Testimony of a psychedelic walk

by Oliver Sutton

It was the most astonishing sunset. Four of us were sitting amongst the rocks and the shrubs of the mountainside and gazing out at the scene in awed silence. We were in a state of tender, grateful openness, brought on by having drunk a brew made from the San Pedro cactus some four hours earlier. However, on that mountainside time meant nothing. We were present. Present with that ancient landscape, present with the receding horizon-lines, each a subtly lighter shade than the one before, evoking a profound impression of space, depth and mythology, present with each other and present, of course, with that majestic, mysterious and yet so familiar orb of pulsating light that we call the Sun. Someone mentioned later how at no point did any of us try to capture that moment. How telling, that in an age of obsessive recording of any image that may be even remotely meaningful or aesthetically pleasing, it didn’t even occur to us to take a picture of this most beautiful and profound of sights. Was it even a sight? Wasn’t it rather a feeling? Didn’t we feel the oranges and reds and yellows as they swam and throbbed over the horizon? And the sun dropping below the line of the horizon was just the beginning. The disappearance of the sun seemed to release colours from the other end of the spectrum. The deep shades of blue and violet, indigo and magenta, all the colours of San Pedro that had been sparkling and rippling across our visual field during the afternoon as if they were playing hide and seek with us, bled into the dusk. No one tried to record the scene but there was a word which suggested itself to us, resonance. I mentioned it at one point and someone else immediately said that this was the word that he had been struggling to find. The Sun and the sky and the entire scene were resonating with the colours of San Pedro and we were resonating along with them.

Such was just one passage of the Psychedelic Society’s Psychedelic Walk on the slopes of the Cabeçó d’Or mountain near Alicante. Led by Sanson, the walk formed a part of a psychedelic retreat that was being run at La Mezquita and I and my partner joined them just for the day. We met Sanson and Carla and the three other participants at a carpark on the mountainside and from there walked along a path through the shrubs and trees for some fifteen minutes until we arrived at a clearing in which to sit. This was to be the first stop where we would drink the brew before continuing to the place that was referred to only as ‘The Tree’. Sitting in a circle, Sanson spoke to us a little about the plan for the day and about San Pedro before pouring out a dark, slightly viscous liquid into a small cup. After saying a few words, he passed it to the first of us. When it was my turn to drink the brew I was struck by how pungent and bitter it was. It was no small task getting it down without gagging. When all who were planning to drink the brew had done so, we continued on our way until we reached a broad, flat area of ground with a large tree at the far end. This was to be our San Pedro playground.

And what a playground it was. As we arrived I already felt the effect of the brew acting subtly on my senses and my awareness. Whilst I’m sure I would have considered the dramatic terrain beautiful under any circumstances, as the San Pedro started to dissolve our culturally conditioned notions of space, time and beauty we increasingly found ourselves in the midst of a landscape which felt ancient, awe-inspiring and a uniquely appropriate setting for experiencing the intoxication of this desert plant. The word ‘playground’ describes quite well the context for the experience that was created by the Psychedelic Society. It was not a therapeutic setting, neither was it a ceremonial setting, although there were elements of ceremony included.

I suppose if pushed to define the setting that was created I would have to include it in that broad and too-vague category of ‘recreational’. We arrived, and over the course of next several hours we hung out at the tree. There were no organised activities except the picnic. Rather, people chatted, went off to sit alone, came back, looked at the scenery, looked at the detail of some plant or rock. My predilection is to drum and chant, so that’s what I did, drumming and chanting with abandon. On a previous occasion Carla had mentioned how simple she found the psychedelic experience- you need only a nice place to hang out and people you get on with and the plant will take care of the rest. The unadorned setting reflected this approach. There was no great effort made to create a particular setting, but the atmosphere was generally relaxed and good humoured and this conditioned the quality of the afternoon we spent on the hillside. Although he mentioned that his role was just about providing the beverage, I’m not sure Sanson’s role is quite so neutral. He is a self-proclaimed activist, advocating not simply the use of psychedelics but social change as well and he wastes no opportunity to promote his vision of social activism. This comes across loud and clear in his songs which I would imagine play a central role in any psychedelic society event. He whips up a storm with the guitar and sings songs both of personal and political liberation.

As the light started to fade around the area by the tree where we had spent the afternoon, and half-hearted attempts were made to get a fire going, Sanson mentioned that he knew of a cave just a short walk away where there he had plenty of firewood stored and that it would be no trouble to make a fire there. I guess this is something else that marks out a Psychedelic Society event from other commercially mediated approaches to taking psychedelics, that have a clearer ceremonial or therapeutic intent. In my experience, these other approaches aim to minimise the element of uncertainty by providing a very clearly defined context in which the unpredictability of the psychedelic experience unfolds. The Psychedelic Society’s approach is a lot looser around the edges. It is a lot closer to the model of taking a psychedelic with friends where any plan is provisional and might change at any moment depending on which way the wind blows. The difference is that Sanson and Carla have a lot of experience and are always on hand to provide whatever reassurance or support might be needed. I talked to one of the participants about this some days later. His feeling was that, whilst some aspects of the overall experience seemed a little improvised, releasing control was precisely what he felt he needed to work on and, as such, he welcomed the looser approach that the Psychedelic Society provided, feeling that it gave him the space not simply for therapy, but also for adventure. And so it was that we left the path and started to climb through the shrubs and over the rocks in the dying light on this unexpected new departure- to find a cave somewhere in the hills drawn by the promise of warmth, shelter and prolonging the adventure.

We arrived at the cave after a short walk and, as often happens on a psychedelic journey when everything is flowing nicely, it just seemed like the best place in the world to be that night. The cave entrance was small and covered by a door which, according to Sanson, had been put there since the last time he visited by someone more enterprising than him. The sense that custodianship of the cave was shared between the various people who cared for it, even though they had never met and made no claim to ownership, resonated nicely with Sanson’s vision of activism. Inside there were various rooms, one of which contained a small sofa and a hearth. We all squeezed in and spent a couple of hours in front of the fire, Sanson playing his songs of freedom on the guitar and rest of us joining in with drums and choruses. Outside the sky was turning a deep shade of midnight blue and the mountain side was dimly lit by the light of the moon accompanied by two stars. To gaze upon the scene was to be moved by an otherworldly beauty. For one night only we were in a place where magic and adventure meet.

Thank you to San Pedro, thank you to the Psychedelic Society.

A date with amanita

by Oliver Sutton

Amanita Muscaria is an altered state of consciousness hiding in plain view. With its white-speckled red cap, the Fly Agaric, as it is also known, is the most recognisable of all mushrooms and, as such, occupies a special place in our collective imagination. From Disney and the Smurfs through to Super Mario and decorative garden ornaments, the image of Amanita Muscaria seems to have a peculiarly archetypal quality. 

Smurf Sleep - Smurf Under Mushroom PNG Image | Transparent PNG Free  Download on SeekPNG

And yet it is a profoundly ambiguous archetype. It is profoundly attractive, inviting not merely aesthetic appreciation, but also the possibility of a deeper communion. And yet these same qualities raise an alarm that warns of toxicity and danger, making it also viscerally repellent. The mushroom itself is revered as a sacrament by the shamans of Scandinavia and Siberia and reviled as poisonous by those for whom mushrooms can be divided neatly into the edible and the inedible. It is not just the risk-averse who are divided in their evaluation of Amanita Muscaria. It also divides the psychedelic community. Gordon Wasson, the ethnomicologist who is credited with introducing Psilocybe Cubensis to the West, described it in his last book as “the supreme entheogen of all time” and was convinced that Soma, the sacrament described in the Indian Vedas was, in fact, Amanita Muscaria. The late great Terence Mckenna, an admirer of Wasson’s, and no slouch when it came to experimentation with psychoactive substances, described it as a ‘bad trip’ and as more likely to give you a bellyache than an ecstatic intoxication. The same ambivalence characterises trip reports for Amanita Muscaria on Youtube and on the forums of sites like The Shroomery. The other surprising thing is just how neglected this mushroom is, relatively speaking. In spite of it featuring so prominently in our mythologies and in our media, in spite of the fact that it is a native species across Europe, in spite of the fact that there is a European tradition of the shamanic use of this mushroom, it seems there are few takers when it comes to taking this particular little fellow. I presume that the reason for that is precisely its ambiguity, especially with regards to the question of toxicity. So, as I began to research Amanita Muscaria, with a view to taking it, it was the question of toxicity that was at the forefront of my mind.


There is not nearly as much information on Amanita Muscaria as there is on psilocybe mushrooms and neither is there the level of consensus on such matters as how to prepare it, its toxicity or what to expect while under the influence. However, after trawling through many websites, reading various articles and forums and watching and listening to many different talks and accounts I started to develop a plan based on the information I was receiving. The first thing to say is that it seems the toxicity issue has been overstated. There are very few concrete examples of Amanita Muscaría poisoning. I came across one or two in scientific journals, but seen against the background of the numbers of people who must ingest this mushroom every year, it really is a very rare occurrence. More common is that people report stomach cramps, nausea and / or vomiting. It seems that vomiting is common to most experiences with Amanita Muscaria, and as such it must simply be accepted that it is a purgative in the same way the ayahuasca is. As for the stomach cramps and nausea, most people report that these symptoms occur in the early stages and that they pass relatively quickly. There is a fair amount of consensus that proper preparation of the mushroom is key to reducing these undesired side effects. To understand why requires a very brief look at its pharmacology. Among the active ingredients that Amanita Muscaria contains, the two key ones are ibotenic acid and muscamol. Muscamol is the psychoactive component, whereas ibotenic acid is largely responsible for the mushroom’s toxicity. In its fresh state, Amanita Muscaria contains a far higher proportion of ibotenic acid. However, both drying and heating the mushroom catalyses a process of decarboxylation during which the ibotenic acid is converted into muscamol. As a consequence there was an almost universal consensus that Amanita Muscaria should not be consumed fresh as you will end up with a far higher proportion of the principal toxin and not much of the psychoactive substance. Finnish shamans apparently resolved this by drinking the urine of the reindeer that feed on the mushrooms, whilst ordinary villagers would drink the urine of the shaman. Fortunately, there are simpler ways of decarboxylating the ibotenic acid. First, as previously noted, the mushrooms should be dried. Then, before consumption, a decoction can be made by putting them in water which is heated to just below simmering temperature and maintained at that temperature for around thirty minutes. Whilst this probably won’t eliminate their purgative effect it will ensure that enough of the ibotenic acid is converted to muscamol to minimize the more toxic effects. Having said all this, I have also seen a Youtube post by a seasoned user of Amanita Muscaria who insists that the ibotenic acid is an integral part of the psychoactivity of the mushroom and that, as such, the aim should not be to eliminate it altogether. My approach has been to dry it, create the decoction and take it in two stages. First 5 grams, followed by 15 grams in a few days time. It seems like a sensible precaution to take a lighter dose first given the mushroom’s reputation for being highly unpredictable with regards to dose and likely effects. As I write this the decoction that I have just made is waiting on the altar in my front room. My partner is stoking the fire and not exactly thrilled at the prospect of what I am about to do. In my next entry I will be able to give an account of the amanita muscaria experience, albeit on a low dose.


I spoke too soon. The concoction that I drank had only a very mild effect. I felt slightly spaced out, it was noticeably more difficult to concentrate on simple tasks, my sense of smell was enhanced and there was some distortion of my sense of time. But all of these effects were fairly subtle and I did not get a sense of having connected with the fungus. I suspect that if the brew based on 5 dried grams was as light as that, then the brew based on the remaining 15 dried grams is not going to give rise to a powerful trip. On the positive side, I didn’t experience any nausea or abdominal discomfort, and this is encouraging for when I take the higher dose tomorrow. 5 grams was always going to be a light trip, but that seemed too light and I am wondering why it was not stronger. one possibility is the mix of mushrooms I used. I did not seek out amanita, rather it came to me in a variety of ways. One large mushroom, weighing in at 9 grams dried, was picked in Collserola, the hills next to Barcelona, and given to me by a friend one year ago. Another friend brought me a few dried Amanita Muscarias a couple of months ago from the forest around his parent’s home in Lübeck, Germany. And my partner and I found three more while looking for a lost dog in the woods near where I live in Alpens. Of these, two were rather old, and one was a perfect specimen. 

There are a number of variables that could have a bearing on potency, the amount of time I stored the mushroom from Collserola, the age of two of the mushrooms from Alpens as well as the well-documented variability in potency between Amanita Muscaria mushrooms found in different locations and at different times. The other possible explanation is that something went wrong with the decoction. This is a method that has been fairly well documented and reported to be effective. I followed what seems to be as close to a ‘standard procedure’ as one can find with Amanita Muscaria- chopping the dried mushrooms as finely as I could and then heating them in water that I kept just below simmering temperature for about half an hour. This should have done the trick as both Ibotenic acid and muscamol are reported to be highly soluble in water. The resulting brew certainly had a strong meaty-mushroomy taste. I wondered whether I should have eaten the mushroom mulch that remained after the decoction was complete, but if the active compounds are as water-soluble as all the literature seems to suggest, this shouldn’t have made much difference. Another possibility is that the psychotropic effects do not show themselves until a threshold has been achieved, and that while the effects are hardly noticeable at 5 grams, all hell might break loose at 15. Whatever the reason for the lightness of the trip last Sunday, I will be taking three times as much tomorrow. If logic prevailed then I suppose I could expect an experience exactly three times more potent than that previous experience, which would still be no more than a light trip. However, in my experience psychoactive plants are not governed by anything so linear as logic. The circumstances in which you take them has a big influence on both the quality and the potency of the experience. The same can be said for the attitude that one adopts to the act of taking the mushroom. It has certainly been my experience that with psilocybe mushrooms mental preparedness can make the difference between a powerful and richly meaningful journey and an upset belly accompanied by an unsatisfying feeling of uncanniness. With this in mind, I returned to the place where we found the Amanita Muscaria to appeal to its mycelium to reveal itself to me. I got down on my hands and knees and after some low vocalisations aimed at awakening the earth beneath me, an incantation came to me which I chanted to the earth and to the forest and also to my future self who would be taking the Amanita Muscaria two days hence. 

Amanita Muscaria
Amanita Muscaria,
I’m asking you
I’m asking you,
To show yourself
To show yourself,
To me
To me.

So, this is the chant that I will carry with me when I take the mushroom again later this afternoon. It would be wonderful if the higher dose and the invocations that I have made conspire to take me some place that I could never have anticipated. I’m waiting for my partner to arrive, she wanted to be present in case things should get challenging. I’ve done what I can to prepare for an encounter with this most evasive of entities. All that remains is to drink down the decoction and be open to whatever it is that might present itself.


I drank down the decoction in front of the altar in our garden while my partner busied herself with planting peas. I gently beat the drum and, almost under my breath, chanted the incantation I had prepared. There was still warmth in the late afternoon sun and the garden was bathed in the orange glow that is common at that time of day. As on the previous occasion, I became aware of the effect of the Amanita Muscaria after no more than twenty minutes. As twenty minutes became one and a half hours, it became obvious that, whereas the effects were certainly stronger than on the previous occasion, there was to be no quantum leap in terms of the effects. Rather, it was proportionally stronger- logic, it would seem, had prevailed. In terms of potency, it was the equivalent to being lightly stoned or a bit drunk. But the quality of the experience was not the same. After my partner had finished with the peas and I was done with my incantations, we set about making a fire. I was always able to remain active and engaged with the task at hand, but there was a slightly dream-like quality to everything. I could gaze for long periods into the fire and enjoyed remaining still and simply observing. I tried to identify and formulate what was specific to this experience with Amanita Muscaria, but that evening I was unable to do so. It was the next day however, when we were back working in the vegetable garden that I was better able to articulate the particularity of my Amanita experience. Firstly, I was extremely sluggish while working, preferring to stop and gaze at things. It was a bright sunny day and I sat for a long while absorbed in watching the leaves fall from our kaki tree. 

(The kaki tree)

I delighted at the play of light and shadow amongst the yellowing leaves and the way the wind caused them rustle and wave. It soon became apparent that whatever the Amanita had lacked in terms of potency, it made up for in terms of longevity. A whole night had passed and I was clearly still under the influence of the muscamol. What’s more I was better able to identify what was specific to the intoxication on this mushroom. It was a soporific, but not in the sense of dulling awareness or making one less alert. In fact, sensitivity to sensory input was heightened- the colours were more brilliant and the sounds more sharply defined, but everything had the quality of a lucid dream. It was not easy to concentrate on tasks and plans, but sitting and watching and listening became an end in itself and a fully absorbing activity. I spent most of the morning sitting on the bench gazing at the kaki tree, sporadically reading or dozing off, but the unmistakable trace of the Amanita was the vivid, dreamlike quality of awareness which suffused everything. I abandoned any plans I had for the rest of the day and enjoyed the sensation until by late afternoon it had taken on the more familiar quality of drowsiness and I ended up getting an early night. I can only speculate as to what a more potent trip might have been like, but this dream-like quality is quite frequently mentioned and taken to an extreme I imagine that it could result in a dissociative effect, whereby one no longer identified with what one is doing, thinking or even feeling. Should I have the opportunity to take Amanita Muscaria again, I would probably only dry it before eating it, skipping out the stage of making a decoction, even if it were to cost me an upset belly. That said, I will be in no rush to repeat the experience. A week later I took five grams of dried Cubensis mushrooms and, as has happened so often before, I enjoyed a deep, powerful, meaningful and cleansing trip.