When I was 18 I decided to go on a gap year. I was clueless about the world at large but also foolish enough not to care. I found a quite amazing travel companion and set off to India.
I was always curious about drugs, they just seemed like they would be so much fun. I started off smoking weed and then someone suggested some L.S.D. at a place called Anjuna in Goa. It was amazing: I've never seen colours seem so alive before, in a way I'd never felt quite so alive before.
The most incredible 'trip' of all took place a few months later on Koh Samui in Thailand. As my travel companions and I whiled away the days smoking, swimming, imbibing banana pancakes and generally living la vida dolce; someone suggested a mushroom omelette.
My clearest memory of the mushroom omelette is that the mushrooms were unusually bright orange, in an almost... toxic... way. The wise and experienced Bearded One, who ate mushrooms for breakfast, ate half an omelette. The omelette tasted good and so after I finished mine I ate his half too.
Nothing really happened for a long time. Then, things started to get weird. The beach was still there but suddenly I felt very aware of the fact that it was there. It felt like I was now a spaceman travelling through the cosmos who just so happened to be on this stunningly beautiful beach. It's a difficult sensation to explain, and even more difficult to cope with, and it was freaking me out. I looked at my arms and couldn't understand them: what were these appendages and how was it I was able to control them. They looked alien, as though they weren't mine. Who was I?
I was freaking and trying to keep a grip on my loosening sense of reality. Even the firm sense of my family and home existing was collapsing around me. Everything I thought I knew seemed illusionary.
'Where was home?' I kept asking myself. Then increasingly panicky, I started asking my cooler, calmer, psychonautic friends. Thankfully The Bearded One was able to tell me*.
In retrospect it really felt like I was being reborn, like I was seeing the world again for the first time ever. It was extremely scary, terrifying, bizarre... I understood how perplexingly terrifying it must be for a new-born. I was having a 'bad trip' and I wanted it to end.
Yet, it was wonderful! It was probably the single most transformative event in my life. I was trapped in negative ways of thinking and this drug was like a light so bright that I could see the invisible walls of my prison.
The next day The Bearded One explained how mushrooms worked.
'Psilocybin,' he said, 'floods the brain. It causes all the old patterns of thinking to be swamped. New pathways get opened up in the brain that never existed and it enables you to see things fresh and anew. It is like getting another chance at making sense of the world.'
This was in 1992 and I have always used this explanation of psilocybin's (or LSD's) effects because it just seemed to make so much sense. I have no idea how this hippie knew this but in the last year MRI pictures have revealed he was right. Psilocybin really does allow you to see the world afresh again.
This is why it is so great for depression. It dissolves the ego and then allows you to see the world anew. It gives you an opportunity to discard all the harmful negative thinking patterns you have accumulated. Yes, it needs to be done in a safe and guided environment; and this is how all cultures have taken it through ages.
Magic mushrooms are medicine and not just any medicine: they are incredible, curative, safe (under guidance) medicine that promises to end our era of addiction to (so-called) anti-depressants.
In this small study just one dose of psilocybin was 'extraordinarily effective' in lifting almost half the patients out of depression and keeping them there 6 months later. Magic mushrooms are magic because they give us another chance of seeing the world, another chance at happiness.
The gloriously named author of this study, Professor Nutt, says we should use these for depression. I whole-heartedly agree.
*according to The Bearded One, home is where the heart is.