As a result of reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in my teens—and discovering that Ken Kesey wrote much of the novel under the influence of psilocybin pinched from the state hospital where he was working—I developed a life-long dream to be in a clinical study with a psychedelic.
Later in life, I closely followed the various studies at Johns Hopkins, UCLA, and NYU and felt it would be an honor to be part of psychedelic history and help humankind. In August of 2015, I was accepted as a participant in the Phase I Psilocybin Pharmacokinetics Study, an FDA-approved clinical trial at the University of Wisconsin to determine the pharmacokinetics of psilocybin in support of Phase II and Phase III trials for people with incurable cancer. After an application process and acceptance, I met my guides Dan and Karen through a series of four two-hour sessions. The meetings with my guides flowed smoothly. Sharing my story was mixed in with their own sharing from their lives.
This helped cement a bond of trust that would serve me greatly as I progressed down into the pits of hell, which I had no idea I would soon be hitting.
I was also scheduled for three “dose days” when I would be administered psilocybin—including the highest dose in this study.
I entered all this with the excitement of a kid going off to summer camp mixed with a deep sense of honor in being part of such an important study. My first dose was scheduled for August 27th, a beautiful late summer day. At the hospital I was given an IV, and my blood pressure was taken. Then I was escorted to the study room in UW’s pharmacy building. Students were milling about and life seemed normal. I was about to do a high dose of psilocybin. The surreal nature of this observation was beautiful to me.
Once settled into the comfy confines of Room 1010, the ceremony began. My guides did a quick check-in and hooked me up to an EKG. Then I was given my first dose of 99.8% pure psilocybin—the entire universe in a single capsule.
The whole setting of the session space was very calming and similar to a comfortable living room—complete with oriental rugs and trippy art on the walls. A cabinet filled with antipsychotic medication just in case someone goes off the deep-end was actually reassuring. At approximately 9 am I took my first dose of 29 mg of psilocybin. I took the dose with some anxiety and a lot of excitement. All study participants were required to listen to an eight-hour mix of music. I laid back and put on eyeshades and headphones. George Winston began playing the piano in my ears. I hate George Winston, but I breathed and tried to relax. After about 20 minutes, I felt the first wave. My body felt warm and then I felt nauseous. I never feel nauseous from mushrooms. I breathed deeply, but the nausea continued. I sat up and took the eyeshades and headphones off.
“I feel sick, like I might throw up,” I said. I leaned over a bucket. I was sweating. The waves got more intense. I didn’t like the direction this was going and started feeling concerned. I laid back down and went into the deepest and darkest journey of my life.
The next four hours were horrendous. I had never experienced such intensity, chaos, anxiety, panic, and insanity. There were no classic “visuals,” only blackness mixed with impending and ever increasing internalized panic. I sat up again.
“I think I’m having a bad trip,” I said.
“There is no bad trip, your experience is your experience. All is welcome,” my guide said. I laid back down and experienced more darkness, discomfort, and terror. I slid off the couch and ended up on the floor. While lying there, my body contorted and became unimaginable aliens, demons, grotesque beings. There were no colors, only black and shades of black, darkness and despair.
Then came a moment when I saw myself “creating” all these entities. I was standing in an alleyway and realized that the demons were just a manifestation of my mind. It was merely a glimpse of insight, and for whatever reason continued to torture myself with these horrendous, demonic images.
As I traveled through the pits of hell, a nurse performed EKGs, drew blood, and checked my blood pressure and my temperature. The amazing thing was these events became part of the journey. My experience was that I was on the sacrificial altar of humanity. My blood was a sacred elixir that was being taken by blood angels to the sacred chamber of lab analysis. My blood and body were serving mankind. In the midst of hell, I felt honored to be sacrificed for the sake of humanity. And I still do.
At one point I found myself trapped inside a black, rectangular box. Entities, creatures, and “things” were scurrying about the walls. A terrible stench mixed with these visuals. I was curled up in this box, and at this point one of the guides asked me, “Where are you?” I explained the situation. “See if you can find a light and flash it around—see what else is in there,” she said. I found a headlight and put it on. With the light on I saw more nasty critters scurrying about.
Then I became one of “them”—a disgusting, pus-filled, cockroach-like creature that was expanding into the box. Then the box dissolved. I was back from the demonic, alien world, but still experiencing hell. The next hell realm was not mine, but felt like my father and my brother’s hell.
“I think I’m now taking one for the team,” I said to my guides. This hell realm was now extending back through ages. It felt as if I was processing the “shit” of my ancestors. I was now about four hours into the experience.
At this point I had to use the bathroom. My bladder felt ready to burst. With guidance from Dan, I shuffled off to the bathroom. The bright lights and shininess felt strangely comforting. There was a photo of a lotus flower above the toilet. I stared at the lotus and watched it morph into female deities.
Now I was just “tripping.” The walls were moving and the floor was melting. This felt good. I was on more familiar terrain, but I really needed to pee. The study required me to urinate into what is known as a “hat”—basically a large cup that resides in the bowl of the toilet. I sat down and began to pee. I stared at the floor as it shifted about and I felt a very strange sensation.
I looked down into the hat, and I saw that my scrotum was now floating in a pool of urine. I had peed so much that I filled the hat to the top and now my balls were happily floating about.
“Dan! Dan! Can you come here? I need help!” I called. I heard Dan coming to the door. “What? What?” he said.
“Can you come in here? I need help,” I cried.
Dan entered the bathroom with a confused look on his face. I immediately dropped the bomb.
“I peed so much my balls are now floating in my urine and I don’t know what to do.” I started to laugh. Dan started to laugh. “Well, I don’t know what to do either,” he said. We tag-teamed a paper towel cupping of my balls as I stood up. It is true love and dedication when your guide holds your urine soaked scrotum ever so gently in a wad of paper towels.
It felt so good to laugh. I really thought I was out of the woods. I shuffled back out and lay down on the couch. I curled up in the fetal position. I felt wiped out. I was still very much “in it,” but I could feel the intensity tapering off. I remember thinking “I made it and I’m never, ever doing this again.”
As I was lying there, a new wave came on.
This one was equally unpleasant as the earlier ones. I felt my brain “split.” I was in the midst of a psychotic break, and I was witnessing this in slow motion as reality slipped away.
I thought, “I’m going crazy. They will have to get a wheelchair to get me to the psych ward. I fucked up the study. I’m the first person to lose their mind during a study. Dan and Karen will be so pissed. I may have ruined the entire FDA approval process for psilocybin. My kids! I’ll never see my kids again in a normal state. I am crazy. I am getting crazier. Am I crazy? Yes…” This went on for an hour as I sunk more and more into a delusional state of psychosis. Finally, I knew I had to sit up and break the bad news to Dan and Karen. And boy, were they going to be pissed!
I sat up and slowly said, “I’m not doing good. I’m having a psychotic break.”
Dan looked at me and exclaimed as he was bouncing in his chair, “That is awesome! Great work Steve! First journey of the dark soul and now you have gone crazy! Total break-down of the OS! I am so happy for you!” Then Karen said, “Good work, Steve. Good work!”
I breathed and let all this in and thought to myself, “This is ‘mind.’ My mind! I created this!” I started to smile. I could see how my mind had manifested “crazy.” I asked for my drum that I had brought for the session. Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! I smiled and laughed. I got it. I got what I had created.
At the eight hour mark I was dismissed from Room 1010 and escorted back to my hospital room where I would spend the night. I ordered some dinner—a lovely chili-chicken stir fry. My food arrived, and I sat down and this thought came in: “After the agony, dinner.”
To be back in my body and eating a meal felt so normal and comforting.
But I still hate George Winston.