I’ve always been a bit of a mushroom enthusiast. The wide range of colors and types I’d see on walks through the mountains in North Georgia made it inevitable. Once I discovered Champignouf, a mushroom photo identification app, I was able to recognize the bright red Alice in Wonderland–esque toadstools as the fly agaric, and the seaweed–like, coral fungi emerging on the sides of the paths as ramaria. I was even known among my floormates for my mycology posters and mushroom throw pillows.
It was only natural that I’d eventually become interested in psilocybin mushrooms (better known as magic mushrooms or shrooms), which contain a hallucinogenic compound that causes sensory distortion and feelings of euphoria. Some of my happiest memories from freshman year involved weekend trips to the woods with my friends, lying on a picnic blanket while watching the leaves swirl in kaleidoscope patterns and the sloping tree trunks shift into brontosaurus necks. I would roll onto the grass and see my body grow roots into the ground. Time in nature has always been the best way for me to decompress, and shrooms are a part of this, helping me connect with the world around me and stay grounded amid the stressors of college life.
My positive experiences with shrooms only furthered my long term desire to eventually experiment with LSD. This interest piqued back in elementary school, when my mom explained to me that an LSD trip was the inspiration for the fantastical world in the Beatles song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” A friend’s reflection after his first acid trip solidified my intrigue: “With shrooms, you are the passenger. With acid, you are the driver.” When the opportunity to try acid finally arose, I seized it—and my trip both challenged me and taught me a lot about myself.
On a sunny and warm Friday morning, I slipped a tab under my tongue and headed over to a friend’s room, needing a mental reset after a long week of classes. About 45 minutes later, my mind began to lift away from the reality that my body was grounded in. The floor beneath me seemed to breathe, and I used my finger to draw designs in the shaggy carpet, watching them come to life in a myriad of holographic colors.
I put headphones in, turning on a classical playlist recommended by a friend. My sense of sound perception heightened to a level I had never experienced before; I was in a cave, and the orchestra was playing live, reverberating between the walls. While shrooms always feel very natural and organic to me, this was new. My mind was inside a computer that was programming a new reality for me. It was both unsettling and amazing.
Enthralled by the fractal world surrounding me, I suddenly caught a glimpse of a mirror in the corner of my friend’s room. One of the biggest things psychedelic experts warn new users against is looking in the mirror. Some explain that you may see a more honest version of yourself looking back—one that reveals truths you’re not ready to accept. But my curiosity overpowered me and what was to come was both the most anxiety–inducing and impactful moment of my trip.
As I approached the mirror, I saw an older version of myself peering back, flashing in and out with an image of my current self. My hair was shifting from blond to a mousy gray. My ponytail tucked out of sight, I saw my long hair begin to resemble my grandmother’s shorter cut. Wrinkles, splotches, and eye bags appeared on my face. It was jarring.
As I reflect back on that moment, it's easy for me to realize why that version of myself was so horrifying. My anxieties around getting older have continuously gotten worse as I’ve progressed through college. My younger brother, now a freshman in a school across the country, can no longer join my parents in their occasional trips to Philly to see me for dinner. I worry about how I will stay in touch with my friends once we graduate and spread out. The hustle culture at Penn doesn’t help. The constant pressure to prioritize my future and career over everything else can overwhelm me at times.
But the longer I looked at myself in the mirror, the more comfortable I became with the image of an older me. The smile lines around my mouth were no longer just a sign of passing time, but also of all the happiness that was to come. I realized I have a future ahead of me, bursting with children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews with their whole lives spilling out before them. The end of the life and routine I’ve built for myself at Penn will come with new opportunities and the chance to do work that interests me (whatever that might look like). As I looked at my older reflection, I began to realize that amid my nerves, I’m also excited to start the next chapter of my life.
Eventually, my friend broke me out of my trance, tapping me on the shoulder and asking me if I wanted to take a walk outside while there was still daylight. We walked along the Schuylkill, the last glints of the sunlight reflected amber red on the water, bubbling and rotating in what looked like lava erupting out of a volcano. As the skyline began to light up, my mind connected each illuminated window into constellations. As we walked back to Franklin’s Table to pick up falafel, I couldn’t help but laugh. At that moment, life felt a lot less serious.
I woke up the next morning back in reality. But while my daily routine was the same, my mindset felt different. As I headed to Saxbys, the internship cover letters I was writing felt less daunting and more like the start of new opportunities.
I wouldn’t recommend an acid trip to everyone, and I certainly want to emphasize the importance of researching the risks that stem from LSD and the harm reduction tactics necessary to trip safely. Acid made me excited, euphoric, unsettled, anxious, and terrified all at once, but I also found it to be a much needed attitude adjustment.