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Can a 75-Year-Old Do Psychedelics?

Cultivating a beautiful, transporting experience with mushrooms

Illustration: Nan Lee

LLynn and I are fortunate: We are tightly and broadly linked both physically and spiritually. Adventuring together for five years now, at 58 and 75, we seem to have acquired at least a modicum of sense and experience to see us through our escapades. Now we have decided to become psychonauts.

We did not embark on this lightly. Only one of us is psychedelically experienced—that would be me, with a handful of encounters with LSD, mescaline, and mushrooms, the last time being 40 years ago. I did not expect to re-enter the psychedelic realm again, certainly not at the three-quarter-century mark. And even though my previous experiences are among the most significant and positive events of my life, I was not in the least intending or longing to go there again. I was past that. It would scramble my old brain into soup… wouldn’t it?

Two years ago, the topic first entered our conversations. Perhaps it’s the zeitgeist, but our curiosity and desire to explore the underlying bands of consciousness initially appeared on our screens almost simultaneously. After Lynn expressed her interest, I opened up about my previous experiences with psychedelics. Gradually we decided to explore the topic further, at least in principle.

We consider the choice to indulge in mind-altering substances a private freedom, and the illegality of such actions is a pitiful footnote to society’s penchant for controlling people. The age we are now living in necessitates a reasonable person be something of a scofflaw. Legal prohibition does not particularly concern either of us, and we determined the risk for mushrooms would, at any rate, be minimal.

We could acquire the spores and materials legally in our state, and therefore, we would not have to deal with the hazards of illicit purchases. And so, with eyes open wide, we agreed to proceed. We are now minor-league scofflaws, an amusing waypoint at our ages.

We did our due diligence. First, we assessed our reasons for wanting to do this. We identified the underlying and motivating ideal to be the very human desire to explore. In a more practical vein, we saw psychedelia as a potentially worthwhile adjunct to our artistic creativity, and the extensive literature extolling this alleged virtue of magic mushrooms spurred us on.

We share the point of view that mushrooms are to be respected.

As we progressed, we also became intrigued by the possibilities for quieting the ego, allaying depression, and swimming in the sea of universal connectedness. We decided to do it.

We embarked on teaching ourselves how to grow the fungi. We investigated the various strains and species of Psilocybe mushrooms and eventually acquired the spores and media to grow two types of Psilocybe cubensis. Until the mushrooms appeared, this was a fully legal endeavor by virtue of the simple fact the spores lack psychoactive psilocybin, the Schedule-1 controlled substance (no medical value, an assertion currently under considerable re-evaluation) of magic mushrooms.

We learned about the vegetative part of a mushroom, the amazing and—even to my scientific mind—almost mystical mycelium. Consider this: The largest living organism on the planet is a mycelial colony in the Blue Mountains of Oregon—2,400 acres of mycelium. Underground mycelium are also the source of those fairy rings of mushrooms that pop up after the rains. And as I write this, mycelium are quietly colonizing a dozen sterilized canning jars of brown rice substrate in a temperature-regulated box in one of our closets.

Soon those incubation jars will be ready for “birthing,” at which time we will transfer the mycelium-colonized “cakes” to the high-humidity fruiting chamber where, after a suitable time, small “pins” will appear. Within five days, those pins will become lovely phallic mushrooms. From spore inoculation to harvest took about eight weeks, and Lynn and I shared in every aspect of this mysterious cultivation.

Soon we shall pick our “Little Children,” as the curanderos of Oaxaca sometimes refer to the sacramental mushrooms. We will see the bruises we inflict on the flesh of the ‘shrooms turn blue, a reaction of the psychoactive compounds to oxidation. We will then preserve our Little Children by desiccation to the point of brittleness and store them in airtight Mason jars until the day we are prepared to consume them.

Photo: W Goodwin

TThe day is here. The first and second times will be, by mutual agreement, one person only with the other partner serving as “sitter.” Lynn, being the newbie, has elected to go first. I’ll be responsible for guarding her physical safety, creating as best I can an atmosphere of kindness and tranquility, chauffeuring us to gorgeous and safe locales for nature immersion and a plethora of other esoterica associated with psychedelic travel.

We share the point of view that mushrooms are to be respected, and we take the coming hours seriously. We do not see this as being high, partying, or raving. We have chosen the places and times carefully. For weeks, we have been preparing our mental and emotional states, and we have cleared our schedules.

Our lives are in balance and we are both in a positive frame of mind. The weather is fine. We have washed our bodies and taken a light meal. Our music lists are compiled (Beethoven, Shpongle, Mozart, ambient and electronic) and easily accessible, even to a person temporarily deprived of all but the most basic technical abilities.

We weigh out 3.1 grams and grind the dried mushrooms into powder. We mix it with half a cup of apple juice, which Lynn drinks as I watch. It is 1:24 p.m. A great blue heron, regal and attentive to our presence, loiters in the shadows of a tree directly in front of our living room window. We take this as an auspicious sign.

At 1:45, Lynn declares the mushrooms are arriving at the portal to her consciousness. She is subdued and quiet for a while, earphones on, eyes closed. Then she begins crying. Abruptly she changes to laughter, then she cries and laughs at the same time.

“It’s so beautiful…” She means the music of course, but perhaps it’s also descriptive of the depth of her soul where her own internal beauty manifests with the music.

The world is exceptionally well-lit, bright, and full-spectrum.

The afternoon flows by as we remain in the comfortable security of home. We hug frequently and deeply. I make sure tissues are near and that she consumes sufficient water. I leave her alone for long periods, monitoring her discreetly. Other times, she is moved to share her tales of wonder, and I listen, feeling her wonder, drinking it in.

Later she wants to go outside. Taking time to stare in awe at familiar things as if for the first time, we walk to the car. I drive us to a peaceful lake, and we wander into a grotto of trees where dozens of robins are courting. As we enter the bosque dell, the wondrous birds fly away, but within 10 minutes, they return. They seem to sense something in our demeanor and they approach closer and watch us. The air is filled with their song.

Around sunset, Lynn gradually comes back to whatever this place is we call “normal.” We cuddle and soothe and, after some time, we sleep.

A few days later, we switch roles and do it again. Being experienced, although I question the value of something so far removed in time, I measure out a bit more than Lynn consumed, 3.4 grams, and blend it into a smoothie. I am only slightly apprehensive that my age may have some undesirable effect.

Maybe because of the smoothie, or maybe my age, it takes 40 minutes for me to come on. Like Lynn, passing through the gates to Mushroomlandia sends me into emotional paroxysms. Tissues are a big necessity when visiting this planet, and I cry harder than I can ever remember crying in my life at the beauty of music. One of Beethoven’s piano concertos almost breaks my heart with its tender soul-searching. The world is exceptionally well-lit, bright, and full-spectrum. Hieroglyphics, Hebrew writing, and Aztec symbols cover every surface I gaze upon. I speak to my younger brother, gone 14 months. I forgive my parents for everything.

When I feel up to venturing into the “outer world,” Lynn drives us first to the beach. Walking through the sea grapes and mangroves, I spy the ghost of a bobcat on its invisible trail. Emerging onto the sand (barefoot feels so good), we are confronted by the wide open vista of the ocean. Surf is crashing and clouds are roiling and gulls and pelicans are gliding close and it is utterly magnificent. A mysterious alien-like man o’war throbs with life at the edge of the water. The wind that was at first thrilling is now just enervating, so we leave the beach.

Lynn drives us to a vast wilderness area where we sit at the edge of a marsh at sunset. The frogs, the gallinules, the whistling ducks, the glossy ibises, the nesting herons and egrets are illuminated by the honey light of the low sun. In the gathering dusk, the vesper winds evoke whispers in the palmettos I never noticed before…

This was our exploratory incursion into later-in-life psychedelia—as in, “Will we be able to handle it?” We are now more confident in the “teacher,” as some call the psilocybin mushroom. The next flush of Little Children is maturing in the fruiting chamber.

Bound to the ocean and reflecting mixed genetics, I am compelled to write about the sea while living in Colorado.

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