The Resurgence of Psychedelics: Magic Mushrooms and LSD

From being decriminalized in Oakland, California to techies micro-dosing in Silicon Valley, psychedelics such as magic mushrooms and LSD are again having their moment.
Marcia Wendorf
Psychedelic art inspired by psychedelic experiencesActivedia/Pixabay

In October 2018, Californian Carlos Plazola tried magic mushrooms for the first time and experienced what he called an epiphany. Telling the Los Angeles Times, "I was making connections that I had never made in terms of my understanding of what we are, what the cosmos are, why we’re here, where we’re going."

Plazola co-founded a group called Decriminalize Nature Oakland, which wrote an ordinance to decriminalize "magic mushrooms," whose active ingredient is usually psilocybin, and other psychoactive plants and fungi.

This June, that ordinance passed, making Oakland the second city in the U.S. to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms. In May 2018, Denver became the first city in the nation to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms.

Psilocybe aztecorum
Psilocybe aztecorum. Source: Alan Rockefeller/Wikimedia Commons

Besides mushrooms, Oakland's ordinance included other psychoactive plants such as peyote, iboga, and ayahuasca. The ordinance did not include synthetic drugs such as LSD and MDMA.

A state-wide effort named Decriminalize California is currently underway, trying to get the decriminalization of psychoactive plants on a statewide ballot this coming November.

A Recent About Face

In October 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted psilocybin "breakthrough therapy" status. This means it will be easier for manufacturers to develop drugs containing psilocybin for people with treatment-resistant depression.

Scientists at Johns Hopkins University recently recommended reclassifying psilocybin from a Schedule I drug, to a Schedule IV drug, which is the same classification as sleeping pills.

In the U.S., the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reported that between the years 2009 and 2015, approximately 8.5 percent of U.S. adults had reported using psilocybin at some point in their lives.


In 2018, author Michael Pollan's book How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence came out. In the book, Pollan explores the history of psychedelics and discusses current clinical trials which suggest that psychedelics can help with depression, addiction, and the fear that accompanies a terminal diagnosis.

The Nature of Reality

For millennia, philosophers and others have been trying to tell us something about the nature of reality. During the 1960s, people like Harvard psychologist Dr. Timothy Leary and his associate Dr. Richard Alpert, who was later known as Baba Ram Dass, tried to get us to "Turn on, tune in, drop out." This was Timothy Leary's famous counter-culture call to arms, delivered at a "Be-in" in 1966 at San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.

LSD, or lysergic acid diethylamide, was first synthesized in 1938 by the Swiss chemist Albert Hoffmann at the Sandoz Laboratories in Basel, Switzerland. In 1938, Hofmann accidentally absorbed a bit of the chemical through his fingertips, then in 1943, he decided to try a full dose.

The result is the famous "Bicycle Day." On April 19, 1943, Hofmann took a 250 microgram dose of LSD, which is slightly higher than the common dose of 200 micrograms. Wanting to go home from his lab, Hofmann hopped on his bicycle, and once home, "...pieces of furniture assumed grotesque, threatening forms. They were in continuous motion, animated as if driven by an inner restlessness."

LSD tabs
LSD tabs. Source: Psychonaught/Wikimedia Commons

Hofmann went on to describe "the dissolution of my ego,..." and the new world to which he was taken: "I was taken to another world, another place, another time." He went on to describe how "At times I believed myself to be outside my body..." and how "little by little I could begin to enjoy the unprecedented colors and plays of shapes that persisted behind my closed eyes. Kaleidoscopic, fantastic images surged in on me, alternating, variegated, opening and then closing themselves in circles and spirals, exploding in colored fountains, rearranging and hybridizing themselves in constant flux. It was particularly remarkable how every acoustic perception, such as the sound of a door handle or a passing automobile, became transformed into optical perceptions. Every sound generated a vividly changing image, with its own consistent form and color."

A Cure for Sexual Perversions and the CIA

In 1947, Sandoz Laboratories introduced LSD as a psychiatric drug, marketing it "as a cure for everything from schizophrenia to criminal behavior, 'sexual perversions,' and alcoholism."

In the 1950s, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) became interested in the drug, believing that it could be used for mind control. In a program called MK-Ultra, the CIA tested LSD on CIA employees, military personnel, doctors, prisoners, the mentally ill, and members of the general public, some without their knowledge or consent.

This project was revealed in the congressional Rockefeller Commission report in 1975.

In 1963, Sandoz's patents for LSD expired, and figures such as writer Aldous Huxley, philosopher Alan Watts, writer Arthur Koestler, and Timothy Leary advocated for its use. In 1966, Timothy Leary established the League for Spiritual Discovery, with LSD as its central component.

On October 24, 1968, possession of LSD was made illegal in the United States. In 1971, LSD was listed as a schedule 1 controlled substance by the United Nations.

Micro-dosing in Silicon Valley

In a New York Times article last August, contributor Kara Swisher lifted the lid on the micro-dosing of psychedelics in Silicon Valley.

There, some techies are attempting to gain an edge and to "...reach the next level of innovation," as one tech executive told Swisher. Another told her, "No one can afford to lose a step here anymore ... You want to be super lucid now."

Coming Into Contact With Something Greater

Today, LSD is categorized as an entheogen because it can induce intense spiritual experiences. Users often describe coming into contact with a greater spiritual or cosmic order and having out of body experiences.

Some entheogens are used as part of religious rites, such as peyote in the Native American Church, and ayahuasca in the Santo Daime movement.

The Oakland resolution defines the psychedelics as "the full spectrum of plants, fungi, and natural materials deserving reverence and respect from the perspective of the individual and the collective, that can inspire personal and spiritual well-being, can benefit psychological and physical wellness, and can reestablish humans’ inalienable and direct relationship with nature."

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