How magic mushrooms could become Michigan’s next frontier — and why it matters

click to enlarge Break on through to the other side: Detroit is one of the latest big cities to decriminalize "magic" mushrooms. Advocates say they have the potential to help with mental health. - Tyler Gross
Tyler Gross
Break on through to the other side: Detroit is one of the latest big cities to decriminalize "magic" mushrooms. Advocates say they have the potential to help with mental health.

The first time I took magic mushrooms it was New Year's Eve. I was nervous about not knowing what to expect yet found myself fueled by excitement to be able to check this life experience box off of my internal wish list. After all, 2013 was going to be my year.

We didn't have big plans for the final hours of 2012, a year I was more than happy to leave in the past. Nine and a half times out of 10, I was unhappy for a myriad of reasons, among them my chronic pain, depression, and crumbling family unit, but mainly because of the predicament I had found myself in: at 24, I was engaged to a man I'm not sure I ever loved (actually, I'm confident I didn't) who was seven years my senior, which doesn't seem like a big deal but when we met I was just 20 and he was 27, and, well, I had spent what I was told were the best years of my life shouldering the weight of believing I should have known better. On the bright side, the Celexa I had been prescribed (by a psychiatrist who had me unpack a lifetime of pain in under 15 minutes before shoving me out the door with a slip of paper in hand) had done a pretty bang-up job at numbing all the parts I wanted numbed, mostly the parts of me that were wide awake, the parts of me that could feel it all. I felt small. But I dreamed of, one day, taking up space.

For our first trip, we decided to mushroom-proof our Ferndale rental house, which we shared with our roommate and my best friend, by setting up "trip stations" throughout. At the dining table, we had paints, a camera, and various art supplies. The bed was made extra cozy with freshly washed linens. A Spotify playlist was made. Then there was what I refer to as the spot where the magic happened, not like in an MTV Cribs kind of way, but the kind of magic you read about and never really believe until it happens to you.

I had purchased these mushrooms off of a co-worker at the Detroit medical marijuana dispensary I had been working for the last couple of years and, as someone who hates all culinary mushrooms (I had a habit of telling servers and restaurant staff that I was allergic to mushrooms just so I wouldn't have to see those funky bastards on my plate), I wasn't thrilled to have to eat these. So, we cued up several hours worth of Gilmore Girls (that is, according to an Instagram post I made that night in 2012, which simply said "Happy New Year, everyone #shrooms" beneath a photo of my Amazon library, which contained all seven seasons of the hit CW show) and ordered a pizza.

The pizza was the perfect vehicle for the dried-out fungi, as it masked the taste and texture. By the end of the first Gilmore Girls episode, my then-fiancé was clearly on a rocketship to Tripsville, U.S.A. Meanwhile, I felt nothing. I watched him watch the world, which, based on his behavior, must have been transformed into a body of water. Another episode down and still nothing. Meanwhile, he was off exploring our modest bungalow with the curiosity of an extraterrestrial being landing on Earth for the first time. From my research, which consisted of asking, like, three questions when I bought a Ziplock bag of them, I knew that a mushroom trip could last about eight hours and I was already behind on nearly two of them. So, I called my supplier, who asked a series of questions to figure out why my body wasn't interacting with the mushroom's psilocybin.

"Oh, wait, you're on antidepressants, aren't you?" they asked. (I've always been a wellspring of TMI.)

"That's it. SSRIs reduce the effects of mushrooms," they said. "So, you'll have to eat the other eighth if you want to catch up to him."

There were a few slices of pizza left, and a whole bag of mushrooms. I stood over the sink as I ate them quickly, so as not to taste the dirt/manure flavor of the mushrooms. Once again, I found myself waiting. Until I wasn't.

The night was mostly a blur. I don't know if we counted down to midnight or if midnight even happened at all. I found myself in a tent we had made earlier in the day. We had attached sheets to the ceiling so they would pool around our pile of pillows and strung Christmas lights top to bottom, side to side. My then-fiancé, with tears in his eyes, was convinced I was an angel from outer space. No, really. He was overcome with my aura, I guess, which glowed and sparkled beneath the white Christmas lights. I had a much different reaction because I don't remember being flattered by his trippy declarations of love. What I experienced in that tent would change the course of my life: I received a message. From what or whom, I have no clue, but as my fiancé fell further down the rabbit hole, placing me higher and higher on his angelic pedestal, I was being suspended by the cosmos. There was no music, no sound, no movement, just stars and blackness and the absence of everything. But a voice cut through the nothingness, and she sounded like Cate Blanchett as Galadriel from The Lord of the Rings: "You have to leave. Don't look back. You have to really leave this time." After hearing a few iterations of this same message repeated several times, I was dropped back onto my Earthly floor pillows and when I looked at him, still in awe of me, I knew I had to leave.

The voice, which, many years later, I have come to realize was my own, was right. And so I left. Not that night or the next day, but two weeks and a hurtful indiscretion later, I was gone. It would take another mushroom trip, nearly a decade after my first, for me to understand that the voice never really left, and I, as a result, had been running ever since.

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