8   Going Gonzo

A deep-dose psychedelic trip on hallucinogenic mushrooms isn’t always a joyride. In fact, research shows that one in three people will return from a trip to say the experience was pretty gruelling, even though most of them will also report that it was one of the most meaningful experiences of their lives.

In spite of this practice being driven underground through half a century of prohibition, there’s nevertheless a strong sub-culture of people who offer these journeys to people wanting personal growth or psychological healing.

In South Africa, the underground psilocybin community is relatively new, and from the outside might look more like a religious group than a collective of therapists. These journey guides work by a set of principles for how to facilitate journeys, which, for the most part, try to manage the risks that come with deep-dose sessions. They draw on tried-and-tested shamanic traditions and some good old-fashioned common sense. But a whole lot of New Age gimmickry has crept in, too, which is a bit off-putting for those wanting a more secular or medical approach.

If we want to mainstream psilocybin-assisted therapy into day-to-day medical practice in traumatised, post-apartheid South Africa, the medical sector will need to draw on the accumulated knowledge of the underground community which is still unregulated, self-taught, and largely answerable only to itself.

Some of the best practices and protocols for holding safe, deep-dose psychedelic sessions: