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.

Back in 2012, when I first tripped, psilocybin mushrooms were not only hard to find, but they remained among the arbitrary list of drugs our society considered taboo, and no one, especially not news outlets or major media organizations, talked about them as a vehicle for healing. Hell, at that time, even marijuana — which is somehow still federally considered a Schedule 1 drug next to heroin and meth, but is legal, partially legal, and/or decriminalized for medical use in 37 states (including Michigan, which launched a medical program in 2008 before passing recreational legalization in 2018) — remained highly stigmatized in the mainstream.

Magic mushrooms, meanwhile, are believed, thanks to rock paintings, to have been used as far back as 9,000 B.C. throughout North African indigenous cultures. Mayan and Aztec ruins in Central America also featured evidence of "flesh of the gods," a substance many believe was, in fact, magic mushies. But not until recently have they evolved from a fringe counterculture drug to magazine cover star. Newsweek put magic mushrooms on its September 2021 cover with the headline: "Magic Mushrooms May Be the Biggest Advance in Treating Depression Since Prozac," a drug the publication praised on its March 1990 cover as being a "breakthrough drug for depression." As a result, notable figures and celebrities like Megan Fox, Will Smith, Kristen Bell, Seth Rogen, Ann Patchett, and Lil Nas X have recently come forward to share their experiences with psychedelics, praising their use as being instrumental in creative endeavors and artistic inspiration, as well as in overcoming personal obstacles, like treating depression and even saving faltering marriages. Actress and GOOP founder Gwyneth Paltrow even sent her lifestyle and wellness cult, er, staff to Jamaica where they participated in a group mushroom trip, led by guides (better known as "trip sitters") for her Netflix show. And last year, Johns Hopkins University unveiled its new psychedelic research center, thanks to $17 million in private funding. Considered the first of its kind in the country and largest in the world, the center will research how psychedelics impact the brain in both "healthy" individuals as well as those with mental health conditions, like depression, anorexia, and Alzheimer's disease.

"Psychedelics are a fascinating class of compounds," Roland Griffiths, founding director of the new center and a professor of psychiatry and of neuroscience, said during a press conference. "They produce a unique and profound change of consciousness over the course of just several hours."

Last month, however, it was Detroit that made national headlines when it joined the rapidly growing psychedelic revolution. More than 53,000 Detroit residents, or 61%, turned out to vote yes on Proposal E, which decriminalized the possession and therapeutic use of entheogenic plants, including psilocybin, peyote, mescaline, ayahuasca and dimethyltryptamine (aka DMT), many of which have been touted as being effective aids in treating mental health disorders, not to mention mind reparation and consciousness expansion.

More than 60% of Detroit voters approved Proposal E, which decriminalized the possession and therapeutic use of entheogenic plants, including psilocybin, peyote, mescaline, ayahuasca and DMT.

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Detroit's decriminalization initiative is the latest in a string of legalization and decriminalization efforts across the country. In May of 2019, voters made Denver the first city to decriminalize psilocybin. Less than a month later, Oakland, California, decriminalized all natural psychedelic plants and fungi. And then Santa Cruz, California, followed. This year, in October 2021, Seattle, Washington, and Arcata, California, also voted unanimously to deprioritize enforcing entheogen prohibition, and Easthampton, Massachusetts, became the fourth city in the state to decriminalize the possession and use of psychedelic plants, making it among the lowest priority when it comes to law enforcement. Meanwhile, Oregonians gave the middle finger to the country's half-century failed war on drugs when it overwhelmingly passed Measure 110, which made possession of small amounts of illicit drugs, including cocaine, heroin, LSD, methamphetamine and psychedelics punishable by a civil citation, not dissimilar to that of a parking ticket, as well as a $100 fine, which can be waived if the individual participates in a health screening via a recovery hotline.

Since Denver's trailblazing legislation, there's been more than 100 cities and counties that have put together initiatives that are inspired by the initiative that originated in Oakland thanks to Decriminalize Nature, a country-wide organization with local chapters focused on education in an effort to decriminalize — and someday legalize — naturally occurring psychedelic plants and fungi.

One such initiative was launched in Ann Arbor in 2020 when Ann Arbor City Council voted unanimously to decriminalize the use of psychedelic mushrooms and plants. This paved the way for a major step forward for the Midwest's participation in what is being referred to as "the psychedelic renaissance." Not only did the Ann Arbor City Council vote to declare September as Entheogenic Plant and Fungi Awareness Month, but the city held its first annual Entheo Fest this year, which invited activists and leaders of the psychedelic movement to spread awareness and firsthand accounts of the benefits of decriminalizing psychedelics, specifically plant medicine. Earlier this year, Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit took Ann Arbor's decriminalization one step further: he expanded the Ann Arbor City Council's resolution to include all of Washtenaw County, making it the first county in the Midwest to enforce such a policy.

"Given that entheogenic plants are the 'lowest law enforcement priority' in Ann Arbor, it would be unjust to continue prosecuting entheogenic plant use or possession," Savit's policy directive reads. "The Washtenaw County Prosecutor's Office is committed to ensuring that justice is dispensed evenhandedly."

Since taking office in January, Savit has been implementing progressive policy after progressive policy. He's made it so that Washtenaw County is no longer purusing charges involving consensual sex work. Savit has also made it so the county is no longer charging juveniles for low-level crimes, he scrapped cash bail, and prohibited assistant prosecuting attorneys from filing drug charges that stem from "pretext stops" by police officers — or when an officer detains a person purportedly as a result of an observed traffic or ordinance violation, but are really looking for drugs or other contraband, a practice that disproportionately impacts people of color.

Though he describes himself as a bit of a "square" (he admits he's never tried psychedelics, but dabbled with weed in high school and college), he considers the passing of the decriminalization directive as being "one of the easiest decisions" he's had to make, especially since it will allow law enforcement to focus on crimes that directly harm the community.

"First of all, I believe in science, I don't believe in criminalizing people for engaging in personal use or possession or cultivation of a substance that really doesn't present any harm," Savit tells Metro Times. "So it's easy in that respect, but it was also tremendously easy because of what the Ann Arbor City Council did. I mean, how arbitrary would it have been to take office knowing that entheogenic plants have been socially decriminalized in the largest jurisdiction in our county, but nevertheless say, 'Well, if you're driving around, and you're within the city limits of Ann Arbor, then that's fine, you can have your mushrooms or your psychedelics there. But if you happen to cross US-23, or you're going to one of the adjoining townships, all of a sudden we're going to prosecute for that?' I mean, that would just be the height of arbitrariness," he says. "And that's not something that I had any interest in presiding over."

Savit says things are going well in Washtenaw County, and admits that psychedelics weren't exactly an issue before or since the city council's resolution passed, adding that there has been "zero adverse effects, none, not one." The county hasn't encountered any issues with people engaging in the use of entheogenic plants from a safety perspective, nor have they seen a major uptick in cases referred to his office by law enforcement. In fact, Savit says he's personally received a number of notes, emails, and phone calls from people thanking the prosecutor's office for enforcing decriminalization, as it has allowed them to move forward in their mental health journey, while others have expressed gratitude for being able to use these naturally occurring substances recreationally without fear of legal repercussions.

However, Savit says while most of the people he knows who have tried mushrooms or other psychedelics haven't had their lives derailed as a result, it's the unfair justice system that could have made their lives far more difficult.

The sheer number of people that have used such substances in this country is staggering. "But it's only an unlucky few that ultimately face criminal consequences because of it," Savit says. "It's a weighted roulette wheel, because we all know that people of color, people in communities that attract more police attention, they're far more likely to get caught up in a legal system than those that are in whiter, wealthier communities that aren't as heavily policed."

He continues, "So why would we continue to perpetuate this cruel roulette wheel, which in and of itself can derail somebody's life, when so many people across this community, including people that I know, personally, have used entheogenic plants, have used psychedelics with absolutely no adverse consequences, and have never faced any criminal jeopardy because of it?"

In order to get on board with the magic mushroom boom (mushboom?), one should understand how they work and why they may be the most effective drug in treating mental health, as well as a pretty fun and consciousness-expanding way to spend six to eight hours or so.

Did you just say six to eight hours?

We sure did. But first: mushrooms, the brain, and how the hell the magic works.

Though there is no literal reset button, recent research suggests that magic mushrooms have the ability to reshape, repair, and create brain cells and neural pathways, a process otherwise known as neurogenesis, thanks to psilocybin (aka the magic), which is the organic hallucinogenic chemical found in select mushrooms (180 types, to be exact).

Think of the brain as a network, not unlike the internet, which was jokingly once referred to as a "series of tubes" by Republican Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens, which still makes us laugh. Anyway, the average human brain has neurons (brain cells) firing constantly throughout the day, with neurotransmitters (messengers) traveling throughout the brain's various familiar pathways. When we're born, we have mostly all of the neurons we will ever need, though neurogenesis can occur later in adulthood in select parts of the brain. Ultimately, new neurons have neural stem cells to thank, as they are special little guys that are dormant until they are instructed to become a full-blown new neuron. When neurogenesis does occur, it is in very specific parts of the brain, and as described by Synthesis, a legal, professionally guided mushroom retreat center, this highly-controlled new cell growth process is usually the result of "improved learning, forming strong memories, and reversing depression."

So what happens when you take mushrooms?

Magic mushrooms simply reroute our way of thinking and our perception, and, in many ways, offer a reset that would otherwise not be possible.

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Well, first off, your body converts psilocybin into psilocin, another chemical that binds to serotonin receptors. In other words, it's the control center (we have 15 such receptors) that uses serotonin, or "the key hormone that stabilizes our mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness." Once it binds, it kickstarts a series of processes, including one such phenomenon referred to as "neuronal avalanching," which ultimately means a lot of different changes start happening in the brain. The visual cortex is stimulated (which would explain hallucinations), which in turn can alter your perception. As for your brain's default day-to-day way of life? Well, it's pushed aside, as is one's sense of ego, causing a unique shift in how the areas of the brain synchronize to work together. Researchers often describe this occurrence as an orchestra: the brain has a bunch of players, playing different instruments, performing music from various eras and genres. But when psilocybin is introduced, the orchestra has a conductor, which, well, orchestrates communication with areas of the brain that normally are not as active or loud as some of the other parts that aid us on a regular basis. It's through this conducting that people experience unity, connectivity, mood elevation, and transcension of self, and why scientists believe that magic mushrooms could be a useful tool in treating depression, addiction, anxiety disorders like PTSD and OCD, and more.

In other words, it's all a series of tubes (*giggle*). Magic mushrooms simply reroute our way of thinking and our perception, and, in many ways, offer a reset that would otherwise not be possible.

Once ingested, depending on your dose (which is often discussed in terms of "microdosing," or small doses to boost your mood, and "macro doses," or big full-blown trips), a trip can start as early as 30 minutes after consuming, with immediate effects lasting six to eight hours.

So, what kind of effects can you expect?

While laughter, euphoria, hallucinations, and overwhelming feelings of warmth, love, empathy, and gratitude are commonly reported effects, some folks have a much different trip that can include physical symptoms like stomach pain and nausea, as well as potential psychological and emotional setbacks, like retraumatization, derealization, dissolution of ego, and paranoia.

Not to sound boring and generic, but a magic mushroom trip depends totally on you and your brain, life experiences, and, perhaps the most crucial factors during any psychedelic experience: set, as in one's mindset, and setting, or one's surroundings and social environment.

For Lauryn Walters-Tillman, a bad trip in her teens scared her off from ever revisiting psychedelics.

The 38-year-old mother says, up until recently, she had been "rawdogging life."

As a child and teenager, she moved around a lot, attending more than 15 different schools, though rarely straying far from Royal Oak, where she lives now and has, despite the constant relocating, considered the metro Detroit city home for quite some time.

During her high school years, she experimented with acid and says she had mostly positive experiences, though she said she felt more comfortable taking mushrooms. However, it was one bad acid trip that, just three months later, led to a bad mushroom trip.

"I just didn't feel comfortable in myself and my friendships were kind of struggling after being gone for years," Walters-Tillman says. "I was ... just completely unaware when it came to understanding who I was in the world."

Walters-Tillman says she thought, even after her nightmare experience with LSD, that she would be fine to take mushrooms. In past shroom experiences, she remembers feeling like she was more connected to the world and people around her, and recalls forming meaningful bonds with others as a result. At the time of the mushroom trip that scared her off, she says she was somewhat comfortable with the group of friends she tripped with, though admits they weren't what she would consider her best friends. She thought she would be fine.

"It was too fresh," she says of the acid trip. "It was like, still in my brain. I think just having that bad trip bled through into my subconscious."

Many years later, Walters-Tillman was diagnosed with PTSD, following years of childhood sexual abuse, and was prescribed an antidepressant following the birth of her son.

"I wish I would have known what I know now when I was in high school," she says. "Whenever we would take [mushrooms], I would feel a connection to the group I was with, but none of us were really trying to delve into trauma. You think that you know everything when you're that age," she says. "But you don't."

In her 20s she dabbled in what she refers to as "bar drugs" (like cocaine and ecstasy), mainly because of their availability. Walters-Tillman says she hadn't been around mushrooms since her high school days. That is, until the summer of 2020, when she and her friend brought shrooms to Traverse City.

"We set our intentions," Walters-Tillman says, adding that her friend was using this trip to confront a drinking problem. "And we knew what we wanted to do. We wanted to be on a healing trip, you know, so we ate, like, a lot, a lot, like, we weren't microdosing, we were really trying to trip," she says. "And since then, I think I've done them one other time, and I microdose often to maintain. I really try to meditate on what I want out of my experience and think about where I am in my life, and am I happy where I am. Are there things I could change? It's like holding up an intergalactic mirror and sometimes you're not going to see what you want to see, but it can be good."

Though the fear of possibly having a bad trip lingers in her mind, she credits mushrooms for helping her tune into her wants, including what kind of mother she wants to be.

"I microdosed on my daughter's fifth birthday," Walters-Tillman divulges. "It was kind of like a spur of the moment thing. And of course, it was like, everyone in my family showed up, which they've never shown up to a birthday party. My aunts, my cousins, everyone," she laughs.

"I ended up having the most wonderful time," she says. "I remember my daughter saying, 'Mom, why are you smiling so much? Why are you so happy?' Of course, it's kind of heartbreaking to hear that because I want to be like that all the time. I mean, I was way more present that day. I wasn't stressed out about little things, you know, like cutting the cake and that kind of thing. It was just really beautiful."

The Michigan Psychedelic Society was created in 2017 by Julie Barron, who also serves as co-director of Decriminalize Nature Michigan, the very organization that has been doing the heavy lifting when it comes to educating communities throughout the state about the benefits of naturally occurring psychedelics and why they should be decriminalized.

Barron has been using plant medicine since she was 16, and has been a therapist for 25 years. It's through her master's program that she developed psychedelic preparation and individual and group psychedelic integration practices, but says it's only in the past decade that she's devoted her practice to this trippy and important work.

Early on, Barron says her teenage trips were formative.

"I developed a very, very open and adaptable mind," she says. "I was able to see that there was so much more than what was obvious and being presented in front of me, which allowed me to really forge my path in life from that point."

According to its website, the Michigan Psychedelic Society's objective is to "provide a safe space to discuss psychedelics, offer education, share information about safe and responsible use, increase awareness, provide integration support, build community, foster relationships with other organizations, and work towards legalization and/or decriminalization."

Barron says the group was born from the simple fact that people were constantly inquiring about psychedelics and mushrooms, for healing as well as exploratory purposes. This highlighted a glaring void in the movement: a community.

"What I was seeing over and over again is I have all these people coming individually to talk to me about psychedelics, some of them had nobody in their whole world to talk about it with," Barron says. "And they had to keep it very private. So one of the things that I realized is that these people are very isolated. And doing one-on-one therapy is good and great, but like, what was missing was a community to have these discussions, because these discussions can get really deep," she says. "They're not surface-level discussions. We realized that we needed a community base around psychedelics and psychedelic healing."

Don't get it twisted: Barron does not provide magic mushrooms or entheogenic substances to her clients, nor does she assist clients in procuring shrooms and the like. It should also be noted that her clients don't participate in tripping during these sessions. As Barron says, it's a fine legal line they must operate in until laws change. Until then, her job is to prepare people for a psychedelic experience. Remember set and setting? But beyond preparation, Barron says most clients meet with her four times at a minimum to figure out why an individual wants to trip and, then, how to use the experience beyond the trip itself.

"I can help them kind of figure out why they're doing it, what they're hoping to get out of it," she says. "And then, with the integration, do so in reverence, you know, set, setting and all those things that we talk about, and make sure everything is just the way we want it and make sure that people have the stability and the support that they may need through the experience and afterward. I do a combination of individual client integration and group integration. So you have this experience, now, what do you do with that? You had a message come through really clearly in the experience, but you can very easily ignore that, right? It's so much easier to continue as things are. Do you decide to make those changes? Sometimes they're really big, and sometimes they're really small changes. But how do you then take the lessons and the messages and the shift that happened through a psychedelic experience and actually make a long-lasting impact and change in your life?"

Barron says the majority of people that seek her services are usually looking to treat depression, PTSD, and addiction. But she also says she works with people who "are not sick," who are just looking for "spiritual or personal growth as part of their path," which she says she respects just as much as those seeking mental health treatments.

Barron says Decriminalize Nature Michigan and the Michigan Psychedelic Society have received little to no pushback from the community or from political and religious leaders, though she says she wishes to not speculate as to avoid putting that energy out there.

While she admits that DNM and MPS have been lagging a bit in the community-building department to focus their time and resources decriminalizing entheogenic plants in other cities like Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, and Hazel Park, they are as committed as ever to making sure that people have the education, understanding, and reverence for the substances they may be using, and to ensure access to resources.

"When I'm having conversations with people, and they bring up something like, 'Oh, my family has a really strong history of addiction, this terrifies me,' I feel that they just don't know about it," she says. "They don't actually understand what we're talking about. So people will say things from time to time and the first thing that comes into my head is that we still have further to go to educate, because it means they don't understand it."

click to enlarge The author paid $150 for a webinar on how to grow mushrooms. - JERILYN JORDAN
Jerilyn Jordan
The author paid $150 for a webinar on how to grow mushrooms.

Shelby Hartman says the psychedelic movement is growing exponentially, especially since 2019, when she and Madison Margolin launched DoubleBlind, a media company and education platform committed to spotlighting diverse perspectives, dogged reporting, and an informational product that is as beautiful as it is educational. The Los Angeles-based organization publishes biannual print issues featuring contributors, writers, and artists from all around the world — as well as a steady flow of digital content covering everything from South America's ayahuasca tourism industry to appropriation of ancient medicines, advice on letting go of negative thoughts and vetting a trip sitter, and photo spreads, like that found in Issue No. 5, of men in bathtubs, in an effort to reframe masculinity. They also offer virtual courses on growing mushrooms, microdosing, and how to set yourself up for a happy trip. There's also a membership program that allows access to a library of educational videos and courses and lectures by the world's leading psychedelic experts.

Hartman, who completed her masters program in long-form journalism at Columbia University in 2015, has been published in Rolling Stone, Playboy, Vice, and others, and serves as the publication's editor in chief. She's quick to discount the belief that it's all fun and games when it comes to psychedelics. As a journalist, she reminds that it's not her job to have an opinion on many of the topics and subjects explored in DoubleBlind, but instead to report thoughtfully on all aspects of the psychedelic movement and how they're unfolding.

"Psychedelics aren't a joke," Hartman tells Metro Times. "I mean, psychedelics, they have shown promise for treating really severe mental health conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder, treatment, resistant depression, and end-of-life distress in folks with terminal diagnoses. And so, absolutely, the promise is real and the promise is exciting. But also, psychedelics aren't for everyone, and they're not going to heal all of your problems overnight," she says. "And so it's important that people understand that, so that they don't romanticize these substances. And also, so that they understand that the results that we're seeing from clinical trials are about psychedelics being administered in very particular ways, and in very controlled settings, with the support of therapists and screening and all the rest. We don't want people getting their hopes up."

Running a media organization, not to mention one dedicated to psychedelics, is not easy to do in 2021 — from being shadowbanned on social media (DoubleBlind was forced to make a backup Instagram account last year when the platform disabled their account after two years of posting content about psychedelic education) to implementing creative ways to fund its very existence so that it can continue to reach those who wish to access it. Through virtual classes (I, for instance, paid $150 for their aesthetically pleasing, easy to follow virtual webinar on how to grow mushrooms, and have successfully been growing various strains using the techniques featured by their instruction), DoubleBlind is able to pay their contributors, as well as put out a print issue, which was very important to the organization's founders.

"We made the conscious choice to do that, because we believe that it's important for people to unplug," she says. "And we want people to be able to enjoy our stories and cherish them in nature, at the beach, wherever they want. I would say just figuring out how to make it work financially is challenging for us, especially because we don't want to shut anybody out. So we offer scholarships for everything we do. And we do sliding scale offerings for all of our webinars. And, you know, it's tricky. There are some people who say that, you know, you should never charge for anything in the realm of psychedelics, and I understand those criticisms, but at the same time, we also want to pay the writers and artists that we work with and the people who make the magazine possible."

Obstacles be damned, DoubleBlind made history in September when it launched the first-ever billboard campaign in the U.S. devoted to plant medicine. For one whole week, a skyscraper-sized billboard in New York City's Times Square was occupied by DoubleBlind's Celebrate Plant Medicine campaign, which was intended to "disrupt the profit-driven advertising we often see in places like Times Square to fuel a conversation about healing."

Why is a billboard about psychedelics so damn revolutionary — and important? For Hartman, it comes down to access to information.

"I think that there are still a lot of Americans and people all around the world who literally have no idea what's happening in the realm of psychedelics and don't know fundamental things like the difference between shrooms and LSD, or the difference between a micro dose and a macro dose," Hartman says. "There's also a lot that we don't know even within the psychedelic field. For example, there are tons of women who are interested — or I should say, humans, rather — who are interested in taking psychedelics when they're pregnant, or microdosing when breastfeeding, or tripping for their postpartum depression. And we have literally no information on that. So I mean, it's just a matter of time, hopefully, before we get that data, but we don't have it now."

The speed in which the movement is growing is somewhat concerning. There are so many elements to consider when drafting decriminalization and legalization initiatives, including the belief shared by some that we should be focusing on legalizing all drugs instead of decriminalizing naturally occurring plant medicine. Hartman also addresses the ongoing controversy surrounding peyote, the hallucinogenic cactus used by Native Americans described by Navajo spiritual leader Steven Benally, as being a "sacred medicine crucial to our religious identity and survival of our community." The Native American Church has made requests for peyote to be removed from the decriminalization of entheogenic plant efforts due to the fact that peyote is at risk of becoming endangered.

"Michigan seems to be making great progress overall," she says. "And it's exciting to see. For us, I mean, we just want to keep doing what we're doing, telling stories, creating media, educating people. We just want to keep doing what we're doing. And it's not always easy."

Charlie, whose name has been changed for this story in exchange for candor, discovered magic mushrooms later in life. A 39-year-old single father who works in the federal financial sector, Charlie is conflicted about requesting anonymity for this story.

"I so wholeheartedly believe in this," he says. "I'm super passionate and I'm like, philosophically down for this to proliferate. And so it's just like a tricky balance for me."

He describes himself as being pretty straight edge in his youth, though says he drank and smoked weed in college. Drugs and mind-altering substances were heavily stigmatized in his home, which he assumed had trickled down from societal norms.

"Even smoking cigarettes, which I don't do, everything was under a single umbrella," he says of his childhood.

It wasn't until 2016, around the same time he began practicing Transcendental Meditation, that his interest in psychedelics was piqued, after he had heard podcasts about peoples' experiences with shrooms, ketamine, LSD, and ayahuasca. He describes himself as not being "discontent" but also, at the time, unfulfilled by the expectations of "the rat race" and paying bills, earning a living, and trying to support kids while living in an upper-middle class area of metro Detroit. He longed for something beyond the surface.

"It's like I'm still longing for more and more connection," he says. "So hearing people talk about the various aspects of psychedelic use and what that can do in terms of enhancing empathy and connection with one another, let alone some neurogenesis — like, I'm listening to Paul Stamets talk about how he had a chronic stutter at a young age and psychedelics literally eradicated that. I was diagnosed as having ADHD when I was younger, and I took Adderall, and so I thought, maybe I can reroute some of my neural pathways, or become more creative. Literally all these different aspects of psychedelic experiences sort of coalesced into me really, really wanting to try it."

And so he did. Someone close to him served as his trip sitter and facilitated Charlie's first trip, which he describes as being "a 10 out of 10 experience."

"It was just phenomenal," he says. "I had a full-on trip. It was unstoppable hilarity. I described it as oozing. I was on Belle Isle on a 75-degree sunny day on the beach. And I was just like, totally infused into the sand, melting into it and oozing and laughing and excreting out of my face," he laughs. "It was ridiculous. And it was the best thing ever. And I also got all of that warmth and empathy, and an understanding of my place in the world. It was super, super transformative. After that I thought: This will always be a part of my life."

It took Charlie nearly two years to revisit shrooms. This time, he set an intention, though as with me and my first trip, he sort of already knew what had to be done to get off a path that was no longer serving him. Since his first trip, Charlie has become a fountain of information and curiosity about growing techniques, and the functions of the non-psilocybin chemical compounds found in magic mushrooms, and the impact they have on the brain, body, and general mindset. Despite the societal, financial, and parental obstacles a passion for mushrooms and psychedelics presents, Charlie says he has no plans to stop or slow his psychedelic journey.

"I think that's amazing that there's all these healing properties for specific ailments or pathologies, but just being a human being really requires its own healing of some sort, whether it's a big-T or little-t trauma or just the human experience," he says. "So we could certainly broaden that definition, probably of it being a medicine or a healing agent and expanding our consciousness and having better tools to navigate this world."

Here's a question that you're probably pondering: what in the hell is next for Michigan's magic mushroom and entheogenic plant and fungi movement?

Well, for one, Decriminalize Nature Michigan, and it's respective local chapters, have gained traction in Grand Rapids, where the city commission voted 5-2 on a resolution that would support decriminalization across local, state, and federal levels. Next year, the organization anticipates Lansing, East Lansing, Hazel Park, and Ypsilanti will introduce proposals like those approved in Ann Arbor and Detroit.

Right now, all eyes are on state Senate Bill No. 631, which was introduced in September by Democratic Sen. Jeff Irwin of Ann Arbor, and co-sponsored by Detroit's self-described "square" Sen. Adam Hollier. The bill makes a case for the therapeutic use, possession, and non-commercial cultivation of magic mushrooms, DMT, and mescaline (the active ingredient in peyote), which would also make them "exempt from criminal prosecution in certain circumstances."

"An individual is not in violation of this section if the individual manufactures, creates, delivers, or possesses with intent to manufacture, create, or deliver an entheogenic plant or fungus without receiving money or other valuable consideration for the entheogenic plant or fungus," the bill reads.

Hollier says his choice to co-sponsor Irwin's bill was a no-brainer.

"It may seem silly, but I just think people should be able to do more things and fewer things should be criminal," Hollier tells Metro Times. "We elect way too many people based on things that don't impact our neighbors or friends. And we draw arbitrary moral lines about what people think are acceptable or unacceptable when there's no data or information to suggest that magic mushrooms or marijuana are more dangerous than prescription drugs, or alcohol or cigarettes," he says. "I've often thought about how much better off our society would be if we did not make drugs illegal, but, instead, highly regulated."

“I don’t think there’s anybody in this world who’s going to argue that these natural substances are more dangerous than fentanyl.”

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He insists he can't tell the difference between a marijuana joint and the smell of a Black & Mild — proof that he may indeed be a square when it comes to drugs and substances and partying — but that doesn't reflect his approach to backing progressive policies like that of Bill No. 631. He was also far from surprised by Detroit's passage of Proposal E. Like, not at all.

"What is it we don't like about drugs?" he says. "We don't like people having cash and guns. If you can put your money in the bank, you know what you don't need? A big stack of cash underneath your mattress and somebody protecting that money with a gun, which means that there's no industry around robbing you. So the violence is taken away. Naturally, Detroiters were supportive of having less violence in their community. But I don't think there's anybody in this world who's going to argue that these natural substances are more dangerous than fentanyl."

Activists and those associated with the Decriminalize Nature Michigan chapters are concerned that the bill might stall out without GOP support, considering the Republican-led Legislature rarely moves Democrat-introduced bills. But one of the most attractive parts of the bill has to do with money in exchange for services.

While the bill would decriminalize entheogenic plants and fungi while prohibiting the commercial production and sales of these substances, what it offers is the potential for clinical practitioners to be able to charge a "reasonable fee for counseling, spiritual guidance, or a related service that is provided in conjunction with the use of an entheogenic plant or fungus under the guidance and supervision of an individual providing the service," the very thing Barron of the Michigan Psychedelic Society is unable to provide her clients under the current law and a service that so many, like Lauren and Charlie (and my damn self) would be interested in pursuing.

Hollier says the most effective thing we can do is ask our legislators to support policies that "think the same." He says that one of the biggest questions we face as we work to dismantle the damage of the war on drugs is: Can we agree that entheogenic plants and fungi, including marijuana, have therapeutic value?

"If we can get more people doing something that's safer, or with safer options, where we can test and understand what microdosing looks like and do the research necessary to understand what is safe, then that's what we should be doing," he says. "I just wish that we were in a situation where we could be talking about legalization, not decriminalization."

click to enlarge Look at these little beauts. - JERILYN JORDAN
Jerilyn Jordan
Look at these little beauts.

My most recent trip took place in September. No, like, it was the first time in a long time that I traveled outside of the tri-county area, and it was also the first time in several months that I took mushrooms, via my and my new husband's preferred method: mushroom tea. We camped at a rustic campground in Ossineke on the shores of Lake Huron, just one campsite down from a grave where a man who washed ashore in 1865 had been buried. The weather had already turned its back on summer, so we hunkered down around the neverending campfire, with s'mores supplies, a pile of blankets, and enough Golden Teacher mushrooms to provide us the release we traveled nearly four hours to experience. It was raining off and on but we didn't mind. We drank our mushroom tea (which is simply, measured out dried magic mushrooms and a tea bag that masks the taste; we vote for lemon ginger every time) and explored the forest in which the campground was nestled. We celebrated each animal track, fallen trees, the sound of leaves beneath our feet, and the possibility that we may never find our way back, which was, actually, sort of totally fine by us. The deeper we went into the woods, the further the shrill and unnatural sounds of fellow campers became. Any evidence of people threatened our trip, so we, like mushrooms, forged our own path.

When we returned to the site, I covered myself in blankets and draped myself over a picnic table, laughing at my husband's delayed The Lord of the Rings commentary, complete with impressions and hot takes. My daily chronic pain issues ceased to exist and I felt warm and held as we ventured to the beach where a double rainbow appeared, stretching across the sky, connecting land and sea. We marveled at nature and did all the things people do to ensure that we were not, in fact, dreaming and/or hallucinating. (We weren't, and have photographic evidence to prove it.)

The tail end of our trip, we ventured into town for provisions. I do not recommend this, but we felt capable and barely impaired. While my husband did what I could not — go into a gas station for beverages because, ugh, people — I had to, like, really had to hear a specific song covered by a specific person from a specific HBO show: Justin Theroux singing "Homeward Bound" by Simon and Garfunkel from a scene in The Leftovers. I pulled up YouTube (again, I don't fully recommend using technology while tripping, but when you gotta stream, you gotta stream), and sat with my eyes closed as Theroux's voice quivered and quaked. "Each town looks the same to me, the movies and the factories / and every stranger's face I see / reminds me that I long to be / Homeward bound, I wish I was," he sang, off key and out of tune. I closed my eyes just before a stray tear could travel down my cheek.

I had been running away from so many things since my own subconscious voice told me to pack up and leave while under the spell of magic mushrooms in 2012. Sure, I've been in therapy for eleven years and am well versed in my behaviors, traumas, and why I am the way I am. But it's as if that voice from 2012 had been playing on a loop until it eventually became faithful white noise, like the constant background hum of a refrigerator. It sometimes gets louder when I am confronted with something that would be much easier to deal with if I just kept running, kept moving, never looking back.

My eyes shot open as my husband opened the car door with beer in tow.

"Ready to head back?" he asked.

I nodded, confirming silently within myself something I had waited years for permission to do: I could stop running. I was home.

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