the nausea. Another important way to reduce the nausea is to have fresh mint. You chew on the mint while consuming of the cactus, as well as during the hour after taking the cactus. Mint numbs your stomach a bit, thus further reducing the nausea.

Consuming the cactus itself is a challenge, but it’s definitely worth it. I slice the cactus into some pieces, pull of the small needles, pull of the dry membrane surrounding the tissue, then consume the cactus. I take some very sweet and sour juice, that I drink while ingesting the cactus pieces. You’ll still notice the bitterness, but it’s greatly reduced. Keep taking the cactus, until you feel you have taken enough. If you don’t feel like finishing it all at once, save the rest for later.

In my own experience, it’s best to stick around at home for half an hour, up to an hour or so. Vomiting in public is not something anyone enjoys, so you probably want to wait with heading out until you have no real nausea. You probably also want to visit the toilet, because you drank a lot. Because you don’t take a high dose of the cactus, the nausea is likely rather mild in general.

After you’ve left home, it’s time to head out to nature. The Psilocybin mushroom makes you eager to avoid stranger and sit down in a secluded part of the forest. The San Pedro cactus makes you less avoidant of strangers. About an hour after you consumed the cactus you’ll start unmistakingly noticing effect of the cactus. The cactus is graceful in this manner, the effects build gradually, giving you time to head out to whatever place you want to go (though you shouldn’t drive a motorized vehicle of course).

At around two hours after finishing the cactus, you’ll be feeling strong effects (though the psychedelic peak is still ahead of ) and the experience will probably be euphoric. You’re deeply enjoying being a physical organisms. In my case, I was outside in the forest, in summer, during good weather. Although the mushroom is in love with fall, summer is the kind of setting that the cactus enjoys best. The cactus takes intense delight in having direct sunlight on your skin, the experience is comparable to a drawn out orgasm.

You might also notice at this point that the psychedelic effects of the cactus are rather mild, in which case the solution is to take some more. If you experience the physical euphoria and deep comfort of the cactus, you’ll feel willing to introduce the mushroom. To me, the experience is initially a bit akin to reintroducing an old couple, a mother and a father.

“Father time”, the Senex archetype as depicted in the Belgian series The Smurfs
Mother Nature, as depicted in the Smurfs. Note her magic wand. Magic is to me fundamentally best described as the violation of what we hold certain. In Scandinavian pre-Christian culture, magic has also traditionally been seen as a feminine endeavor. Whereas the mushroom enjoys magic, the cactus enjoys reason.

The San Pedro cactus always manifests himself to me in the form of a Senex, I receive visions of a wise old kind-hearted bearded man. The Psilocybe mushroom on the other hand, is a feminine maternal entity. This makes perfect sense: Take the Psilocybe mushroom and you will feel increased empathy and a desire to be good to other people. Take the San Pedro cactus and you will feel energy and confidence, a feeling that you are adequate as a person and capable of the challenges that you face. Biologically, what’s happening in your body is that the San Pedro cactus has a dopaminergic effect, which feels stimulating and confidence inducing.

The reintroduction of these two archetypes to each other may initially be hesitant, because you yourself are not sure how it will play out as the mushroom begins to make its presence known. However, the euphoria begins to shift from a primarily physical form, to a more cognitive form: It feels as if the world is perfect. Everything around you, everything you know and have experienced, is part of a greater story that ultimately makes sense. I had to hold back tears. The world is beautiful, the animals and plants you encounter are not cosmological accidents that slowly emerge when hydrogen is left unattended, they emerge from something that fundamentally has a deeper justification. Even the ugliness, the suffering and the destruction around us, are justified as part of a process of spiritual growth. They are minor specks of darkness, that serve merely as a contrast to demonstrate the beauty of the light.

On her own, the mushroom makes you want to sit in a secluded place and contemplate existence. Together with the cactus however, your spiritual journey is an extraverted and energetic experience. You are eager to explore nature. To get lost in the forest is an adventure. To walk in the forest up and down the hills, to feel the muscles in your legs ache as you walk for hours is a form of pleasure. I have seen some people refer to the synergistic interaction as “caveman child mode”. You have the raw energy and lust to take on life that we associate with children and our distant ancestors. When the sun set and the forest became dark, I wanted to return to the forest, to face the excitement of wandering in the dark, but I realized that my legs were aching and settled on going home.

When you take psychedelics, you find yourself exposed to coincidences that seem to have a deeper meaning. You always seem to maintain plausible deniability however, if you want to interpret your experiences through a boring atheistic materialist lense then you can. As an example, when I took a small dose of the cactus a while ago, I sat down in the train content. Someone had drawn a simple happy looking smiley on the window I sat next to. I’m perfectly free to interpret this as a meaningless coincidence.

As you take more of the cactus (or most other psychedelics), the strength of the coincidence proportionately increases. To illustrate what I mean, during my experience yesterday, the height of my trip had me encountering an old bearded man sitting on a bench in the forest. The nature around him was beautiful, he seemed very content admiring the world around him, almost as if he had created it himself long ago. He had a dignity to him that none of the old people I encounter in this town normally have. He was the only person I encountered in the forest who did not seem to pay any attention to me. He could just be a random old man in the forest, if I want to interpret him as such. To me however, he is a manifestation of the Cactus himself.

When the experience passed beyond its peak, I arrived in my house. I put on music and laid down on my bed. Every sensation against my skin was a sense of sheer delight. The music was too beautiful to imagine, I felt the sheer emotion that was put into every song. I felt as if I had the raw energy I need to take on life again. My skin is warm and reddish, from all the chemicals derived from these organisms that serve to signal growth and activity. I am rejuvenated.

Why it works

Why does this work so well? What’s going on in your body, how do we know that it’s good for you? Of these two organisms, the mushroom is the better studied one. The Psilocybe mushroom contains Psilocin, which is a serotonin receptor agonist. Serotonin is what you might know as the substance that regulates your mood. It doesn’t just regulate you mood however, it regulates various forms of activity in your body. At this point, scientists are eager to see Psilocybe mushrooms legalized and used to treat depression.

Studies find that the Psilocybe mushroom is more effective than conventional anti-depressants, they even work in most people for whom no other options have worked. We even have a number of studies that show a greatly reduced risk of suicide attempts in people who have ever taken the mushroom. A study in Canadian marginalized sex workers for example found that their risk of suicidality is slashed by 60% if they have ever taken psychedelics. None of the conventional options in the psychiatric arsenal have such a huge impact.

So what then about the cactus? The San Pedro cactus has not been studied independently as far as I can tell, but the Peyote cactus, another mescaline cactus, has been studied. It was found in the Native Americans who take the cactus, that their mental health is improved by taking the cactus. Specifically, there was a positive correlation between their mental health and the number of Peyote ceremonies they had participated in.

So what makes the San Pedro cactus so valuable then? Why should this bitter cactus receive our attention, when we already have such a good friend in the form of the Psilocybe mushroom? The San Pedro cactus is different in the stimulating and extraverted nature of his psychedelic effects. The San Pedro cactus is notable for having a dopaminergic effect. We don’t know exactly how mescaline affects dopamine. It seems to either directly bind to the receptor, or it prevents the reuptake of dopamine.

Near the end of a strong cactus experience, it seems that the body’s dopamine reserve can be a bit depleted as a consequence, as your own enzymes break down dopamine. In my experience, the latter half of a pure high dose cactus experience can thus often be a bit dysphoric and anxiety inducing. With a low cactus experience, I don’t have this problem. However, the psilocin in the mushrooms is metabolized by the same enzyme (MAOB) that metabolize serotonin and dopamine. By taking psilocin, you deplete those enzymes and allow serotonin and dopamine levels in your brain to remain elevated. As a consequence, you’re flooding your body with substances that signal happiness, confidence and cellular growth.

What happens through these substances is that your brain makes new connections, while old negative pathways are overridden. For intelligent people this is very important, because intelligence is to a large degree a product of the ability of their brains to effectively filter pathways. The negative side-effect this has is that negative pathways can be strongly imprinted too. Negative experiences or negative thoughts can thus completely end up dominating your personality. This then prohibits you from making effective use of your intelligence. Instead of noticing opportunities, you only notice obstacles. Instead of noticing rewards, you only notice risks.

What do Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Steve Jobs have in common? They have taken LSD before arriving at their greatest accomplishments. Elon Musk in particular seems to have regularly taken microdoses of LSD. This doesn’t transform them into saints, but it subtly changes their brain in a manner that encourages them to arrive at original ideas and to set out and pursue those ideas to their natural conclusion. Every psychedelic has its own individual niche, LSD in particular seems to stimulate creativity and original thinking.

For me however, the primary desire for now is to take the Psilocybe mushroom and the San Pedro cactus and to share their significant therapeutic potential with people around the world. I see access to Psilocybe mushrooms and other psychedelics fundamentally as a human rights question. These are the most effective solutions we are aware of, for people who suffer from trauma and other mental problems. There are millions of people around the world who suffer on a daily basis and die prematurely, because they do not have access to these substances due to political and cultural factors.

I recently watched Embrace of the Serpent, a movie about an Amazononian man Karamakate, who is the last surviving member of his tribe and very bitter towards the colonists. He meets another native man and a Western biologist. The native man suggests to Karamakate that he has to share his knowledge of the indigenous psychedelic Chacruna with the biologist, because if he doesn’t do so, the white colonists will end up completely destroying their world. It’s my conviction that as our society runs head first into the limits to growth, we have to start looking for answers to the sacred teachers. The problem we face fundamentally exists internally and it is there where it will be solved.

 

2 Comments

  1. You ever smoke marijuana? Why don’t you write about it. You should do a post that covers it, your thoughts, experiences, etc.

    • I have smoked cannabis a few times. It never does anything particularly interesting for me. Given the right circumstances, I find some things more amusing than I normally would, but other than that there are no significant effects.

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