This piece was commissioned by Third Wave: a trusted, research-based psychedelics education and community platform featuring psychedelic guides, courses, podcasts, blog content and coaching.
Third Wave are a platform that explores the multiple levels of the human and ecological global crises that we currently face. Mushrooms are an entire kingdom of life that could hold the key to solving some of these imminent existential threats. Mushrooms demonstrate that environmental health and human wellbeing go hand in hand – working from the roots of our issues to allow a more harmonious biosphere and atmosphere to bloom.
Functionally Psychedelic Solutions
Boosting cognition, enhancing energy, elevating mood, and transforming relationships – the emergence of both functional and psychedelic mushroom therapies promises to change the world, by changing our minds.
Functional mushrooms (medicinal and adaptogenic mushrooms such as Reishi), support the body’s stress and immune-related functions, but do not instigate psychedelic or hallucinogenic effects. Psychedelic mushrooms are unique in their additional effects on the nervous system, which can open us up to insights and sensations beyond the realms of every-day conscious awareness.
Plant medicines have a rich cultural history of ritualistic use, alongside medicinal and recreational purposes. The key benefit tying this diverse array of functions and strains together are balance and homeostasis. This takes place physiologically and psychologically, as well as internally and externally.
Following this theme, this article seeks to integrate the reductionist (mechanism) with the emergent (holism) both within and between each of the following headings, culminating in modern and historical cultural cohesion. This approach aims to illustrate the bigger picture, and bring structure and clarity to contentious topics by aligning seemingly conflicting findings: such as the benefits of placebo vs the benefits of substances.
Physiologically, functional and psychedelic mushrooms have a neuromodulatory effect – reconfiguring neuronal circuits and altering their output. This instigates shifts in activity and recalibration across the autonomic nervous system, as neuromodulation is a dynamic process that seeks to restore balance systemically.
Psychologically, new experiences allow us to challenge our underlying assumptions and broaden our horizons. They allow us to re-evaluate ourselves and our place within the grand scheme of things. As our perspectives dictate our behaviours, this sets us on new paths in life individually and collectively. In the coming years, these paths are taking shape across several different industries: from integrative medicine, to capitalism and the climate crisis.
What do the mental health, economic and existential crises have in common? The answer finds its roots immersed in the imbalances and inequalities created by increasingly isolated lenses and frameworks. Life is not reductionist and does not exist in specialised silos. There is evidence that industrially material and technological focuses have in many ways, made us blind to the wider aspects of our heritage and existence.
Functional and psychedelic therapies have the potential to transform the biomedical model, uniting mind and body under a more integrative and personalised cultural container. In doing so, they synonymously enable us to reconsider our environmental, economic and political practices; contributing to a systemic change that can heal the earth’s biosphere and enhance health and wellbeing for more than just the human race.
Intuitively Integrative Innovations
In the face of this increasing disconnection from the nature of self, each-other, and the environment, it is our ancient ancestors that provide progressive possibilities. This is partly due to the ability of psychedelic experiences to awaken us to deeper layers of pattern processing, alongside feelings of interconnection and union.
These sentiments of integration and kinship are responsible for the rise of new paradigms and frameworks that seek to emphasise the unity within our diversity. This itself has links to the Stoned Ape Theory of consciousness and the development of the languages that we use, and which continue to evolve, today.
On a reductionist level, fungi are already the gifts that keep on giving. The penicillium fungus revolutionized our approach to infectious diseases, and still holds potential for the next line of antibacterial vaccines. Cyclosporin is used to prevent transplant rejections, and designated as a ‘breakthrough therapy’ by the FDA – clinical psilocybin therapy alleviates the symptoms of OCD, depression, and PTSD with its neurochemical effects.
On an emergent level, the ‘mystical’ experience is highlighting the key role of the inter-dependence between the physiological and psychological, as evidenced by the mind-body consciousness connection (placebo and nocebo). Frequently referred to as ‘ineffable’, mystical experiences are often described as a feeling of unity that is profoundly transformative. This is reminiscent of the subjective accounts of ‘ego dissolution’ in psychedelic therapy.
In Mysticism and Philosophy by Walter Terence Stace, he describes six other dimensions of the mystical experience: sacredness (a sense that what is encountered is holy or sacred), noetic quality (imbued with an aspect of meaning and a sense that what is encountered is more real than everyday reality), deep positive mood, paradoxicality and transcendence of time and space.
Spontaneous or organic mystical experiences (without the assistance of substances) are also possible, and 5HT2a receptor agonism may play only an initiatory role in the brain processes that correlate with these experiences. Just as the placebo effect provokes endogenous healing responses, psychedelic medicines along with traditionally spiritual practices such as meditation and yoga, all contribute to shifts in activity and balance within the autonomic nervous system.
As these shifts are instigated by a variety of experiences, practices, and substances – it leads us to question whether the definition of ‘psychoactive’ should be limited to things that are hallucinogenic or psychedelic. Caffeine and entertainment equally alter our state of consciousness, and contribute to corresponding shifts in the emerging endocannabinoid system.
While psilocybin has been found by some sources to be one of the safest of all recreational substances on the market, in some cases, taking psychedelics can exacerbate symptoms such as anxiety, panic and paranoia. One reason for this is an increase in sympathetic nervous system activation (the fight or flight response) leading to heightened awareness and stimulation. Anecdotally, people tend to find LSD more stimulating than psilocybin mushrooms.
To limit unwanted side-effects, grounding practices such as meditation, yoga and breathwork can activate the parasympathetic nervous system (the rest and digest response), to help you to remain calm and enhance the introspective benefits. This is because these tools have a synergistic effect when used together.
In the modern era, many of us are under a chronic state of stress or overstimulation, which constantly over-activates our sympathetic nervous systems. It has become a rare feat to maintain a parasympathetic-dominant state, which would allow for an intense internal locus of attention. And it may be this internal locus, which is at the heart of the introvertive mystical experience, with its defining sense of transcendence of both time and space.
Conscious Consumerism: People, Planet, and Profit
At the heart of this increasing stress on the planet, is an economic model that has commodified and not prioritised living systems. People, planet and profit are inherently interlinked. Reductionist lenses with a myopic focus on the bottom-line (profit), propagate an extractive model of capitalism that plunders dwindling resources in the pursuit of exponential riches. We have become obsessed with growth, efficiency and replicability, at the expense of sustainability, creativity and experience.
Widening the scope of criteria to encompass the wealth and breadth of the triple bottom line (people, planet and profit in tandem), demonstrates that without a healthy society and planet, there is no room for business. Broader paradigms put profit into context by focusing on the longevity of real value creation and greater purpose.
Functional and psychedelic therapies allow us to experience this reintegration. In transpersonal psychology (which is more inclusive of anecdotal evidence), psychological healing is witnessed by the enhancement of human wellbeing through the experience of elements of the psyche as deriving from relationships with ecological dimensions and nature.
Again, some transpersonal healing is achieved by temporarily shifting consciousness beyond the limits of identity construction, the influence of which can produce a personal metamorphosis through a rebalancing at physiological, emotional, psychological and spiritual (existential) levels.
This communication and synchrony are not limited by language. The animal kingdom is packed with examples of groups functioning as a single whole: schools of fish, flocks of birds, ant and bee colonies all work together and interact with their inorganic surroundings as an emergent organism.
The World Wide Web: Demystifying The Mycelial Network
Fungi exist in a lattice-like structure known as mycelium. Like a giant brain, its decentralised networks and nodes mirror many of the emerging structures in the digital sphere, under the evolution of web 3.0. As the technological singularity takes aim for the skies, sentience swells within the sediment slipping from under our feet; A constant chatter of electro-chemical messaging and silent signals, that loudly dictate our fate.
Paul Stamets is a mycologist with decades of experience studying the regenerative qualities of this mycelial network. Infamous for curing his stutter on a ‘heroic dose’ of mushrooms as a teenager, his Ted talk on 6 Ways Mushrooms Can Save The World, lent a special focus to mycoremediation. Fungi are more closely related to animals than plants: they do not photosynthesise and obtain their energy by digesting organic substances. In their evolutionary trajectory, they are believed to have split from animals around 9 million years later than plants.
Whereas on a human level, many mushrooms demonstrate the possibilities of transmuting pain into potential, on an environmental level, they are converting poison into progressive life-force. From chemical leaks to forest fires and nuclear catastrophe, mushrooms can remediate the world around us by naturally facilitating its regeneration.
Mycelia trap nutrients, prevent soil erosion, sequester carbon dioxide, and breakdown plastic and toxins, such as petrochemicals and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB). Returning depleted lands to their fertile state births new life into local value creation – smoothing social relations, empowering individuals as key agents of advancement, and both mitigating and adapting to climate change.
A variety of mushrooms can also be used to grow biodegradable packaging and can be leveraged to produce more sustainable sources of energy. Mycodiesel is the novel name given to the volatile organic products made by fungi, that have fuel potential.
In agroecology, nature is the architect; delivering solutions that make friend of foe by working with, and not against, the natural processes of the environment. In extending our relations to include all of people, planet and profit, the principles of agroecology aim to recultivate our family from the ground up. Returning to our roots, while lifting eyes to face distant horizons, promises sunrises and not just sunsets.
Lateral landscaping solutions are bridging more circular, regenerative, and communal approaches to current problems, giving weight to contextual complexity. What makes agroecological innovations distinct is their co-creation of knowledge, combining contemporary advancements with traditional practices, and strengthening the spirit of synergy.
Gaia And Eco-Consciousness: Modern Science Meets Ancient Wisdom
In many indigenous cultures, such as that of New Zealand’s Māori people, humans are deeply interconnected with nature, mentally and physically. In their world view, this is reflected in the notion of ‘kaitiakitanga’, signifying the guardianship and protection of the environment. This is a role bestowed by the local iwi.
This notion is incorporated into many of their traditions and practices including: temporary bans (rāhui) on taking food from an area, planting and harvesting in accordance with the lunar calendar (maramataka), hunting and fishing for food and not sport, and living in alignment with the dynamic natural cycles and seasons.
In the modern scientific sense, such ideologies illustrate the intersection of transpersonal psychology and ecopsychology, whereby humans and nature are part of a larger transpersonal whole, similar to the Gaia hypothesis proposed by scientist and environmentalist Dr James Lovelock.
The Gaia hypothesis proposes that living organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings on Earth to form a synergistic and self-regulating complex system that helps to maintain and perpetuate the conditions for life. This emergent perspective was named after the ancient Greek personification of the Earth – Gaia.
This opens further hypotheses as avenues for exploration, including the possibility of an intangible psychoid principle in the theory of our cognitive evolution. But resonating with scientific frameworks such as the Gaia Hypothesis on a rational level is not enough. In the inherently mystical nature of life itself, it’s what we feel and breathe that ignites action and inspires change.
Alongside a variety of complimentary tools and mediums, psychedelic mushroom therapies in particular, offer poignant experiences and rapid transformations both psychologically and environmentally. The emerging landscape increasingly aims to support such processes in a responsible, integrated and contextual way.
Between the sanitised and binary borders of our empirical sciences, perhaps the greatest gift that mushrooms give us, is the courage and curiosity to colour our hands with the dirt, and to immerse ourselves completely within the spectrum of a more than human subsistence. An ethereal plane where the experimental and evidence-based, solicit soul in the soil of the experiential and the existential – the notion that, “if you want to change the world, you change yourself.”