Once a month, Fern *, 32, and her fiancÃ© Connor *, 25, devote time to their relationship. They’ll dim the lights in their one-bedroom apartment, wrap themselves in a soft blanket, light candles, and turn off their phones. But that’s not a prep for a long, chill-out Netflix session – it’s their special routine for a new kind of couples therapy: tripping over mushrooms.
Magic mushrooms have been part of human culture for thousands of years: long before Alice fell into the rabbit hole, ancient civilizations from the Egyptians to the Aztecs had ritualistic encounters with psychedelic growths. Then in the 1950s and early 1970s the mushrooms were picked up by hippies in search of spiritual expansion.
In recent years, however, they have come under closer scrutiny for their potential as boosters of our mental health. Not only do mushrooms reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, research also shows that their consumption can lead to spiritually meaningful experiences that lead to long-term changes in behaviors and values ââassociated with openness. In other words, people with mushrooms may become more sensitive to feelings and accept the opinions of others more.
We’ll have this amazing, deep conversation that we didn’t even know we wanted to have.
Fern, a naturopath, and Connor, a furniture maker, first used mushrooms together after being together for a year. Fern had familiarized herself with the world of psychedelic therapy through her work on herbal alternative medicine. âI had met people who used them like you would yoga or meditation, as a regular practice for self-care and self-exploration,â Fern says. “We didn’t do it for recreation, although it can be fun. We wanted to learn more about each other.”
“[Connor and I] always an intention, and our intention for the first trip was to ‘trust’ the drug and what it can show you, âshe continues. âAt first, I felt these hot flashes all around my body and I became hyper-aware of the limbs and the hair on my body, as well as the textures and the feel around me. This shared energy and connection created a bubble for us to see all of each other and we just laughed and laughed like children.
“I felt like every sensation was something I was feeling for the first time as we ran our fingers over each other’s bodies.”
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During the trip, Fern says, the couple began to look subjectively at each other’s lives. “I began to see the events of my life not from an emotional point of view, but as facts. This is your life, these are things that have happened, it is your role in these events. , this is how others around you were affected. I realized the efforts I had made to suppress some negative thoughts and feelings and by recognizing this I was able to release them. “
The couple found that during the trip, they felt more connected and understood each other better. âWe were cuddling and it was like we melted into each other, it was like we could see each other’s soul,â says Fern. “You find out about each other’s problems and fears and don’t judge them.”
Dr Ros Watts is a clinical psychologist at Imperial College London who has taken patients on a journey for a recent trial examining the effects of magic mushrooms on depression. âPeople are developing ways to avoid certain thoughts and feelings, but during the dose our patients would be completely inundated with them,â she says. “It was upsetting and scary at times, but it also gave them the opportunity to overcome those feelings and confront them.”
More than half of the patients in the trial experienced significant improvements in their depression through changes in the way they connected with others and how they dealt with their own emotions. âOne of the two key themes was the shift from disconnecting to connecting with others and the world around them,â says Dr. Watts. “The other was to go from avoiding the emotion to accepting it.”
The normal sense of self is shattered and replaced by a feeling of reconnection.
Six months after the study, each attached patient also reported positive benefits for their romantic relationships. âDuring the trip, they would have some revelations about how important their partner is to them,â says Dr. Watts. “A man went to dinner with his wife for the first time in six years. He said they were like teenagers again.” This change was also noticed by their partners.
“They reported that their partner was more open with them, more able to express their emotions and more willing to have in-depth conversations after the experience.”
London-based psychotherapist and couples counselor Hilda Burke says the common thread between couples seeking therapy is that they have lost the ability to communicate with each other. “They’ve become so polarized that they can’t really go to the other person’s island and see how it is from their perspective.”
People who consume mushrooms often describe a feeling of transcendence and oneness, as if the boundaries between them and others are less defined. Dr Carhartt-Harris, head of psychedelic research at Imperial College, writes that the temporary “ego breakup” people experience with psychedelics means “the normal sense of self is broken and replaced by a feeling reconnecting with themselves, others and the natural world. “
After their first trip, Fern and Connor decided to have regular magic mushroom sessions. âWe don’t talk for a few hours about the trip and focus on introspection, but after that we still have a long, exhilarating but moving conversation, sharing the trip we just took,â says Fern. âWe’ll have this amazing, deep conversation that we didn’t even know we wanted to have, and then we’ll have the best sleep.
“The clarity we have the next day means we can plan to implement changes and solve problems.”
Eric, 38, heads an advocacy group for the therapeutic application of psychedelic plants. He and his wife Rose *, 27, started eating mushrooms together soon after they met. âEarly in our relationship, we faced many different stumbling scenarios together: past relationships and emotional wounds from childhood all surfaced,â says Eric.
âBy taking mushrooms together, we took a trip, healing the wounds of my past. My best friend died in a car accident at the age of 16, and through fellowship with magic mushrooms, I faced the pain I felt. [around that] for over a decade. By sharing this experience with her, we both achieved a deeper understanding and acceptance of each other, as well as of each other’s past. “
First it brought us together, then it separated us.
Confronting the past rather than letting it manifest in your relationship is something Hilda Burke often brings up with her clients. âAn important step in couples therapy is looking at our own part rather than saying it’s all about the other person,â she says. “You have to look at what you bring to the party; even if it is difficult, you have to sort out what is in the relationship and what is not, and make peace with it.”
Eric believes that incorporating mushrooms into his marriage was the key to creating a happy relationship. That’s not to say all mushroom-inspired revelations necessarily work in the relationship’s favor. “One of the patients [in the study] said she had been in a relationship that had been wrong for some time, but it wasn’t until after the trip that she felt enough self-esteem and confidence in her ability to fend for herself. alone to end this relationship and move on, âsays Dr. Watts.
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Dan *, 35, experienced it on the other side. “First of all [tripping on mushrooms] really brought us closer, but then it separated us, “he said.” We were engaged, but during the trip my boyfriend had the revelation that he had lied to himself and to me.”
For Fern and Connor, however, mushrooms have become a monthly ritual that they believe is integral to the health of their relationship. âIt’s not that we wouldn’t be as close as we are without making them,â said Fern, âit’s just that it could have taken us years to get there. It really feels like you get 10 years of advice overnight. “
Magic mushrooms grow naturally all over the world, but you won’t find them in your local supermarket – they’re currently illegal in the UK, US, Australia, and New Zealand. Dr Watts points out that while there can be many benefits, they are a powerful substance and should not be taken lightly. âWhen they’re done in a safe setting, they’re safe,â she says, âbut one of the patients said it was the worst five hours of her life, although it ended up being very beneficial to her. [So] I would not advise seeking this experience outside of a research setting.
“If we can get the research done, then the people who need it for therapeutic purposes will hopefully one day get it.”
* Names have been changed